Pornography and the Young Person | Women Uninterrupted podcast - Season 5, Episode 2

The effects of pornography on relationships: with researcher Harsha Polson

April 16, 2024 04:24 pm | Updated April 17, 2024 02:38 pm IST

How does viewing pornography impact a person’s relationships with herself and others? A young researcher tells us the results of her study on persons under 25 who view Asian pornography.

Women Uninterrupted is a podcast by The Hindu. We bring you difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations about being a woman.

Host: Anna Thomas

Guest: Harsha Polson

Title music: Maya Dwarka

Production: Anna Thomas with The Scribbling Pad

You think this is real?

Sex is best when you think you are the first to have invented it.

Real sex has sweat, odours, body hair and frankly, a lot of figuring out why my left bum has a cramp and - should I stretch? But then you grow up a little bit, stumble upon other naked bodies – better, brighter, bolder screen versions.

After constant viewing, you begin to normalise these freakishly large “assets” and the obsession with the “step-family” category. While it seems all fun and games, albeit in locked up dingy rooms of shame, would you believe that such outlandish activities occur in the real world? You then begin to wonder who has birthed these contortionists - these cirque du soleil noise makers. Ronald McDonald can’t compete with their “I’m Lovin It”. You think to yourself: my boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t scream that much; what am I doing wrong?

When you eventually resurface in the real world, you think, wow, she looks like she really enjoyed that. Maybe I should try that. Your partner gets home from work and you bring it up. They look at you a little startled, unsure if they would be comfortable doing something so degrading. And you think, “He/she is sooo damn boring. I need to get with someone who is exciting and fun. Plus, I really don’t like their love handles. Tell me he doesn’t look like Hugh Jackman with a dad bod. If only he took care of himself a little more. Maybe I would still be attracted to him.”

And that’s the trap. You look at these perfect bodies, with that perfect skin. Achieved through copious amounts of makeup, and in that perfect down lighting that makes their abs pop. And you think this is real. Oh honey, look at the before and after, and get ready for a shock. It takes painful hair removal, an hour’s gym session to get a pump, and finally, slathering buckets of baby oil to get to that smooth p*rnstar look that you all love

seeing. Even after all that, it’s a cinematic masterjob in editing and touch-ups that get you to the final product. If you need any further assurances, just watch an outtake/bloopers section and you will realise that even fake love making is filled with awkward moments and lots of laughs, unlike the perfected symphony where both performers move with the harmony of an Olympic figure skating team.

It’s almost as if its “scripted” (oh, the shock and horror).  

-Man, 26, interrupting 


Host: This is Anna Thomas, your host on Women Uninterrupted, a podcast on The Hindu. In this episode, I have Harsha Polson. Welcome to this episode where we are talking of the effect of porn on relationships. Harsha’s with me because she has done research – a manuscript - on…

Harsha: Yeah, so I recently did research on specifically how Asian pornography affects the social relationships of people - young people. So, I looked into a lot of factors: how it is affecting their sexual relationship with their partners or with their friends, with their families; how is it affecting themselves in a certain way?

Host: By Asian, you mean South Asian, Indian and the continent?

Harsha: I mainly refer to Southeast Asian; so mainly the Japanese and the Chinese culture and the porn and all of those things that has been shown. I’m not looking into the Indian ones.

Host: …and hardcore porn.

Harsha: Yeah.

Host: So, by hardcore porn, I would understand that it is porn purely based on a sexual act without emotional attachment. Would you say that? Let’s define that for this episode.

Harsha: The hardcore porn that we mainly browse in the web is mainly the ones which are staged, and if you look closely there’s nothing romantic about it. It’s not lovemaking; it is basically just two people coming together, having an intercourse and just leaving. So, there is no romance, nothing romantic about it. It’s just having sex and leaving after that, and that’s how…they make it into stories. So, in Asian porn specifically, if you see, they make a lot of stories – storylines and all of those. Everything is staged.

Harsha Polson

Harsha Polson

Host: At what age generally did your subjects start watching porn and how many hours did they spend? On an average.

Harsha: Most of them started watching porn around the age of 11-12 - around that age - the age where you just get to know a lot of things, like, you’re curious about a lot of things. And I remember during the interview, I asked all of them that: why did you start at that point of time? Like, why not later or why not earlier? So, they were like, it’s the peer group that they mostly hang out with. So, they talk about a lot of things. And since they don’t get sex education from the family or from the parents’ side, they are very curious about a lot of things: like how this works, how sex works, how this whole reproductive system happens, like what are my genitals for? They don’t know what it is used for. So that’s how they started looking into it. And then it just becomes like a habit of going through it all day, every day.

Host: Yeah, porn as sex education; porn as a way to kill time…How many of your subjects were in relationships?

Harsha: One of them was in a relationship while I was interviewing. So, the rest of them were not: they recently maybe broke up or were not interested, or maybe just having casual dating or hookups; maybe something like that. So. one was in a relationship and I asked that person that did this - watching this - did it actually benefit your relationship or it’s kind of taken that spark away from the relationship? And she said that it affected in a positive way because they both are inexperienced in some or the other ways. So, it helped them to get closer, to get to know a lot of things. Maybe it is a very bad source of getting to know things because that is not how in reality things work. That was kind of used as a point of reference, or it brought them closer. But she’s not proud about it. She’s like: We could have done something else or we could have looked into something else.

Host: You mentioned that Asian porn portrays women as submissive; and there was a lot of violent porn.

Harsha: So, this is something that I’ve only seen in Asian pornography. In Asian culture, women are expected to be very submissive, very quiet, obedient, very sweet, caring. Emotional. Vulnerable. All of these adjectives are very much associated with women, not with men. And on the other hand, with men - they have to be powerful, “attitude,” dominant and all of those things. But when you see that in a pornographic video, it just gets very…As a woman of this century when you’re seeing a woman getting beaten up without her consent, she’s getting…I would call it rape, what is being shown there - a lot of

people don’t…but I would call it a rape - without consent of a person. You are having sex with that person and that person is getting tied up but it is being sexualized. It is being storylined and portrayed to millions of people. I am not consuming it, but a lot of people do consume it and take ideas from it and they feel that what they see is OK to do with the person that is with them. And I kind of have seen the comments that my friends sometimes pass...because, in pornography women’s bodies are shown in a certain way, they themselves start to have their own insecurities about their body – are they not good enough or if they have smaller breast size…bigger ones are the ideal ones that have been considered in society. I have seen that a lot of my friends comment - very, very friendly comment it would be but it is something that is coming from this place. So how do they know that bigger breast sizes are much more attractive? How? Through media, through how easily it is accessible - you consume it: that’s how the ideas come into…so in your daily life also, you sometimes very subtly pass comments. You don’t know where the actual thinking is coming from.

Host: What were the main conclusions of your research?

Harsha: I had three findings in this. The main conclusion: first was the influence of media and how it’s impacted the mindset of young adults. And the second theme was that Asian porn had its impact on power dynamics between men and women. Third is that effective education and awareness programmes to improve parent-child relationships: all of my interviewees, they said that if the parent and child relationship was improved, nobody would have actually got into something like this. Or, at least, you would have known when to stop. Take it as an enjoyment but you should know the difference between reel and reality. You shouldn’t have that certain kind of expectations when you see it, and then apply it in your real life. So, a lot of them said that in Indian society, where is sex education? The parents, if they are given awareness programmes or education on this, would get much more sensitised to talk

about this issue much more openly in families. And it would be much more easier for the students – sorry, for the children - to get out of it and be much more responsible.

Host: The couples - the subjects in relationships - did they talk to each other? Did they know that the other person was watching porn? Did they watch together?

Harsha: Yes, yes, yes. They have watched it together; sometimes they have seen it individually.

Host: What would you say is addiction?

Harsha: Some people who are very addicted to porn, they do not even have the courage or the strength to go and talk to other people and find new relationships or build new relationships. For the pleasure’s sake, they do it by themselves. So, they don’t feel the need to have anybody else in their life.

Host: So, you would say the direct effects (of watching pornography) would be performance anxiety and body image issues.

Harsha: During my research, I also found out this term like, all of them has mentioned this: that woman’s pleasures are not taken into consideration: they said that in the start of the video the women might be not allowing it or be against it and the end of the video shows that she started enjoying it.

A lot of people would disagree with me, but I personally feel that banning is not a solution. A lot of countries - even our country has banned it. But don’t you think people have taken their own ways to find it?

Proper sex education given from the start of the school years…And another solution for this: they can have better communication - work on the sexual part of your relationship with communication.

Host: So, this would call for a culture in which people can have happier, more satisfying relationships based on communication…the important one. Empathy. Rapport…as always for any relationship.

Thank you, Harsha. We were talking about the effects of pornography on relationships.

Harsha: Thank you so much for inviting me here to openly talk about something like this. And I really hope in future more people come and talk about such taboo issues which are in our society in a much more open manner.

Host: Signing off on this episode of Women Uninterrupted, a podcast where we host difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations between women, brought to you by The Hindu.

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