Why I am against mainstream pornography

There was a time as a sex-positive feminist I believed that women should be able to enjoy porn if it floats their boat, and that all other avenues for female sexual desire should be open as long as elements so fundamental to the world of feminism and sex – choice and consent – are present. But all that changed after watching Tim Samuels’ BBC documentary Hardcore Profits. As a person who doesn’t watch a lot of porn I don’t think about it a lot, but it doesn’t take much to scratch the surface of the porn industry to find that it does more damage than fulfillment.

Samuels’ documentary reveals mainstream pornography as a hugely lucrative business operating behind the respectable and wholesome image of mobile network companies and international hotel chains. But it is the globalisation of pornography, via black market DVDs and the internet, that has the shocking and deeply devastating effect on the developing world. In several parts of Africa, easily accessible hardcore porn turns men into rapists. In his film, Samuels visits a remote Ghanian village where boys view American-made hardcore flicks in mud hut cinemas:

The village has no electricity, but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists, with villagers relating chilling stories of assaults taking place straight after the film’s end. In the nearest city, other young men are buying bootlegs copies of the almost always condom-free LA-made porn – copying directly what they see and contracting HIV. The head of the country’s Aids commission says porn risks destroying all the achievements they’ve made. It’s a timebomb, he says.

Now, I’m not one for simplistic cause-and-effect in arguing that porn creates rapists in men the same way violent films and video games inspire murderous intent, but I will argue that without education and a culture that respects women and girls in a place where male dominance is the law of the land, pornography can indeed have a disastrous effect on the social fabric. South Africa, where pornography is legal and explicit material is available at news stands and on the street, has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world – a fact made worse by AIDS. But it is a society that views male sexual aggression and female passivity as erotic that accentuates the truth behind the statistics.

Sexual violence is commonly connected with sexual exploitation. And no matter what porn stars tell you; that they enjoy their work, have the freedom of choice and consent, the pressure to perform a wide variety of sexual acts (which gets more and more extreme by the day) and go condom-free is great.

I am now anti-mainstream pornography, and do not support the appropriation of feminist language that seeks to validate an “anything goes as long as it’s good for me” rhetoric in the politics of female sexual pleasure. I am, however, still a sex-positive feminist, and believe that sexual pleasure that is respectful and non-exploitative is important to the feminist experience.

6 thoughts on “Why I am against mainstream pornography

  1. What, exactly, about mainstream pornography are you against? The depictions? The pressure to perform unrealistic sexual acts? Lack of condom use? The use of porn? The industry? Your “no matter what porn stars say” statement comes really close to the sentiments of anti-pornographers who dismiss the needs, concerns and voices of those involved in the industry, saying, “yeah, but that’s what they say, it’s not reality”. There’s some great work coming from those within the industry who’re doing their best to get things changed, but a huge part of why things don’t change is because of the stigma – who cares about the porn stars say, right?

    And of course, can’t forget that one of the major problems with mainstream porn is how it pretty much caters to the Male Gaze 99.999% of the time. Filament Magazine nearly didn’t get published because it’s erotica for women.

  2. I think any man who watches porn and then rapes a woman was a rapist before he watched the porn. Men shouldn’t be excused from responsibility by saying that porn is responsible for their behavior.

    • Monie,

      I agree with you 100%. But I also added that men are driven to rape in a society that disrespects women and girls, and by a culture in which violence against women occurs with impunity. It is irresponsible to say that only pornography possesses men into committing sexual violence and not misogynist culture because that’s become the excuse everywhere.

  3. Jha,

    My thoughts about being anti-mainstream porn comes from someone who used to think that voices from the porn industry, porn stars particularly, should be taken into account in embracing the industry and respecting their agency. I can’t say I love porn, but you could say that I used to embrace it. But what happens after the films are made, beyond the hands of the performers are the elements of pornography that I have issues with. Also, my fears about porn today come from how easy and pervasive extreme porn is seeping into the mainstream. I suppose I sound pretty curmudgeonly about all this, but I don’t think I can source a lot of pleasure from an industry that’s generally heteronormative and exploitative, and don’t get me started with the X-rated pirated VCDs and DVDs that get sold all over the world.

    Filament magazine is not part of mainstream pornography and I am quite excited about getting my own copy one day. Its effect on the world would be really different and definitely come from a different place, somewhere that’s not driven by commercialism, particularly when the men depicted in the magazine do not fit the hypermasculine/sexual stereotype that most men find impossible to attain. So yay to Filament.

    And as for “no matter what porn stars say…”, it is the demands of the industry and those who pay for porn that I was lamenting about. They can say what they like but as much as their thoughts about the industry matters, ultimately the multi-billion dollar industry is not built on their decisions on how to perform on film. If I am wrong about this, please let me know.

    • Fair enough. It just seemed like you were taking agency away from porn actresses who actually do enjoy their jobs and fight to improve conditions all around. I for one have never really enjoyed mainstream pornography nor embraced it.

      Also, like with other media industries, I feel the limited variety of pornography available is partly to blame for the widespread use of misogynistic porn. Much like how Hollywood execs are not interested in making movies that don’t interest them and thus only market a specific type of movie, I feel the pornography industry runs along similar lines. (Renegade Evolution would be a better source of information on that, though.) So for my part, I’m not against mainstream pornography per se, but against very specific elements which I feel can be changed only with education of the viewers and by more demand for alternatives. So yay for Filament!

      OT, did you know Filament has an LJ comm to discuss images of men to go into the magazine?

  4. I know I’m late in this discussion but I understand and I agree with you. My issue I have now with (especially third wave) feminism is that it has been reduced to just being about ‘choice.’

    I don’t buy the whole “if a woman chooses to be a stripper, porn start, etc.” It’s feminist because it was her choice. Well for starters, don’t we have to analyze some the reasons why women may choose those paths. We know a lot of women feel they have to take those paths. Also, they may not choose it for their own empowerment.

    I also have issues with mainstream pornography. There’s a long lists of issues, the unrealistic beauty standards, how women are usually the submissive ones, etc.

    I also agree with your definition of sex positive feminism.

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