A lady friend recently recounted to me that she had been sitting on a train next to a man who was openly watching porn on his mobile. My friend felt very uncomfortable and found another seat.

This raises the question, is consuming porn in public now acceptable? In other words, has porn become so prevalent that it should be regarded as normalised behaviour, and to object to its presence is a sign of old-fashioned prudishness? When 97% of British teens between 16 and 20 have viewed porn, doesn’t that answer the question?

No, it doesn’t. It just obscures it.

Respect

So is this behaviour acceptable? One of my guidelines for assessing sexual behaviour is that healthy sexuality is always respectful.

When we act out from a place of wounded or damaged sexuality we have little regard for ourselves, or for others. We watch porn. We ogle women. We catcall. We have emotionally damaging affairs. We exhibit ourselves in public. We rape. In all cases there is no respect or empathy for the women on the receiving end of this damage—but nor is there any for ourselves.

The man on the train watching porn is a case in point. He wants his porn fix, to mainline some tits and bums. He doesn’t care that the ladies on the train find his viewing uncomfortable. He doesn’t care that his porn habit is damaging his most important relationships, including his relationship with himself.

And this is the key to understanding all sexual dysfunction, not just porn. It begins with a damaged or distorted relationship with our own sexuality. The porn—or whatever form this damage takes—is just an external manifestation of an internal wound. Scale this up over millions of men worldwide and—voilá!—a global porn industry springs into being, cashing in on the addictive pull of this most seductive of maladies.

Gauge

Ultimately, porn is a barometer of our society’s sexual health. Right now, tap the glass and the needle will point to ‘stormy’. Or, if porn were a gauge, it would look like this mouldy, broken one I found on an old tractor in Norfolk. Presently, the sexual body of our society is sick. That’s what our porn consumption shows us, whether it’s the statistics on teen porn viewing or a man on a train.

Presently, the sexual body of our society is sick. That’s what our porn consumption shows us, whether it’s the statistics on teen porn viewing or a man watching porn on a train.

No, we shouldn’t condone public porn because it is unhealthy and disrespectful. But at the same time we need to understand that the global porn epidemic shows us that our current sexual understanding of ourselves—particularly for men—is no longer fit for purpose. When men develop empathy for their own sexuality—i.e. their own femininity—empathy for women will naturally follow. And so will the long, slow demise of porn.

Photo: Michael H Hallett