Porn and Power: A Feminist Analysis of Porn and its Effect on Women

RHR, Corcaigh

In the era of sex ‘positivity’ and its purported connection to women’s liberation it is worth taking a closer look at the current state of sexual relations between young men and women, and asking ourselves what we can do to improve them.

Consent is something that is clearly still poorly understood by young men, and this is particularly evident when speaking about anal sex between men and women. In a study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 130 individuals, both male and female, between the ages of 16-18 were interviewed several times regarding their views on anal sex.

The study found that amongst young men only the benefits were discussed, whereas amongst young women there was more concern expressed for the risks and their own sexual wellbeing. Most of the men interviewed did not express concern about possible pain for women, they viewed it as inevitable with one participant telling the interviewer, “If you haven’t eased them off like they stay tight and then you can rip em if you try and force anal sex”.

The key findings of the study indicated that to these young men anal sex was a free for all, and in a group discussion said it was, “something we do for a competition”.

Consent to anal sex was determined not to be a priority for these young men, most of whom frequently engaged in it with their partners and one participant, Jack, spoke of the times he had “accidentally slipped it in”, during otherwise consensual sex with his girlfriend. When asked in the second interview about this Jack clarified that it was not an accident and he had in fact meant to do it without consent. This assumption that his partner wouldn’t mind was also shared by Shane; “Shane told us if a woman said ‘no’ when he started “putting [his] finger in”, he might keep trying: “I can be very persuasive […]. Like sometimes you just keep going, just keep going till they just get fed up and let you do it anyway”.

It was expected and accepted by most male interviewees that anal sex would be painful for their female partner, particularly the first time but this was not something that stopped them from adopting a “try and see” approach.

Several of these young men are speaking very casually about non-consensually penetrating their intimate partners, they are speaking casually of perpetrating rape. It is important that we first correctly name this “try and see” approach to non-consensual penetration as rape. No woman can consent to this.

We must acknowledge the implications of men’s risky behaviour for women and can see that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise globally, and in terms of complications are something that affect women disproportionately. Furthermore, it is understood that anal sex, especially due to lower condom use, or behaviours such as “slipping it in” and creating tears carries an increased risk of STIs.

Possible complications of untreated STIs include pelvic inflammatory disease (rates of PID are rising and can be fatal), ectopic pregnancy, as well as adverse foetal and neonatal outcomes. According to the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reasons for the rate of STIs amongst women include gender power imbalances, sexual violence, poverty, and partner violence. Beyond this, it is paramount that we uncover and eliminate the cause of this risky and non-consensual behaviour if we wish to negate its horrific consequences for women: pornography.

Between 2009 and 2015 the search volume for anal sex increased by 120 percent, and the rise in anal sex has occurred fairly concurrently alongside this. Pornography use is at an all-time high, with the industry having grown considerably during the pandemic as women are pushed out of the waged workforce to care for and home-school their children. Various studies have concluded that adolescent men who consume porn are more likely to view women as objects and hold sexist attitudes, such as women “leading them on” if they said no to sex. Many porn advocates will cite the few studies that say that the propensity for blatantly illegal or aggressive sexual behaviour are only higher when the porn consumed is explicitly violent, but the difference is negligible. In addition to this a 2010 study found 88% of all analysed porn scenes (300 total) contained considerable physical aggression and was overwhelmingly being committed by men against women. Long term studies of pornography consumers show us that over just a short space of time nonviolent porn was no longer “enough” to satisfy their sexual desires and slowly but surely the level of aggression in the media consumed began to increase. Men who at the beginning of the study watched amateur videos made by couples in the bedrooms had graduated to degrading fetish content, including that which was marked “teen” and “non-consensual”.

Men who consumed porn were also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour such as not wearing condoms, switching from anal to vaginal sex without washing, further increasing the risk of STIs and other infections that have adverse outcomes for women.

The aim of pornography is to make a profit through the exploitation of human bodies and the commodification of sex and relationships, and this is the reason it is designed to be addictive, that eventually amateur and ordinary content just won’t do it anymore and the algorithm is designed with this in mind.

It is important that we ask why do men view porn? The answer to this is isolation and helplessness. Men who consume porn as aforementioned have higher rates of depression, loneliness and anxiety and often feel helpless or powerless in their own lives. Porn steps in not to empower men, but to redirect this alienation and the frustrations that are often a result of capitalism. The consumption of porn and the sexual violence against women that has been documented to sometimes follow is a reassertion of power, a desperate scramble for disempowered men to regain what was lost. Men who feel emasculated seek comfort in the objectification of women. This can be clearly tied to chauvinistic ideas of masculinity connected to domination, aggression, and power in general.

Many liberal feminists adopt a supposedly sex positive approach to porn, arguing that it is entirely natural to consume porn, and they perpetuate the myth that any porn can ever be feminist. The reality is that porn hurts women and negatively impacts our liberation. It is rife with degrading, non-consensual acts and thrives on the exploitation of women. It is not natural for men to be aroused by our pain, fear, or suffering. A man who receives sexual gratification from the degradation of my entire gender is not one that can claim he respects me or other women.

Porn is not feminist, and no reforms or measures are ever going to change that. Not porn made by women, not porn that’s paid for, nothing. This is because nothing will ever change who is hurt by porn, and who benefits. Overwhelmingly women are the ones hurt by porn, either directly by starring in it, or indirectly by experiencing abuse that men have learned from excessive porn consumption and men benefit (sexually and financially). Content made to satisfy men at the expense of all women is not feminist, even if the women are smiling in the thumbnail.

I will begrudgingly clarify that I am not a sex negative feminist, nor am I a “prude”, a label often thrown at women who protest their own oppression. I say begrudgingly because I also find it important that there is no such thing as a prude. Women having boundaries does not make them a prude. I am a young woman with a healthy sex life, but one that has been undoubtedly marred by the porn consumption of men. Porn has convinced men that they can have whatever they want whenever they want, and non-consensual slapping, spitting, or other aggressive behaviour is very much considered to be part and parcel of a normal sexual experience, and it is almost never a thing that men ask consent for. It is presumed to be normal due to the chronic porn-induced brain rot that many young men have afflicted themselves with. I spare them little pity here.

Going forward it is vital that we focus on solutions rather than excuses. Comprehensive sex education that teaches consent and safe sex in an age-appropriate manner is a start, and would improve sexual health outcomes but it is by no means the end goal.

We must combat the loneliness and isolation created by capitalism that drives men to porn, but we also must make clear that porn is not normal. The suffering of women is not a pressure valve for anxious men. Sexual satisfaction derived from pain and suffering of an entire gender is not normal, and as feminists we must make an effort to combat the prevailing culture that objectifies women, assumes that our consent can be bought, or that we secretly don’t mean it when we say no.

Understanding that liberal feminism will never be a vehicle for women’s liberation, as long as it is preoccupied with sexually pleasing men at our expense and insisting that this is freedom. True sexual freedom and liberation is obtained through access to contraceptives, condoms, financial independence, and strong community supports to leave abusive relationships.

Put an end to the normalisation of the porn industry and offer those working within it as performers realistic, compassionate, and non-judgemental services that increase their ability to exit should they wish to do so.

Finally, men ought to reassess their relationship to porn and how it has impacted their treatment of women, and before they jump to defend the porn industry to perhaps consider that they might be thinking with the wrong head.

 

SOURCES: 

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/8/e004996.full

https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/womenandinf.htm

https://www.image.ie/editorial/stis-ireland-178276/amp

https://fightthenewdrug.org/does-porn-really-decrease-rates-of-sexual-assault/

https://fightthenewdrug.org/problem-porn-shame/

 

 

 

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