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Body image, media and porn

Media Messages and Body Image

We get messages and images every day from TV, movies, social media, the internet, music videos, advertising, magazines, video games, and more. Women’s bodies are often used to sell products in a sexualised way that doesn’t relate to the product being sold.

The media often favours one “ideal” body type. For men, this is often a very muscular body, and for women, a very slim figure.

These bodies and body shapes do not look like most people. In fact, trying to reach that size or shape would be impossible or very unhealthy for many people!

These people we see might have gone to extremes in dieting and working out to look like that. They may have had plastic surgery, or had a whole team of people helping them with their hair, make-up and clothes.

It’s easy to edit photos or videos using tools like airbrushing to make someone look thinner, taller or to remove freckles and pimples or change skin tones. This can create a false idea of what a body looks like, and promotes only one body type as “beautiful” or “sexy”.

 

This is also a problem with porn, as porn stars also often have unrealistic bodies. For example, it’s common for porn stars to have surgery on their breasts and genitals, and to have all their body and pubic hair removed.

When we see the same types of images over and over, we may start to believe they’re normal or real. This can lead to people feeling unhappy about their body or having low self-esteem.

It’s important to remember that these images are not real – they’re fantasy. They do not show the diversity of body types and people in society.

Porn or Sexually Explicit Material

Pornography, or porn, is being talked about a lot lately. While it’s definitely not new, it’s much easier to access than ever before.

Some people won’t watch porn at all, some will watch porn sometimes, and some people will watch it often. 

Choosing to watch porn is a decision that only you can make. You should only watch what you’re comfortable with and you shouldn’t be pressured into watching anything you don’t want to see. If this happens, you should tell a trusted adult.

It is normal to be curious about bodies and sex.  But if you chose to watch porn, there are some things to think about:

Porn doesn’t show real sex or real people

Most porn stars have bodies that don’t really look like most people. Many have had surgery on their breasts or genitals and most have had all their body and pubic hair removed.

The actors do things that most people would probably never do in real life because it would be uncomfortable or painful. They’re paid to act like they are enjoying it.

Most porn focuses on male desire and pleasure. Female pleasure is often ignored or faked.

The way the actors treat each other can be humiliating or even violent, especially towards women. A lot of porn shows violence against women as normal. This suggests violence in relationships is okay – which it’s not. Ever.

Sex should never hurt, it should feel good for everyone involved. You should feel safe and comfortable with your partner and what you are doing.

Porn doesn’t show people asking their partner if they want to have sex, or their partner consenting to sex.

In porn, women always react positively to male sexual attention and are never shown saying no to sex.

Women are usually treated like sex objects or toys, and are shown as passive and obedient.

There is very little communication (verbal and non-verbal) between the actors before, during and after sex

Porn doesn’t promote safer sex

Porn usually ignores the use of contraception and the risks of STIs

It doesn’t show the emotional connection between people when they have sex, like the importance of communication and ongoing consent.

Is it harmful to watch porn?

Researchers are starting to believe that porn probably affects people differently: 

  • Some people enjoy porn (either alone or with a partner), and see it is a positive part of their sexuality.
  • For other people, watching porn could be harmful. It could lead to people feeling worried about what or how much porn they’re watching, or the effect it’s having on their sex life or day-to-day life.

Some of the possible negative effects of frequently watching porn are that you might:

  • Think about sex a lot more
  • Get used to what you are watching, and find you need to watch more porn or extreme porn to get turned on
  • Feel more self-conscious about your body because it doesn’t look like porn stars’ bodies
  • Feel disappointed by real sex or real partners
  • Want to do more extreme sex acts

Some people might worry about how much porn their partner is watching, and if it is having an impact on their relationship and sex.

Porn can become like an addiction for some people. If you are worried about how much porn or the type of porn you are watching, and/or its effects on your life, and you want some help or advice, there are some options:

  • Talk to an adult, or even a friend about what is going on. It can help make your problems feel more manageable, and might give you some more ideas.
  • Make it harder to access porn. For example, keep your phone or laptop out of your room at night.
  • Try to distract yourself by going out more, seeing your friends, or starting a new sport.
  • Call YouthLine for more advice.

Porn and the law

It is legal to watch porn when you are 18 or older, but you may not show it to a person under 18.

Some porn is illegal for everybody, such as porn that is extremely violent or involves children.

It is illegal to share (or threaten to share) sexually explicit pictures/videos (sexts) of someone online. It is an offence under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. You can read more about this topic on the Netsafe website.

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