It’s coming

2013-06-25 09:30

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From the internet and billboards to dating sites and erotic novels, sex is everywhere we turn. And in a few months, it’ll be on our TV screens too – at the touch of a button.

Whether you’re a rampant exhibitionist who loves talking (and thinking) about your latest sexual escapades, or a more discreet lover who prefers keeping boudoir antics to yourself, it’s impossible to ignore the subject of sex – even in bookshops.

Following the tearaway success of EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, local authors have been whipping out their, um, pens and writing their own erotic literature.

A Girl Walks into a Bar, a steamy choose-your-own sex adventure collaboration by three local women authors (out in November), and Wolf, Wolf by Eben Venter (R225, Tafelberg), the first South African novel to deal with pornography addiction, are just two examples.

Then there is the slew of dating sites offering anything from discreet affairs for married people ( to hot encounters with younger men for cougars on the prowl ( Almost a quarter of mobile users download porn on their phone, according to US statistics – and in a few month’s time, those with a taste for X-rated TV will have a choice of three adult channels on pay-TV station Top TV.

 The downside of porn

But while some of us can’t wait to take control of the remote, sex experts warn that when porn is so readily available, it can be more problematic than pleasurable.

‘I have counselled men who have had their lives negatively affected by porn,’ says Sharon Brown, a Johannesburg-based sex therapist. ‘Some struggle to maintain an erection because the amount of stimulus they need to stay sexually aroused cannot be matched in real life. Once you start expecting your real sex life to be like porn, there is a big disconnect that will lead to problems.’

As Joburg sex therapist Dr Elna McIntosh says, male porn stars can have a massive influence on the average man’s self-image.

‘If they get too wrapped up in the fantasy, they are likely to feel that what they’re watching is real. And if they see men with rippling muscles, a plus-sized penis and supersonic stamina, they might measure themselves negatively against that ideal.’

Negative physical comparisons not only affect the male viewer. Candice*, a 31-year-old graphic designer from Johannesburg, isn’t a fan of porn herself – but her husband of two years is.

‘The fact that he likes it so much makes me feel insecure, because I don’t understand why I’m not enough to satisfy all his sexual needs,’ she says. ‘The more insecure I feel, the less sex I want to have and the more porn he watches – it’s an unhealthy cycle that I feel a lot of people go through in silence because it’s embarrassing.’

While Candice feels emotionally stripped by her husband’s fascination with porn, he’s being compromised in another way: repeated exposure generally increases tolerance of explicit material and the behaviours depicted, says Dr McIntosh. ‘Those who are aroused by the material are likely to engage in masturbation or sex, within a few hours of watching it. Repeated short-term exposure results in increased disinterest and satiation.’

A study done in the USA may have found a reason for this: it came to the conclusion that pornography can be as physically addictive as drugs and alcohol. One of the researchers, neurosurgeon Dr Donald Hilton Jr, found that repeated exposure to porn affects the brain the same way as overuse of drugs and alcohol: it ‘hijacks’ the brain’s natural pleasure system. ‘Just like other addictions, pornography addiction will interrupt dopamine (which helps control your brain’s pleasure centres) and it will cause a part of the brain to shrink,’ he says.

Is it a harmless habit?

With pornography literally at most people’s fingertips, should we be concerned? Dr McIntosh says it’s a very personal issue.

‘For those who believe that anything fostering more permissive attitudes toward sexuality is morally wrong, then exposure to explicit sexual material is clearly unacceptable,’ she says.

‘Others, however, believe there’s nothing wrong with being stimulated by X-rated materials.’

She adds that therapists and educators use materials showing consensual sex between adults to help couples reduce anxiety, improve sexual knowledge, and to enhance their sexual pleasure.’

Yoliswa*, a 28-year-old attorney from Johannesburg, says that viewing porn is, for her, akin to other people watching reality shows. ‘It’s a harmless way to have fun, alone and with a partner,’ she says of her twice-a-week habit.

‘I know a lot of women who watch pornography; it’s just not spoken about much. I think we’re mainly told that we should feel bad about women being degraded, but I don’t feel that way. My sex life hasn’t been negatively affected, either – if anything, it’s enhanced. I don’t need porn to have good sex, but sometimes it gets me in the mood.’

Adam*, a 36-year-old IT specialist from Durban, watches porn at least three times a week. ‘I think it’s great that I can get porn as and when I feel like it,’ he says.

‘I think it’s dangerous for younger people, especially teens. For adults, it’s fine.

I watch all my porn online and I wouldn’t really be keen to watch it on TV because on the internet I watch what I want, when I want.’

The option of watching porn on tv is soon going to be available to South Africans. Top TV will be adding three porn channels to its bouquet – proof enough that it believe there’s a market for it.

The porn channels, which will be available to paying subscribers over the age of 18 in a premium package on a separate subscription, will only be broadcast during the legal watershed hours (8pm-5am) and will be PIN encrypted.

These measures have been put in place to protect children and young teens, many of whom are already exposed very early to pornography – American research shows that 28% of 16- to 17-year-olds have been unintentionally exposed to porn online, while a whopping 71% of teens hide their online behaviour from their parents.

 Keeping things in check

While Sharon points out that ‘we live in an era when sex is less taboo and people feel less ashamed about watching and enjoying pornography than they would have 30 years ago’, what it seems to come down to is that old adage: everything in moderation.

‘There are so many studies done on this subject,’ Sharon says. ‘Some say the harm is minimal; others say different. The advice I always give is that if it’s having an impact on how you feel and act, and how your partner feels and acts, then it might be time to get some help. Porn isn’t supposed to be something that consumes your life and time. In healthy moderation, it works for some, but when you find that you schedule your life around it, you’ve crossed over to addiction and it’s time to get help.’

* Not their real names.

Sex addicts celebs

David Duchovy, who plays a sex addict on the TV series Californication, found fiction seeping into fact when he had to seek treatment for the real-life internet porn addiction that ruined his marriage.

Charlie Sheen has a well-documented internet porn addiction and he’s dated several porn stars.

Some years ago, Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis admitted he’d become addicted to pornography. ‘WhenI got a computer, I discovered this limitless world of pornography,’ he said. ‘I realised the feeling was the same I used to get when scoring drugs. I actually had to make a commitment to myself to stop.’

The bromance between Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie, co-owners of Cape Town nightclub ZAR Lounge, ended in tears in May when it was revealed that the two had parted ways because Kenny wanted to start a porn business and Gayton didn’t.

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