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If the Porn Industry was Ethical, Would that Make Porn Healthy to Watch?

There is plenty of room for change in the porn industry, but even if extensive improvements did take place, research still shows the harms of porn itself and its deep connection to sex trafficking.

By August 17, 2021No Comments
TRIGGER WARNING
This article contains explicit descriptions of porn videos. Reader discretion is advised.

Sometimes, our society tends to only look at the symptoms of a problem instead of examining the deeper causes.

For example, if you had an old, broken-down car, would you fix the problem just by giving it a new coat of paint? Probably not. The problem is much deeper than the visible flaws of the car. To properly fix the car, you would ideally focus on the deeper issues that prevent it from working.

We often see a similar confusion when it comes to pornography.

Many well-meaning people believe that fixing the visible issues within the industry—ensuring all performers are there willingly, everything that happens on set is consensual, protection against STDs is often used, there are no drugs on set, etc.—will make all the problems related to porn go away, and porn will be safe, and even healthy, to consume.

While there are serious exploitation problems with the industry that absolutely need to be addressed, like sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, these problems are merely the symptoms of a deeper issue.

And that issue is the nature of porn and the porn industry, in and of themselves.

Related: Would “Exploitation-Free” Porn Be Harm-Free For Consumers?

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Pervasive abuse and exploitation in the industry

As internet porn continues to rise in popularity, the demand for content has only increased.

With the market expanding—and now unbundling with adult platforms like OnlyFans—it’s becoming increasingly difficult to control the conditions and practices of porn producers around the world. There’s no national or even global system set in place or code of conduct that performers, managers, agents, producers, directors, and even on-set people have to sign and agree to.

Consider how huge the porn industry is. Porn is an estimated $97 billion global industry, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University, and money comes first in this industry. The bottom line is too often much more important than any concern for the well-being of consumers or performers.

It’s no secret that child exploitation, rape, trafficking, and even nonconsensual content have ended up on popular porn tube sites. Sometimes, porn and trafficking are one in the same—videos of trafficking victims end up on porn sites more often than you’d expect.

But one of the most disturbing realities of the porn industry’s ecosystem is the abuse that even professional performers can sometimes face. Unfortunately, it’s pervasive. And when you look closely, you find that there is actually no formal system for reporting and addressing that abuse while keeping the performer safe. What’s worse? Those who do report abuse publicly are often blacklisted.

Related: I Didn’t Know If They’d Kill Me”: What Happened When This Jane Doe Was Trafficked By GirlsDoPorn

Some content on porn sites is absolutely nonconsensual. Some isn’t. We are not claiming that all porn is nonconsensual, 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.

Story after story arises 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.

These are issues the average consumer has no idea about, but abuse happens all the time on porn sets around the world. And while there are some industry standards in place to help this issue, it’s only gotten worse over time, especially with the demand increasing for extremely degrading or violent porn.

Related: Not All Porn Is Consensual. Don’t Believe It? Just Ask These Performers.

In reality, it’s much more complicated than simply putting in measures to protect the performers’ health and safety on set. For example, the practice of recording “do’s and don’ts” videos pre-shoot, and the “consent exit interview” post-shoot actually doesn’t remotely solve the problems of coercion and nonconsensual sex acts on porn sets. (Don’t believe us? Just read this article.)

So, sure, there are some safeguards in place, but even if the porn industry had the strictest standards in place and every video was guaranteed to be consensual, it wouldn’t solve every issue that porn causes.

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Porn sexualizes violence

One of the most common criticisms we hear is that porn performers genuinely like what they are doing, and that if they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be doing porn. Regardless of all the overwhelming research and countless personal accounts exposing the exploitative reality of the porn industry and trafficking and/or exploitation, many still buy into the fantasy that the porn industry works to build.

Related: 5 Popular Porn Categories Considered Sexy Online But Are Disturbing In Reality

The truth is, the performers employed by the industry suffer very real emotional, mental, and sexual abuse, but many endure the suffering because of the steady money. Countless teens are tricked into porn through alluring “modeling contracts,” or easy cash. The industry doesn’t care though—as far as they’re concerned, performers are merely objects to be used and abused, and discarded once they refuse to shoot more extreme scenes.

And, meanwhile, performers can’t usually leave the industry because of the stigma surrounding their profession, or the trauma they’ve endured while in the industry. It’s a vicious cycle, perpetuated by the need to pay bills and put food on the table. What’s worse is that, as the porn industry adopts more extreme and aggressive sex acts to be more mainstream, performers must say “yes” to increasingly physically traumatic jobs involving more extreme sex acts like anal, BDSM, or “kink” scenes.

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.

Related: Why Do Some People Fight Against Sex Trafficking But Unconditionally Support Porn?

One of the porn industry’s most popular stars has spoken up about how the growing appetite for abuse porn is harming new female performers who are being required to take part in increasingly extreme scenes in order to get more work. Formerly the most searched porn performer on the world’s most popular porn site, Lisa Ann left the industry in 2014 and is one of the few who has successfully transitioned into mainstream media. Ann is now talking about how she’s witnessed that the industry is leaning more and more heavily on extreme and hardcore videos.

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Speaking to The Guardian, she claimed the difficulties some porn performers face after leaving the adult industry often relate to the growing demand for extreme porn, and performers abusing drugs:

“There were times on set with people where I was like, ‘This is not a good situation. This is not safe. This girl is out of her mind and we’re not sure what she’s going to say when she leaves here,’” she said. “Everyone’s a ticking time bomb, and a lot of it is linked to the drugs. A lot of this new pain comes from these new girls who have to do these abusive scenes, because that does break you down as a woman.”

Even if this violence is simply scripted and actors are all consenting, porn still normalizes situations that would be considered sexual assault if they happened in reality.

But let’s talk about performers for a moment. While some of the content on porn sites is nonconsensual, some is from consenting porn performers. Consider how only factoring in the consent of performers in violent porn becomes too low a bar to set. Only looking at performer consent and not the content itself is problematic because it allows the fetishization of sexual violence and fantasized nonconsensual sex acts to be viewed as acceptable content for consumers around the world. The very basis of the appeal of these videos is consent violation, right? But rape is not sexy, and it is not a fantasy.

If consent is so important to the porn industry, why are there so many videos that specifically highlight fantasized abusive situations where acts are nonconsensual? Consider how these video can train consumers to accepting of or aroused by violent or nonconsensual behavior, rather than alarmed and concerned by it.

Here are a few real titles from Pornhub that this conversation applies to:

I was f— hard without my desire 1.5m views
SUBMISSIVE GIRLFRIEND F— HARD FOR BEING DISOBEDIENT 2.1m views
My girl was bitching so i f— her soul out and made her drink my n— 1.6m views
Hard f— a girl in stockings, without her desire 1.6m views
Barley Legal Sporty Teen With Small T— And Tiny P— Gets F—, this video was uploaded by a verified user named “Tiny Teen City.”

Related: How Sex Trafficking And Exploitation Blend In With Today’s Violent Mainstream Porn

And this kind of content is not some exception on the fringes of porn tube sites, it’s the norm.

The vast majority of porn—violent or not—portrays men as powerful and in charge; while women are submissive and obedient.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; 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; Layden, M. A. (2010) Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In Stoner, J. & Hughes, D. (Eds.), The Social Cost Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57-68). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute; Ryu, E. (2008). Spousal Use Of Pornography And Its Clinical Significance For Asian-American Women: Korean Woman As An Illustration. Journal Of Feminist Family Therapy, 16(4), 75. Doi:10.1300/J086v16n04_05; Shope, J. H. (2004). When Words Are Not Enough: The Search For The Effect Of Pornography On Abused Women. Violence Against Women, 10(1), 56-72. Doi:10.1177/1077801203256003COPY  Watching scene after scene of dehumanizing submission makes it start to seem normal.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; Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., Kleiner, S., & Irizarry, Y. (2010). Pornography, Normalization And Empowerment. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 39 (6) 1389-1401. Doi:10.1007/S10508-009-9592-5; Doring, N. M. (2009). The Internet’s Impact On Sexuality: A Critical Review Of 15 Years Of Research. Computers In Human Behavior, 25(5), 1089-1101. Doi:10.1016/J.Chb.2009.04.003; 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/10904205COPY  It sets the stage for lopsided power dynamics in couple relationships and the gradual acceptance of verbal and physical aggression against women.Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., & Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development, 45:119–131. Doi:10.1353/Csd.2004.0019 ; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., And Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure To Pornography And Acceptance Of The Rape Myth. Journal Of Communication, 45(1), 5–26. Doi:10.1111/J.1460-2466.1995.Tb00711.XCOPY  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.Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., And Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography And Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting The Relationship In Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression And Behavior, 36(1), 14–20. Doi:10.1002/Ab.20328; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., And Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development, 45(2), 119–131. Doi:10.1353/Csd.2004.0019; Zillmann, D. (2004). Pornografie. In R. Mangold, P. Vorderer, & G. Bente (Eds.) Lehrbuch Der Medienpsychologie (Pp. 565–85). Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe Verlag; Zillmann, D. (1989). Effects Of Prolonged Consumption Of Pornography. In D. Zillmann & J. Bryant, (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances And Policy Considerations (P. 155). Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.COPY 

Not only this, but also consider how it can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference between what rapists and porn magazines say about women. A study from the University of Surrey compared quotes from porn magazines and actual rapists serving time for their crimes, and it found that they use almost identical language.

And even worse, consistent porn consumption can impact how an individual views sex, violence, and aggression.

Related: 9 Serious Issues Porn Culture Fuels In High Schools

Porn insists that violence is sexy and that everyone is a willing sexual partner, even if they resist at first. The symptom issue is that porn performers are often mistreated, and the industry is saturated with abuse and exploitation.

Even if performer abuse and coercion magically disappeared from the industry instantly, the underlying problem would still exist—porn sexualizes violence and abuse, even if it’s all a fantasy, and it can harm consumers’ perception of what’s healthy.

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Porn warps sexual tastes

Many porn supporters say that being into sexual violence is a personal preference, and while we aren’t here to police people’s sex lives, we are here to warn about the possible harm in consistently consuming and becoming aroused by that kind of abusive content.

Think of it this way: the most popular porn searches on the internet today are situations and scenarios that are so extreme, they would never be acceptable (or legal) in real life. Categories involving teen exploitation, “gang-rape,” and “incest” consistently rank as some of the most popular genres in porn. What kind of implications does that have in our society?

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

Even more concerning than the availability of these violent genres, is their growing popularity and demand among consumers. What can make somebody increasingly aroused from videos involving scenarios of rape, sexual assault, and incest? The answer lies in the neurological impacts of porn on the brain.

Many leading brain researchers now believe that once a porn consumer’s brain starts cutting back on dopamine receptors, to get the same excitement and arousal they used to feel, many porn consumers need an even larger surge of dopamine; to get it, they have to look at more porn, look at porn more often, or look at more hardcore material.Bridges, A. J. (2010). Pornography’s Effect On Interpersonal Relationships. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 89-110). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Bergner, R. And Bridges, A. (2002). The Significance Of Heavy Pornography Involvement For Romantic Partners: Research And Clinical Implications. Sex And Marital Therapy, 28, 3, 193-206; Zillmann, D. And Bryant, J. (1988). Pornography’s Impact On Sexual Satisfaction, Journal Of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 5, 438-53.COPY  You see, it’s not just arousal that gets dopamine pumping. The brain also releases it when it sees something novel, shocking, or surprising.Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Berkel, L. A., Vandiver, B. J., And Bahner, A. D. (2004). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, And Spirituality As Predictors Of Domestic Violence Attitudes In White College Students. Journal Of College Student Development 45:119–131; Allen, M., Emmers, T., Gebhardt, L., And Giery, M. A. (1995). Exposure To Pornography And Acceptance Of The Rape Myth. Journal Of Communication 45, 1: 5–26.COPY  That’s why consistent porn consumers often find themselves looking for more extreme images—they’ve been desensitized.Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Cline, V. B. (2001). Pornography’s Effect On Adults And Children. New York: Morality In Media; 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; NoFap Survey Http://Www.Reddit.Com/R/NoFap/Comments/Updy4/Rnofap_survey_data_complete_datasets/COPY  On top of that, because they’ve built up such a high tolerance to arousing material, to feel excited many consumers have to combine sexual arousal with the feeling of aggressive release. That’s why so much hardcore porn is full of images of women being physically harmed. It’s also the reason that many avid porn consumers quickly find themselves looking at things that used to disgust them or that they used to see as unacceptable.Angres, D. H. And Bettinardi-Angres, K. (2008). The Disease Of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, And Recovery. Disease-A-Month 54: 696–721; 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.COPY 

RelatedDoes Porn Really Decrease Rates Of Sexual Assault?

Porn is a toxic influence on our society, and it can rewire a consumer’s arousal template to be increasingly extreme. It can cause consumers to see people as objects, and accept behavior they never normally would. Porn teaches consumers that violence can be sexy, and it promotes the idea that “no” means “maybe,” or “persuade me.”

We can address the porn industry’s business practices all we want, but until we address our society’s acceptance of and demand for violent porn, we’ll never truly get to the source issue.

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Why this matters

The porn industry is a corrupt, broken, and flawed system built on profiting from sexual exploitation and abuse. But beneath the obvious flaws of the industry lies the deeper cause of these problems—pornography, at its core, is harmful.

It lies to its consumers, mistreats its “employees,” and sexualizes disturbing acts such as rape and incest. Not to mention that the increased demand for extreme mainstream adult entertainment leads to increased demand for content that can permanently injure or traumatize performers. However, attempting to correct and repair these obviously dangerous problems would be about as effective as giving a broken-down car a new paint job.

We can take measures to fight the porn industry all we want, but lasting changes will only come when society understands the proven harmful effects of its product.

Other sources not cited

Paul, P. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, And Our Families. New York: Henry Hold And Co., 75; Caro, M. (2004). The New Skin Trade. Chicago Tribune, September 19; Brosius, H. B., Et Al. (1993). Exploring The Social And Sexual “Reality” Of Contemporary Pornography. Journal Of Sex Research 30, 2: 161–70.
Paul, P. (2010). From Pornography To Porno To Porn: How Porn Became The Norm. In J. Stoner And D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs Of Pornography: A Collection Of Papers (Pp. 3–20). Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute.
Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered In The Context Of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767; Paul, Pamela. (2007). Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, And Our Families. New York: Henry Holt And Co., 145.
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