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5 Ways the Porn Industry Degrades Women

The porn industry profits from exploiting, objectifying, abusing, and humiliating women. It’s not just about how women are portrayed in porn that's questionable, but also what goes on behind the scenes.

By February 10, 2022No Comments

Hardcore pornography has become more normalized than ever before in our digitally-driven society.

We are the first generation to have constant access to a world of information on a device that travels everywhere with us in our pockets. This vast technological power comes with pros and cons, like the kind of content we can access with one tap of our screen.

Because porn is now totally affordable, always available and accessible, and completely anonymous, it has become a “need” in our current culture. But decades of research from respected institutions show that porn is not as harmless as many believe.

For one thing, consider how the individuals in porn are portrayed—not only as sexual objects, but sometimes also as inaccurate stereotypes (sometimes sexist or racist stereotypes), or in situations that normalize abuse and degradation.

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

This is a concerning trend not only because porn consumers watch this content passively and these issues become normalized for them, but also because many people turn to porn to learn about sex even though porn is one of the unhealthiest and lowest-quality places for anything remotely educational.

And while the porn industry definitely affects both consumers and performers no matter their gender, the majority of pornography specifically features women in harmful, and frequently abusive, ways.

Here are just a few ways that porn harms women and the way society views them. Note that all of these things can impact anyone of any gender, but for the following points, we’re going to focus specifically on women.

1. Porn sells violence—especially toward women—as a fantasy.

To start, let’s consider common content in porn. Is it mainly sensual but explicit sex, or is extreme content common?

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.

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

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.

Standing against violence toward women and girls (and men and boys) means standing against their sexual exploitation and the normalization of their abuse. By fighting for love, we fight against sexual violence and the warped idea of sex the porn industry pushes.

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

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2. Porn harms the women in the industry.

Sex trafficking and sexual exploitation can happen to anyone of any gender, but let’s talk about women for a few more minutes.

It’s not just about what is portrayed on the screen that’s questionable, but also what goes on behind the scenes.

The unfortunate truth is that the porn industry has an extensive history of profiting from nonconsensual content and abuse, often ignoring victims’ pleas to remove abusive content.Kristof, N. (2021). Why do we let corporations profit from rape videos? New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/16/opinion/sunday/companies-online-rape-videos.htmlCopy Kristof, N. (2020). The children of Pornhub. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.htmlCopy  And many of these victims are, unfortunately, women.

Related: How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking

Porn is a powerful, multi-billion dollar industry. Three porn sites—XVideos, XNXX, and Pornhub—all rank among the top 20 most trafficked websites in the world.Similarweb. (2021). Top websites ranking. Retrieved from https://www.similarweb.com/top-websites/Copy  And while Pornhub has received the most scrutiny in the last couple of years, it’s important to remember that virtually every major porn site has had issues with nonconsensual content and abuse.Kristof, N. (2021). Why do we let corporations profit from rape videos? New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/16/opinion/sunday/companies-online-rape-videos.htmlCopy Burgess, M. (2020). Deepfake porn is now mainstream. and major sites are cashing in. Retrieved from https://www.wired.co.uk/article/deepfake-porn-websites-videos-lawCopy Kristof, N. (2020). The children of Pornhub. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/sunday/pornhub-rape-trafficking.htmlCopy Meineck, S., & Alfering, Y. (2020). We went undercover in xHamster's unpaid content moderation team. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/akdzdp/inside-xhamsters-unpaid-content-moderation-teamCopy 

It’s no wonder, then, that many victims feel powerless when confronting such a powerful industry. Mainstream porn performers can also be abused or taken advantage of in the industry with their abusers facing little to no repercussions.

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

Another deeply troubling trend in the world of pornography is “deepfake” porn—explicit videos which are digitally manipulated to include someone else’s face or voice. Deepfake videos can be made of anyone whose photos are accessible, and while most deepfake porn videos portray well-known celebrities, they can also be made using images of everyday people. A report by Sensity AI, The State of Deepfakes 2019 Landscape, Threats, and Impact, found that 96% of deepfakes were non-consensual sexual deepfakes, and of those, 99% were made of women.

One report shows that hundreds of deepfake videos are uploaded to porn sites each month and receive millions of views, yet it is incredibly rare that these videos are made consensually.Burgess, M. (2020). Porn sites still won’t take down nonconsensual deepfakes. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/porn-sites-still-wont-take-down-non-consensual-deepfakes/Copy  Despite the fact that nonconsensual deepfake porn is a form of image-based abuse, many porn sites have been known to advertise which celebrity names were most searched on their sites throughout the year, and these names regularly coincide with nonconsensual deepfake porn.Lee, D. (2018). Deepfakes porn has serious consequences. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-42912529Copy 

Of course, we’re not claiming that all porn contains abuse or nonconsensual content. But in order for consumers to make informed decisions regarding porn, we think it’s important to point out that some pornographic content isn’t consensual—and it’s virtually impossible to guarantee which is which.

Related: How Mainstream Porn Normalizes Violence Against Black Women

Story after story arise of abuse on set. Check out these ex-performers who tell about the horrors they faced while filming. Other online platforms have written exposés on the terrible abuse that is not being systematically addressed. Or if that isn’t convincing, just read this Jezebel.com storythis story on Daily Beastthis story on Complex.comthis Rolling Stone storythis Daily Beast storythis Bustle.com storythis story on CNNthis NY Post storythis Gizmodo.com storythis BBC reportthis Florida Sun-Sentinel reportthis Daily Wire storythis Buzzfeed News profileand this UK Independent story for further proof that the mainstream porn industry features nonconsensual videos and videos of trafficked individuals. And yes, this includes videos on Pornhub and other mainstream porn sites, like we mentioned.

Clearly, the porn industry has deeply and negatively affected countless women’s lives whose images have been shared without consent, and women who did consent to be in porn only to learn the exploitative realities of the industry.

The porn industry profits from women’s abuse and degradation.

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3. Porn normalizes illegal, harmful activities that harm women.

The “fantasies” of rape, incest, and underage sexual activity are all promoted by the porn industry. In fact, the terms “stepmom,” “stepsister,” and “teen” are some of the most popular and frequently searched terms in pornography today. Nothing is off-limits in porn, even if it’s  fantasized harm to our female family members, neighbors, and peers.

Porn producers can often argue that porn is fake, so fantasies that are taboo can be satisfied without actually doing those things in real life. However, porn uses what’s on the screen to arouse consumers and can actually influence their sexual tastes and preferences.

Related: Homepages Of 3 Most Popular Porn Sites Heavily Feature Sexual Violence, Study Finds

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 

Research also suggests that increased pornography consumption is associated with the enjoyment of degrading, uncommon, or aggressive sexual behaviors.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  Another study indicated that teens often report trying to copy porn in their own sexual encounters, and that the pressure to imitate porn was often an aspect of unhealthy relationships.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. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908Copy  And according to a UK survey of over 22,000 adult women, 16% reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts the other person had seen in porn.Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCopy 

Even if porn does not influence someone to harm women, porn normalizes and trivializes what rape and abuse victims experience. But in a more direct way, 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 

Related: 5 Studies That Show How Porn Often Normalizes Sexual Violence Against Women

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 

4. Porn promotes women as sexual objects.

Sexual objectification occurs when people perceive others as sex objects, rather than complex human beings deserving of dignity and respect. In fact, in a review of research on sexual violence, two leading experts called sexual objectification the “common thread” that connects different forms of sexual violence.Gervais, S. J., & Eagan, S. (2017). Sexual objectification: The common thread connecting myriad forms of sexual violence against women. The American journal of orthopsychiatry, 87(3), 226–232. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000257Copy 

Research consistently shows that porn can play a big role in teaching viewers to consume people as products for their own personal sexual satisfaction, which can ultimately have unhealthy consequences for individuals, relationships, and for the cultures in which we live.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 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 

Related: How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner

An industry that literally makes billions of dollars every year by making women into objects is the porn industry. No, the porn industry hasn’t cornered the market on objectifying women, but they certainly profit greatly from it.

Not long ago, Princeton and Stanford psychologists performed a study showing a group of men two sets of pictures, some of fully-clothed women and others of women who had been sexualized and were barely clothed. The psychologists monitored their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is the part of the brain involved in recognizing human faces and distinguishing one person from another. For the most part, the mPFC part of the brain was activated with each picture. However, when the subjects of the study were shown the pictures of sexualized women, this part of the brain was not activated. Basically, the automatic reaction in their brains suggested that they didn’t perceive the sexualized women as fully human, rather they saw them as objects, focusing on their bodies and body parts. The researchers concluded, “sexualized women were perceived as having the least control over their own lives” and “this suggests that sexualized women are more closely associated with being the objects, not the agents, of action as compared to clothed women.Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 23(3), 540–551. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2010.21497Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

Obviously, porn is not an accurate representation of how everyday people look or how sex and intimacy work in real-life relationships, yet the research shows that porn can, and does, shape the way that consumers think about others and about sex.

Real connection starts with seeing others as whole people with unique thoughts, feelings, dreams, struggles, and lives. Viewing people as products is harmful to individuals, relationships and ultimately society as a whole.

The collective private actions of millions affect the larger culture—objectifying others privately on our screens doesn’t inspire respect and dignity in public. The private impacts the public—that’s how culture works. If we want a culture of true respect and equality, then we need to make sure we think about, talk about, and treat women as whole people—not as objects.

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5. Porn negatively alters women’s self-image.

Dozens of issues and industries feed into the low self-esteem issuesfor women, and one of those is undoubtedly porn.

We live in a world of Photoshop, influencers, and unrealistic expectations of what the “ideal” body type is. Obviously, this isn’t just a problem for women, but it certainly does affect women.

Pornography is full of digitally altered images of women that give consumers a twisted version of physical beauty and of sex. Every day, we receive messages from women who feel like they have to be thinner or sexier in order to compete with the porn performers their partner watches, and for good reason.

Related: Male Porn Habits Could Fuel Female Partners’ Eating Disorders, Study Says

Porn may seem like a personal habit, but the reality is, porn can deeply affect someone’s partner—especially women. This is chiefly true when considering the body image and self-esteem of a porn consumer’s partner. And while people who consume porn are not “bad” people, porn can introduce and worsen negative issues in a relationship, causing harm to both partners.

Much of the harm comes from porn fostering unrealistic expectations that partners feel they can never live up to in a real relationship. In porn, the performers always look their best. They are forever young, surgically enhanced, airbrushed, and Photoshopped to perfection.Hilton, D. L., (2013). Pornography addiction—a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3:20767. doi:10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767Copy  So it’s not difficult to see why, according to a national poll, six out of seven women believe that porn has changed men’s expectations of how women should look.Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm. In Stoner, J. Stoner & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 3-20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute.Copy 

Here’s another example of how porn has harmed body image in relationships.

Related: Is My Partner’s Porn Habit Harming Our Relationship, Or Am I Just Insecure?

In 2019, researchers set out to find out, in cisgender heterosexual relationships, whether a male partner’s porn habit would influence his female partner’s body image. They surveyed over 400 women, and included in the questions researchers asked were evaluations of whether the women “felt pressure from their partner to lose weight” and “noticed a strong message from their partner to have a thin body.” Participants also estimated how many hours per week they perceived that their current partner views pornography and estimated how often previous partners have viewed pornography. Participants also indicated whether they would be bothered by their partner’s pornography use.

Pornography has affected women’s self-image so much that some even resort to genital mutilation and elective, cosmetic surgeries to alter the look of their bodies. They want to look like the unrealistic women they have seen in porn, yet even the women in porn don’t look like what is shown on screen, thanks to heavy editing.

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Why this matters

Clearly, porn plays a role in normalizing sexual violence, which can have devastating real-world consequences—especially on women. Regular porn consumers might tell themselves that they aren’t personally affected by porn or the toxic messages it perpetuates, but research suggests otherwise. There is no guarantee that porn won’t affect a consumer’s attitudes about sex or women in unhealthy ways.

Related: 1 In 16 U.S. Women Report Being Raped During Their First Sexual Encounter

Women are complex. They are irreplaceable, powerful, influential members of society with real, powerful bodies, minds, and personalities. Most importantly, they are human beings who deserve respect and love. Unfortunately, this is not what pornography shows the world. Women are not represented by what porn shows.

The reasons stated above, and countless more, are why we believe porn doesn’t help women get the love, equality, and respect they deserve in society.

It’s time we speak out that sexual exploitation is not empowering for anyone, including and especially women.