Redirecting the conversation: Advocating responsible porn consumption

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In last week’s Bringing Sexy Mac!, Anthony Granai advocated for open conversation and dismantling of the stigma surrounding pornography. I was very frustrated with the piece, and voiced that to Will, who I asked to co-author this response. We want to answer Granai’s call for open discussion, and together we want to redirect that conversation.

We would advocate a highly critical view of pornography—not because it is sexual or “taboo,” but because it is an industry that thrives on the degradation, abuse and commodification of women and the perpetuation of rape culture. It fetishizes and markets racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and sexism and packages them for the white male gaze.

I was initially hesitant to judge how people expressed and experienced their own sexuality. My thought process was very sex-positive, and I naively accepted that if someone chose to watch or participate in porn, it was OK because it was their choice and a healthy sexual outlet, and was therefore safe from criticism.

As a feminist who now identifies as sex-critical, I have come to vehemently disagree with this mindset. When a person chooses to watch porn, they are participating in an industry that thrives on men getting sexual pleasure from the subjugation and control of women. Full stop.

In their piece, Granai says, “I could talk about the research that suggests that porn and sexual violence often go hand-in-hand.” Research doesn’t simply “suggest” that they do—it confirms the partnership of sexual violence and porn. Of the 50 best selling adult videos, 90 percent include physical violence. Sixty-nine percent of women in sex work experience PTSD, a rate equivalent to that of combat veterans. Women in the sex industry experience high rates of substance abuse, rape, assault, sexually transmitted infections, domestic violence, depression and PTSD.

But porn doesn’t just harm the people who make it. It is also dangerous to those who watch it; it literally rewires their brains. In a 2006 study at the University of Arkansas, Ana Bridges found that men who viewed any amount of porn reported decreased empathy for rape victims, anger at women who flirt but refuse to have sex, an increased interest in coercing partners into unwanted sex acts and a belief that a woman who dresses “provocatively” deserves to be raped.

Pornography not only presents violence as sexual, but it also commodifies structural violence.

On many pornography websites the videos are grouped by categories: not only by the sexual action taking place in the video or the fetish it purports to serve, but also by race, sexuality and whether the performers have a disability. The groupings indicate that any person participating in pornography that is not in the target audience (white men) is The Other. They are to be exoticized, eroticized and consumed. People of color are used as props in the Great White Pursuit of Pleasure. Trans people serve to allow white men to explore their sexuality, and usually with horrible transphobic language. Any other deviation from the marketed norm is a niche category for exploit and sale.

We are not saying that people in systemically oppressed communities cannot find porn affirming and inclusive. We are stating that we believe the industry that sells violence as sex uses oppression as a marketing point.

The majority of porn condones and perpetuates rape culture.

As young adults with an abundance of access to information, our willful ignorance of the reality of porn is inexcusable. We drink fair trade coffee, eat locally, advocate political issues and thrift made-in-the-USA products, but we don’t apply these consumer ethics to pornography because it simply isn’t an “acceptable” part of the public sphere. By not addressing this issue, we continue to buy into the belief that the forbidden is erotic.

We do not condemn the women who work in the pornography industry, and we support their right to choose. We as potential consumers also need to acknowledge that they choose in a society that tells women repeatedly that their self-worth is tied to their image; that their primary goal in life is to please a man and to be sexually desirable.

We encourage you to use informed decision making and become an ethical porn consumer if you do choose to watch porn. Buy from individual performers via their websites, feminist and queer owned companies with a clear mission statement like No Fauxxx Productions and artist-created erotica like A Four Chambered Heart. Listen to the voices and experiences of women who participate in porn, like Belladonna, Shelley Lubben, Danielle Williams, Jenna Jameson— the list goes on. Most importantly, hold yourself accountable for your participation as a viewer and as an individual.