The Truth about Porn

Image credit: Jorgen Ekstrand

*Trigger Warning- Adult content, some of the descriptions in this piece are explicit which some readers may find disturbing. *

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time watching porn. It’s ranged from the typical- ‘Cute Teenage Creampie’ - to the more unusual- ‘Hot Swedish Feminist Sex’. Perusing Porn Hub isn’t something I normally do, and certainly not as publicly as I have this week. I’ve not only watched videos alone - turning down the sound whenever I hear the hall door creak - but also with my friends. Even picking up the phone to my mum, I offered the opening gambit: ‘can’t talk now, watching porn.’ The ignorant assumption that ‘porn is for men’ is all too common. I was surprised to discover the videos were not only varied but, at times, arousing.  

However I did, very easily, come across scenes I found incredibly shocking. The worst involved a young woman, naked, blindfolded, chained to a pole and choked. She was held in position by a fully dressed older man, while another man penetrated her with a dildo; inserted his penis in her mouth; ejaculated on her face. Three men lingered in the background looking on, one filming the scene on his phone. They took turns with her, shouting out to each other: ‘who wants to grab the dirty whore’s tits?’ Often gagged, she didn't say a word..

The caption to this video read:

‘Some girls are cut out for public humiliation, and some girls are good for nothing more than fucking. Cassandra Cruz gives “Public Disgrace” her best shot, but when it comes down to it, she’s nothing more than a warm hole for strangers to stick their dicks in.’

Cruz may be a consenting adult, who has chosen to work in porn and is happy with her job. She may be a casualty of the manipulative and abusive practices commonly associated with the industry. We cannot know. Porn videos like this are decontextualised for the viewer. We cannot see Cruz consenting, either physically or verbally.

Of course, a woman may enjoy being gagged, and more. But in a ‘real-world’ sexual situation, consent cannot be ambiguous. This is where the video fell short. In our society,  porn can be a significant source of sex education for young people. Videos like this teach young men that it is acceptable to ejaculate on women’s faces, in their hair, on their breasts, to verbally abuse them; even, in some cases, that resistance is a kind of foreplay.

We could make short prefixes to every porn video compulsory, in which the fully clothed actors confirm their consent. Maybe this would draw a sharper line between fantasy and reality. Yet presenting violence, even when under explicit conditions of consent, as a subject for arousal could still encourage men and women to perceive violent sexual behaviour as normal. In the UK, where 1 in 5 women have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16, such normalisation - even with a prefixed caveat - may only worsen these statistics.

‘Feminist porn’ aims to create pornography that empowers rather than objectifies women, showing authentic female sexuality instead of enacting fantasies. It initially seems a more attractive option. But right now these films are only consumed by a tiny minority of people. Julia Long, author of Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism, believes that this reduces it to “a distraction from the debate about mainstream pornography, which perpetuates narratives that normalise violence against women and girls”. Feminist porn can do nothing to counteract the problem that, on the internet, these more equal presentations of sex co-exist so closely with sexual violence. The ease of google search puts the consensual and the non-consensual into one big porn pot, blurring the lines for viewers about what they can try in real life and what they cannot.

It is on this point that the work of the influential feminist legal scholar, Catharine MacKinnon, in attempting to change the legislative position of porn becomes important. She differentiates ‘pornography’ from ‘erotica’: porn is not just sexually explicit images or words, but those that subordinate women. On this basis, porn is not just obscene. It is a form of hate speech, equivalent to inciting racial hatred. It should constitute a violation of the law.

When I first considered this censorship of porn, I had a knee-jerk liberal reaction. Couldn’t we simply improve sex education in schools, providing a narrative of what consent, and healthy sexuality, really involves? This is important. But, in my week really watching the stuff, as many do every single day, I glimpsed the harms that violent and degrading pornography could cause. I believe this is enough to justify banning this porn on liberal grounds, or risk a terrifying alternative: a generation of people who believe a woman is simply a “warm hole”.

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