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Does the Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

Porn is a women’s issue in that women and girls are constantly degraded and exploited by porn companies while being told they’re empowered.

By February 18, 2022No Comments

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.

Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13,British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY 

In 2021, supposedly 35% of Pornhub’s visitors were women, according to their annual report.

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, obsession, or addiction. In fact, we have gotten thousands of emails from girls and women that are dealing with compulsively watching 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 75% on Pornhub, according to their 2021 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 35% 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 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 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.

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Here are a few real titles as of 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. Violence in porn isn’t an exception, it embodies entire genres on porn sites.

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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?

One team of researchers with the same question analyzed hundreds of the most popular porn scenes and found that 88.2% contained physical violence or aggression while 48.7% contained verbal aggression.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY  Another study estimated that nearly 40% of videos analyzed on Pornhub contained visible aggression or violence, while 25% contained verbal aggression.Shor, E., & Seida, K. (2019). 'Harder and Harder'? Is Mainstream Pornography Becoming Increasingly Violent and Do Viewers Prefer Violent Content? Journal of sex research, 56(1), 16–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1451476COPY  And yet another study suggested that 45.1% of Pornhub videos and 35.0% of videos on XVideos depicted violence or aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  And as each of these studies agreed, women were almost always the targets.

Did you follow that?

Even by the lowest estimate, that still means that more than 1 in every 3 porn videos depicts sexual violence or aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0COPY  In fact, according to a study that analyzed porn titles alone, 1 out of every 8 titles suggested to first-time users on porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, azab035. doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY 

While the amount of violence shown in porn is troubling, what is perhaps even more disturbing is the portrayed reactions to that violence. One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or appeared to respond with pleasure.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

In other words, porn is sending the message that sexual violence is just a part of sexual pleasure.

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

This normalization of sexual violence actively affects porn consumers, too. According to neuroscientific studies, with repeated exposure to porn, consumers can become desensitized to some sexual content and may need to consume increasingly extreme content in order to get the same rush as before.Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017COPY 

By watching scene after scene of dehumanizing or violent content, it can start to seem normal.Daneback, K., Ševčíková, A., & Ježek, S. (2018). Exposure to online sexual materials in adolescence and desensitization to sexual content. Sexologies, 27(3), e71-e76. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sexol.2018.04.001COPY Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860COPY  In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.COPY Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598COPY  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097COPY  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538COPY  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8COPY Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198COPY  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2COPY  and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4COPY Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111COPY Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY 

Is watching truly worth it?

Related: How Consuming Porn Can Lead To Violence

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Thanks to the growing field of research we know that consuming porn can change the brain, it can become addictive, affect sexual tastes, negatively impact relationships (both romantic and otherwise), increase the risk for sexual dysfunction, promote violence, fuel sex trafficking, normalize gender inequality and discrimination, and the list goes on and on. It also disproportionately normalizes violence against Black women and perpetuates toxic stereotypes of Asian women

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 sold the idea 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.