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

As our collective society aims to fight against women’s victimization, it also defends an industry that victimizes women on an unimaginable scale.

By February 17, 2022No Comments

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.

Sexual exploitation and violence seem to be both more unacceptable and acceptable than ever in our culture. 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.

Thankfully, victims of abuse are finding more access to tell their stories and expose abuse where it happens. And, probably most crucial of all, many people in power have taken strides to listen to women who have been abused, assaulted, and exploited.

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

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 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?

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Endless violence in mainstream porn

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.

Even by the lowest estimate, 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 

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

One team of researchers 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.

The demand for violent, hardcore material has never been higher—just look at Pornhub’s 2021 annual report. 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.

While some studies have examined violence in porn by analyzing the content of porn videos, others have estimated the prevalence of violence in porn by asking porn consumers how frequently they see certain types of behaviors depicted in the porn they watch. For example, a recent Australian study found that 70% of young people reported frequently seeing men as dominant, 34% frequently see women being called names or slurs, and 11% reported frequently seeing violence or aggression toward a woman that was nonconsensual. Another 13% of young people reported seeing aggressive nonconsensual sex “occasionally” when they watch porn, so together the study found that 1 in 4 young people have had repeated exposure to depictions of violent, nonconsensual sex within the last year of their lives.Davis, A. C., Carrotte, E. R., Hellard, M. E., & Lim, M. (2018). What Behaviors Do Young Heterosexual Australians See in Pornography? A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 310–319. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1417350Copy 

Related: 4 Ways Porn Can Warp The Way Women View Themselves

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.

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

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 in some cases, it this normalized violence can transfer to the real world.

How are everyday porn consumers impacted by constant violence?

So how does this normalization of sexual violence affect porn consumers? Well, 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 

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

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 

Related: 99.3% Of Surveyed Women And Girls Report Experiencing Sexual Violence

In 2016, a team of leading researchers performed a meta-analysis of quality studies on the connection between porn and sexual violence. After analyzing relevant studies on the topic, they concluded that the research left “little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.”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 

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.

Become A Fighter

Changing the culture means changing our consumption

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

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 assault 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: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

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.

Fortify

Given what research is showing about porn normalizing violence, it’s worth considering the facts before consuming.

Related: How The Porn Industry Profits From Nonconsensual Content And Abuse

This isn’t a moral argument, nor is it some kind of strategy for censorship or banning porn, it’s simply something we invite you to consider.

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.