Over the years Kanye West proved he was no stranger to public vulgarity. Obscene lyrics and lewd displays were part and parcel of everything he did, from his overly-sexualised music videos, to his open discussion of his favourite porn categories, and even his marriage to Kim Kardashian, whose career was arguably jump-started by her notorious sex tape.

In fact, Kanye was probably the last person you’d expect to find his voice and rail against porn. But like much else about the Chicago rapper in recent months, his statements on the subject are insightful – if a bit surprising.

In a recent interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Kanye talked about the devastating effect that porn has had on his life from a young age. The father of three said: “For me, Playboy was my gateway into full-on pornography addiction. My dad had a Playboy left out at age five and it’s affected almost every choice I made for the rest of my life…it just presents itself in the open like it’s OK, and I stand up and say, “No, it’s not ok”.” He later went on to say: “My mom had passed a year before, and I said some people drown themselves in drugs. And I drowned myself in my addiction (to sex).”

Many critics have dismissed this sudden u-turn as insincere, accusing him of everything from hypocrisy, to pulling publicity stunts to sell albums. Others see it as an honest man struggling to overcome a vice that has plagued him his whole life. But whether we believe him or not, it raises a pressing question for our society: is Kanye right about porn?

We live in a unique era in human history, where, for the first time ever, entire generations of young men and women have grown up with unlimited access x-rated material. In the wake of the “sexual revolution”, technology has granted people access to thousands of hours of erotic videos and images, so that any depraved fantasy you want can be lived out in the privacy of your bedroom, consequence-free – or so it was thought.

As sexual openness is normalised in society, and as Kanye demonstrated in his Playboy anecdote, the age of porn users is becoming lower and lower every year. In 2016, 53% of children between the ages of 11 and 16 had seen explicit material online. This might not be so worrying in and of itself, if the negative effects of porn on the human brain were not so well documented. This widespread usage has already started to show major effects on the psychosexual development of young people – particularly young men – and it’s not looking good.

A 2018 study showed that even infrequent use of porn has negative effects on a user’s sexual satisfaction in life, and that nobody who uses porn experiences a greater overall satisfaction. Other studies have shown that women exposed to pornography as children are more prone to having rape fantasies and viewing sexual violence against females as normal. Still others have shown a strong link between pornography usage and a sense of crippling loneliness. These are just a few of the negative psychological impacts porn has on the human brain. In short, it conditions and alters your mind in all the wrong ways, and even if you decide to quit at a later date, the neurological effects may be permanent. It’s a horror show, and most people aren’t even aware of what they’re doing to themselves.

Moreover, it has major social implications, and can have a significant impact on ones’ interpersonal relationships. Aside from being a leading cause of infidelity and divorce, many young women and girls report feeling pressured to try and measure up to the often cosmetically-enhanced porn actresses their partners are used to seeing. It can cause feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, and in extreme cases can lead to bizarre body modification.

The number of women undergoing ‘labiaplasty’ – a risky cosmetic surgery to unnaturally reduce the size of the vaginal opening – increased by nearly 40% in the US in 2016, and is often believed to be caused by girls trying to achieve what they, or their boyfriends, have seen in porn. This has been known to physically wreak havoc on the genital area, with Dorothy Shaw, former head of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), saying about the procedure: “I have colleagues who see women who have chronic vulvar pain. Any time you cut off a piece of tissue, there’s a chance of bleeding, of infection, and then subsequently of scarring.”

Of the 1.8 million cosmetic surgeries carried out in the US in 2018, the top 3 most common were breast augmentation, liposuction, and nose reshaping, in vastly greater numbers than the year before. Every year more and more people feel compelled to take dramatic steps and modify their body to achieve a kind of “sexual ideal”, and the effect for millions of women around the world is crippling, both physically and in terms of their self-image.

This isn’t even taking into account the extreme sketchiness of the porn industry itself. There are a heartbreaking amount of performers like Miriam Weeks, who had previously described porn as being “freeing and empowering” in interviews, but later admitted that doing porn had destroyed her life. High suicide rates, rampant STI cases, and drug abuse are all-too common symptoms of “the porn life”. Many female performers even report feeling trapped into the industry, as when they quit and try to move on to a more legitimate career, they are rejected due to their past.

A performer named Gauge, who began doing porn at 18, spoke recently about the challenge of finding work outside the porn industry. She tried several different career paths, but she explained: “Every single time, I was discriminated against. Somebody would recognize me, it’d be a big fit thrown.” She would have to change jobs multiple times and could never fully escape her old life. This common story is one of the reasons that so many women involved feel like they just can’t leave the seedy industry. A decision they made as a young woman or girl has now defined them for the rest of their life.

However, Gauge’s start at the tender age of 18 is not uncommon. According to Pornhub analytics, the “teen” porn category has topped porn site searches for the last six years consecutively. When people think “creepy old men preying on young girls”, usually they think of illegal, underground mafia porn at knife-point. But even the totally legal, seemingly “above board” stuff is disgusting when you think about it; an 18 year old girl doing legal porn today was born in 2001. Read that again and let it sink in.

If you find that horrible, realise that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the International Labour Organisation, 4.8 million people are forced into sexual exploitation globally, and if figures from the anti-trafficking nonprofit organisation Rescue:Freedom are to be believed, 49% of sexually exploited women from 9 countries said that pornography was made of them while they were being sold for sex. That’s millions of girls around the world unwillingly being subjected to this heinous and illegal practice.

All-in-all, whether you’re talking about the illegal human-trafficking of women and girls around the world, or the legal exploitation of young, often depressed and suicidal women, the entire thing is heinous. The personal effect it has on one’s brain is catastrophic and it can very easily destroy relationships or even marriages. It’s good for nobody.

All of this makes the new RSE “porn literacy” proposals in Irish schools all the more dodgy. A recent RTE article recently asked how young people could be supported “in navigating their online sexual lives”, and admitted that well over half of Irish men admit to viewing porn for the first time under the age of 13.

Whether or not we want to accept the facts, we need to think about it anecdotally in our own lives; nobody would ever choose that life for their daughter, their sister or their mother. It’s not something we would ever inflict on our loved ones. Are all of these men and women on-screen not worthy of the same respect?