Hegemonic Masculinity and Pornography: Young People's Attitudes toward and Relations to Pornography

By Johansson, Thomas; Hammaren, Nils | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Hegemonic Masculinity and Pornography: Young People's Attitudes toward and Relations to Pornography


Johansson, Thomas, Hammaren, Nils, The Journal of Men's Studies


According to McNair (2002), there has been a drastic growth in the demand for and consumption of pornography in the U.S. from 1970 to the early 21st century. The annual turnover of the porno industry in 1972 is estimated to be around 10 million dollars. The corresponding figure for 1996 is 8 billion. In 1996, 8,000 new porno films were released and distributed to 25,000 video stores across the U.S. The Internet has added to the great circulation of and dramatic increase in pornographic material. A large proportion of the time people spend on the Internet is dedicated to consumption of pornography (Mansson et al., 2003).

Contemporary youth are well acquainted with pornography. It is difficult to avoid taking a stand on pornography in one way or another. Lively discussions have been pursued among different feminist "camps"; see, for example, Assiter (1989), Crosson (1998), Dworkin (1991, 1997), Hakansson (1999), Kvarning (1998), Strossen (1995) and Williams (1989). Swedish society, as well as many other European societies are marked by generally negative and critical attitudes. At the same time, however, it is clear that, at the political level, attitudes toward those who sell and profit by pornography are not as restrained and negative. In many respects, young people are living in a society where pornography and a commercial market based on sexuality have a strong position. A liberal attitude toward the phenomenon is not uncommon, not least because censorship is thought to be a less attractive alternative to the openness that characterizes a free market.

In many countries today, we find considerable discussion of what is often called the sexualization or sometimes pornification of the public sphere. This refers to the notion that the advertising world finds its influences in the porno industry and in the depictions of bodies and sexuality that prevail in this commercial sphere. The question is what attitudes young people have toward this development. How are they affected by advertisements and to what extent do they consume pornographic products? Is the notion that this is principally a male phenomenon accurate? Are all young men positive and uncritical with regard to the world of pornography? Do all young women take exception to it? The objective of the present article is to try to answer some of these questions.

Many young women look with abhorrence on the outlook on humankind found in pornography, but this is certainly not true of all young women. A growing group of them have positive or at least liberal and permissive attitudes toward pornography (Berg, 1999, Hammaren, 1998). If we look at relevant Swedish studies of young people's sexuality, it is clear that sexual patterns and lifestyles develop relatively slowly. Certain tendencies, however, are clear. Forsberg (2000, 2005) states that, between 1967 and 1996, the number of sexual partners increased greatly for both men and women. Similarly, the age at first intercourse has decreased. According to Forsberg, we can see during this period (around 1970-2000) a change toward increasingly permissive and experimental sexuality (cf., Frisell 1996, Helmius, 1990, Henriksson & Lundahl, 1993, Lewin & Helmius, 1983).

People's behavior and attitudes have changed concurrently with the placement of gender equality on the societal agenda and the increase in tolerance for different sexual lifestyles. This does not imply, however, that these shifts have dissolved the power relations and injustices that exist between the sexes--only that the balance is changing. Sexuality and the erotic have often been associated with transgression and freedom, but if we are to understand sexuality, it is just as important to see how it is constantly interwoven with power relations (Bataille, 1957/1987; Foucault, 1976).

Method

In the present article, we report on some of the data collected in an extensive Swedish survey study conducted during the spring of 2001.

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