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“I found your website while trying to find and answer to the following question, which has been surprisingly difficult to get ANY real information on:
Last month, I inadvertently found some VERY violent pornography among a loved one’s belongings — extreme stuff by any standard: mutilation, broken bones and torture, even hints of necrophilia and snuff, all sexualized in one way or another.
He’s long been quite vocal about being a kinkster, and I understand that much of this is “play” — “like a violent video game,” as it’s been described to me. But is material this extreme something to worry about, in your opinion?”
The short answer is that it’s probably not a big deal. The slightly extended answer is that no one really knows, but it’s probably not a big deal.
Very long answer:
So I’m not really sure how you came to be exposed to this information about the person you love, nor what the nature of this pornography is, but I’ll make some guesses and move on to the important issues…
There are basically two angles I see to answering your question: 1. Should you be worried about this person actually going out and raping/torturing/murdering people? And 2. Do I personally believe him watching/owning this is immoral?
Should I be worried about him actually going out and raping and murdering people?
…Probably not. There’s a pretty big difference between watching fucked up shit and doing fucked up shit. There’s at least one study (which to the best of my knowledge has never been replicated) that found that in countries where (fake) child porn was legal, child molestation rates were much lower (see Perv). Thus there’s actually some reason to believe that people watching “bad” porn might make them *less* likely to do “bad” things (I know I get therapeutic experiences from playing violent video games, and I think there’s every reason that the same idea could be applied to violent porn).
I have a partner who jerks off to (free and publicly available) videos of people being (actually) tortured because he figures the videos have already been made so he might as well as enjoy them. He’s not even looking at “porn”–just eroticizing the torture that someone else experienced, which might objectively be way creepier than what your friend is doing. Yet I’m fairly certain that my partner’s not likely to go on a serial killing spree any time soon, but I guess you never know. All of which is to say that watching, reading, and jerking off to “extreme” stuff doesn’t necessarily make someone more likely to do those things. If he’s deep into the BDSM subculture, a big motivation for a lot of kinksters is to find ways to do super fucked up things in safe(ish) and consensual ways.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no reputable or meaningful academic studies that have looked at the actual violent tendencies of people who watch extreme porn. There’s good cause for them to look at it, too, because merely possessing such pornography became a crime in the UK in 2009. For a great look into all this, check out Clarissa Smith’s chapter on snuff (link) and Jonathan Clough’s article on extreme pornography (link).
Okay, now I know you’re thinking about the three million studies you read where a psychologist took 36 undergraduate men, showed them some violent porn, and then they said they thought the idea of raping women was more appealing. The problem is that those studies have nothing to do with real world behaviors. And lest you appeal to the “common sense” argument here, let me point out a “common sense” contradiction between experiments and real-world findings that is much better understood: condom use while intoxicated. Common sense says that people are less likely to use condoms when they’re drunk, experiments say that men who are drunk find condoms less appealing, but… real world data say that there’s just no connection (I wrote a paper on this in 2013). Really, the question that they should be researching is if a taste for violent pornography is linked to actual violent behavior, but I can’t find anything that does that.
And I know you’re thinking about all those news stories about the crazed serial killer rapist dude with his terrifyingly creepy porn collection, and forensic researchers who insist this is real evidence. The tricky thing there is that’s a one-way correlation: my understanding is that there are pretty decent odds that people who do fucked up things will watch really fucked up porn. But the correlation doesn’t necessarily go both ways: there’s decent reason to believe that lots of people watch really fucked up porn but don’t do the really fucked up things. I think Smith’s article (cited above) does a pretty decent job of explaining why that might be.
But what about the moral implications?
For me, it mostly depends on whether the people making the pornography in question are doing so in an ethical way. According to Smith, a lot of these websites promise that no one was actually harmed in the making of their pornography. To that, I say, cool. If the porn is not ethically produced, then I think it’s super creepy to financially support it (and kind of neutral to say, steal it off the internet). But people buy stuff that’s immorally produced all the time (from illegal drugs to the literal clothes on our backs), and I personally think that anyone who’s supporting the Mexican drug cartels has way more to answer for than people supporting an itsy-bitsy basement industry of criminally produced pornography. They’re both terrible, but… hey, that’s just me…
The British government, by the way, decided they didn’t care about the ethics of production. They decided it was just bad, end of story. So if your loved one lives in the UK, he’s in potential legal trouble, regardless of the ethics of the thing.
The thing that actually matters
True story: I once went on a date with a guy who did in fact commit first degree murder just a couple of years later. After that single date, I decided there was no way I would ever go out with him again because he was “clearly too violent.” This was blindingly obvious to me, but clearly not quite as clear to many of his friends…
My point here is that the majority of the time, people don’t randomly turn out to be serial killers and rapists; there are usually a thousand clues around them that have nothing to do with porn and everything to do with how often they’ve beaten people up, talk about beating people up, and how much they believe “women really want sex from you even when they say no”. There are a small number who aren’t so obvious, and they generally have NO friends; the ones who actually have friends and still manage to pass as normal people are absurdly rare.
So. In my opinion, the real question isn’t, “Should I be concerned that my friend has creepy taste in pornography?” but far the far more complex, “Does my friend seem like someone who gives a shit about the well-being of both men AND women in general and his partners specifically? Do his partners seem afraid of him? Does he seem to have violent tendencies in general? Does he often cover up things, lie, constantly make excuses, hypocritically slut shame, seem really into sex but weirdly and disproportionately uncomfortable talking about it in a personal way, or massively exaggerate?” Even in the BDSM scene, I’ve met a number of people who were really bad people, and every single one of them so far was easily identifiable to me by one of those traits. And in my experience, those are the things that separate the kinksters with disturbing tastes from the future convicts of the world.
And believe me when I say I know, have played with, banged and AM a kinkster with slightly disturbing tastes.
Freaked out about your kid’s porn preferences? Chances are, they’re just kinky, not a future abuser. Dan Savage offers some great advice for parents who are worried about their kids.
I regularly have people who are contemplating polyamory with various degrees of seriousness ask me for advice on becoming poly, and for tales of my own polyamorous conversion. So here goes.
Becoming poly is a radically different proposition depending on your current relationship status. The easiest way to become poly is if you’re currently single and you decide to “try poly”; this decision usually is most successful if you’ve already made the decision and don’t become effectively coerced into it by a situation. For example, there’s a world of difference between thinking, “I don’t know about this whole monogamy thing” and falling for a married woman, versus coincidentally falling for a married woman and sort of stumbling into polyamory as a result. If you’re single and want to date poly, it’s pretty easy: get on okcupid and claim to be “available” even though you’re technically single. Voila. Go to kink or pagan events, which tend to be frequented by poly folks, to pick up partners. Go to poly meet-ups. Not too tricky.
Turning your happy long-term monogamous relationship into a happy long-term polyamorous relationship is a much trickier proposition, however. I’ll start by telling my story, I’ll review some common problems with this dynamic, and then I’ll offer some practical tips and advice, most of which apply for poly singles and couples.
Once upon a time, I was an 18-year-old high school student who scoffed at the “doomed institution of marriage,” and doubted my capacity for successful monogamy after spending the previous summer engaged in wild crushes and flirtations with at least three boys at once. Lo and behold, I met Bastard, another 18-year-old virgin high school student who was the sexy geek I never dared dream about. I told him before we ever started seriously dating, “I doubt I can be monogamous,” and he said, “Good, because I doubt I could be either.” Well, that was easy enough. Time went on, and as our relationship grew more serious, we sort-of defaulted to monogamy (neither of us was exactly drowning in options, anyway), but we were miles away from a traditional monogamous dynamic either. Eventually, after Bastard and I had been together about four years, I accidentally fell in love with a good (female) friend; although that didn’t work out, Bastard was extremely supportive, and I had great faith that we could do this whole non-monogamy thing. I eventually decided that marriage might be a redeemable social institution after all, but we deliberately wrote monogamy out of our wedding vows.
That was back in 2003, and we inhabited a different world back then. I had never been to a pagan gathering and never met anyone who identified as poly (I had only been introduced to the word the year before). I went to my first pagan gathering in 2005 and met a whole passel of practicing polys. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by people who were living my nervous fantasy. It seemed possible.
Bastard was always less nervous about embarking on a poly life than I was. We talked incessantly, processing the numerous possibilities and problems that might arise once we took the “poly plunge.” (I’ve discussed some of the necessary evils of poly processing here). Some of the issues I had to work through for myself were: worrying that if he fell in love with someone else, he wouldn’t love me the same way; being anxious about spending the night alone; believing that he was as okay with me seeing other men as he was with me seeing women; working through the fact that he has always harbored the desire to “share” a woman with me–a fantasy I find much less appealing. I was never worried about the prospect of him having sex with someone else. But neither of us found the idea of swinging appealing, so I knew I had to be able to deal with the prospect of him forming a relationship with someone else. I felt reasonably comfortable with all these things by the time we finally decided to finish being monogamous. Three things precipitated the timing of our eventual plunge into polyamory: (1) me finishing grad school, which greatly reduced the overall stress level in the house, (2) the two of us playing together in a public sex space, which we enjoyed very much, and (3) my increasing desire (bordering on need) to have sex with women.
Since taking the poly plunge, our greatest challenge has always been that I have a much easier time finding partners than he does. I don’t have any easy answers to that one; I wouldn’t say we’ve “solved” the problem. (For anyone reading this, my husband is an awesome catch. He’s just geeky and shy on first acquaintance). Our other big issue is the same one all poly people have: time. Our culture brings us up to believe you can’t be in love with more than one person at the same time, but I believe this is nonsense. We have an infinite capacity to love; what we don’t have is an infinite capacity to spend a healthy amount of time with an indefinite number of lovers (I’ve written more on that problem here). Again, this remains an ongoing problem that requires regular attention for us.
My Advice to Couples
As you and a partner consider polyamory for yourselves and your relationship, I would encourage you to think about some of the following things. First, what do you each of you as individuals hope to get by opening your relationship? Second, what do each of you hope that your relationship will get by opening it? Answering these questions will help you decide if you just want to “open” your relationship, or if you want to be polyamorous. This diagram (not mine) is both a hilarious and accurate depiction of the many varieties of “open relationship” forms. I don’t personally have any experience with open relationship forms other than polyamory. The term “polyamory” remains hotly debated, and in my opinion, the word “poly” is more of an identity and subcultural label at this point than a clear indicator of relationship preferences.
It’s important to discuss your biggest fears about polyamory with your partner beforehand. I think of becoming polyamorous as being very similar to the decision to have a baby: it needs a lot of talking about beforehand, and it works best when both partners want similar things. Also, much like having while it can solve some of your relationship problems, it definitely can’t solve most of them–and it can make many a helluva lot worse. The difference between poly life and parenting is that you usually have more role models for good parenting than for successful polyamory.
My Advice to All Polycurious Folks
Regardless of whether you have a well-established monogamous relationship or are a single embarking upon “poly dating,” it’s still important to try to get a sense for people’s “poly rules.” Everyone has different poly rules, and there’s no way to know what they’ll be ahead of time.
• One of the most basic has to be rules for safer sex (which I promise I’ll write a separate post about soon).
• Another common rule is that many people (including me) have primaries with “veto power” over their relationships–that is, the primary reserves the right to approve the other person’s relationships. While this rule might sound comforting to new poly couples in principle, my husband and I learned rapidly that it’s only really useful very early on in a relationship. You risk a lot less telling your partner that someone makes you uncomfortable after their first date than if you tell them after they’ve been dating for six months (at that point, you pretty much have to try to gently talk them into breaking up). If this veto power dynamic sounds appealing to you, I strongly recommend biting the bullet and introducing your dates to your primary ASAP. Yes, it’s often awkward, but not nearly as awkward as going forward with a relationship that (either) partner is deeply uncomfortable with. In short, don’t kid yourself. If you’re dating a married woman and think her husband is a douche, then your relationship probably has a quick expiration date, unless she also thinks her husband is a douche, in which case you’re going to get cooked in a hot mess.
• Try to get a sense for how much time you and your partner are willing to spend away from each other every week (both days and nights). When embarking upon a new relationship, never deceive someone about how much time they’re likely to get with you.
• Be alert for what I consider a Big Poly Red Flag: namely, extremely restrictive poly rules. Not only are these rules often very difficult to keep to (and thus a recipe for Poly Fail), to me they are also indicative of people who aren’t really comfortable with polyamory. That’s entirely subjective, but you don’t want to fall into somebody else’s poly trap, and you don’t want to create one yourself. Examples that I have seen include, “Monday night is my night with him. Period.” “No one else can call after 9 PM and on holidays” (no, I’m not making that one up). I have talked to many people, and the main reason these rules are so destructive (aside from being hard to remember) is that shit happens. People’s parents die, they fight with their best friend, they lose their job, they go to the hospital, etc. (And don’t think age negates these things. My friends are in their late 20’s, and in a single six month period, my husband’s girlfriend at the time went to the hospital, my boyfriend at the time went to the hospital, and I had to take a dear friend to the hospital. Trust me. SHIT HAPPENS). Even if they just have a really bad day, people need to be able to get (extra) support from their partners, or the relationship is doomed. (Of course, if shit is constantly happening, the relationship is likely doomed for other reasons). All partners need to understand that when shit happens, plans will fall through. If they can’t deal with that without getting sulky, angry, or depressed, they can’t deal with polyamory. Period.
After discussing angst, worries, and rules, I want to end this post on a more positive note. People tend to frame the decision to become polyamorous as one of loss and risk. They rarely consider the idea that monogamy also can be risky, as I pointed out here. Imagine if we lived in a culture where polyamory was the default and couples had to make the decision to be monogamous. Imagine the cautions and warnings we would give people: you’ll have to be really careful because most people admit that they’ve cheated on a partner at some point, you’ll lose the opportunity to enjoy and experience lots of other people, your social support network will be much more limited, you might end up trying to parent with only two people, and you’ll have to try to fulfill all of each other’s sexual needs. Put like that, does polyamory really sound like such a bad idea?
I encourage readers of this post to reply with their own stories in the comments section and post links to favorite posts and articles. I would love to create a resource here for polycurious folks.