I’ve been meaning to write about pornography for as long as I’ve managed this blog, but never came around to do it because nothing that goes through my mind hasn’t already been written in a more eloquent and elaborate fashion by radical feminists. I can only recommend the works of Andrea Dworkin and other anti-pornography feminists.
Nevertheless, here’s a “manifesto” of my position for future reference and for the sake of cataloguing my thoughts.
[Content warning: extreme sexual violence.]
Let’s see what’s at the root of the word “pornography” first.
- “pornai” (πόρναι): sex slave, “cheap whore”
- “graphikos” (γραφικός): something written or painted
The second part is obvious; pornography are certain graphical depictions.
The first part, however, escapes most of modern western civilization, which loves to fawn over pornography as a progressive symbol of sexual liberation.
Here’s an elaboration on the meaning, from Wikipedia:
The “pornai” (πόρναι) were found at the bottom end of the scale. They were, as alluded to by the etymology — the word comes from pernemi πέρνημι “to sell” — the property of pimps or pornoboskós (πορνοβοσκός), who received a portion of their earnings. […] In the classical era of ancient Greece, pornai were slaves of barbarian origin; starting in the Hellenistic era the case of young girls abandoned by their citizen fathers can be added. They were considered to be slaves until proven otherwise. […] In regards to price, there are numerous allusions to the price of one obolus [very roughly a few bucks] for a cheap prostitute; no doubt for basic acts. It is difficult to assess whether this was the actual price or a proverbial amount designating a “good deal”.
Pornai were literally sex slaves, arguably beneath regular slaves in the social hierarchy. From records alluding to their price we can’t even tell whether the price is meant literally or a proverbial phrase comparable to “a few bucks”.
It’s fair to assume that in the eyes of society, they were basically “cheap whores.”
So the concept of pornography is that you watch graphical depictions of women you perceive to be literal sex slaves, or cheap whores, and find entertainment in this.
You could say it’s like finding entertainment in watching what goes on inside a slaughterhouse or a sweatshop.
Now I hear you say, “that’s argument by etymology, a fallacy!” The meanings of words change, and surely this ancient meaning has nothing to do with the word’s current usage, right?
Leaving aside the irony — and especially the sheer callousness — of gleefully referencing a system of actual sex slavery in a concept you deem to be sexually liberatory, let’s see how modern pornography looks.
Depending on how you define “violence” and what study you look at, you get pretty wildly different numbers, but no matter how you define it, the rates of violence against women in pornography are very substantial to put it softly.
I can’t find the original study, but it’s referenced in many other publications. According to an article on Psychology Today that defends pornography, the study found 36% of porn scenes to depict violence against women.
According to Pornography and Rape: A Causal Model published in 1988:
T.S. Palys found that 19% of all the scenes coded in a sample of 150 sexually oriented home videos involved aggression, and 13% involved sexual aggression. (1986, pp. 26, 27) […] Of all the sexually aggressive scenes in the “adult” videos, 46% involved bondage or confinement; 23%, slapping, hitting, spanking, or pulling hair; 22%, rape; 18%, sexual harassment; 4%, sadomasochism; and 3%, sexual mutilation. (1986, p. 31)
The purpose of this study was to determine the extent of domination and sexual inequality in x-rated videocassettes through a content analysis of 45 widely available x-rated videocassettes. The sample was randomly drawn from a list of 121 adult movie titles widely available in family videocassette rental stores in southern California. Over half of the explicitly sexual scenes were coded as predominantly concerned with domination or exploitation. Most of the domination and exploitation was directed by men toward women. Specific indicators of domination and sexual inequality, including physical violence, occurred frequently.
According to the previously mentioned Psychology Today article, this study found 23% of scenes to depict violence against women.
Content analysis of a 10% random sample (n = 50) of the videos displayed in the “adult” section of a video store showed that 13.6% of the scenes in the videos contained violent acts and 18.2% contained degrading acts.
The author, Alan McKee, is a public proponent of pornography, trying to back his ideology with junk science.
The study defines violence as “Any form of behaviour directed toward the goal of harm; or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment.” (Emphasis mine.) The last clause is an intentional strategy used by the author to dramatically lower the numbers, as most pornography depicts the woman as being willing to suffer the violence committed against her. Through this loophole, McKee concludes that only 2% of pornography contains violence.
The study also contains idiotic definitions of “objectification” that miss the point (like lack of interaction with the camera) only to conclude that porn actually objectifies men more than women. The shock!
Bridges et al., 2010
Of the 304 scenes analyzed, 88.2% contained physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping, while 48.7% of scenes contained verbal aggression, primarily name-calling. Perpetrators of aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female. Targets most often showed pleasure or responded neutrally to the aggression.
(All emphasis mine.)
Of the victims of violence in the analyzed scenes, 94.4% were women, putting us at 88.2 * 94.4/100 = ~83% frequency of violence against women.
This study contains many other interesting statistics as well, by the way, such as:
Male-to-female oral sex [cunnilingus] was found to occur in 53.9% of the scenes coded, less than anal sex which appeared in 55.9% of the scenes.
In other words: in pornography, women get anally penetrated by men more frequently than they receive cunnilingus from men.
The ATM [ass-to-mouth] sequence occurred in 41.1% of scenes.
Ass-to-mouth is when the man anally penetrates the woman, pulls out, then orally penetrates her without cleaning his penis. It is sometimes described as “making the woman eat shit,” due to the likelihood of fecal matter entering the woman’s throat.
Among the 50 randomly selected pornographic videos, there were 6 films with titles suggesting that the female performers are young or underage, such as “Teen Fuck Holes,” “Teenage Spermaholics #3,” “Anal Teen Tryouts,” “Cum Craving Teens,” or “Barely Legal #50.” In such films, the emphasis on childlike pornography was accomplished with visual cues as to the young actress’s underage status, such as employing schoolgirl uniforms, pigtails, or the presence of braces on their teeth, and character references such as babysitters.
Pornography makes violence and statutory rape “sexy.”
The content of pornography is, by large, extremely hateful towards women. Depending on your sources, ~14% to ~83% of scenes contain explicit, physical acts of violence against women. If such acts of violence were performed on any other class of people (such as blacks, Jews, or disabled people), they would surely be recognized as hate crimes.
“But it’s just sexual fantasies” I hear you say. It’s not hate speech, because nobody is incited to commit violence, right?..
First of all, I would like to see you defend racist jokes using the argumentation that it’s “just jokes” and it “won’t hurt anyone.” If we understand that racist jokes and language create a hateful atmosphere (in which violent attitudes may eventually arise), why can we not acknowledge that gleeful mass-consumption and talk of pornography can do the same?
Finding pornography distasteful to say the least — and utterly abhorrent to be more blunt — is not (necessarily) a sign of childishness, prudishness, or attachment to conservative morals. It may well arise from a commitment to upholding the dignity of all human beings, without compromise. (And if you cannot imagine sexuality with love and cheerfulness instead of violence and degradation, you’re in dire need of some personal growth.)
And secondly, I’ve got more bad news in the following section.
Sociology is hard. It is literally impossible to put two whole societies into a pair of lab tubes, make sure that they are 100% the same except for one key difference (like society A accepting porn while society B abhors it), then observe how they develop over the next few decades or centuries. We could do this if we were gods, but being mortals, we need to rely on much more indirect ways of measuring the effect of particular cultural elements on society, such as the effect of pornography.
The same dilemma exists when researching the psychological formation of individual people. It is impossible (morally and legally, if not practically) to put a pair of genetic twins into entirely identical lab environments from which they are not allowed to escape, and treat them in 100% the same way except for altering very specific aspects of their life. So once again, there is a fundamental necessity for indirect measures and a lot of conjecture if we want to test how porn really affects a person in the long term.
For every study that concludes there is a plausible link between pornography and further sexual violence (apart from the one that already happened to the performer, that is) on a societal as well as individual level, you won’t have much difficulty finding a counter-study claiming that no such link exists.
However, there is a clear base-line to be drawn here: there exist studies providing evidence for a concrete link between consumption of pornography, and misogyny; counter-studies published by porn-loving men notwithstanding. Also, if there is only a split chance that a culture of pornography leads to one more rape or one more incidence of child sexual abuse, that should be enough ground to oppose it. And we have evidence for more than just a split chance.
In Pornography and Rape: A Causal Model, Diana Russell explains,
Contrary to the stance of the Media Coalition, my reading of the research conducted on pornography in the past decade is that for the most part it strongly supports the causative link between pornography and violence against women.
She goes on to elaborate on her theory, explaining plausible links between a culture of pornography and men’s propensity to rape, and even sexually abuse children.
Hald et al., 2010
This meta-analysis suggests that there is a complex link between consumption of violent pornography and rape-supportive attitudes in certain populations of men.
Associations between pornography consumption and aggressiveness toward women could be explained by a circular relationship between high coercive tendencies and interest in certain content in pornography, whereby aggressive men are drawn to the images in pornography that reinforce and thereby increase the likelihood of their controlling, impersonal, and hostile orientation to sexuality.
Wright et al., 2015
22 studies from 7 different countries were analyzed. Consumption was associated with sexual aggression in the United States and internationally, among males and females, and in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Associations were stronger for verbal than physical sexual aggression, although both were significant. The general pattern of results suggested that violent content may be an exacerbating factor.
Malamuth et al., 1986
This older study has concluded that found that the quantity of pornographic material viewed by men was positively correlated with degree to which they endorsed sexual assault.
The study references Check, 1984, who found among a sample of Canadian men that more exposure to pornography led to higher acceptance of rape myths, violence against women, and general sexual callousness. In another study, Briere et al., 1984, similar correlations were reported in a sample involving college males.
Feminist literature will occasionally include anecdotes by women who report being raped in direct relation to the porn use of the rapist(s).
The following are taken from ‘Life and Death’ by Andrea Dworkin, although they are originally testimonies given for the Dworkin & MacKinnon Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance at the Minneapolis Public Hearings.
She was thirteen. She was at a Girl Scout camp in northern Wisconsin. She went for a long walk in the woods alone during the day. She had long blond hair. She saw three hunters reading magazines, talking, joking. One looked up and said: “There’s a live one.” She thought they meant a deer. She ducked and started to run away. They meant her. They chased her, caught her, dragged her back to where they were camped. The magazines were pornography of women she physically resembled: blond, childlike. They called her names from the pornography: Little Godiva, Golden Girl, also bitch and slut. They threatened to kill her. They made her undress. It was November and cold. One held a rifle to her head; another beat her breasts with his rifle. All three raped her — penile penetration into the vagina. The third one couldn’t get hard at first so he demanded a blow job. She didn’t know what that was. The third man forced his penis into her mouth; one of the others cocked the trigger on his rifle. She was told she had better do it right. She tried. When they were done with her they kicked her: they kicked her naked body and they kicked leaves and pine needles on her. “[T]hey told me that if I wanted more, that I could come back the next day.”
Remember that the above is a real story, as is the following.
She was raped by two men. They were acting out the pornographic video game “Custer’s Revenge.” She was American Indian; they were white. “They held me down and as one was running the tip of his knife across my face and throat he said, ‘Do you want to play Custer’s Last Stand? It’s great. You lose but you don’t care, do you? You like a little pain, don’t you, squaw.’ They both laughed and then he said, ‘There is a lot of cock in Custer’s Last Stand. You should be grateful, squaw, that all-Amerikan boys like us want you. Maybe we will tie you to a tree and start a fire around you.’”
And finally, child abuse:
She was sexually abused when she was three by a boy who was fourteen — it was a “game” he had learned from pornography. “[I]t seems really bizarre to me to use the word ‘boy’ because the only memory I have of this person is as a three year old. And as a three year old he seemed like a really big man.”
Now comes a completely different dimension of the problem: where pornography comes from. Even ignoring all of the misogyny in the end product, porn is produced under dire conditions in the first place. Even when it isn’t literally filmed rape, that is.
Javanbakht et al., 2014
This study by the UCLA looked at 366 performers, 3/4 of them women.
Only 6.3% of the performers always used a condom. A whole 69% never used one.
23.7% of the subjects had contracted gonorrhea or chlamydia. (It’s unknown what percent got it from shooting porn and what percent from their private life, though.)
20% used cocaine, 18.3% ecstasy, 19.2% XanaX, 12.7% Vicodin, 5% Meth, 2.4% Heroin.
36.5% had done double-penetration scenes, 24.4% fisting, 14.1% double-vaginal, 9.5% double-anal.
15.4% had to “perform sexual favors to get work” — in other words, got raped. 10.3% had been physically hurt during a shoot. 13.6% had to do sex acts they didn’t want to do. 16.4% were not paid at the end of a job.
Fielding et al., 2009
From 2004 to the end of the study, the Department of Public Health (DPH) received reports of 2,396 cases of Chlamydia, 1389 cases of gonorrhea, and five syphilis cases from STD screening organizations within the porn industry. 20.2% of performers diagnosed with STD had one or more repeat infections within a one year period.
Analyses of 2008 data indicated that porn performers have a much higher rate of infection (20%) than the general public (2.4%).
Lubben is an ex-porn star who has since turned to religion and campaigns against the porn industry. Her website keeps statistics of dead porn stars.
Between 2003 and 2014, Lubben et al. have counted 228 deaths caused by AIDS, suicide, homicide, drugs, and premature deaths from unexplained causes. 70 of the deaths were from suicide, 38 from drugs.
“Data Journalist” Jon Millward analyzed a data set of 10,000 female porn performers.
According to his results, 87% of performers take facial ejaculation, 62% do anal, 39% do double-penetration, 31% swallow ejaculate, 11% do scenes in which they urinate, 10% take double-vaginal penetration, 6% take fisting, 5% do scenes in which someone urinates on them, and 5% take double-anal penetration.
Prof. Gail Dines, sociologist, researches the porn industry closely. In personal conversations with doctors within the industry who watch over performers, she learned that the practice of ass-to-mouth sometimes leads to fecal infections in the throat.
Similarly, citing her ties within the industry as a source, she has stated that the average time a woman spends within the industry, as acknowledged by pornographers themselves, is three months, after which the women tend to be too physically and mentally exhausted.
Ex-porn star stories
[One particular film] was the most brutal, depressing, scary scene that I have ever done. I have tried to block it out from my memory due to the severe abuse that I received during the filming. The [male performer] has a natural hatred towards women, in the sense that he has always been known to be more brutal than ever needed. I agreed to do the scene, thinking it was less beating except a punch in the head. If you noticed,
[he] had worn his solid gold ring the entire time and continued to punch me with it. I actually stopped the scene while it was being filmed because I was in too much pain.
Like most porn performers, I perpetuated this lie. One of my favorite things to say when asked if I liked doing a particular scene was, “I only do what I like! I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it!” (I would say this with a big fake smile and giggle.) What a total lie! I did what I had to do to get “work” in porn. I did what I knew would help me gain “fame” in the industry.
It was the most degrading, embarrassing, horrible thing ever. I had to shoot an interactive DVD, which takes hours and hours of shooting time, with a 104 degree fever! I was crying and wanted to leave but my agent wouldn’t let me, he said he couldn’t let me flake on it. I also did a scene where I was put with male talent that was on my ‘no list’. I wanted to please them so I did it. He stepped on my head […] I freaked out and started balling; they stopped filming and sent me home with reduced pay since they got some shot but not the whole scene.
I got the **** kicked out of me… most of the girls start crying because they’re hurting so bad… I couldn’t breathe. I was being hit and choked. I was really upset and they didn’t stop. They kept filming. [I asked them to turn the camera off] and they kept going.
It was torture for seven years. I was miserable, I was lonely, I eventually turned to drugs and alcohol and attempted suicide. I knew I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out.
All of this is from the top Google result for the search query “ex porn star”. (You really only need to search “ex porn star”, and Google already kinda knows what you mean.) Many more such stories can be found through such simple searches, and if I tried to include all the ones I can easily find, this article would grow twice in size and start looking like some sort of psychological horror literature.
Pornography and Rape: A Causal Model
From said paper, linked previously:
[A man] who said he had participated in over a hundred pornography movies testified at the Commission hearings in Los Angeles as follows: “I, myself, have been on a couple of sets where the young ladies have been forced to do even anal sex scenes with a guy which [sic] is rather large and I have seen them crying in pain” (1986, p. 773).
The following information was contained in a letter that was sent to the Commission on Pornography: “A mother and a father in South Oklahoma City forced their four daughters, ages ten to seventeen, to engage in family sex while pornography pictures were being filmed” (1986, p. 780).
A witness testified at the Los Angeles hearings about “how women and young girls were tortured and suffered permanent physical injuries to answer publisher demands for photographs depicting sadomasochistic abuse. […]”
All in all, the porn industry treats performers like shit, and a great number of them suffer health issues you won’t get from any other job.
Women being treated like subhumans, like the Nazis treated Jews, Romani people, or disabled people, occurs with some frequency in the porn industry. It might be rare in relative terms, but the atmosphere does allow it.
Fun facts and conclusion
Porn is not anti-conservative. Some of the biggest consumers of porn worldwide in 2015 are Islamist countries: number one is Pakistan, Egypt second, Iran fourth, Morocco fifth, Saudi Arabia seventh, and Turkey is number eight in the global index. (Yeah, may as well consider Turkey an Islamist nation at this point. Fuck you, Erdoğan.) Moreover, according to CovenantEyes, self-described “fundamentalist” Christians have a 91% higher chance of watching porn.
Pornography reenacts the conservative model of a relationship in which the man dominates the woman. It takes this to a literal extreme of physical domination, where in older conservative cultures said domination is enacted through legal institutions such as marriage, in which a man gains legal ownership over a woman. So the method has changed, but the root idea has not: man dominates woman.
Given all of this, it becomes a no-brainer to oppose pornography on the basis of women’s rights and liberation from male supremacy, as well as principles of basic human dignity. Transsexuals, gay men, and even heterosexual men aren’t necessarily portrayed much better in porn either, after all.
If there is a graphical depiction of people making sincere love to each other, rather than practicing dominance and submission, then that is quite literally not pornography, even if liberals insist on calling it so under the strategy of normalizing pornography. Watch out for the publisher however, as such graphical publications may nevertheless stem from the porn industry and finance the production of actual pornography anyway. “Erotica” is frequently just porn for those too fancy to use the word “porn.”
This concludes the manifesto. Congratulations if you’ve read through it all. If you want more, you are highly advised to read Andrea Dworkin’s works, many of which are concerned with pornography: http://radfem.org/dworkin