Books / Culture / Feminism / Internet / Sex

Let’s Get Real About Porn

It’s really uncool to critique porn, even in feminist circles. You’re seen as anti-sex, prudish, and keen on policing others’ sex lives. But, porn is not an authentic manifestation of sexuality; it’s a multi billion-dollar industry. The bottom line is not sexual liberation, it’s profit. Feminists tend to shy away from critically analyzing porn because of the fear of being depicted as sex-negative. But, critiquing pornography is not the same thing as judging what individuals enjoy doing with their partner(s). You can be sex-positive and still critical of the porn industry. We need to realize this in order to have a more honest discussion of how porn affects our sexuality and its relation to problems such as violence against women, rape culture, and racism.

Porn wasn’t on my social justice radar until I discovered professor and sociologist Gail Dines. I came across a lecture of hers online titled “Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism.” She is insightful, articulate, and just an overall progressive badass. In the lecture, she discusses her book: Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexualitywhich offers a structural and critical analysis of the sex industry. I had never heard anything like it before.

pornland

Her book was one of the most eye-opening, yet triggering things I have ever read. Here are three main take-aways from Pornland:

1) Porn as an Industry

Most people know that porn is lucrative, but perhaps not the scale. The annual U.S market worth is now estimated at over 13 billion dollars with revenues topping that of CBS, ABC, and NBC combined. Worldwide the porn industry has been calculated at over 96 billion dollars with returns rivaling all major Hollywood studios. Porn producers and distributors aren’t the only ones cashing in. Mainstream industries have high stakes in the revenue as well. Hotel chains, cell phone, internet, software, and cable companies, are also heavily invested in porn profits.

The internet has galvanized this market expansion. There are over 4.2 million porn websites and 420 million porn pages.  It’s estimated that 70% of men and 30% of women watch porn in the U.S alone. The average age of first exposure for boys is 11.5 years old. Just like any booming industry, this market saturation has created fierce competition. How do you attract viewers, when you are just one of millions of distinct porn pages?  You have to get creative. You can’t just sell sex, you have to bring something else to the table.

What creativity has generally meant in the porn industry is making the sex acts as shocking, violent, and degrading as possible.

2) Violence Against Women in Porn

“You know when I left? I left when every single time I left for a photo shoot, the producer would call me and say these exact words: ‘Wreck the bitch.’” –Ex porn director

The majority of what Dines focuses on is Gonzo porn, a hardcore genre, which generally has little plot and goes straight to the sex. It’s extremely popular, lucrative, and violent. The following excerpts are ads for videos Dines found in her research simply by typing “porn” into Google and clicking on a few sites:

[Trigger Warning]

From Onlybestsex.com:

“Do you know what we say to things like romance and foreplay? We say fuck off! This is not another site with half-erect weenies trying to impress bold sluts. We take gorgeous young bitches and do what every man would REALLY like to do. We make them gag till their makeup starts running, and then they get all other holes sore–vaginal, anal, double penetrations, anything brutal involving a cock and an orifice. And then we give them the sticky bath!”

“The last thing we needed here was a vomiting girl—but this time it was close. Stopping is not our style, so she was grabbed by the head and facefucked as if there was no tomorrow. She tried hard to swallow, but there was too much muck, and the bitch had no real choice but to take it all. And of course her love tunnel looked like a train passed through!”

From GagFactor.com:

“Every week, we’ll bring you a new Suffering Slut. Weak, Destroyed, Agonizing, in Anal Pain and Totally Fucked Up right in her ass. And you’ll have all the glory of watching them.”

Pain, discomfort, and humiliation are the norm. These examples are not anomalies; they’re mainstream. It only took Dines a few clicks to find them; she paid nothing. Notice the language they are using: gag, sore, brutal, had no real choice, suffering, weak, destroyed. This isn’t about sexual freedom of expression; this is about sexualizing violence against women.

Veteran porn actor and producer, Bill Margold says, regarding the “money shot”:

“I’d like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.”

I do not mean to criticize people who are part of the kink community. There are healthy and safe ways to participate in lots of different sexual practices. But, if porn was simply a reflection of a healthy range of sexualities, then we would see more diversity in the videos, not the vast majority ending with a cum shot to the woman’s face. Just like analyzing any media or cultural phenomena, it’s important to look at trends, and consider the reasons behind them and their impact on the larger world. Sure, there are videos with women cumming in men’s faces. But, these are exceptions and are not predominant. It’s true that there is porn that’s less violent, but what does it mean that violence in porn has skyrocketed since the 1990s?

The problem is the message porn is disseminating about sexuality and consent. In pornland, more specifically in the gonzo world, women are depicted as fuck objects to be used and abused by men, not human beings with agency and real physical limits.

As Dines writes, “The word ‘no’ is glaringly absent from porn women’s vocabulary.”

This is especially problematic considering there’s no standard on how to talk about consent in sexual education. According to one study, only four in 10 schoolchildren said they had learned “what is good or bad in a relationship” during sex-ed classes at school. This lack of quality education combined with porn’s violent messages is a perfect recipe for rape culture. If the average boy is inundated with porn imagery from the tender age of 11, it’s not far-fetched to suppose that he would have a confused conception of what constitutes healthy sexual relations with women. In a country where 1 out of every six women is a victim of sexual assault, these issues need to be at the forefront of our national discourse and the feminist movement.

3) Racism in Porn

In addition to being brutally violent, porn can be exceptionally racist. Yet, the racism seems to slide largely under the radar. (Although discussing racism in porn is currently more commonplace, than examining violence against women.) Dines begins her chapter “Racy Sex, Sexy Racism” with the following story.

In 2007, during a discussion on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, radio show host Don Imus referred to the Rutgers University team as “nappy headed hos.” After a much-deserved public outcry and a large number of sponsors suspending their ads, CBS cancelled his show. This was all over the news, from the New York Times to Media Matters, everyone was discussing it. What hardly made a media ripple, however was the press release porn company Kick Ass Pictures sent out 3 weeks later.

Adult video company Kick Ass Pictures today announced that it is releasing a movie called Nappy Headed Ho’s, and that $1 from each DVD sold will be donated to a retirement fund for radio personality Don Imus.”

Kick Ass Pictures wanted to support ‘victim’ Don Imus because…free speech. In other words….marketing. And….they’re shitheads. Although a few blogs reported on the press release, it barely made the news. Pornography bubbles just underneath the national media’s consciousness, even though many reporters are undoubtedly porn consumers.

[Trigger Warning]

Further evidence of racism in porn: Advertisements for a porn series featuring black women titled: Pimp my Black Teen. This parody of Pimp my Ride claims to “find ordinary black teens from the ghetto and pimp them out extreme-makeover style.”

A header for one video reads:

“We caught up with Reneeka looking like a tattered hood rat. Once we styled her fine brown ass, her wet pussy took a black cock just fine.”

Another:

“Saxxx tried to clean herself up, but there was no fooling us, she was still a low down dirty ghetto ho! So I rammed her head into the couch as I worked her sntach like a jack hammer, then proceeded to fire a messy load all over her face.”

In these videos, the women are not just depicted as sluts, but “ghetto” sluts, dehumanizing them even further than their white peers. According to Dines, the industry refers to black women as hos so much, the term has become synonymous with black women in porn. The blatant racism is not only apparent in the degrading stereotypes depicted in the videos, but also in how women of color are treated in the industry.  Just like the rest of society, black women generally earn less than white women.

Dines includes an excerpt from a book about the black porn industry, which quotes black porn actor Lexington Steele:

“In a boy/girl scene, one girl one guy, no anal sex, the market dictates a minimum of $800 to $900 per scene for the girl…Now a white girl will start at $800 and go up from there, but a black girl will have to start at $500, and then hit a ceiling of about $800. So the black girl hits a ceiling at the white girl’s minimum.”

What defenders of the porn industry will argue is that this is just a manifestation of racism in the larger context of society. Of course porn is racist, because society is racist! It’s not the pornographers fault that the world is fucked up. This is bullshit. It absolves everyone of responsibility. They’re saying, it’s okay that we’re racist because so is everyone else. It’s a particularly ridiculous claim when you consider porn’s unashamed exploitation of racist stereotypes.

Of course black women are not the only victims of racism in porn. Black men, Asian men and women, Latinos, and a growing number of Arab women are all targeted as well. The framework is similar. Racial stereotypes are used to further dehumanize and debase the performers.

Considering the degree of degradation commonplace in mainstream porn, both towards women and people of color, it is seriously problematic that third wave feminism not only ignores the nature of the industry, but often times acts as its cheerleader. If we are truly serious about critiquing systems of oppression and the media that perpetuates them, then we cannot ignore pornography, just because it falls under the sacred umbrella of sexuality. I urge people to read Dines’ book and begin an honest discussion of these issues, without fear of being labeled prudes or Puritans.  Porn is not our sexuality, it is our sexuality commodified.

17 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real About Porn

  1. This does, however, prove that not all White Supremacists try to exterminate People of Color, but that some want to keep Women of Color alive.

    Let’s face it, Black women could GIVE BIRTH TO House Negroes, but Black men were emphatically forbidden to SIRE House Negroes.

  2. hah, not where I thought you were gonna go with the blacks. I dunno if youve ever noticed (im sure you have) but 9 times out of 10, if you put the word ‘black’ with any other word but ‘girl’ youll find shit like ‘huge black cock destroys tight white teen’, im sure theres something racist there, theres always something racist with you people. please explain

  3. Very interesting read Emily. While the three takeaways you discussed are undoubtedly seeded in rape culture, something came to mind that I’d like to know your thoughts on. This may be addressed in Dines’ book, which I haven’t read yet but bare with me.

    Many progressive European countries are baffled by America’s discomfort (to put it lightly) with sexuality on a mainstream level, while arguably having an obsession with violence, which is glorified everywhere. Many of these progressive countries have strict regulations on violence in film, TV, and videogames (the industry I work in), but are much more comfortable with sex, because you know, it’s natural.

    Obviously we’re not talking about the violent sex or porn you’re writing about, but I think this type of porn is more of a product of western culture’s embrace of violence and the rape culture reinforced by far larger issues of social and gender inequality. So it seems that these extreme porn genres that are so popular are a result of our violent culture, not a causality. Although, I can understand when young children (mostly boys) are exposed to this at a young age it helps perpetuate the cycle.

    Consider on the opposite side of the spectrum, countries where religion is at the heart of the government and regulation/censorship is taken to extremes. Porn is an abomination among many other things and women’s rights are near non existent in some places. It seems like a common correlation can be found in countries that are very religious, which in turn are very violent (US included).

    Sweden for example, now leads the world in citizens that are not affiliated with any church, and they as a country are one of the brightest, happiest, and most peaceful.

    What are your thoughts on that? I’d love to check out some materials on the subject if you know of any.

    Again, thanks for posting!

    • Hey E Bopple, thanks for your thoughtful comments!

      So with regard to Dines, she doesn’t exactly address your points. Let’s see if I can.

      I think you are right in that a combination of America’s obsession with violence and its’ troublesome relationship with sex does influence both gonzo porn and rape culture. I don’t think that you can negate porn’s own influence by saying it’s simply a result of an already violent society, however. Of course, nothing exists within a vacuum, so yes porn is influenced by the rest of our culture. But, that doesn’t take away from the powerful images and messages it also disseminates.

      It’s definitely a complex issue with regard to action because of the issues you raise in countries with intense regulation and censorship. My main purpose of the post was to further the discussion around porn because I feel like it has fallen in a rut. So, I’m glad you are thinking about it further.

      My first suggestion would be to watch the lecture I linked to towards the beginning of the post. It’s an hour long and I think it’s brilliant. Also, of course, I encourage you to read her book. Jackson Katz is an awesome male feminist who writes about porn as well. Beyond that, I am still doing further research myself. Let me know if you watch the lecture and tell me what you think!

      • Thanks for the reply! All the points you raise are valid and I think it goes to show further just how many issues are at play here. I’ll definitely check out the sources you provided!

  4. Pingback: Are You Being TOO Sex Positive? | Be Young & Shut Up

  5. If one could take all the genitals out of gonzo porn, leaving everything else (such as the attitude towards women, the slapping, choking, name-calling etc) then I think society as a whole would be absolutely horrified and call for a total ban. But for some reason, just because genitals are involved, all the slapping, choking and name-calling becomes “just sex” and you are a prude to want to ban it! The world is mad!

  6. **why** isn’t there a ban? I see nothing good coming out of this industry, and it makes me so angry to think of all the people working in it and purchasing from it, participating in something so screwed up

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s