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5 of the Most Degrading Ideas Porn Sells About Women

By February 25, 2021No Comments
Imagine if the world only had porn as a reference for what women are really like. It’d be an even more messed-up place, right? Considering the abused, exploited, degraded, humiliated, and inaccurate portrayals of women in porn, don’t you think you and the world deserve better? 9-minute read.

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 fits in the palm of our hands, and travels everywhere with us in our pockets. This vast technological power comes with pros and cons, like the kind of content we can access at the touch of a button.

Because porn is now totally affordable, always available and accessible, and completely anonymous, it has become a mainstream pastime that’s considered a harmless habit. But is it? That’s not what decades of research from respected institutions shows.

Among the numerous reasons why porn is so harmful to consumers and the world around them, porn is degrading to performers and portrays them inaccurately, stereotypically, and even offensively in abusive situations that are labeled as “fantasy.” This, in turn, can often influence the consumer’s perspective of women as they can’t help but internalize what they’re seeing on screen, especially if they’re turning to porn for information about sex.

You see, images are especially powerful teachers since they can pack in a whole lot of information that the viewer can understand very quickly. And while words are often interpreted as mere opinions, our brains are more likely to accept images as facts. After all, it’s a lot more difficult to argue with something you’re seeing happen in front of you. [1]

RelatedWhy You Can’t Consistently Fight Sexual Abuse Without Fighting Porn

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.

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

The world’s largest free porn site, Pornhub, released statistics that said in 2019 alone, 115,624,116,000 porn video views on their site. And of those billions of videos viewed, many of them include categories like “facial abuse” (forced oral sex), “surprise anal,” and “MILF.”

Dr. Norman Doidge—author of the neuroscience book The Brain That Changes Itself—stated that hardcore porn “is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes . . . all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation.”

RelatedData Shows Domestic Violence Increase Is Being Fueled By Violent Porn

In other words, in our porn-saturated society where the porn industry rakes in tens of billions of dollars, the influx of violent hardcore pornography is actually altering our general perceptions of people and what’s healthy.

Let’s look at the numbers. Another national survey within the U.S. showed that 46% of 1,188 adult porn consumers surveyed think that “sexual acts that may be forced or painful” are not unacceptable.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, provides some terrifying statistics about our reality, too. For instance, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Related: Elizabeth Smart Speaks For The First Time About Pornography’s Role In Her Abduction

But how do these fantasy vs. reality stats connect?

Well, porn that shows men assaulting and degrading women can be pleasurable, and exciting. According to one study, 88% of popular porn scenes contained physical aggression, and 49% contained verbal aggression. Even more concerning is that the targets of that aggression responded either neutrally or with pleasure 95% of the time, sending the message that sexual aggression is normal or even desirable. 

Or, consider 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.

And that’s not ineffectual advertising for abuse, as it turns out. In fact, there are a growing number of reported cases where young adults commit porn-inspired crimes, such as this 24-year-old man who strangled a 16-year-old girl while attempting to reenact something he had seen in a porn film. In fact, strangulation-related deaths are on the rise, and it’s come to light that many of these cases are porn-inspired.

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.

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2. Porn harms the women shown on porn sites, performers and non-performers.

It’s not just about what is portrayed on the screen. Behind the scenes, many young women sign up to be “amateur models” for easy money, without a real understanding of what they’re really signing up for. Or else they’re invited and flown to modeling opportunities, only to learn way too late that it’s actually a porn shoot.

It’s come to light that many of the videos available on free porn sites around the internet actually feature victims of sex trafficking and image-based abuse like “revenge porn.” The ramifications of having your violation on display for consumers to click on and be entertained by is beyond comprehension—researchers have found that image-based abuse victims suffer the same psychological effects as rape or sexual assault survivors.

Related: Study Reveals Image-Based Abuse Victims Suffer Similar Trauma As Sexual Assault Victims

A main issue is that consent is very complicated in the porn world. How can any consumer know for sure that everyone in all porn videos they’ve seen gave their full, enthusiastic, and informed consent? Defenders of pornography make this argument all the time, that no matter how someone is treated in porn, it’s okay because she gave her consent. [2]

But what if she didn’t? What if she really didn’t want to be painfully dominated, humiliated, and sexually used for the world to see? Or what if she didn’t truly understand what would happen when she agreed? Is her consent still valid? Or what if she never consented for her image to be shared at all and yet it ended up on a porn site?

And in addition to all of that, there are issues of images and videos taken and shared without the subject’s knowledge or consent.

The bottom line is, you can’t assume, just because someone appears in a porn video, that they knew beforehand exactly what would happen or that they had a real choice or the ability to stop what was being done. And among the many personal stories that we have shared from former porn performers, they have recounted many instances of abuse. In the porn world, sexual assault doesn’t just happen sometimes, it’s an entire genre of content.

Related: 10 Ex-Porn Performers Reveal The Brutal Truth Behind Their Most Popular Scenes

We are not claiming that all porn is non-consensual, but rather, raising awareness that there is often no way to tell if the porn a consumer views is completely consensual or produced with coercion.

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 story, this BBC report, this Florida Sun Sentinal report, this Daily Wire story, this Buzzfeed News profile, and this UK Independent story for further proof that the mainstream porn industry features nonconsensual videos and videos of trafficked individuals.

One performer in particular named Jenna stated, “It was torture for seven years. I was miserable, I was lonely, I eventually turned to drugs and alcohol and attempted suicide. I knew I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out.”

Clearly, the porn industry has deeply and negatively affected countless women whose images have been shared without consent, and women who did consent to be in porn only to learn the painful 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.

Rape, incest, and underage sexual activity are all exploited 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 harmful to our women family members, neighbors, and peers.

Porn producers 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.

RelatedStudy Shows Porn Magazines & Rapists Use Similar Language To Describe Women

Once consumers start viewing extreme and dangerous sex acts, things that they thought were disgusting or degrading can start to seem normal, acceptable, and more common than they really are. [3] And that can include serious crimes like rape and sexual assault, or even sexual relationships between family members.

In fact, the Daily Beast reported a 178% increase in the production of incest porn in recent years, making up 1 in 10 porn purchases by young adults. This means preferences are shifting so even family members are being objectified through a twisted lens.

Also, the portrayal of sexualized teenage schoolgirls in pornography is one of the most popular categories. While the actress might legally be above the age of consent, they are using illegal childhood sexual abuse as a way to entertain others and make money. Normalizing this behavior by showing it as a form of entertainment twists people’s perspectives and preferences and can lead to the sexual abuse of minors.

Even if porn does not influence someone to harm women, porn normalizes and trivializes what rape and abuse victims experience. Research has confirmed that those who consume porn (even if it’s nonviolent) are more likely to support statements that promote abuse and sexual aggression toward women and girls.

4. Porn promotes women as sexual objects.

In pornography, women are broken down into body parts, frequently promoted exclusively for sexual gratification. And in fact, a recent study of adolescent porn use concluded that the major messages presented by porn are male domination, hypermasculinity, and making male sexual pleasure the top priority. [4]

Not only that, another recent study on men’s behavior toward women after viewing sexually explicit films showed that men that watched degrading sexual films displayed increased dominance and aggression towards women with less anxiety. That means that after watching humiliating porn, men felt superior to women, rather than equal.

RelatedResearch Shows Softcore Porn Linked To Greater Acceptance Of Rape Culture

Many of the porn viewers in our personal stories talk about how they begin to see women as a means to an end instead of actual people. And isn’t it pretty much impossible to truly love and appreciate a person as a whole human being if you’re thinking of them as a sexual object?

Research has also shown that women exposed to porn or who are partners of porn addicts are more likely to engage in sexual acts that make them feel uncomfortable. They are also more likely to worry about how they look instead of enjoying being intimate with their significant other. To top things off, porn adds pressure on women to comply with and be okay with pretty much anything their partner wants, which includes sexual violence and degrading behavior that is so prevalently found in porn.

Also, according to another study, psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey found that when presented with descriptions of women taken from men’s magazines, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most people who took part in the study could not correctly guess who said what.

Even worse, when men involved with the study were asked which quotes they agreed with, they were actually more likely to agree with the rapist quotes.

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

We live in a world of Photoshop and unrealistic expectations of what bodies should look like. Obviously, this isn’t just a problem for women, but it does affect a large majority of women.

In 2016, Dove released The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, which included more than 10,500 women from 13 countries. It showed that only 24% of American women feel confident about their bodies.

“This latest research shows that low body confidence is a global issue,” said Dr. Nancy Etcoff, Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School. And what’s something that could be contributing to the plummeting of women’s self-esteem?

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

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

A 2019 study of heterosexual couples has also found that a guy’s porn habit was found to directly influence his partner’s insecurity, body-image perception, and chances for developing an eating disorder. In some relationships, eating disorders preexisted the relationship, but porn would still possibly influence an unhealthy body image for some women. And another study done in 2014 done on heterosexual couples also echoes these findings. In that study’s conclusion, researchers wrote, “A direct link from previous partners’ pornography use to eating disorder symptomatology was evidenced in our model,” which means that researchers found a link between someone’s porn usage and an eating disorder mentality in their partner.

But that’s not all. Pornography researchers Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillman have studied the effects of pornography for more than 30 years and have found that viewing pornography makes many consumers less satisfied with their own partner’s physical appearance, sexual performance, sexual curiosity, and affection. [5]

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.

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

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Why This Matters

Women are complex. They are irreplaceable, powerful, influential members of society with real, powerful bodies, minds, and personalities. Most importantly, they are human beings that deserve respect and love. And while this is all completely true, 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 isn’t helping 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.

Citations

[1] DeKeseredy, W. (2015). Critical Criminological Understandings Of Adult Pornography And Women Abuse: New Progressive Directions In Research And Theory. International Journal For Crime, Justice, And Social Democracy, 4(4) 4-21. Doi:10.5204/Ijcjsd.V4i4.184; Bridges, A. J. & Anton, C. (2013). Pornography And Violence Against Women. In J. A. Sigal & F. L. Denmark (Eds.). Violence Against Girls And Women: International Perspectives (Pp. 183-206). Santa Barbara, CA: Preager. (“[E]Xposure To Pornography Is Particularly Problematic For Youth Because They Often Lack Healthy Sexual Relationships That Counterbalance The Degrading And Depersonalizing Images Of Sex Often Depicted In Pornography.”)
[2] Whisnant, R. (2016). Pornography, Humiliation, And Consent. Sexualization, Media, & Society, 2(3), 1-7. Doi:10.1177/2374623816662876; Dines, G., (2010). Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Boston, MA: Beacon Press; Dworkin, A., (1980). Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
[3] Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence Of Unrestrained Access To Erotica On Adolescents’ And Young Adults’ Dispositions Toward Sexuality. Journal Of Adolescent Health, 27, 2: 41–44. Retrieved From Https://Www.Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov/Pubmed/10904205
[4] 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. Doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908
[5] Zillman, D. & Bryant, J. (1988) Pornography’s Impact On Sexual Satisfaction. Journal Of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 438-453. Doi: 10.1111/J.1559-1816.1988.Tb00027.X
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