For a continent that has largely banned either the complete or partial sale, possession, or viewing of pornography, there is still a lot of porn in Asia.

The Middle East is well known as a predominantly restrictive region which opposes pornography, and yet those countries log the longest porn viewing times.

And over in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has tapped into a $1 billion dollar industry of sex abuse by forcing a child to perform sexual acts via live streaming for Western clientele.

Even from a place as extreme as North Korea, books, magazines, and videos are sold at the Chinese border and smuggled into the country despite the risk of being jailed.

Some would say wherever there are people, there will be porn. And given what research shows about its harmful effects, no matter how common it might be, it’s still worth raising awareness on. And while porn may exist worldwide, it is not a world-class educator. As we’ll see throughout the regions of Asia, porn is causing damage on a range of levels in various cultures—from relationships, to codependency on technology, to young girls sold into the sex trade.

Since Asia is the largest continent on our globe, we’ve compiled a selection of stories—a progress report of sorts—detailing how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Even as the world becomes more “pornified,” there is also progress being made by people who have taken up the cause to fight against abuse, exploitation, and pornography. Instead, they are choosing to fight for love, and we are fighting alongside them.

China’s shortage of women

The effects of China’s one-child policy will be felt for generations. One of the impacts has been a huge gender imbalanceChina’s preference for sons has resulted in a ratio of 120 boys to 100 girls, meaning that about one-fifth of today’s baby boys will grow up unable to find a female partner, and there’s expected to be a surplus of 30 million men by 2030. How crazy is that?

To put this in perspective, China would need a Canada size population of only women to balance out the difference.

Since the policy was put in place in the late 70’s, there have already been generations of men coming of age with fewer women around. As a result, the country has seen a rise in the purchase of sex toys and sex dolls, normalizing synthetic sex over real relationships.

The public has also found loopholes within the government’s strict porn ban. Live streaming in China is a profitable, big business with more than 344 million viewers. While these networks gained initial popularity as a source of comfort to lonely citizens who moved to the cities, today they are sometimes used to show soft porn.

Since the majority of live streaming anchors are women, and three-quarters of the audience is male, anchors use their sex appeal to solicit gifts to supplement their income. Some of these women sing, dance, and flirt to the camera and then mix in suggestive performances for an erotic effect.

Even more concerning are the reports of Vietnamese girls being trafficked to China. One police report put the number at 70% of Vietnamese trafficking victims being sent to China, sometimes to prostitution, but other times they’re forced into marriages to men who cannot find brides.

Sex trafficking in Southeast Asia

Of course, sex trafficking isn’t confined to Southeast Asia, but the area does have a long, sad, and continuing history of struggling with this issue. From media attention, improved government crackdowns, specialized police units, and the involvement of NGOs working to rescue women and girls from brothels where they’re held against their will, have resulted in some positive changes to help combat this trade. However, this region still struggles with the problem of sex trafficking and the associated exploitation of men, women, boys and girls.

When we recently spoke with an Australian volunteer who helped fight the sex trade in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, he explained how poverty plays a big role in fueling sexual exploitation.

Related: By The Numbers: How Porn And Sex Trafficking Are Inseparably Connected

Sometimes, women are trafficked across borders under the promise of a better job. In a new country where they don’t speak the language, their “job” awaits them at a brothel and they can be physically imprisoned, assaulted, and their families threatened should they refuse to have sex with men.

Other women are not confined by any physical or visible constraints, but rather their circumstances. Illiteracy and lack of employable skills make it impossible for some women to make a living for themselves. They consider their only option to be selling sex for less than a few US dollars in total, risking pregnancy and disease by seeing multiple sex buyers a day. Some of these exploited women who are trafficked are not yet women at all, but as young as four years old and exploited.

It can be hard to imagine how porn can play a part in such a horrific underground industry, but as the volunteer who met with survivors said to us, it would undoubtedly have played a part. Many of those being exploited and sold for sex would have no choice in the matter.

There is no transparency within the porn industry. When you watch porn, you don’t know where it came from. Was there consent? How can you be sure? You certainly don’t know if performance was forced or coercion was involved, which is trafficking by definition.

Related: “TraffickCam”: This New App Helps You Fight Sex Trafficking While You Travel

Admittedly, transparency still wouldn’t make porn healthy. There’s still the well-documented fact that porn directly influences sex trafficking. Traffickers and buyers get ideas to reenact from the porn they watch; one porn director’s idea becomes a trafficking victim’s nightmare.

The volunteer described meeting a six-year-old girl who had been rescued two days prior to his arrival. Her hair had been dyed blond by the people who held her in the brothel, and he said she was so traumatized, she was basically comatose—lying down, unmoving. As he returned to Cambodia to volunteer at the NGO every six to twelve months, he said she very slowly became more sociable, but she always had a level of fear in her eyes. 

And yet, some of the older girls in the safe house were eager to share their stories. “We don’t want you to see us just as victims because we are more than that,” they would say. “We want you to see us as your sisters.”

This is the reality of sexual exploitation in Southeast Asia.

Japan’s fantasy obsession

Japan has an interesting relationship with relationships in their current culture. In fact, it’s been called a “celibacy crisis” with low marriage and childbirth rates. Japanese under the age of 40 apparently aren’t interested in a sexual relationship with a partner.

A recent survey found 40% of singles aged 18-24 are virgins, and similarly, 45% of women in that age group said they “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.

Instead, there are cuddle cafes, hostess clubs (where singles can pay for polite conversation), sex robots, and hologram “wives” as only a couple of the many experiences one can buy.

Related: How Sexualization Of School Girls Fuels Sex Trafficking & Child Exploitation

Another option people turn to for counterfeit relationships is, of course, porn. The country is known for its range of genres including animations, and while there may be less traditional dating going on, there’s no shortage of hours spent watching porn.

In a BBC News broadcast, Japanese men and women were asked what they thought about the change in the sexual culture. One woman implied that men can’t be bothered with dating. “They can watch porn on the internet and get sexual satisfaction that way,” she said. Yikes.

Porn may not be the root of the cultural shift, but there’s no doubt that it does fuel fantasies. Hentai porn, a type of anime, is hugely popular with its fetish sub-genres and unrealistic body types. In fact, 30% of single women and 15% of single men from ages 20 to 29 admitted to having fallen in love with a character from an anime comic or video game.

Perhaps instead of choosing to find real love, it’s easier to live in a fantasy, but there’s no way it’s more satisfying. As humans, we’re wired to need social interaction and community. This is something pornography can never give. In fact, it can have the opposite effect, making you feel uncomfortable in relationships and even worsen anxiety. What’s sexy about that?

Censorship in the Middle East and India

In 2015, Kamlesh Viswani’s petition to the Indian government was responsible for banning 857 pornographic sites. The lawyer was moved to write the 200 page plea following his visits to internet cafes where he said he saw rows of children surfing porn sites, and later with the reports of gang rapes where he felt certain that the attackers were heavily influenced by porn.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Viswani wrote, “Nothing can more efficiently destroy a person, fizzle their mind, evaporate their future, eliminate their potential or destroy society like pornography.”

Only days after the ban was announced, the Indian government backed down. The sites wouldn’t be prohibited after all unless they were proven to show child pornography, which is outlawed in India. This decision came after the backlash from the public on social media who felt the government had no right to dictate what they can and cannot do online.

Related: Why We’re Not Out To Ban Porn

For those like Kamlesh Viswani, who see porn as a harmful, the initial reaction is to banish it. The problem is, as things are right now, there isn’t conclusive evidence to support the censorship of pornography as effective. Like many other substances or activities that have been banned—the classic example of 1920’s alcohol prohibition in the U.S.—the industry goes underground without decreasing in size or influence on culture.

Middle Eastern countries are prime examples of this. They’re well-known for outlawing porn generally due to their restrictive cultures. But according to the data from Google, 6 of the top 8 porn-searching countries are predominantly Muslim, and four of those are Middle Eastern countries.

At the top of that list sits Pakistan. Despite the government’s attempts to extinguish pornography with a colossal 400,000 website ban, the country was nicknamed “Pornistan for porn’s popularity.

In the case of India where Viswani wanted to fight against rape, a recent survey showed instead that 40% of young males in the state of Goa, India watch rape porn regularly and of that, 76% of the students said watching rape porn lead to a desire in themselves to rape.

This is the reality of how porn is as present as ever in these cultures.

Where do we go from here?

In order to be able to takle an issue head-on, we need to first understand it. Learning all the ways that porn and sexual exploitation are impacting the varied cultures in Asia helps us understand how we can spark meaningful conversations with people, and inspire lasting change.

We can see how porn is fueling the existing sex trafficking crisis in regions, and how lack of authentic relationships is leaving others to seek out unhappy, synthetic connections with sex robots or anime characters. We can learn from attempts to censor porn, and see how important balanced relationships are in the midst of culture shifts. All these things are pieces in a larger puzzle of how pornography and sexual exploitation negatively impact our world and poison relationships around the globe.

But no matter if you’re in Japan or India, Nepal or Russia, one fact remains the same: love is worth fighting for. Healthy relationships are worth everything, and by knowing the facts, we can fight for awareness to be raised in these cultures that they deserve better than what porn has to offer.

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