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Are There Any Issues With Watching Consensual Porn?

Even if porn could be exploitation-free, this wouldn’t cancel out the research proving porn’s harmful effects nor the issues with what porn normalizes.

By January 5, 2022No Comments
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There are people out there in the commercial sex industry who say they love performing in porn and enthusiastically consent to it. But there are also many individuals who have been sex trafficked into the porn industry, as well as established consenting performers who have been abused on set.

How can consumers tell the difference between consensually-produced videos, and videos involving exploitation? The tricky part is that there’s no reliable way to.

But consider this: even if all porn could be exploitation-free and every performer participated 100% willingly, this argument still wouldn’t cancel out the research that clearly illustrates porn’s harmful effects, nor the fundamental issues with what mainstream porn normalizes.

But first, let’s talk about performer exploitation.

Related: Let’s Talk About Ethical Porn—Is It Really Exploitation-Free?

Sometimes, human trafficking can happen to willing performers

It’s important to know that even those exploited in porn can appear to enjoy it, and many even tell consumers that they absolutely love their job. Take it from former performers and victims of sexual exploitation—porn fuels trafficking, even when it might not look like it.

See how trafficking can happen in porn production with unwilling individuals?

But what about people who willingly enter the porn industry and face abuse and exploitation? Do they deserve what happens to them? Or that people who enter the porn industry willingly can never be exploited? No, on all accounts.

In an effort to soothe consumers’ worries about nonconsensual content and absolve the producers of liability, some porn production companies film “exit interviews” where the performers confirm whether they consented to everything that was filmed. But even these supposed confirmations of consent have proven to be deeply problematic.

Related: Is “Exploitation-Free” Porn Possible, And Would It Be Harm-Free For Consumers?

While exit interviews are presumably filmed after production has wrapped up, they are often filmed before the performers are paid. Even if they’ve already been paid, the guarantee that they’ll be booked for future jobs in the industry often depends on not “being difficult” or saying something they experienced was abusive, since production companies cannot use the footage if a performer states they were assaulted or abused. With their paychecks and careers hanging over the performers’ heads, and surrounded by a production crew, it is not uncommon for porn performers to lie in their exit interviews.

As one performer put it, “I was severely abused on set a few times… and had to say on camera at the end [that] I was fine. In fact, one time I said, ‘no, I am not okay,’ and they screamed at me that I couldn’t say that and get paid.”Fight the New Drug. (2021). Not all porn is consensual. Don’t believe it? just ask these performers.. Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/these-performers-expose-abuse-consent-issues-on-porn-set/COPY 

The belief that because someone entered the industry willingly means they can never be a victim of exploitation is also a dangerous misconception. Even someone who voluntarily entered the porn industry can be exploited and abused.

You might be surprised to hear it, but even performers who started in porn willingly can be sex trafficked.

Related: If The Porn Industry Was Ethical, Would That Make Porn Healthy To Watch?

By definition, “sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

In other words, all it takes is force, fraud, or coercion in a commercial sex situation and boom—you’ve got a trafficking situation. See the difference between the actual definition of sex trafficking and only what the movie Taken portrays?

Related: This Porn Performer’s Online Confession About The Industry Is Going Viral

Get The Facts

Although trafficking can look like what happens in action-packed Hollywood films, a trafficking victim doesn’t have to be someone who was kidnapped or smuggled into a trafficking ring. It could simply be a porn performer who agreed to a scene and was later forced or coerced into doing a more extreme act in order to be paid.

Here’s the real story of a popular former performer who experienced just that, again and again, for years in the porn industry.

Force, fraud, and coercion can happen at any time and in any scene or situation—whether someone has been in the porn industry for five minutes or five years. And it happens more often than you might think, willing performer or not.

Those who say they love their job in porn can still endure some form of coercion and dismiss it as something that “just happens” in the industry, not realizing the crimes that have been committed against them. They may even negate the fact that by definition, sex trafficking situations are a normalized reality for many in their industry.

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

As Alia said in the video above, “I actually didn’t know I had been trafficked until I was told by another girl I was working with in porn that what had happened to me was sex trafficking.”

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.

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Questionable porn themes, even with consenting performers

Let’s consider an alternate—and impossible to guarantee—reality where 100% of porn on any given site is completely consensual. Everyone in porn is over the age of 18. No one in porn is exploited or pushed past their limits. Everyone is there by the freedom of true choice, rather than the need to survive.

Let’s pretend for a minute that children aren’t exposed to porn every day, there’s no addictive potential to porn, and it has no impact on the brain or relationships.

Of course, all of those things are actually the harsh realities of porn. But putting all of that aside, for the moment, let’s just look at the common themes in porn and consider it through the lens of its impacts even if it is produced with completely consenting parties.

Related: How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking

How many consenting performers have acted as an underage girl or boy in a porn scene?

How many have participated in a scene that fantasizes incest between siblings, step-siblings, parents, or step-parents?

How many have been in a scene where gangbangs, abuse, rape, or force were normalized or fantasized?

How many performers have been in scenes where sexual manipulation was involved and romanticized?

What about content that fetishizes racist stereotypes or gender-stereotyped themes or roles?

Or content that intentionally misrepresents, exploits, dehumanizes, abuses, or fetishizes LGBTQ+ folks and their relationships?

Even if this content was produced with consenting parties from start to end, there are problematic impacts of it.

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It’s likely that most—if not all—mainstream and amateur performers have engaged with producing this kind of content, given that those are some of the most searched-for themes on major porn sites year after year.

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

How can glamorizing and eroticizing these behaviors influence society’s perception of what is sexually safe and acceptable?

Think of how one major porn site alone gets reportedly over 2 billion monthly average visits. It cannot be ignored that the collective of billions of personal choices to consume porn that normalizes and perpetuates violence and degradation is having measurable impacts on our world.

Does performer consent negate porn’s negative effects?

The porn industry claims to be pro-sex, but the impacts its products have in the lives of its consumers tends to promote the opposite.

Consenting performers or not, porn reinforces themes that are damaging to real relationships and things that have the opposite impact of promoting healthy sex in committed relationships.

Studies show 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  And a number of other studies also show that the sexual scripts in pornography can socialize consumers toward 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  cheating,Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141COPY  and risky sexual behaviors.Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006COPY Wright, P. J., & Bae, S. (2016). Pornography and male socialization. In Y. J. Wong & S. R. Wester (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology®. APA handbook of men and masculinities (p. 551–568). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14594-025COPY 

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Leading relationship experts, Doctors John and Julie Gottman of the world-renowned Gottman Institute have expressed serious concerns about the effects of pornography on sexual relationships. They explain,

Pornography may be just such a supernormal stimulus. With pornography use, much more of a normal stimulus may eventually be needed to achieve the response a supernormal stimulus evokes. In contrast, ordinary levels of the stimulus are no longer interesting. This may be how normal sex becomes much less interesting for porn users. The data supports this conclusion. In fact, use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.”Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (April 5, 2016). An open letter on porn. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/COPY 

Related: Is It Healthier Or More Ethical To Watch Porn If You Pay For It?

And this is all research-backed whether performers are exploited or not in what consumers are watching.

So even if some porn performers say they’re having the time of their lives, does their willingness erase the measurable toll their exaggerated product has on the sexual wellness of its consumers? Does performer consent completely negate the untold amount of negative impacts their product has in our sex-obsessed society? Does performer consent nullify the harmful narratives underage kids and teens learn from porn long before they have their own sexual experiences?

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Not every performer, but some of them

Let’s put the issue of porn in perspective with another topic that has impacted millions of peoples’ lives around the world.

Since 1964, tobacco has killed more than 20 million Americans. That’s 15 times the number of Americans who have lost their lives in all the wars combined that the U.S. has participated in.

Smoking is one of the most preventable causes of death in the U.S. today. It accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide.

In a 50-year landmark study, physicians in England found that about half of all smokers will die from a smoking-related disease—many before or around the age of 50.

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

It is widely accepted as fact that smoking is deadly, and yet tobacco addiction is real, so many still partake. But if research clearly shows that smoking is harmful, has the tobacco industry made attempts to make amends and improve their product to be less deadly?

Sadly, no.

Tobacco industry leaders continue contesting the oceans of research and scientific consensus proving its harm. Check out what one judge wrote after listening to 84 witnesses and perusing tens of thousands of exhibits in discovery tobacco companies’ elaborate strategies to deny the harmful effects of smoking:

“In short, [the companies] have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted,” Kessler wrote in United States of America v. Philip Morris USA.

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

Sound familiar? Seemingly trustworthy industry insiders reporting that something is acceptable and that there are very little if any risks involved—even when science clearly shows the opposite?

The vast world of internet porn is completely new in the scope of human history. There’s a lot of research already on porn’s harmful effects, and it will only increase as the years continue.

While not every porn performer is exploited, too many are. While it might not happen to everyone in the porn industry, it happens to many. And even if absolutely none were, the pornographic product produced glorifies unacceptable and risky behavior and issues, and actively harms relationships and consumers.

Everyone deserves to know the real risks of the products they consume, whether occasionally or casually. And now, porn’s risks are no secret.

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

The lasting negative influences of porn

It’s clear that the often-cited argument of, “Porn is produced with performers’ consent, so what’s the problem it?” turns a blind eye to so many harmful ramifications of this toxic product in our society that cannot be ignored.

Related: Why Shaming And Victim-Blaming Porn Performers Adds To Their Mistreatment

The negative effects of porn don’t simply disappear with the claim that even some porn performers love what they do.

People who learn about sex from porn suffer, and society suffers, too. We’re pro-sex, anti-trafficking, and pro-healthy relationships, which is precisely why we’re anti-porn.

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