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Editors' Picks Opinion

A Porn Revolution: Potential and Reform in the Industry

Have you ever watched porn? According to statistics recently released by Pornhub, the popular porn site was visited 28.5 billion times in 2017 alone. At any given moment, there are about 800 people searching for videos on Pornhub. So, chances are you have seen pornography—or at least heard about it. If you have seen porn, try to recall the first time you watched it. What was your initial reaction? When I first pulled up a porn video, I felt rebellious and eager, but I was soon hugely let down. I remember laughing at how fake and unrealistic the acting seemed. That was years ago: pornography is still woefully plotless and out of touch with reality today. Despite the detrimental effects of porn and the harmful stereotypes it often promotes, I don’t think we should do away with it completely. Humans are sexual creatures, and porn can serve as an outlet for our natural desires and tendencies. Instead of banning a resource that has the potential to do good, we should instead reconstruct it to reflect positive, healthy sexual values. And this change is possible.

Currently, porn is highly detrimental to the values of young people, the safety of women, and our society as a whole. However, the destructive effects of porn can be attributed to the perverse nature of the industry and the poor state of sex education in America. Luckily, these flaws can be remedied. The transformation of the industry has already begun, as a result of women joining the production side of the porn industry and public figures voicing the need for change. Unfortunately, the pornography industry has shaped porn into an easy target for demonization, which has severely hindered its potential to promote sex positivity and healthy practices. With proper reform and effort, porn could become an outlet for sexual exploration and expression and serve as an educational resource.

Due to the nature of pornography and the pervasiveness of oversexualizing women in mainstream media, our newly-defined concept of sex is lacking in significance and sensuality. Pop culture today is hyper-sexualized, and we are becoming increasingly desensitized to the intensification and commercialization of sex in the media. In an interview with Vice, Rashida Jones refers to this phenomenon as the “pornification of pop culture.” Mainstream advertisements are one of the biggest culprits of objectifying women through media. Many ads either use naked women to sell unrelated products or blatantly perpetuate gender stereotypes by romanticizing the abuse or control of women. A #WomenNotObjects video exposes the treatment of women as props to sell everyday items. These advertisements highlight the normalization of this treatment. For example, one Burger King ad shows a woman giving what appears to be a blowjob to a 7-inch sandwich, underlined by the caption, “It’ll Blow Your Mind Away.”

Music is another industry that is known for promoting sexually explicit content; songs like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke normalize sexual assault and rape, while songs like “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj and “Deepthroat” by CupcakKe advertise sex and the objectification of women’s bodies. Sex-positivity still plays an integral role in this discussion, but it is important to be aware of the ways in which sexualization results in objectification, which permeates our everyday culture and our porn.

This toxic sexual climate has led to unrealistic expectations when it comes to sex in real life. Modern pornography does not accurately portray sexual interactions and often focuses too much on aggression. One could argue that people just do not want to see “real” sex because it’s not as interesting as the sexual fantasies that are often portrayed in porn. However, I am not convinced this is true. If well-done, it is possible that realistic, emotional and aesthetically pleasing porn could be even more popular than the current industry standard. Most would agree that sex is partially dependent on an emotional and intimate connection, but this aspect of sexuality has been lost in modern porn, which has led to a more negative form of sex that we see today.

Many people enjoy fetishes like bondage or role-playing, but there are several forms of hardcore porn that transcend the boundaries of appropriate media. Facial abuse is a popular form of porn that glorifies that degradation and outright abuse of women; it involves extremely violent oral sex that ultimately results in making a girl vomit. It is not necessary that fetish and fantasy be removed from porn to make it more sex-positive, as those are fundamental aspects of sexuality, but the industry must reckon with what is currently a grey area between fetish and abuse.

People watch porn presumably to experience pleasure. However, the danger arises when we begin to equate what we see in porn to what we actually expect in the bedroom. Staged pornography becomes our reference point for good sex, which leads to disappointment in real sexual encounters. This can take a toll on the health and sustainability in relationships, as partners may become dissatisfied when the sex they are having does not reflect what they see in porn. Since porn is dramatized and the sexual behaviors depicted are often over-exaggerated, real sex will likely appear boring in comparison. This could affect sexual performance and pleasure. Intimacy and love are rarely portrayed in mainstream porn, and if these values are neglected in real sex, romance and connection in a relationship may dissipate. Abusive or aggressive tendencies may also be acquired from porn, which can result in undesired sexual behaviors in relationships.

The skewed portrayal of sex in pornography has another, more dire effect on society. The fantasy of porn has become actualized in real life, sometimes leading to violence against women. The most likely reason for this effect is the lack of impactful sex education for adolescents in most of the country. According to statistics published by the Guttmacher Institute, there are currently only 24 states and the District of Columbia that require sex education to be taught. Even in schools that do prioritize sex education, there is not always comprehensive instruction on the core concepts of sexuality, pleasure, and decision-making. According to the same set of statistics, only 13 states actually require that “medically accurate information” be taught, and “26 states require that abstinence be stressed.” These norms are allowing children to be misinformed, and they create a negative, limiting sexual culture.

In 2014, “fewer than half of high schools and only 20% of middle schools provided instruction on all 16 topics that the CDC considers essential to sexual health education,” per these same statistics. There has also been a decline in the prevalence of sex education taught in American schools, leading many students to learn about sex from other sources, namely porn. If an adolescent is exposed to porn and no other form of sex education and is consistently watching degrading depictions of sex, then they will acquire these habits as a part of their sexual behaviors. As of now, mainstream porn is not a suitable educational platform, as it can teach uninformed children harmful habits, misinforming them about healthy practices, consent, and respect. This necessitates not only the incorporation of more variety in porn but also for reform of American sex education.

Most importantly, the industry itself poses threats to our sexual culture and the standards for the treatment of women. There are virtually no federal restrictions on the nature of pornography, as the only enforced law is the age requirement of 18. Manipulation and abuse are rampant throughout the amateur and professional porn world. Hot Girls Wanted is a 2015 documentary produced by Rashida Jones and aimed at exposing the harsh truths present in the world of amateur porn. It reflects the painful reality of young girls attempting to break into the industry. Girls often get involved in porn due to financial struggles or a desire to make it in Hollywood. However, they are almost always unaware of the brutal reality of porn and how unlikely it is that a girl will last more than a few months in the industry.

One of the girls featured in the documentary, Rachel, using the alias of Ava Taylor, endures a visibly uncomfortable encounter while filming a porn scene with a much older man. She explains that she hated certain parts of filming and proceeded to call amateur porn stars “just processed meat.” She said of her experience, “It’s like all about the guy getting off, like the girl’s just there to help….they don’t care about who you actually are.” Rachel had another encounter, where she was anticipating being paid for a blow job scene. However, once she arrived at her shoot, she was informed that it would really be a “forced blowjob.” Recalling the situation, visibly disturbed, she says, “I was scared, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I could tell him no.” She even describes feeling like a rape victim in that moment.

Breakout porn stars are frequently manipulated into doing more violent, degrading work than they initially agreed to. The film illustrates that real physical violence occurs in porn, and what appears to be acting is likely still traumatic for the women in the videos. Abuse porn is extremely graphic and sexually explicit, and there exist numerous sites solely dedicated to porn that depicts this degradation of women. According to research from the Kinsey Institute in the making of Hot Girls Wanted conducted by Debby Herbenick and Bryant Paul, “in 2014, abuse porn websites averaged over 60 million combined hits per month,” and about 40% of pornography on the internet shows violence against women. As of now, the porn industry lacks ethical standards and proper care for its actors and is in great need of more balanced content.

The porn industry needs drastic reform, and it is likely that rebuilding it to make it a safer place, particularly for women, will take a very long time. Hopefully, feminist movements like #MeToo will narrow in on various forms of abuse against women, possibly inspiring a movement to change porn. Changing one of the country’s most powerful industries will require a lot of work as well as input from influential people. Some powerful feminist entrepreneurs and directors have already begun doing this work; the next step is to encourage these efforts on a more global scale.

Porn by women and for women is becoming increasingly popular. Platforms like Bellesa provide free porn that focuses more on the female perspective; their mission statement says, “At Bellesa, we believe that sexuality on the internet should depict women as they truly areas subjects of pleasure, not objects of conquest.” Similarly, Make Love Not Porn, an innovative company founded by Cindy Gallop, focuses on providing sexual content from real people, as opposed to actors. The company prides itself on being “Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference.” Holly Randall is an erotic photographer, who focuses on producing shots of women using high-quality materials and sets. She wants to preserve some of the beauty and class in this area of pornography, but she struggles to keep her business alive due to the industry’s push for commercialized porn. These platforms incorporate healthy values, while still keeping the sexuality and eroticism in porn, but they still face barriers that prevent them from becoming mainstream.

Another example of an advocate for more positive porn is Erika Lust, an erotic film producer, based in Barcelona, whose goal is to change the face of porn. She is trying to get women into production roles and wants women to actually be able to enjoy porn, both as viewers and producers. There is a common misconception that women do not like or watch porn, but this is simply due to the lack of diversity on and off camera. Nearly all of today’s porn is marketed to one demographic: men. Lust wants to change this. She focuses on four key philosophies that will allow for reimagined porn: “women’s pleasure matters,” “adult cinema can have cinematic values,” “we need more body types, different ages, and diverse races,” and “the production process has to be ethical.” But Lust does not want to take the sex out of porn. In her TEDx talk in Vienna, she says, “The sex can stay dirty, but the values have to be clean.”

These are just a few artists focusing on the transformation of porn, and these models might not work for the entire industry. However, integrating these values and methods into mainstream porn will slowly, but surely, revolutionize the industry and reduce its harmful effects. This is the next step in the right direction towards equality for women in the porn industry and a healthier culture surrounding sex. Once the need for these changes is recognized, porn can act as a healthy tool for sexual freedom and expression.

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