Mention pron to people who came of age in the 60s and 70s, and it's often a byword for big-bushed centrefolds or videos of awkward encounters with unusually attentive plumbers. But more recently, pron "features" – films that nod to a plot – have been joined by "gonzo" material, which only depicts s.ex. Many of the most popular films have become harder and angrier, while focusing on a range of acts which, as McCormack Evans says, "have never really existed outside the pron industry".
Jensen started analysing pronography 15 years ago and says: "If you had told me then that there would be a common genre where a woman was penetrated by three men at once, I would have said, 'Oh, come on'. But I've now seen things I don't think even Andrea Dworkin could have imagined." Even ardent fans have acknowledged modern pron's brutal trajectory. In 1998, the pro-pron campaigner and performer Nina Hartley admitted "you're seeing more of these videos of women getting dragged on their faces, and spit [sic] on, and having their heads dunked in the toilet."
While an enormous amount has been written about how pronography affects women – particularly the terrible way in which they are sometimes treated within the industry – less has been written about how it affects men, which seems odd given that, as McCormack Evans says, pronography is a product predominantly "made by men, marketed by men, and consumed by a massive male majority".
One obvious problem for many pron users is the conflict between their stated belief in equality and respect for women, and the material they're watching in private. McCormack Evans says he used to exist in a "kind of double consciousness. For that half hour when I was watching pron I thought, 'This is separate from my life, it won't affect how I view the world.' But then I realised it did."
Jensen says he hears about this disjuncture "all the time. Men will say, I know the images I'm watching are in direct contradiction to my own stated values, but I just can't stop". McCormack Evans says pron-watchers can quickly descend into self-hatred. "They're sitting there afterwards, and there's an image left on the screen, and they look at themselves and think, 'I'm disgusting' . . . Then their daughter comes in, or their wife, or their girlfriend, and they've just been to Pilates, and the next day they start looking up Pilates pron, or something crazy like that, and they feel even worse. It can become quite self-destructive."
It can also leave pron consumers with s.exual scripts and images they can't forget, and can't resist calling to mind during s.ex. Dines reflects this in P o r land, in her encounter with "Dan", who is worried about his s.exual performance with women, and tells her: "I can't get the pictures of an_al s.ex out of my head when having s.ex, and I am not really focusing on the girl but on the last an_al scene I watched . . . I started looking at pron before I had s.ex, so pron is pretty much how I learned about s.ex."
Dan isn't the only young man who started viewing pronography long before he had any s.exual experience – and he's also not unusual in finding it difficult to shake its influence. Dr Andrew Durham, a social worker who counsels children who have problems with their s.exual behaviour, says he has encountered children as young as eight "who have got into a mess as a result of ideas from watching pronography. At that age, what they see is almost an endorsement of the behaviour, because they're watching images of adults [authority figures] doing something – although the watching tends to happen in secret, so they know it's wrong as well. But it's often a case at that age of see it, do it."
Durham isn't a pro-feminist writer or campaigner himself, but what he has learned seems to reflect the same views. "Pronography reinforces the wider media-led messages about the roles of men and women," he says, "and can also reinforce a particular attitude towards s.ex, an attitude that is devoid of trust, caring, and, in the worst cases, consent . . . They're learning that s.ex is what men and boys do to
– rather than with
– their partners."
Once young men reach maturity, their ability to negotiate what they're seeing will have developed, but Flood suggests some might still find their pron use "crippling, in the sense of being routinely frustrated that the s.ex they end up having doesn't look anything like pron. Of course, some young men will find partners who are keen participants in the practices found in pronography but others won't, so it's complicated."
I ask Flood whether he thinks pronography undermines intimacy between men and women. "I do," he says, "partly because pronography scripts are really not very much about intimacy; they're certainly not about the complex negotiations of desire that s.ex can often involve . . . Having said that, I know that for some couples sharing pron, or indeed producing pron, is part and parcel of their intimacy, and I think there are ways in which that can be ethical. But I think it's rare."
The anti-s.exist educator and activist Jackson Katz, author of the 2006 book The Macho Paradox, suggests the pron industry has an obvious interest in undermining intimacy between men and women – if couples were to find s.exual fulfillment together, the market would plummet. And this opposition to intimacy, says Jensen, helps explain why pron has become so cruel, degrading and humiliating – why, to quote Martin Amis, it has become "a parody of love" addressing itself "to love's opposites, which are hate and death".
The truth is, says Jensen, that because pronography consists of the same repetitive s.exual acts, it needs some form of emotional content to succeed commercially. It's that which staves off the boredom. "Now, if pronography went towards emotion that was about mutuality, respect and egalitarian relationships," says Jensen, "then men wouldn't buy it, because they're using pron to avoid those aspects of s.exuality. So the route to maximising market share involves including emotions that men are more willing to accept in a commercial s.ex relationship – anger, aggression and domination."
I ask whether he thinks the content of pronography could actually get worse. There are several ways the pron industry could go further, he says, but these might prove the final lines that the culture won't allow it to cross. One is the use of children. At the moment, many popular pron videos include young women of legal age dressed as schoolgirls, "so the line is already blurred," says Jensen, "but I think the routine use of obviously minor children in pronography is one place it could go . . . The other is overt violence – I mean guns, knives and fists. In terms of fetishism, pronography has already explored everything you could imagine that reinforces the domination/subordination dynamic. So I don't know. Overt racism? But how could it get more overt than it already is?"
One of the weirdest aspects of pron is that "it's never really satisfying," says McCormack Evans. "It doesn't meet men's s.exual needs. It doesn't meet anyone's s.exual needs." If pron doesn't even fulfil that basic promise, why aren't more people questioning it?
Jensen believes "the culture doesn't want to look at it. A lot of it simply has to do with the number of liberal-left men who use pron themselves and don't want to engage in self-critique . . . And when it comes to heteros.exual women: do you really want to know what your boyfriend or husband is using? If your husband is mast_ur_bating to images of women being degraded, can you really believe it when he says, 'Oh, I don't think of you that way?'. Now that would be naive."
There's one other obvious problem. "It's all very well to say, 'Don't people realise what this is doing in the long-term?'" says Jensen. "But when you're in front of your computer, with – if I may be graphic – your penis in your hand, and you can reach orgasm within three minutes, how much are you really thinking about the long-term?"