Porn and mental health | Advice for young people | Jigsaw Online

Porn and mental health

As technology advances, the accessibility of porn has increased. We know that many young people in Ireland are consuming porn. The recent My World Survey, a study of young  people in Ireland, found that almost two thirds of young adults had watched pornography on the internet. 

What is porn?

The word ‘porn’ refers to any video, image or print material that is intended to be viewed for sexual excitement or gratification. Pornography portrays sexual acts, but it is not a realistic representation of sex in the context of most relationships.  In fact, there are often professional actors and directors involved, including high quality cameras, lighting, and production. The final product you view online probably took a lot more production behind the scenes than it appears. Most of the individuals involved in producing porn videos make money from the amount of views, so there is a monetary motive. There are plenty of people who consider porn their full or part-time jobs.

Is porn illegal?

In Ireland, the only laws around pornography are on consent. You have to be 17 years of age in Ireland to give sexual consent, and porn involving any participants under that age is illegal. It is worth noting that the porn industry is largely unregulated, with a lot of potential for the exploitation of those involved. Find out more here

Pornography portrays sexual acts, but it is not a realistic representation of sex in the context of most relationships

How can porn impact our mental health?

With the availability and access to porn, it’s no surprise that many young people (and people in general) view porn. Young people coming to Jigsaw have specifically mentioned how porn has impacted their romantic relationships and their sense of body image.

Porn and body image

Many young people have talked to us about how porn affects the way that they feel about their body. In particular, both men and women have said they compare their bodies to those in the videos they watch. 

People in porn may have:

  • For women, large breasts and buttocks 
  • For women, slim figures (‘flat stomach’, thighs that ‘don’t touch’)
  • For men, large penises 
  • For men, large muscles 
  • For both, little to no body hair
  • For both, perfect skin on their face and bodies (no ‘blemishes’ or spots)

However, we know that these features are not as common in reality as they appear in porn. In some cases, the bodies we see in porn were enhanced by cosmetic surgery, makeup, steroids, or video editing for example. There is no way for us to know for sure what is real and what is not. We have to remember that often times the people in these videos are prioritising their body image above many other things in their life. In some cases, porn could be their full time job. Imagine if you prioritised your body image over school, work, sleep, or a social life? We don’t see the behind the scenes in terms of how people in porn achieved these bodies.

Porn and relationships

We also hear young people talk about porn and the effect it has on their relationships. In many cases, we hear that porn has created false expectations in romantic relationships. For example, one person in a relationship may have viewed a scene in a porn video that they wanted to act out, but the other person didn’t feel comfortable. It’s important that we don’t view porn as a standard for sex. In most cases, porn is not a portrayal of real intimacy between two people, and we often don’t see any foreplay or lead up to the sexual act.

Porn is a representation designed for entertainment purposes, specifically for sexual gratification. The sexual consent in porn is often implied rather than explicit (since they are actors and likely aware of the sequence about to happen). We need to remember the importance of consent and sex as it’s often not represented in porn.

Porn and the portrayal of gender dynamics

Many things we see in porn can also be violent and portray a submissive image of women and a dominant one of men. Although this theme is popular online, we shouldn’t assume that it’s a reflection of reality. Many people would feel very uncomfortable experimenting with some of the things people in porn do. As we noted earlier, the bodies in porn can be unrealistic but so can the subject matter.

We have to remember that often times the people in these videos are prioritising their body image above many other things in their life.

Overconsumption of porn

Some young people who come to Jigsaw are concerned with overconsuming porn. It’s very easy to access online and it’s no surprise that it can become a problem for some people. If you think about it this way; in the course of an hour on porn sites, you could view hundreds of videos if you wanted. If you are watching these videos for sexual gratification, you can be programming yourself to gain satisfaction from that level of activity. It can then be difficult to perform sexually in a regular circumstance with one person, in comparison to what you have been used to.

As well, in many porn videos and images, the shots are only of bodies and not faces. This can be problematic as the individuals involved in porn can start to become ‘things’ or objects rather than people. Although there is nothing necessarily ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ about watching porn, we should be wary of how porn can affect us and our expectations, because it’s only a portrayal of sex and does not represent reality.

What if you accidentally see porn?

We have heard of experiences where a young person was shown porn by their friends (for example in a group chat) or saw it an advertisement online. It can be difficult to see something we haven’t consented to, especially if it makes us uncomfortable. If something you see doesn’t sit well with you, you should try to say something. You shouldn’t feel that expectations are placed upon you to look at this type of content if you don’t want to see it.