When the world went home in March of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many had to turn to their devices for work and school. This widespread shift to virtual settings did not exclude pornography. While in quarantine, mainstream pornographic websites saw a consistent increase in viewership on the global scale. Popular pornographic streaming site PornHub reported 24.4 percent increase in site traffic as of March 25, 2020.
With an influx in mainstream pornography viewing, Andover invited Natasha Singh, an educational consultant for the San Francisco Bay Area and a sexual literacy educator, to show students her presentation on porn literacy and representation in mainstream pornography. Her work as an educator for 20 years led her to embark “on the kind of teaching [she] felt students really needed: the kind that can foster healthy relationships and sexual ethics,” wrote Singh on her website.
To begin her presentation on Monday, Singh focused on U.S. sexual education. She explained that U.S. students contract 50 percent of new S.T.I.s and have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world. Singh found this statistic is due to abstinence only education in American schools. She found, however, that Dutch students experience the opposite.
Singh said, “Dutch students have the lowest rates of S.T.I.s, one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancies in the world, and unlike their American counterparts, most Dutch students actually report that their first sexual encounters were pleasurable and consensual.”
She continued, “The Dutch tend to start their sex education at the age of four or five… Educators focus on feelings and emotional literacy, the anatomy, names of body parts, to help build comfort and resilience with regard to talking about the body and feelings and the whole range of emotional responses that someone can have towards someone else.”
After covering sexual education, Singh continued on to discuss mainstream pornography. She emphasized that mainstream porn is a business first, so billionaires profit off of consumer viewership.
“I tend to describe [mainstream pornography] as the industrialization of sex and that’s a somewhat academic way of acknowledging that the porn landscape is a really important industry… It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and highly profitable, which means that the folks who are making and producing porn and disseminating porn are thinking about how to create a consumer base and how to profit,” said Singh.
Singh explained that young people look to mainstream pornography because it is free. According to Singh, the ethical foundation and accuracy of mainstream porn affects young people’s sexual understanding.
Singh said, “People come to pornography, sometimes, to find an accurate reflection of themselves. It’s great when you can find that, but often you’re met with something that distorts who you are or negates who you are and what your expression is. It can create harm both personally and societally.”
There are alternatives to mainstream pornography, such as ethical porn. This type of pornography displays a more realistic standard for sex and focuses on the ethics of sex work and building a safe environment for performers.
“Ethical porn… is where people really care about storylines; they may showcase a diversity of bodies, a range of shapes and sizes and ages that are far more realistic. They may care about how much performers are paid, the set conditions, the working conditions, consent, safety, and so on. Again, much like fair trade chocolate or fair trade coffee where you care about the product and how it’s made, you have to pay for it, and that’s the same with ethical porn, which may make it difficult, of course, for younger people to access it,” said Singh.
Singh emphasized the racial stereotyping of people of color in mainstream pornography during her presentation. At first, Kelly Bu ’23 was caught off guard by the topic of the All-School Meeting, but she found Singh’s commentary on racial stereotyping to be particularly prevalent.
“In this day and age, I think her mentions of Asian fetishization were necessary to shed light on the racism and misogyny that [people of color] face on a daily basis because these things are so engraved in our society and culture,” said Bu.
Similarly to Bu, the racial imagery resonated with Warren Clark ’21, a member of Andover’s sex education group YES+. The images showed Clark a visual depiction of subject matter she had discussed while part of YES+.
“A lot of the times [in YES+] we talk about… sexualizing races through porn, but we’ve never shown that imagery to the school before. We talk about it, but we’ve never shown it, and [Singh] did a really great job of almost brutally laying out like, here’s the evidence, here are the receipts,” said Clark.