A Danish “sexology" professor, Christian Graugaard, has had what I would call a very Danish idea – to show pornography in sex education classes in order to help students become more critical of what they watch online. The Danes, it has to be said, have a very different approach towards sex and since their age of first sexual intercourse hasn’t gone up for 50 years (although their divorce rate has) – I sometimes think they must be doing something right.
After all only a Dane could think up ‘Blachman' - a programme aimed at “repositivising the woman’s view of the man’s view of the woman”, which involved two men sitting and discussing a naked woman standing before them. And only the Danes could have a sufficient level of trust between the sexes to allow the programme to be aired. Only a Danish travel agent could come up with ‘Do it for Denmark’ – where holidays become a form of patriotic duty because you are more likely to conceive because you have more sex.
The Danish approach towards sex sometimes seems so wholesome and frank that to a prudish half-Brit such as myself (the other half is Danish) it almost seems enough to blast the eroticism away. And so I approached Christian Graugaard’s idea with an open mind.
However, if I might be so bold as to pretend to advise the Danish government, as they think about Christian’s proposal, this is what I would say: Firstly 14 per cent of Danish teenage girls and one per cent of the boys have not seen pornography and if pornography is really as prevalent as we are told (I don’t believe it) this is probably because they didn’t want to. Also, just because someone has seen pornography, this does not mean that they wanted to. So before you start showing pornography to teenagers in schools you have to find a watertight way of making sure they actually want to see it. For unlike maths and literacy, which I think should be compulsory, no one could claim pornography is good for the soul.
Next you have to remember that pornography is actually addictive, just like any other drug. If used as a sex substitute it produces dopamine, as do addictive drugs like heroin. Unmediated by the natural hormonal and chemical changes that occur during sexual intercourse, the body develops a tolerance to it. So the next time you seek out the pornography for your dopamine high, you are going to want just a little bit more. The path that may seem like a little bit of fun at the beginning is, if you travel far enough along it, the same path that will eventually lead to violence, children and fur.
I might at this point mention to the Danish government that our attempts to warn children about the dangers of drugs seem only to have encouraged them. I don’t think the Danes can solve the problem by giving them the drug first.
The other consequence of this drug, which might be particularly devastating for teenagers, is that the use of pornography actually leads to less excitement during sex with a partner and increasing difficulty getting aroused. Evidence suggests that men (I’m afraid most of the research has been done about men – quick get the feminists on board) who have watched a lot of porn might still find their partners attractive but they lose the ability to respond to them. In fact, in order to maintain an erection and climax during intercourse, they need to imagine themselves in a porn scene. All that sounds like an awful lot to lose.
Meanwhile, here in England, we have been teaching pupils that “porn can be great” and that you simply need to separate fantasy from reality. We haven’t explained to them that fantasy destroys the reality. Perhaps this is the real reason why teenage pregnancies have gone down.
While I still have the Danish government’s ear, I would tell them about research which shows that pornography has a detrimental effect on relationship commitment. Those men who consumed higher levels of pornography were likely to show decreased commitment to their partners. This experiment was supported by other studies which showed that females whose partners regularly consume pornography perceived their partners to be a threat to the stability of their relationship. The use of pornography also increases the likelihood of separation or divorce. With the fourth highest divorce rate in Europe this last point might hit home.
As a parting shot, I would mention that men who consume pornography become more dominating and less attentive to their partners. There is an increased likelihood that they will treat women as though they lack the capacity for complex thinking. There is also evidence to show that it encourages aggressive behaviour.
There is, however, still a great deal of research to be done on the impact of pornography. We don’t know what the equivalent impact is on women, nor how it affects same sex relationships ; we don’t know how a person’s attitude towards sexuality affects the impact that pornography has on them, nor do we know what factors will increase the likelihood that a person will be affected by viewing pornography.
Perhaps the Danish government might like to fund some of this research and share their findings with the hopelessly ideological British government. But I really don’t think teenagers are a good place to start.