Pleasure, pain and pornography: A gendered analysis of the influence of contemporary pornography on the lives of New Zealand emerging adults
Historically, concerns have been raised about violence in pornography and the influence that such portrayals may have on levels of violence against women and children. Today, pornography is pervasively available on the internet and viewed by both men and women in ever-increasing numbers. In New Zealand, violence against women and children remains at alarmingly high levels, and concerns about pornography’s influence on gendered violence are a common refrain. Research remains inconclusive about the impacts of pornography on viewers’ sexual scripts, behaviours and attitudes, yet the voices of those most affected by pornography – viewers and their partners – are often omitted from pornography studies. Few New Zealand studies employ a gendered analysis of men’s and women’s experiences with pornography. To provide research specific to New Zealand about these experiences, this thesis explores the reported influences of mainstream pornography on the lives of a self-selecting sample of (primarily) heterosexual New Zealanders between the ages of 18 and 30. It adopts a uniquely gendered analysis and critically interrogates both men’s and women’s experiences with pornography in the digital age. The findings of this research suggest that pornography research necessitates a gendered appraisal both in terms of how pornography is experienced individually, but also within intimate relationships. For instance, whilst both men and women suggested that mainstream pornography was often aggressive, demeaning and degrading, the way that aggression was perceived and understood differed between the genders. Some women spoke of ‘rough sex’ having some sexual appeal, however, they also felt conflicted about feeling aroused by pornography in which actresses appeared potentially in pain or distress. Conversely, several men spoke of aggression in pornography as commonplace but something they might avoid rather than denounce, leaving the door open for other men to engage with as a matter of individual ‘choice’. Further, men’s worries about pornography concerned their compulsive need to use it, which differs substantially from women’s concerns. This research also suggests that gender is a critical factor in considering pornography’s impact in intimate relationships, particularly regarding pornography addiction and the perceived influence of pornography on partners’ behaviours and sexual scripts. These findings are a testament to the gendered way that pornography is experienced, understood and interpreted in the digital age. Overall, this thesis provides a platform for future research into pornography in New Zealand. It provides a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of how online pornography affects the lives of every day New Zealanders, and highlights the need for more critical, gendered analyses within this space. Further, the findings also indicate the importance of providing young people with the media literacy skills needed to appraise how mainstream pornography reinforces stereotypical gendered representations of men, women, and heterosexual sex.