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14:44

In 2018 Porn Is An Industry: And It’s Not Sex That’s Being Sold, It’s Abuse

Porn is undeniably more visible than ever before.

But what is porn? The production of “pornographic” film emerged at roughly the same time as the motion picture was invented in 1895. If you were to watch this footage, you’d see actress Louise Willy performing a striptease. However, it was more pantomime in nature than anything else, and there is no actual nudity. Speak to anybody off the street and you’d struggle to find somebody that would consider this pornography as we know it today, even if they can’t define it succinctly. Porn has changed.

Fast forward to 2018. Porn is now a multi-billion dollar global industry, with revenue anywhere from the $2 billion mark to upwards of $90 billion per year depending on your source. Nobody would disagree that it’s a growing, constantly evolving business with employees, revenue, taxes and publicity events. With the explosion of the internet in the 90s, porn was given a platform like no other. It went from being the taboo “magazine under the bed” trope, to an immediately accessible commodity.

2005 AVN Adult Expo (Credit: Getty Images/Evan Agostini)

Simultaneously, the digital age ushered in other major societal changes. Online newspapers have become commonplace (The MailOnline has over 200 million monthly users); the app industry has commodified basic tasks like ordering a taxi; and TV on demand is the norm.

Because of this, businesses need to be constantly offering new services, better bang for your buck, and a USP in what may well already be a bloated marketplace. While this might not be new in the history of the business world, the internet effortlessly allows your customers to just go elsewhere if your product no longer does what they want it to. We no longer have to wait for something, so we absolutely won’t. And why should the porn industry be any different? In a global marketplace, porn is just another product with consumers. People want sexual gratification, and they want it without having to even leave the couch.

So how does pornography thrive in this marketplace? The same way as every other digitised product. It retains, maintains and grows its customer base by appealing to and changing with their wants and desires, whatever they may be.

Foundationally, this means having a wealth of “content”. In 2016, PornHub had 23 BILLION visits. This is roughly 64 million people a day viewing just one mainstream site. In terms of content watched, and this is truly astounding, 5246 centuries worth of footage was viewed. In just one year. This makes for a lot of porn.

But not all porn is created equally. As free-market Capitalists would have you believe, an unregulated market drives down prices through competition. This in turn ups the stakes for the performers. They need to make a living, and with paid-for porn in rapid decline, the money lies in gonzo shoots and “amateur” productions to keep things interesting (don’t just take my word for it). Ironically, as the size and profit margins of sites like Redtube and PornHub has grown, the money earned by the actresses has only decreased. Stars like Jenna Jameson are now rare if not unheard of, and multi-film contracts with big production companies are scarcer than ever before, so money must be earned on a shoot-by-shoot basis.

Jenna Jameson in 2017 (Credit: Splash)

With each production company vying for a piece of the porn pie, they need something that sells to those 64 million daily visitors. And what is this USP? Violence. While porn has always centralised the objectification of women above all else, it is only since it took on a digital format that abuse has moved from being an “occupational hazard” to the very goal of its contents.

It is worth mentioning at this point, this article is not about consent within pornography in any extensive detail. Although the subject of consent within porn is undeniably important (and will be touched upon briefly), it is also a vast discussion and unfortunately too expansive to fit in here.

So, as with “pornography” it’s important to contextualise “violence” to really understand how normalised it is within porn. Physical violence is rife — choking, forceful penetration, slapping and hitting — but the violence can also be symbolic. Violence is a tool that oppresses and subjugates, and porn is littered with this “symbolic” subjugation.

Sensuality or abuse?

One of the most popular series is the ‘Casting Couch’. In this, we see a faceless man meet an endless stream of often naïve women, who are supposedly searching for their “big break” in the film industry. The faceless man says he knows how to get them noticed, but he needs to have a “test run” first. What the women don’t know, and what is made very clear to the viewer is that there is no big break. The women are there to be used then discarded. The set up of this production is particularly unnerving because to the average viewer this all looks very real. From the amateur-style production values to the way the performers “act”. Often women appear hesitant to engage in sex, but the promise of big bucks and a career boost in the future means they reluctantly submit.

What the viewer then witnesses is nothing more than a “portrayal” of coerced sex. And let’s not dance around this phrasing. Coerced sex is rape. It’s worth noting too, “portrayal” is in quotation marks because the line between fiction and reality within pornography is undoubtedly blurred. How many women enter the porn industry (and other industries) because of economic hardship and are forced into unwanted sexual encounters because of future career prospects? It’s completely within the realms of possibility that these women entered that very shoot for those reasons. We only need to look at the Weinstein scandal to realise this is exceedingly commonplace.

The fact that this is a “fictional” encounter does nothing for the reality of what the viewers want to see. They enjoy watching a woman being pressured into having sex, the fact that she’s hesitant only serves to sexually excite and encourage. Titles include “Broke mom anal and swallow scam”, “Awkward teen…”, “Long hard painal…” (a portmanteau of pain and anal, for the uninitiated) and “Assfucked for fame during casting”.

These titles serve to dehumanise and totally demean these women through violence and coercion, and simultaneously serve as harrowing “clickbait” for the viewer. It’s clear the idea of a mother suffering economic hardship and resorting to pornography is a turn on for the viewer, more so because they know it’s a scam. Violent and painful anal sex is what the viewer wants, and it’s what the viewer gets. And this is not a niche category. It took me all of two clicks to find this after searching simply for “PornHub”.

But this is just fantasy” says the pro-pornography lobby, and thus it shouldn’t be subject to the rigours of moral examination. Often, pornography is defended as being a place where people can explore fantasy without real world consequences. Now this is all well and good in theory, but as Andrea Dworkin said, “Pornography happens to women”. Not even taking into account that whatever happens on screen is happening to a real woman, you would have to be intentionally ignorant to believe that these depictions exist in a vacuum and don’t have an influence on real world attitudes towards sex and women. Just look at the father of porn star Stoya. He was unhappy when his daughter started selling branded sex toys, because it was distracting for him when he wanted to watch porn. Presumably because he realised that porn stars are actual human women, and not just holes to be abused. Oh the humanity.

Adult Film Star Stoya (Credit: HuffPost)

Think porn doesn’t affect real world attitudes to sex? Think again. In a study done by the British Medical Journal examining the reasons for increasing normalisation of anal sex amongst teenagers:

Anal heterosex often appeared to be painful, risky and coercive, particularly for women. Interviewees frequently cited pornography as the ‘explanation’ for anal sex…(but) Other key elements included competition between men; the claim ‘people must like it if they do it’ (made alongside the seemingly contradictory expectation that it will be painful for women); and, crucially, normalisation of coercion and ‘accidental’ penetration..”

Similarly:

… narratives suggested that mutuality and consent for anal sex were not always a priority for them. Interviewees often spoke casually about penetration where women were likely to be hurt or coerced (“you can rip ’em if you try and force anal sex”; “you just keep going till they get fed up and let you do it anyway”), suggesting that not only do they expect coercion to be part of anal sex, but that many of them accept or at least do not explicitly challenge it”.

Now this is not to make a value judgement on the morality of specific sex acts, but the context within which they arise. It’s clear from this study that consent is not a priority, coercion is seen as a challenge and pain is expected. While the BMJ study concluded that pornography was only one aspect of this rise in demand, it’s not difficult to make the assertion that the hyper-masculinity of sexual competition amongst men, and the laissez-faire attitude towards consent are direct results of films that show women as nothing more than objects on the receiving end of those attitudes. It doesn’t even have to result in sex for these attitudes to show themselves. The recent accusation against Aziz Ansari is just one example that shows men routinely ignore signals that enthusiastic and explicit consent hasn’t been given in pursuit of sex. Is it really so hard to believe that the culture of abuse and entitlement within pornography plays a part in this?

But what about non-violent porn?” (if there even is such a thing). Well, what about all the porn that is? How many women need to be abused and objectified before it passes into morally objectionable territory? 23%? 36%? 88%?. How much unfettered misery needs to be inflicted upon women in the name of (the falsely dichotomous) “sexual positivity” before we start to feel uncomfortable? How much fetishisation of sexual orientation (“Lesbian”), race (“Japanese” and “Ebony”), motherhood (“Pregnant”) and the reinforcing of paedophile culture (“Teen”) needs to occur before we start examining our own sexual proclivities, and consequently what we expect from real world interactions. This fetishisation isn’t underground either. A quick look at PornHub’s front page gives you an idea — “Destroy my teen pussy…”, “Hot daughter squirts on daddy…”, “Hot ebony schoolgirl” and “ 12 Weeks Pregnant Heather Deep Thai Teen gets facial after ultrasound”. This is what a free market built upon misogyny, racism and objectification demands.

But the abuse is consensual”. Aside from the fact that this is a very contentious claim, ultimately this does not matter. In ‘Death of the Author’ Roland Barthes suggested that an author’s identity should not be used to distill meaning from a text, and so too is the case within pornography. It does not matter if the actors intend it to be an exploration of “sexual freedom” if it directly contributes to non-consensual, violent misogyny in the “real world” because of the viewer’s “personal take” on the subject matter.

“Empowerment” lives and dies with the porn stars. It is true that in a patriarchal world the onus should not lie with women to curb their behaviour in a way that doesn’t “tempt” men to behave abusively (the onus should in fact be on men not to be like this in the first place). However, when the paradigm of society is already one in which women are routinely objectified, sexually abused and violently assaulted, it simply does not make sense that embracing this abuse and violence and calling it “empowerment” instead is going to change the deep rooted structural problem of male sexual entitlement. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, after all. It needs a radical and fundamental overhaul, not a Libertarian-lite individualist solution. Just because the oppressed class (in this instance the porn stars) can profit off their own abuse, it does not make that abuse morally justified or suddenly non-existent. Abuse is abuse, calling it anything else just gives men the opportunity to have it justified for us without even having to think about it.

Men see the way women are debased and dehumanised within porn, and we act on it. It informs and shapes our sexuality, and as a result the same happens for women. They’re seen as “prudes” if they don’t partake, but ironically as “sluts” if they embrace it. Just listen to how Bree Olsen talks about the way people view her post-porn career. This is the double edged sword of the patriarchy.

So what can we do? Simply put, we can stop watching and end the demand for abuse. Pornography is clearly impacting our attitudes towards sex in tangible and real ways to the detriment of both men and women, and at the expense of women. Just as most industries will continue to refine their services in an increasingly digital world, so too will pornography. And the currency in this particular digital marketplace is women.

As per the trend so far, it will become increasingly abusive and violent in order to remain relevant and profitable, and what for? We don’t need pornography, and nor should we want it. Sexual exploration can happen between two adults without the prior need for a video of a poorly paid (increasingly young) woman suffering physical and verbal abuse to “inspire” us. If third-wave, liberal leftist men truly believe in equality, then it’s high time they start rejecting the things that only reinforce inequality. It’s time we start expecting more for ourselves, and better of ourselves.