Brian Smiga: Hi, this is Brian Smiga here with the 1act.1idea interview with professor Gail Dines. Gail joined us at the TEDxAsburyPark in 2015 and gave our most popular talk, on the ‘pornified culture’ we were emerging into. She’s here with an update, five years later, to tell us what’s changed. Welcome, Gail.
Gail Dines: Thank you so much for having me back.
Brian Smiga: Our pleasure. And even better, I know you’re going to appear on our stage again in 2022 at TEDxAsburyPark at the Two River Theater on May 7, 2022, but let’s keep the powder dry on that talk. And today, let’s get an update from you on what’s changed in the pornography that’s invaded our society over the last decade. What’s happened in the last five years?
Gail Dines: Interestingly, I would say one thing was the most important. It was the explosion of the cell phone, especially as kids are getting them younger and younger now, and that’s how they get access to pornography. So, number one is the cell phone. Number two is the explosion in teen social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok because that’s also how kids get to pornography. What we’ve seen is an increase in the level of kids watching porn. We also see that kids are now seeing porn at younger and younger ages. Some studies coming out of the UK, for example, are saying as young as 7 kids are accidentally stumbling on porn. But studies show that by the age of 16, most males in the Western world have accessed pornography and used porn.
And we’re not talking, by the way, about Playboy, Penthouse. This is not your father’s Playboy. This is a whole new world that you can see when you go onto PornHub, which is the most traveled website in the world, which gets, by the way, more users than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. When you go onto PornHub, there’s no such thing as soft core anymore. That’s gone. If you want soft core, you have to go looking for it. You have to use a credit card. You have to find it. You go onto PornHub, and the porn is right there and it’s free. So, you tell me, what 12-year-old boy with an erection is going to go looking for soft core when what presents itself immediately is hardcore?
Brian Smiga: Wow. What are those solutions that you see emerging? What are the most important ones?
Gail Dines: I’ve been doing this work for 30 years, and those of us who are arguing about the harms of porn are coming from a social science background. So we’re not just talking about opinion here. We’re talking about research. We were arguing about the harms 30 years ago, and now we have a whole new set of research coming out all over the world about just what porn does: how it decreases boys’ capacity for empathy, how it decreases their capacity for intimacy, for love, how it increases rape, sexual assault, et cetera. But there are lots of ways to come at this. What a lot of people don’t know is porn is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. The only industry above ground that is completely unregulated. Completely.
So now there are moves across the Western world to have what’s called age verification, where you have to verify the age of the user who goes on the porn site by a third party. And you actually fine the porn sites if they don’t have that. So this is beginning to get hold. The position we’ve taken, at Culture Reframed, is a public health approach, which argues that the best way to deal with pornography is to build resilience and resistance in kids to porn because you can’t follow them around all the time, nor should you.
We build programs for parents, for professionals, for teachers, and for any experts that the kids come into contact with. We build in parents and professionals the knowledge, skills, and confidence to have those important conversations about pornography. And what we say, as many sex educators say, Don’t have one 100-minute conversation, have 100 one-minute conversations about porn. And it’s not easy, believe me, because your kid would rather be anywhere else in the world than sitting across the table talking to you about porn. So, we’ve actually included in our programs ways to do it. We’ve got scripts up there that, if it doesn’t go right, this is how to bring it back, et cetera.
Brian Smiga: Okay. So for parents and grandparents, the URL is culturereframed.org. And as a parent myself, of a teen, I’m going straight there tonight to learn how to start these 100 one-minute conversations with my boy, and I hope that you will, too. Gail, this is so great. It’s a nonprofit. You’ve taken your 30 years of work and your activism, and you’ve created a practical education that you’re giving away to parents and grandparents and people who care. Great work. What’s next, besides instilling this resilience through education in our children so they can make their own choices? What’s next, do you think, in safeguarding our kids?
Gail Dines: We offer two programs, one for parents of tweens and one for parents of teens. Both are written by experts in the fields of sociology, psychology, neuroscience, pediatrics. All are written by top-drawer consultants. And it’s free, as we said. The next thing we’re going to do is something called PEP talks, Parents Educating Parents, where they’re using our programs, and they’re going to be doing, instead of book clubs, talk clubs around using our modules in our parents program so they can have a community to discuss this.
We’re also probably the first organization in the world to develop what we call progressive sex education with a porn-critical lens. Sex education is taught as if porn doesn’t exist. So those kids go in to get sex education, and if they manage to get any sex education, they’re teaching like it’s the 1990s, like these kids have sexual templates that haven’t been formed by porn. So what we’re doing is we’re building a new curriculum for teachers and any sexual health experts, which starts with unpacking what the kids have learned from porn to then start rebuilding what it means to have sexual relationships that you’re the author of, not the porn industry. What the porn industry has done is rob kids of being the architects of their own sexuality.
And you cannot teach sex ed without the kids understanding this, rethinking it, unpacking it, and then starting to build a sexuality based on equality, intimacy, connection. All the things that make life worth living.
Brian Smiga: So how can educators learn about this progressive sex education curriculum? Are you looking for pilots?
Gail Dines: Yes. Anyone out there who is a sex educator and is interested, should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We and our consultants are working on this at the moment. It is the first of its kind, and we’ve brought in the top-drawer people to do this, as we do in all of our programs. And it’s so crucial because, you know what? We love our kids, whether they’re our kids or your kids, it doesn’t matter. And we are not handing them over to the porn industry. They’re not theirs, and it’s about time for adults to stand up, adult up, do what’s right and stop the porn industry grabbing hold of our kids.
Brian Smiga: I love that expression. Let’s all adult up on this topic. What can we do on the regulation side? All the states are broke. They need tax revenues. Pornography needs to both be age verified and taxed and throttled like drugs and alcohol. Is there anything we can do to support legislation or the acceleration of this verification and/or regulation on this industry?
Gail Dines: Yes. Write to, obviously, your senator. Write to any of the politicians in your area. Most important at the moment is age verification, which they’re getting across France and Poland and other countries as well, where you have to verify your age by a third party. So this is crucial because this is the first time where kids will actually be blocked from going on porn. But ultimately what we want, I mean, the bigger thing we want, let’s be honest, is a society free of pornography. This is not a sustainable society, not for kids and not for adults, either. We want a society based, as I said, on connection, intimacy, love, a sustainable society. And what porn does is rob us all of that capacity. In the long run, our hope is that people choose not to use porn, just as my son’s generation chose not to smoke. (NOTE: I would take highlighted out) generation , thank God, did not choose to smoke.) Where we give them the choices that are the easy choices. Not to use porn, And instead see sexuality as something that belongs to you and not to a multi-billion dollar predatory industry.
Brian Smiga: It’s really interesting that the main tenet is resilience and instruction, both peer learning, parent learning, sex education striving towards individual choice. But that’s followed up by regulation and age verification. I’m going to call it here, but I do want to let people know that you’re coming back to speak on our stage on a whole new topic. Please tell us on the way out, what will your talk be on May 7, 2022, on our stage?
Gail Dines: The joy of being a feminist activist.
Brian Smiga: Amen to that. Great, Joy. I’m calling you Joy, Gail. You are a joyful person, indeed.
Gail Dines: Thank you.
Brian Smiga: … And a breath of light and fresh air. So that is, for the folks listening, culturereframed.org. Please check it out. There’s something there for everybody. And Gail, thank you so much for your time today.