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April 2, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Smut

Welcome to the wonder show

If you’ve ever had an internet connection, you’ve probably been exposed to porn, either by way of an innocently misspelt URL, or (more likely) a deliberate search.  Pornography is now more widespread than ever before. For most, this is fantastic. A predominantly free (more on this later), readily available source of sexual arousal that you can use to go about your mastubatory way (or, as some have unconvincingly suggested, watch it for purely aesthetic reasons) and pay no further thought to.

Some think otherwise, often citing a number of negative psychological effects or insisting the increasing consumption of pornography is hastening or indeed enabling some manner of social decay. Another viewpoint deals with the positive effects of pornographic material on sexual awareness and education (as misleading as the depiction of the sexual act is in most porn), and the alleged liberalisation of attitudes towards sex. This article explores a few of these, some aspects of the industry, and the way society has reacted to it.

Also note that, due to personal preference, I’m only dealing with hetero porn here, and that there’s a whole bunch of other sides to this story. For your convenience, and with the attention span of the average Salient reader in mind, I’m going to lay out the summary of this article here: Frequent pornography use is correlated with a number of effects, both positive and negative. All of these effects are relatively minor. Have fun getting off, or not, as you prefer.

Because of the subject matter of this article (porn being rife with gendered consumption patterns, the perpetuation of rape myths and, of course, the whole underlying premise of women being sexual objects), it’s almost impossible to do justice to the myriad perspectives and issues in an article as brief as this. This article is not intended to be anything approaching comprehensive or authoritative, but rather a brief overview of a vast and contentious topic. It should also be said that I bring my own biases to the conversation—as a young, straight, middle-class male of exactly the same creed decried in the letters section last week, I certainly can’t claim to speak for all of you, so take my statements with a grain of salt. Having now hopefully inoculated myself somewhat from the inevitable accusations of intolerance (shoutouts to next week’s letters section), I’d just like to say that researching this has been morbidly fascinating and that as you all have access to the same databases as me, it might be worth taking a look for yourself.

Pornography, which for the sake of convenience we’ll define here as ‘sexually explicit material intended to arouse,’ is a gigantic industry. Exactly how much it earns, nobody knows. Quantifying the revenue of an incredibly large, diverse and kind of shady industry is haphazard at best, and estimations of industry turnover in the United States during 2006 (the most recent year where such speculations seem to be available) range up to $14 billion USD.

Suffice to say, it’s big, big business.

Interestingly, pornography is the single industry hardest-hit by online copyright infringement. For consumers, the impact of the internet on pornography has been welcomed, and in the current state of affairs paying for porn seems a foreign concept. Lawmakers seem reluctant to legislate against the rampant piracy; possibly because of the notion that porn, as occupying a moral grey area, is somehow unworthy of protection.

Another thorny issue for pornography is that of sex-worker exploitation—a very real and widespread problem that, for space reasons, is beyond the scope of this article. Luckily, the matter has been the subject of public outcry in the last decade, and a large amount of writing (of a nature more comprehensive than I am capable of) is readily available. That can be your homework for today. Thankfully, despite the blind eye turned to copyright infringement, both governments and law enforcement agencies worldwide have been very effective in aggressively litigating against child pornography.

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of porn is intended for consumption by men. This creates a tremendously unfair double standard—men who watch it are ‘normal’, while women who act likewise are perceived as ‘loose’—the whole ‘good girls’ not being interested in sexual material phenomenon. Evidently, though, there’s more at work. Pornography is characterised by pneumatic young women and faceless, half-crazed men, organs filling organs like so many industrial pumps. Many people are opposed to porn simply because they view it as dull, mechanical sex divorced from reality and devoid of actual human intimacy—and on the whole, it’s true. Men seem to have a greater tolerance for what amounts to repetitive genital action with a predictable series of positions and shots, complete with a soundtrack of chatting/screaming. If the incredible revenue and consumption patterns are anything to go on, they must do.

Others oppose it on religious or ideological grounds, the full array of which is outside the purview of this article. Feminists are widely divided on the issue, the two dominant views differing on the way females are depicted in pornographic material: some view pornography as ultimately offensive and a driving force behind the commodification and objectification of women, while others view porn as a vehicle for sexuality, a method of expression and self-definition.

I mentioned earlier that there is serious concern about the effects of porn on habitual viewers, especially as it continues to become ever more accessible and attitudes towards it continue to become more liberal. A really quite intimidating volume of research exists on the subject, most of it focusing on the supposed negative effects. Harms supported in the literature (to an extent—there are piles of conflicting findings) include changes in perception of women—especially the perpetuation of rape myths, the concept that somehow women are all deeply masochistic and ‘wanting it deep down’— an increase in sexual aggression, sexual addiction (an issue especially to people of faith), and a suggested, but not particularly well-supported, link between porn use and child abuse/rape incidence. Much of this is thought to be attributable to the increasing radicalisation of porn.

To illustrate the direction of the mainstream porn industry, it is most efficient to deploy a footnote from David Foster Wallace’s fantastic essay Big Red Son: “In nearly all hetero porn now there is a new emphasis on anal sex, painful penetrations, degrading tableaux, and the (at least) psychological abuse of women.  In certain respects, this extremism may simply be porn’s tracing Hollywood entertainment’s own arc: it’s hardly news that TV and legit film have also gotten more violent and explicit and raw in the last decade. So maybe. And yet there’s something else. The psychodynamics of porn seem always to have involved a certain real degree of shame, self-loathing, perception of “sin,” etc. This has held both on the performing end—“I’m a nasty girl,” “I’m a little fuckhole”—and on the consumption end … The thing to recognise is that the adult industry’s newfound respectability creates a paradox. The more acceptable in modern culture it becomes, the further porn will have to go to preserve the sense of unacceptability that’s so essential to it’s appeal.”

An emerging trend in research deals with the positive (or at least, benign) effects of porn consumption. Pornography is credited with liberalising attitudes towards sex and providing a source of sex education. One theory is that pornography actually decreases the rate of serious sexual offenses, as it provides an outlet for otherwise dangerous urges. Porn has also had a role in normalising sex acts that were previously taboo, like anal and oral sex. And while I’m not sure if it’s exactly a positive (but I’m presenting it as one anyway), pornography use has been correlated with increased numbers of sexual partners.

Pornography presents a whole cornucopia of issues far too complex to be adequately dealt with in such brevity, or by one writer’s perspective. You need to form your own opinions on pornography, whether you are a consumer or otherwise. Start with the aforementioned essay Big Red Son, which is really a terrific snapshot of the industry, and branch off from there. But remember, if you think about it too much, watching smut seems altogether too much like work.

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  1. Rosa Conway says:

    Very nice. As a side point, I don’t really get the feeling you were supporting this point but the part about porn decreasing the rate of serious sexual offenses…sounds a bit like “men rape because they can’t control their animal desires” etc, which is not really the case, rape primarily being an act of power and violence…I’m sure someone else could present my argument more effectively. Anyway, I enjoyed the informative overview and the non-erasure of gender, sexuality etc.

  2. fu says:

    fuck you this article sucks

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