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Does the Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

Pornography is a woman issue in that women also struggle with unwanted porn habits, but it also is a woman issue in that women and girls are constantly degraded and exploited by companies like Pornhub while being told that they’re supported, appreciated, and empowered.

By February 26, 2021No Comments
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TRIGGER WARNING
The following post contains descriptions of porn videos and some graphic titles that showcase nonconsensual sex.

One of the biggest misconceptions about pornography is that it’s only a “guy issue,” but we know that it’s definitely not an issue that only guys deal with. Statistics actually show that more and more women are watching pornography on a regular basis.

Here’s what one 2018 study’s findings are: “While pornography consumption for young adults has been repeatedly reported to be approximately 75% for men and 30% for women, these rates are considerably lower than those found in this study. In this study, consumption rates of men were generally consistent (91–99%) across time frames, though women’s consumption varied more widely (60–92%).”

The reality is, women are sexual beings that can be drawn in by pornography just like men. And like guys, sometimes this natural attraction to porn can develop into a full-blown compulsion or obsession. In fact, we have gotten thousands of emails from struggling girls and women that are dealing with compulsively watching or reading pornographic material.

But porn is also a problem for women in another way—it objectifies, humiliates, degrades, and exploits them unapologetically, while the industry claims to simultaneously be a champion for women. (Porn also does this to men in different ways, but let’s talk about women for a moment.)

Related: Why You Can’t Consistently Fight Sexual Abuse Without Also Fighting Porn

Exploitation or empowerment?

Empower (v): give (someone) the authority or power to do something, make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life

Exploit (v): make full use of and derive benefit from use (a situation or person) in an unfair or selfish way

To discuss whether mainstream porn portrays women in an exploitative or empowering way, let’s talk about the content of a popular porn site.

The popularity of the category “‘Popular With Women” rose by 65% on Pornhub, according to their 2019 annual report.

According to older numbers on the site’s review of 2017, one of the search terms that defined that year was “porn for women.” It had increased by 1,400% on Pornhub since 2016, and in the massive porn site’s breakdown, it was labeled as the number one search that defined 2017. Cited in their breakdown is “sex expert” Dr. Laurie Betito, who works for them, saying this is a sign that women “are finally being heard.”

“From the ‘Me Too’ movement to prominent females…on the world stage, women are feeling more empowered and they have found their voice. [This search term] is a sign of things to come,” Dr. Betito said.

Related: The Disturbing Irony Behind Pornhub’s “Anti-Domestic Violence” Campaign

But we’re more than a little skeptical at this supposed empowerment victory speech for women, especially considering that Dr. Betito works for Pornhub, making her academic opinion a possible conflict of interest. Also, we’re not entirely buying their celebration of female empowerment, considering how Pornhub’s average female viewership makes up only 32% of visitors to the site…so it’s largely not women who are seeking out this porn category (and we detail why that might be in this piece).

But more than one person’s opinion, here’s why “porn for women” and “popular with women” is not exactly a win, all around, and how it’s clear that Pornhub doesn’t wholly make an effort to fight against abuse and assault. These two supposed categories do not erase the rest of the content that is available to view on the site. We’ll explain how in the next section.

“Fighting” assault while also romanticizing and normalizing it?

The same #MeToo movement Dr. Betito referenced is all about speaking up about the realities of sexual harassment and sexual assault, both of which are common plotlines in porn videos—even those found on Pornhub. For example, as of February 2021, popular categories include “casting,” “rough sex,” and “amateur.” In each, there are videos of either possible actual nonconsensual sex or fantasized nonconsensual sex that’s scripted and portrayed by consenting actors. Either way, though, this content trivializes abuse and sells it as a point of arousal rather than an unacceptable crime.

Before we share some real titles, we need to give you some backstory. Pornhub recently deleted over 10 million videos from the site in December 2020 after Visa, Mastercard, and Discover suspended their payment processing services with the site due to their investigations finding illicit and exploitative content. According to reports, there were videos of trafficking, abuse, and underage teens and children on the platform. So, in a drastic move, Pornhub deleted 10 million videos uploaded by non-verified users, possibly because the site could not confirm the consensuality of those videos (though MindGeek, parent company of Pornhub and 47 other subsidiaries, executives maintain that every video on the platform was approved by content moderators). That being said, all the videos that remain on the site are from verified users, and have supposedly definitely been approved by a human team of moderators.

Let’s review those popular categories, again. The “casting” category is filled with thousands of videos where the plot is (mostly) women who are trying to get a job in the adult industry or elsewhere, and they have to have sex with someone, usually a man in power, in order to secure employment. Many of these videos are scripted, but we know from reports that some possibly are not (link trigger warning, very explicit stories shared here of coercive sex). Note that the premise of this category in and of itself is playing on something illegal—it is not lawful to make any kind of employment contingent on sex.

As of February 2021, here is a list of real titles and view counts for videos under the “casting” category on Pornhub:

Cute teen with no model experience gets f— at Audition POV 94.2k views
Platinum Blonde Amateur Stacy Gets F— Twice But Does Not Get The Job! 290k views
Young Broke Coed Ashleigh Gets Her Pink P— Pounded & Face C— On! 205k views
Chunky 19yo Charlotte Has An Attitude But Gets Her Face F— & Shuts Up! 196k views
Sweet Cheyenne F—On Film To Avoid Being A Toothless Homeless Hottie! 139k views

The “rough sex” category is more shocking, and it is a very popular category on porn sites. While the term “rape” may be blocked on some porn sites now, content that shows or fantasizes nonconsensual sex (read: rape or assault) absolutely still makes it to the site.

Here are a few real titles as of February 2021 and their view counts:

I was f— hard without my desire 1.5m views
SUBMISSIVE GIRLFRIEND F— HARD FOR BEING DISOBEDIENT 2.1m views
My girl was bitching so i f— her soul out and made her drink my n— 1.6m views
Hard f— a girl in stockings, without her desire 1.6m views
Barley Legal Sporty Teen With Small T— And Tiny P— Gets F—, this video was uploaded by a verified user named “Tiny Teen City.”

Consider how many of these videos’ plotlines only thinly disguise a nonconsensual, or coercive sexual encounter, or glorify sex as a weapon for punishment and torture. Is this truly the kind of material that is acceptable in a post-#MeToo era?

Related: Does Porn Really Decrease Rates Of Sexual Assault?

Also, let’s review the other popular category we mentioned, “amateur.” This category specifically features young women who are, often, in situations of being taken advantage of or exploited in some way. Consider the “GirlsDoPorn” case, where reportedly hundreds of women were tricked, coerced, and forced—in other words, trafficked—into performing porn when they were expecting to do a different kind of photoshoot. These videos were illicit and exploitative, and yet filed under the popular category of “amateur” videos.

But that’s not the only category on Pornhub that’s been problematic for women. (Most of them are, if we’re honest, but let’s be specific for a minute.)

Other problematic content on porn sites

How about “cheerleader” porn? This category idealizes the problematic sexual fantasy of a teenage girl, right? Here’s what Pornhub’s Dr. Betito had to say in response to this trend in Pornhub’s 2017 report: “What male has never had a fantasy involving cheerleaders, a teacher, or a female auto mechanic? Virtual reality porn allows them to indulge their fantasies in a risk-free and non-threatening manner,” she said.

Let’s break down what that statement totally misses.

To assume all men watch porn or fantasize about minors is demeaning, and inaccurate. What’s more, engaging in these fantasies involving minors is not “risk-free” and “non-threatening” — research shows how consuming hardcore porn can lead to violence and even softcore porn fuels acceptance of rape culture. That doesn’t sound risk-free or non-threatening, does it? 

But wait, there’s more. A study done a few years ago analyzed 304 popular porn films and found that 88% of them contained physical violence and 49% of them included verbal aggression. And the women in the films, the majority of them recipients of the abuse, were shown as either neutral or enjoying the abuse.

Or, let’s look at this 2020 study that entailed a large-scale content analysis and coding of a sample of 7,430 pornographic videos taken from the two most popular free porn sites, Pornhub and XvideosThe study found physical aggression against women present in 44.3% of Pornhub and 33.9% of Xvideos scenes. In fact, the study found that physical aggression was substantially more common in online pornographic videos than verbal aggression. Specifically, women were the target of nearly 97% of all physically aggressive acts in the samples from both sites.

Violence in porn isn’t an exception, it embodies entire genres on porn sites.

Again, we ask: does any of this sound like a “win” for women, or men?

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Exploitation is not empowerment

Porn companies may sell the idea that they’re all about empowerment, but the reality shows the opposite: clearly, this industry significantly fuels and capitalizes on the problem of gender inequality. The porn industry exploits the issues of sexual assault, abuse, and nonconsensual sexual encounters for entertainment, and profit.

This content in and of itself is not uplifting to women. What impact does this have on consumers? The vast majority of porn—violent or not—portrays men as powerful and in charge; while women are submissive and obedient. [1] Watching scene after scene of dehumanizing submission makes it start to seem normal. [2] It sets the stage for lopsided power dynamics in couple relationships and the gradual acceptance of verbal and physical aggression against women. [3] Research has confirmed that those who consume porn (even if it’s nonviolent) are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression toward women and girls. [4]

Not only this, but also consider how it can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference between what rapists and porn magazines say about women. A study from the University of Surrey compared quotes from porn magazines and actual rapists serving time for their crimes, and it found that they use almost identical language.

Related: How Consuming Porn Can Lead To Violence

Thanks to the growing field of research we know that consuming porn changes the brain, it can even become addictive, affect sexual tastes, negatively impact relationships (both romantic and otherwise), increase risk for sexual dysfunction, encourage violence, fuel sex trafficking, promote gender inequality and discrimination, and the list goes on and on.

Does any of this sound like a win for anyone, men or women?

Pornography is a woman issue in that women also struggle with unwanted porn habits, but it also is a woman issue in that women and girls are constantly degraded and exploited by companies like Pornhub while being told that they’re supported, appreciated, and empowered.

Clearly, the facts stack up and we see how this isn’t true, regardless of what any porn site representative may say about porn being a win for women. Normalizing abuse isn’t normal, and exploitation is not acceptable. Join us in raising awareness on the harmful effects of porn and debunking the lies porn sells about abuse, assault, and the disposable nature of women.

Citations

[1] DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings Of Adult Pornography And Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions In Research And Theory. International Journal For Crime, Justice, And Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. Doi:10.5204/Ijcjsd.V4i4.184; Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half The Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study Of Pornography Use Among A Sample Of Urban, Low-Income, Black And Hispanic Youth. Journal Of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. Doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Layden, M. A. (2010) Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In Stoner, J. & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57-68). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Ryu, E. (2008). Spousal Use Of Pornography And Its Clinical Significance For Asian-American Women: Korean Woman As An Illustration. Journal Of Feminist Family Therapy, 16(4), 75. Doi:10.1300/J086v16n04_05; Shope, J. H. (2004). When Words Are Not Enough: The Search For The Effect Of Pornography On Abused Women. Violence Against Women, 10(1), 56-72. Doi:10.1177/1077801203256003
[2] Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). “Without Porn…I Wouldn’t Know Half The Things I Know Now”: A Qualitative Study Of Pornography Use Among A Sample Of Urban, Low-Income, Black And Hispanic Youth. Journal Of Sex Research, 52(7), 736-746. Doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908; Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., Kleiner, S., & Irizarry, Y. (2010). Pornography, Normalization And Empowerment. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 39 (6) 1389-1401. Doi:10.1007/S10508-009-9592-5; Doring, N. M. (2009). The Internet’s Impact On Sexuality: A Critical Review Of 15 Years Of Research. Computers In Human Behavior, 25(5), 1089-1101. Doi:10.1016/J.Chb.2009.04.003; Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence Of Unrestrained Access To Erotica On Adolescents’ And Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal Of Adolescent Health, 27, 2: 41–44. Retrieved From Https://Www.Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov/Pubmed/10904205
[3] Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., & Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development, 45:119–131. Doi:10.1353/Csd.2004.0019 ; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., And Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure To Pornography And Acceptance Of The Rape Myth. Journal Of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. Doi:10.1111/J.1460-2466.1995.Tb00711.X
[4] Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., And Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography And Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting The Relationship In Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression And Behavior, 36(1), 14–20. Doi:10.1002/Ab.20328; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., And Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development, 45(2), 119–131. Doi:10.1353/Csd.2004.0019; Zillmann, D. (2004). Pornografie. In R. Mangold, P. Vorderer, & G. Bente (Eds.) Lehrbuch Der Medienpsychologie (Pp. 565–85). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Verlag; Zillmann, D. (1989). Effects Of Prolonged Consumption Of Pornography. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant, (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances And Policy Considerations (P. 155). Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.
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