As a society, we’re in a weird spot with porn.

We don’t talk about it much, and yet (if the internet is any indication) it’s our favorite subject. We hear that it empowers women, but even porn’s biggest producers don’t want their daughters in the business. Some mental health professionals call it a modern plague while others tout it as healthy and natural.

Meanwhile, it drives global market demand for everything from cellphones to human trafficking, even as it touches the most intimate aspects of our lives. So, what is porn doing to us and how is it impacting our sexual wellness?

Doing the research

Luckily for us, science is finally giving us the facts. What was once thought of as a harmless pastime is now widely understood by researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and experts to be a public health concern with scientifically proven harms to individuals, relationships, and society. Hundreds of studies from institutions such as Cambridge University, Yale University, New York University, and the Max Planck Institute confirm that porn can rewire our sexual tastes and expectations, altering how we think and feel, and reshaping the ways we treat both the people we love and total strangers.

At the same time, porn itself is changing — and fast. Adults who grew up before the advent of high-speed Internet access would barely recognize today’s version of porn. They might think of pictures of naked women or videos of couples having sex, but rarely do they have any idea of the violence, calculated humiliation, and abuse that have become the industry’s go-to themes. According to one study, 88 percent of the scenes found in porn contained physical and verbal aggression toward women and in many cases violence.

“Our public conversation on these questions must take account of the challenge, but with insight, clarity and compassion.”

Starting a dialogue

Hundreds of thousands of young adults around the world are opening up and sharing how porn is impacting their lives. Both men and women report decreased satisfaction in real-life romance and less enjoyment of partners. Many male college students are finding themselves unable to get aroused without the aid of porn — something called “porn induced erectile dysfunction.”

So what do we do? Hysteria, fear-mongering and moralizing won’t be much help — and shame only makes the problem worse. Our public conversation on these questions must take account of the challenge, but with insight, clarity and compassion. In the end, sexual health and wellness is something everyone wants — and the real-life romance and relationships that go along with that. Ultimately, it is love we must fight for.   

We’re all facing something the world has never seen. As the most technologically connected generation in history, we are inundated with messaging that has the power to digitally rewire our brains in ways that can impact us the rest of our lives. Are we okay with that?

My hope is that we can open up a more honest, informed discussion on these questions and help change the conversation. Rather than letting industry forces shape our most intimate experiences, it’s time we rose up and spoke up for real relationships — real love — untainted by porn’s impact. It’s up to us.