Change society and porn will change too

Tracey Jones says she's no prude but don't discount the effect porn has on individuals and society

January 21, 2008
5 min read

It’s not fashionable these days to take an anti-porn stance. The accusation that you’re aligning yourself with the fundamentalist Christian right is never far away. However, it is possible to argue that there is quite a lot wrong with porn and not be a moralist, a man-hater or a prude. You don’t have to believe all men are rapists to acknowledge that much pornography reinforces the male domination already found elsewhere in society.

I’m not advocating a ban on porn but to say porn needs to be honestly re-evaluated without the moralising or hysteria that so often accompanies this discussion. I have no issues with non-degrading images or porn that isn’t just about what humiliating things a man can do to a woman. But how much of this type of porn exists compared to porn that shows only contempt, sexualises inequality and eroticises male supremacy?

Supporting the porn industry

Porn is most often unrelentingly misogynistic; it doesn’t celebrate women’s sexuality or speak of empowerment, as some on the left would argue. The fact is, porn is invariably made by men for men and for the main part says women exist to cater to male sexual needs and desires. Even if porn holds no consequences for relationships between men and women, why is the left supporting a business that controls our sexuality? That also promotes racism as much as sexism? Yet seeing this in a pornographic film is met with silence or the standard anti-censorship arguments that people have a right to look at what they want.

The relaxation of the British Board of Film Classification guidelines in 2000 means hardcore pornography is available as never before. A 2006 study, commissioned by the Independent on Sunday, found one in four men aged 25 to 49 (around 2.5 million) had viewed online hardcore porn in the month the study was conducted. And as the porn industry exhausts every conceivable sexual scenario, there is only one place left to go – porn focusing on cruelty and extreme degradation of women. It’s no longer about sex but hate.

It’s dishonest and misleading to claim pornography has no effect on relationships. Relate report that 40 per cent of couples that come to them cite internet pornography as a contributory factor to their problems – are they making it up or can we accept it has an effect? I’m not saying all men and women are personally affected by porn but it is also disingenuous to claim that if a society accepts any genre that portrays women in solely sexual terms it will not influence to a greater or lesser degree how some men treat us and how some women respond to them.

These days, young men are learning from pornography that women enjoy forced sex, humiliation and cruelty. This is not the soft porn of Playboy or Penthouse and often it’s before they have any involvement with young women. At a time when developing empathy and intimacy skills are crucial to mature sexual and emotional interactions they are viewing porn which is all about self-gratification, often at the expense of a woman’s pain and suffering. That women are always ‘up for it’ in turn puts enormous pressure on young women to conform to the plasticised images and obligated to ‘perform’ no matter how objectionable they find the act.

Response to the new sexual parity?

Some psychologists have posited that men who seek more extreme images feel threatened by the ’emotional power’ they believe women hold over them. This means they are reliant on women finding them sexually attractive and emotionally acceptable. How much easier if women are always ‘hot to trot,’ in a world where male authority goes unchallenged, where there is no need for intimacy and trust. Intimacy demands sharing and is built on varying levels of trust. Love, sensuality, tenderness, caring and empathy are emotions entirely absent from the porn genre. Cruelty, anger and hatred aplenty.

Why do men want to look at this? I confess I don’t understand it. I’m not arguing all men looking at this kind of porn hate women but there is obviously a market for it or it wouldn’t be produced. Is it a reaction to new sexual parity? It hurts me to think that some men see women as the enemy, that they hold such contempt and hatred, and gain sexual gratification from seeing women used in this way.

There are no easy answers as to what can be done. I have always been anti-censorship but perhaps we need legislation that outlaws any pornography that incites sexual hatred similar to laws that outlaw race hatred? But more than this, we need to try harder to ensure men and women treat each other with respect and equality, this has to come first before porn will change.

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