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The Porn Industry Doesn’t Just Sell Sex, It Sells Violent Abuse of Women

Sexual exploitation and violence seem to be both more unacceptable and acceptable than ever in our culture. But isn’t that a contradiction? Yes, and here’s what we mean.

Since the start of the #MeToo movement in 2017, much of society has vowed to call out the degradation and victimization of women wherever it happens. This means many have committed to do the work of breaking down cultural tropes and systems that have historically exploited women or restricted exploited women from speaking out.

And, probably most crucial of all, many in power have taken strides to listen to women who have been the victims of abuse, assault, and exploitation. Victims of abuse are finding more access to tell their stories and expose abuse where it festers.

With this positive trend gaining momentum in our culture—and the upcoming generation adopting the cause with dedication—part of our collective duty becomes identifying and addressing factors that still contribute to the victimization and sexual exploitation of women. But here’s where the blind spots are.

The disturbing irony of our culture’s current mindset is that, as a society fights against women’s victimization, it also collectively promotes and celebrates the porn industry, an industry that inherently, directly, and unapologetically victimizes women for entertainment and profit.

So what are the specific problems here? How exactly does porn embody the opposite of support and advocacy for women? Let’s dive in.

FTND note: It’s important to note that men can be victims of exploitation, trafficking, abuse, and degradation, too. We’ll be focusing on women for the intent of this post.

Give One For Love

Turning victimization into entertainment

If you’ve ever checked out a mainstream porn site, you know you don’t have to search very thoroughly before violence and abuse appear. Video after video of people being treated roughly, physically assaulted, verbally demeaned, and even raped reveals the unsettling reality of porn-induced pleasure. Statistically, these people are often women.

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. But why?

Brain Heart World

Porn is escalatory by nature, which means that someone who starts consuming softer versions porn will require more hardcore versions of porn in order to feel the same neurological dopamine rush (feeling of pleasure).

The demand for violent, hardcore material is remarkably high as a result. Porn showing men being abused is a popular category that shouldn’t be ignored, though it’s important to note that this is a niche fetish category and not as “mainstream” as abuse of women.

Related: Can You Tell The Difference Between #MeToo Stories And Porn Plot Lines?

Both scientific analysis and qualitative observation show that when it comes to porn, the victimization of women sells.

For example, as of February 2021, popular categories on one of the world’s most popular porn site 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. Click here to read some real titles from these abuse-saturated categories.

The industry knows violence sells, so content creators churn out every possible version of exploitative abuse porn and keep people clicking for more. And this pleasure-seeking cycle continues, aided by the fact that porn tube sites are designed to keep consumers searching, viewing, and watching in an endless loop.

When you view it this way, porn is exactly the opposite of the victim-advocate world much of society claims to strive for. The porn industry fuels—or at the very least, normalizes—a system of millions of people associating victimization, abuse, and sexual violence with arousal and entertainment. And the most difficult part is that these associations can transfer to real-life scenarios in some cases.

Store - General

Hindering the #MeToo conversation

Consider how the repeated exposure to abusive images, shown in an arousing context, can desensitize and normalize exploitation for any consumer. In other words, when images and videos of the abuse of women are repeatedly put into the brain, research shows it adapts to find those realities normal.

This is when the helpful elasticity of the brain that allows us to learn, grow and stretch ourselves can be put to a warped, unhealthy use. This isn’t limited to videos of outright abuse, either. A highly cited study from Dr. Gail Dines found that 90% of porn videos contain some combination of degrading physical and verbal aggression, specifically toward women. That content can teach the brain that the degradation of women is normal.

Related: Does The Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

Porn’s desensitization is global—we are talking about an industry that is worth billions of dollars and is influencing the brains and norms of thousands of people per second.

The porn industry exploits the issues of sexual assault, abuse, and nonconsensual sexual encounters for entertainment, and profit.

It’s become clear that in a society that strives to give abuse survivors a voice, it is contradictory to support an industry that simultaneously and unapologetically normalizes and fetishes nonconsensual and abusive situations people speak out about every day.

Be A Lover And A Fighter - Retro

Changing the culture means changing our consumption

The point of shining a light on all of this research isn’t to say that porn is the direct cause of all sexual abuse or assualt stories, but to point out that porn paves the way for society to take abuse and assault survivors less seriously.

“If we want these #MeToo experiences to decrease, we must begin to change our culture… We must recognize that objectification, rape culture, pornography, sexual violence, prostitution, sex trafficking must be addressed and the links between them made known,” says Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Related: Is There A Connection Between Porn Culture And Rape Culture?

This includes considering what we consume and watch, and what sexually exploitative material we have allowed to be normalized in our society and lives. This includes considering when we have been upset by hearing about a sexual abuse or assault situation, yet not by the abuse and objectification of men and women in pornography.

In addressing the issue of gender equality, sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse in our society, it is necessary that we address the ways that porn promotes inequality and feeds into the damaging narrative that women are objects to be used or sexual means to an end.

It won’t be easy to change the culture that surrounds us, but it is important that we do. Standing against violence toward women and girls means standing against their sexual exploitation and the normalization of their abuse.

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