A Note on Pornography

One of my most fundamental principles as a psychotherapist (and a human being) is to be balanced in my thinking. I enjoy hanging out in the unknown and the unpredictability of the ‘grey areas’ because it is where the most exciting questioning and reflection emerge, rather than living in the absolute certainty of a black and white binary thinking. With black and white thinking, there is no learning, exploring or expanding, it’s a sad place.

The topic of pornography is an emotive one, often bringing up binary thinking in conflicts rather than debates. The binary arguments sound like this: ‘if someone is not anti-porn it must mean they are pro-porn’. But the subject of pornography is not so simple, and, indeed, it deserves more nuanced thinking. I think it is crucial to stay in the grey areas to allow questioning and the expanding of thinking to occur.

Whilst in your private life you are free to think whatever you wish about pornography, love it or hate it, it doesn’t matter. But as a clinician, it is important to stay neutral, in the grey areas, and being aware of pros and cons of porn, not just one or the other. It is within that neutral place that we can offer a space for our clients to be genuinely curious about their own use of pornography. I wrote in my book that if therapists have a strong unexamined bias about something (porn is bad), it is easy to confuse a personal opinion with a clinical one and the therapist will more likely direct their enquiries at finding a problem in the client’s life (that may or may not be there) to confirm their own bias that clients should stop watching porn. Although the therapeutic space may feel like an exploration, it is not a genuine one within the grey areas, it is a biased one held by the therapist’s certainty about porn. I mention this here because this is very subtle and easy mistake to make.

When there is such an emotive topic, it is the therapist’s responsibility to equip themselves with the knowledge from all sides, the pros and the cons, to have a wider picture of the subject and potential issues.


  • There is now a vast body of proper and sound research in sexology, psychology, psychiatry and sociology that keeps replicating the same results: pornography does not cause sexual problems or mental health problems.
  • Pornography does not cause misogyny (misogyny predates online porn by centuries).
  • Pornography can even enhance people’s sex lives if the people in the relationship share the same values about it.
  • You can find a collection of those research on porn-science.com

A recent review on the research in ‘sex addiction’ and ‘porn addiction’ over the past 25 years has shown that those research are biased and lacking in robust methodologies, highlighting one of the biggest problems in this area: a lot of research that is biased (wanting to find only one preferred result and therefore conducting the study with that in mind, rather than looking at disproving the original assumption, which is more scientifically sound) means that much of what we read and absorb about pornography is inaccurate because these studies confuse causation and correlation, the worst mistake in science.


Discussing that pornography is not the dangerous public health crisis that anti-porn movements want us to believe, and highlighting the benefits of porn, does not mean that we have to be pro-porn. There are definitely some problems with pornography.

  • For example, the mainstream heterosexual porn can be ghastly. The male performers look bored, the women look in pain, having anal sex with no lube. It's like Dom/Sub play gone terribly wrong... The oral sex scenes aren’t better; the men missing the clitoris completely and the woman screaming as though she had the best orgasm of her life in less than 5 seconds... And the women choking on the penis so hard you can tell it is hurting them, sending terrible messages of the sexual expectations of men and women. The performer’s bodies are also unrealistic, with perfectly designed and hairless vulvas, larger than average penises, making most viewers feel bad about their bodies.
  • It is obvious that it is adult entertainment made by men who don’t know much about sexual health for other equally ignorant men. It's no surprise there is a large number of women coming to therapy complaining that their male sexual partners are too aggressive and trying to be like a porn star.  

But if we stay in the grey areas, we can question and reflect: is it the porn itself that creates these problems, or is the mainstream porn only a symptom of something more disturbing?

Pornography has never wanted to be sex education nor altruistic. It is a large industry for profit-making. Pornographers actually respond to demand. If men were not raised with strict views of masculinity and with overt or covert sexist ideas in the first place, would they demand such porn?

The research indicates that people don't watch online content they find morally wrong, they usually click away within seconds, which means that people watching that kind of mainstream misogynistic porn may actually like the idea of doing these things to women in the first place. Whilst we know from research that porn does not cause misogyny, it can certainly maintain it.

Demonising porn for men’s sexual behaviours may be a red herring in order to avoid the more unsettling problem: how do we conform with society’s intrinsic misogyny when raising our boys? Indeed, challenging misogyny and changing some core beliefs of our society is a much bigger job to do, than to simply point the finger at one thing.

The negative messages of masculinity that people of all sexes absorb from early on in childhood combined with poor, or nearly non-existent sex education on boundaries, consent and pleasure is the real problem, whether we like porn or not.

One of the negative messages is that men learn to measure their masculinity with their sexual potency. But without good sex education, they don’t have a map of what being a ‘good lover’ looks like, so they turn to porn for education. The drive for these men to have sex like a ‘porn star’ is not always the intention to be sexist, but it is because they erroneously believe that being a ‘good lover’ means to do what porn stars do.

Porn ‘Addiction’

In the context of clients seeking help for their compulsive use of porn, I think it is important for a sex-positive therapist to help break the many myths of 'porn addiction' which is perpetuated by a dominant anti-porn narrative. It is important that therapists don’t collude with those myths without thinking more clearly about it, and to stay in the grey areas instead. Colluding with the porn panic narratives will only shame male clients for watching it, which is counter-productive.

Helping a client who complains about 'porn addiction' is different from helping a client who has unhelpful sexual behaviours with his partner in bed.

Rather than encouraging clients to ‘stop watching porn’, which can be shaming and received as a prohibition and deprivation of pleasure, we can say ‘watch different porn’.

Helping clients with their problematic porn use is to give the correct scientifically endorsed information about pornography and to dispell the myths to reduce shame, add proper sex education, and work on their emotional regulation and underlying issues. When client’s shame has cleared, it is easier for them to think more holistically, self-reflect and make more conscious decisions based on their erotic awareness.

Helping a client who has unhelpful sexual behaviours with their partner is different. But pointing the finger at porn for their unhelpful behaviours is going to increase their shame. Instead, I think that therapists need to challenge their masculinity messages and add sex education.

I often use food analogies to help us understand the nuance of difficult conversations about porn, because we are generally more comfortable talking about and relating to our relationships with food than with sex.

It reminds me of a time when a loved one was diagnosed with a significant heart problem. Out of love for them, my first reaction was to ask them to stop eating double cream, their favourite ‘treat’ which they poured on nearly everything. I was surprised when I was met with anger at my suggestion. Of course, now I understand that my suggestion was heard as a prohibition and a deprivation of their sense of pleasure. So, instead I encouraged them to dance to their favourite music for ten minutes a day, for exercise. That was a welcome suggestion because they heard it as adding a new pleasure.

With our clients, we mostly suggest strategies out of love and care for them, but without the thorough understanding of the pleasure principles, we can alienate them rather than being helpful.

Do I know double cream is bad for my loved one with a heart disease? Yes.

Do I hate to see them eat double cream? Yes.

Do I know for sure they will die as a result of eating double cream? No.

Here I am, living in the uncomfortable grey areas with conflicting values but this experience was the beginning of my understanding of a new way of loving and being: accepting the competing human needs of pleasure, compromising, and embracing people’s autonomy.

Rather than encouraging clients to ‘stop watching porn’, which can be shaming and received as a prohibition and deprivation of pleasure, we can say ‘watch different porn’.

The solution to replacing mainstream misogynistic porn is what we call ‘ethical porn’.

Ethical Porn

Ethical porn is also called ‘fair trade porn’ or ‘feminist porn’, which is sex-positive pornography made respectfully and consensually with no exploitation, where performers have full rights to only do what they are comfortable to do.

Ethical porn tends to show more realistic and everyday sex which includes performers of all body types, a wide variety of genitals and diverse relationships including queer relationships. Ethical porn is made for everyone to enjoy, not just men.

Ethical porn is not accessible for free. As adult entertainment, like all other entertainment, I think it is a good thing to pay for it!

However, as ‘ethical porn’ is getting more buzz and attention, it is now tempting for porn companies to put the label of ‘ethical porn’ on their products but not employing the philosophy of it. As responsible consumers, it is worth checking the company’s policies and ethos before engaging in it.  If you like some performers you see on ethical porn, it can be a good idea to follow them on Twitter, which is a platform that gives them a voice, and check their particular views and opinions about the companies they work with.

When people find an ethical porn company that fits with their values, they can support it by maintaining a paid membership to it, just like supporting your small local business.

Here is a list of websites offering ethical porn. Please note that these websites are sexually explicit and should not be accessed from a work computer. They are not my personal endorsements, only some websites I found in searching ‘ethical porn’, which may not be suitable for everyone.

  • pinklabel.tv - Shows the fluidity of sexuality including queer people, trans people, people of colour, people with disabilities and older people.
  • bellesa.co - A company run by women making porn for women.
  • kink.com - A specialist platform for people into BDSM and fetishes, with a mission to destigmatize the shame around kink, and embracing diversities including people of colour and sexual orientations.
  • brightdesire.com - Porn made by award winning female director, focusing on the intimacy, the fun, the passion. It includes real-life couples embracing mutual pleasure.
  • makelovenotporn.tv - Shows real sex with real couples and individuals getting paid for sending their erotic videos.
  • ifeelmyself.com - A platform dedicated to female self-pleasure.
  • sssh.com - An award winning erotic film platform combining porn and the art of film-making.  
  • lightsouthern.com - This website’s value is to create "really good porn for everyone" by using cinematic ideas showcasing real bodies, realistic sexual positions and real intimacy.
  • frolicme.com - Created for couples and vulva owners. It shows real mutual pleasure but focusing on female passion.
  • lustcinema.com - Feminist porn exploring intimacy, love and lust in sex, shot with a cinematic vision. The films feature a diversity of bodies, genders, ages, and racial identities.

If you want to learn more about working with compulsive sexual behaviours from a contemporary, sex positive perspective, join us in our next intake of our Diploma in Compulsive Sexual Behaviour,  starting in September 2021.

Blog Post written by:
Silva Neves
Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Diploma Director and Lead Tutor