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September 17, 2018 | by  | in Features Splash |
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Dirty Porn, Clean Morals

CW: discussion of pornography, underage sex, BDSM, assault
As I lay in bed with the lights dimmed, my phone on incognito mode, a vibrator in my hand, and a video playing on my screen entitled “Bound teen in fishnets teased with vibrator, fingered, denied orgasm”, I can’t help but feel a strange mixture of arousal and shame. The age-old debate as to whether it is possible to be a feminist and watch porn is still very relevant today, especially in a world where porn is getting increasingly more accessible and more violent. We are finally moving away from the preconceived notion that watching porn is something that only men do, and the dichotomy between the merits or dangers of porn becomes even more pronounced.
Growing up in a strict Christian household filled with sexual repression, I was always subconsciously afraid of the scary world of porn, but even as I grew away from that I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was watching wasn’t aligning with my ethics and ideals. It almost feels hypocritical to advocate for liberation of women and then to go home and watch a video of women being gangbanged, gagged, and tied up for the pleasure of men. Is it possible to watch porn that aligns with feminist ideals and beliefs, even porn that is degrading to women?
“Refuse To Date Men Who Watch Porn” is a Facebook page with a cult following that I was jokingly added to last year. This page is a breeding ground for the hivemind view that porn is inherently evil and detrimental to all and those who watch it are the spawn of Satan. Whenever posts from the page popped up on my feed my reaction was divided. Usually I was in awe of the radical nature of the page and how extreme most of the views were but at times, I did genuinely stop and think just how damaging porn could be, to those both consuming it and those taking part in it.
The porn industry is dominated by men and made almost exclusively for men. It is a global $97 billion dollar industry, where profit is the main priority. In a way it seems as if the porn industry has been overlooked when it comes to exposing sexual misconduct in the workplace. It’s almost as if being a porn star means that you aren’t capable of being raped or sexually assaulted because it’s “what you signed up for”. The power imbalances acted out in scenes may spill over into the way women are treated once the cameras are turned off.
Hot Girls Wanted is a 2015 Netflix documentary which follows the lives of young girls in the amateur porn industry. The “shelf life” for these girls range from a couple months to a year, if they are lucky. This is mainly due to the increasing demand for the “teen” genre of porn, where girls are expected to look virginal and preadolescent. Even though consensuality is usually made clear in many pornographic videos, there are malignant undercurrents that go unchallenged behind the scenes to create toxic environments for the performers. One girl is shown agreeing to film a scene that clearly makes her very uncomfortable — a forced blowjob scene that she wasn’t told about beforehand. Even though she is not explicitly made to do it, she does it in fear of being labelled as “difficult”, which could sabotage her chances of working. These girls are viewed as disposable — there are plenty of younger and more naïve girls wanting to make it big in the porn industry who wouldn’t question what they are told to do.
Anti-porn advocates have voiced the fear that porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex, which can have countless detrimental effects. Journalist Chris Hedges comments on how porn does not promote intimacy or sex, it promotes masturbation, getting off at someone else’s expense. “Porn, which advertises itself as sex, is a bizarre, bleached pantomime of sex. The acts onscreen are beyond human endurance. The scenarios are absurd. The manicured and groomed bodies, the huge artificial breasts, the pouting oversized lips, the erections that never go down, and the sculpted bodies are unreal.”
Now that new generations are being exposed to the internet practically from birth and given an iPad to keep them entertained for hours, the power of online porn seems even more pervasive. A 2010 survey of 14-16 year olds found that one third claimed that their first exposure to internet porn was at 10 years old or younger. There are many studies which examine the negative impacts of pornography, especially on teenagers, many asserting that porn can increase violent attitudes, unrealistic and unhealthy expectations, and maladaptive behaviours. These factors are certainly vital to the conversation around the effects of porn, especially from a feminist perspective.
Feminist porn seeks to change the face of porn. It’s a growing genre where we see women not being victims of the industry, and not needing to be “saved” from the evils of porn. It also works to turn the dominant images of porn on its head by creating its own iconography. It seeks to challenge ideas around beauty, pleasure, and power. It argues that it is possible to empower those who make and watch porn. Just as we should make conscious and thoughtful decisions about the clothes on our backs and the food we consume, we can also do the same with the porn we watch.

Navigating around the internet, you can find sites and genres of porn that could be considered “ethical” or “feminist” porn, without having to sacrifice your kinks, fetishes, or preferences. Erika Lust, a trailblazer for the feminist porn movement, is well known for producing short pornographic films that are based off of crowd-sourced stories. For her, “the sex can be dirty, but the values have to be clean”. XConfessions allows viewers to see their own fantasies being made into films where performers are being paid a fair salary, being treated with respect, and having their approval, well-being, and safety valued.
Make Love Not Porn is a user-generated crowdsourced website where everyday people can share videos of themselves having sex. Users rent and stream the videos as opposed to download, which gives the performers freedom to decide when/if they want the videos to be taken down. Created as a response to the fear that mainstream porn is skewing the way people view their own sexuaility, the website helps to change the representations of how sex is portrayed in porn, and even in the media. The fact that Make Love Not Porn is not free may be a turn off for some, especially when there are other options that don’t make a dent in our bank account. If you are wanting something that is more readily available and accessible, there there are sites which could still be classified as feminist porn, including Sssh.com, CrashPadSeries and Tumblr pages like award-winning Lady Cheeky.
Porn has been lumped into a huge homogenous category of being damaging, violent, and unrealistic, especially to women, but there are strides taken by female pornographers to change both the way people consume porn and also how people talk about it. Instead of feeling like you are contributing to the detrimental decline of society by going on Pornhub, you can feel assured that there are plenty of avenues to consume porn and still get off in a way that doesn’t create damaging attitudes and beliefs about sex, and in particular our view on women, femininity, and sexuality.
Porn goes hand in hand with sexual exploration, which can ultimately lead to sexual liberation. You can get to know what turns you on and off in the safe and comforting environment of your own bedroom.
Like many other women, I had my first orgasm by myself, with the help of porn. We live in a world where it is shameful, especially for women, to be completely candid and vulnerable about topics like sex, masturbation, and pornography.
Porn is still largely unknown terrain for me. It was never something that was freely talked about growing up, with family or friends alike. My parents have always been conservatively tight-lipped about the less than holy aspects of the world. If sex was talked about, it was described in a non-confronting, non-committal, joking manner.Only in the past couple years have I gained enough sexual agency and courage — or maybe just curiosity — to explore the online world of porn, ranging from tumblr sites, erotic stories, to hardcore BDSM on Pornhub.
With the encouragement of my sexually liberated friends, and Instagram accounts like UnboundBabes, I’ve bought myself a pink vibrator that always comes in handy when I am horny or bored (or both). I’d like to say that I am a saint when it comes to my porn choices and I am free of unhealthy habits. Some days I actively search for porn that comes from a source that I could deem as progressive or feminist or ethically clean, but other days I have my go to video that I know will satisfy my immediate needs but may not satisfy my need to maintain integrity or to make good decisions.
I am probably not qualified to give anyone advice on how to navigate the complex world of porn, pleasure, feminism, and the potential consequences that arise from it, especially when I realise how much more there is to learn about myself and my place in the world. I still watch porn, even after wrestling with a strange mixture of unsettling emotions. I’m not sure if that’s because I have no self control, or I believe that it is possible to watch porn in a way that doesn’t fully go against what you believe is right and good and true.
I’m still figuring that out.

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