Jonathon van Maren

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Women are harmed by watching porn too. This activist wants to help them stop

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September 5, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Jessica Harris is doing something unique: She is a female speaker who addresses the issue of pornography. Not as someone who simply thinks pornography is damaging and evil, although she does think that. Not just as another Christian lecturer who talks about love and the “tough stuff,” although she does that, too. Jessica Harris speaks to women as someone who once used porn herself, and is on a mission to tell female porn users that she understands them — and that they can free themselves of the poison they’re taking, just like she did.

I wrote about Jessica’s story last year, but I’ve wanted to do a follow-up interview with her for some time to explore a question that many people ask: If pornography victimizes girls and women, why would girls participate in that? Within Christian circles, many still believe that pornography is more or less exclusively a “male sin,” and as rates of female porn use grow astronomically — Covenant Eyes estimated in 2016 that 76 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 30 view porn at least once a month — church leaders find themselves utterly unequipped to respond.

In order to address this problem, we first must understand it. I interviewed Jessica Harris to do just that.

Jonathon: Why would girls watch/read/look at violent pornography in which girls are being victimized?

Jessica: To be fair, I don’t know that many women initially start watching porn for the violence.  They don’t sign onto a site thinking, “I hate women and I want to watch them get abused.” It’s like video games. Most gamers don’t play games because they enjoy simulated murder. They play because other aspects of the game draw them in. It’s entertainment. 

In the same way, porn is presented as something entertaining, fun, and even empowering for women.  It’s not presented as “Come watch real live victims of human trafficking get assaulted." They can be drawn to it for many reasons, including personal pleasure, outside pressure, or simple curiosity. They might enjoy a certain storyline, for instance, or find a certain genre arouses them. Those motivations and rewards “drown out” the violence, if you will.  The online disconnect adds to that as well. A young girl might be rightly appalled at the idea of rape or sex trafficking , but when she sees that happening on a screen, it doesn’t seem as real to her. There is a sense of safety and distance found on the other side of a screen.

Jonathon: How does the consumption of this type of pornography differ in its impact on women as opposed to men?

Jessica: I think the effect on women is similar to the effect on men. It’s a teacher. A man watching violent pornography is “learning” what is acceptable and what women “find pleasurable.” He’s learning cause and effect, and response. This is how a woman should respond if he does this to her in real life. 

For a woman, especially a young girl, she is also learning. She is learning not only how she “should respond” but also what is “acceptable” behavior for men. It’s OK if he hits her like that, and calls her that name. If he does that and she says no, he may not listen, and she should enjoy it anyway. I feel it encourages her to lower her standards, especially in regards to relationships and how she expects others to treat her own body. The younger she is, the more detrimental these effects can be. A video depicting violent porn is going to have a different effect on an 11-year-old girl than it will a 35-year-old woman.

Jonathon: You've mentioned that violent pornography can "condition" women for victimization. How does this happen?

Jessica: Women are conditioned by porn in the same way any of us are conditioned by anything else we’re exposed to repeatedly. This is why you see backlash against unrealistic expectations created by things like hyper-edited magazine covers and ultra-thin models. This is why you’ll hear leaders voice frustration when things like crime and gun violence don’t seem to bother us anymore. We’ve seen it so much, it becomes the new normal. It becomes the new standard. 

When it comes to porn for many, it is their only exposure to sex. It is their sex education teacher. Therefore, it becomes one of the only reference points for what sexuality and relationship should look like. When scenes depict violence toward women, that can set women up to believe violence is normal, expected, and they should enjoy it. It eroticizes violence and at the same time desensitizes us to it.  

We have seen this happening even before the rise of violent internet pornography. A study of female college students in 1992 showed that exposing a woman to pornography as a child is "significantly related to subsequent adult rape fantasies and rape supportive beliefs … early contact with pornography exemplifies a broader socialization process for some women that portrays sexual aggression as culturally desirable to some extent." That's from 1992, which means the women interviewed were likely exposed to a porn magazine or a porn VHS. If this was a connection made decades ago with relatively "soft core" pornography, then imagine the extent that today's violent hardcore pornography could affect its viewers.

Jonathon: What is the number one thing you wish all women knew about the consumption of violent pornography?

Jessica: It can change you. It can tear down healthy walls you might have about what you find acceptable for your body and your relationships. On top of that, while some of it may be consensual, there can also be cases where women are trafficked or they are enduring the scenes just so they can get paid. In those instances, you really might be watching an actual assault or an actual rape. Watching this content feeds that culture. It's simple supply and demand. By consuming violent pornography, you encourage more of it.

Jonathon: In your opinion, what is the best way to break the cycle of silence and have an honest discussion about this topic?

Jessica: I think the first step is acknowledging women watch porn. Culturally, we can still act like porn is a thing "guys" do and girls are clueless about unless they stumble on dad's stash or their boyfriends show them. We think guys watch porn and girls read romance novels and fairy tales. There's this gender-specific distinction. That's not the case. When we acknowledge that, we help break the silence.  When I walk into a room to speak on this topic, I assume 50 percent of the women in the room watch pornography in some form, regardless of the ages. If it's a room full of teens and college students, I assume much closer to 100 percent. Right now, so many women, younger girls especially, don't feel it's something they can talk about, even though their friends are talking about it. Once you "break the ice," so to speak, and let them know this is an OK topic to talk about, they'll open up.  

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Jonathon van Maren

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.

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