The world according to porn

A common response to critiques of pornography is “it’s just fantasy….people can separate fantasy from reality.” This beloved delusion allows for a defense of sexist, violent, degrading, and, really, dishonest imagery, based on the idea that the images we see on the screen have no impact on our actual lives.

There has been a recent debate of sorts around whether or not condom use should be mandatory on porn set in L.A. I guess the city approved the ordinance and interestingly, some people are choked.

The whole debate seems strange to begin with since it seems to talk around a lot of issues when we make condom use central to the debate; as though this is the only safety issue that needs to be addressed within the porn industry. In an industry that exists because of inequity (let’s please not pretend as though porn treats women, en masse, with respect), I find it a little dishonest and misguided to advocate for mandatory condom use as though this will somehow address and “protect the health and safety of porn stars.” Not to say that I am “against” mandatory condom use in pornography, it’s a given that people should use condoms if trying to avoid STDs, but rather that this feels like a pretty big derail. Particularly when we frame these efforts as some kind of progressive activism. Like, we care so much about women’s health and safety that we are demanding that some men wear condoms while filming double anal. How progressive!

Liberalssigh.

In any case, while we might take for granted that, sure, condom use in porn would be a good thing, or rather, not a bad thing, not everyone agrees.

A porn actress, Lorelei Lee, wrote a piece in Salon on Wednesday, arguing that enforcement of this ordinance is misguided.

She makes a number of points to this effect, but the one that interests me is this:

 I’ve heard too many times the claim that the adult industry is acting irresponsibly by portraying barrier-free sex when – as the argument goes – people of all ages are getting their information about sex from pornography. But the overwhelming majority of porn is fiction, and the world it portrays is one of fantasy.  I have to believe that most people who encounter porn know this.  We don’t generally expect other forms of entertainment to be responsible for disseminating health and safety information. If pornography is in some capacity replacing sex education for people in this country, then mandating condom use is a ludicrously indirect way of addressing that problem.

 

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?? Are we really still trying to make the argument that pornography is fiction and that this supposed “fantasy” has no impact on real life or on people’s real life ideas about sex and sexuality? Is pornography somehow exempt as a form of media?

If the things we see on screen, or in the pages of a magazine, are “fantasy” and have no impact on the ways in which we view and understand the world around us, then please explain body image. Please explain why women are afraid to grow old, why so many of them diet obsessively, and why so many hate their bodies. And while you’re doing that, please explain how advertising works. HOW on EARTH is it possible for us to see things on TV and then want to buy them! Explain how we all suddenly learned that white teeth were mandatory or that cellulite was disgusting. This has absolutely nothing to do with images we see on film or in magazines or in ads, right? Right.

And if porn has no impact on people’s real lives or understanding of sex then please explain the massive popularity of the creepy Brazilian bikini wax, breast implants, and facials.What’s with the prevalence of the schoolgirl fantasy? Were young men always this infatuated with coercing their female partners in having anal sex?  Because that strikes me as something relatively recent, in terms of sex-type trends. And, in fact, I feel that all these things have become normalized and popular as a direct result of porn culture.

Whether or not you think these things are bad or good or irrelevant, it is absolutely ridiculous to pretend that pornography doesn’t impact people and culture and lives. Movies impact people and culture and lives. So does advertising. So does television. People buy things because TV tells them to. True story. Razors are not a necessity. Neither is wrinkle cream. I have both of those things! Why? The TV told me I needed them.

This isn’t to say that people don’t have agency in terms of buying into consumer culture or porn culture, to a certain extent, but it is to say that these industries permeate the psyches of who are exposed to them. Even if we aren’t completely aware of it.

I’d be willing to bet that if porn portrayed condom use as, simply, as a regular old part of sex, people who watched porn would probably also think that condom use was a regular old part of sex. Sadly, though Lee claims otherwise, porn is very much a part of people’s “sex education”… Much to the detriment of people… Particularly women-people… So while the question of whether or not condom use is mandatory on porn sets strikes me as particularly boring and largely irrelevant, in terms of the bigger picture of how women are impacted by pornography, the last argument that should be made against such an ordinance is one that says the things we see on screen have no impact on us.

The reason that “porn with condoms doesn’t sell as well as porn without condoms,” is because porn doesn’t give a shit about people. And, subsequently, neither do most porn watchers. Porn doesn’t teach us about humanity, it teaches us to dehumanize. So why on earth anyone expects the industry OR the consumers to get behind something as minimal as mandatory condom use, when they so clearly have been trained, BY THE PORN INDUSTRY, not to give a shit about people and to pretend that people are, in fact, not real live human beings, is absolutely beyond comprehension.

But hey, enjoy that fantasy.

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • Hecuba

    Porn teaches men and boys that girls and women are men’s disposable sexual service stations not human beings. That old, old classic excuse ‘porn is fantasy’ continues to be rolled out every time pornography is criticised, but porn is not ‘fantasy’ it consists of real human males filmed as they routinely subject women to sadistic male sexual violence. The sexual acts men inflict on women are all real and reason why innumerable men buy/view porn is because these men know the filmed acts they are watching are real not ‘men’s sexual fantasies.’

    The issue of men wearing condoms as they are filmed subjecting women to sadistic sexual violence is an attempt to derail the real issue – which is porn harms all women because porn promotes the lie women and girls are men’s disposable dehumanised sexual service stations. So no human was harmed in making of porn because women and girls aren’t human are they?

    Then there’s the fact male buyers/viewers want to see the penis in action – they need reassurance that the penis is that all powerful tool of male sexual domination over women and girls. Why else is the ‘facial shot’ so vital within porn – because it is evidence of male sexual power and domination over women and girls.

    We don’t need porn to train men to hold women and girls in contempt and/or to hate them but porn certainly reinforces male supremacist system that default human is male and it is only males’ interests/views/sexual demands etc. which are ‘real’ because women and girls aren’t human so therefore they have no rights/demands or expectations. But porn is an excellent propaganda tool for justifying men’s hatred/contempt for women and girls.

  • http://blamerbushfire.wordpress.com Bushfire

    Great job as usual, Meghan. Condom use is important but it’s such a small issue compared to the bigger picture. Imagine if, after the BP oil spill, there was a law introduced to make sure pebbles on the beach got cleaned up? People would say, well, sure, clean the pebbles, but what about THE OCEAN? Violence against women is a global humanitarian crisis, so why are we only concerned about a few condoms? It’s sad that porn without condoms sells better. It’s sad that porn sells at all. What kind of person are you if you masterbate to images of violence being done to real people?

    • Meghan Murphy

      And I don’t want to say that condom use isn’t important, because it can help protect women from some STDs, of course…BUT the reason the industry and the consumers don’t want mandatory porn use is because porn isn’t about protecting women. Porn doesn’t care about women. Why people don’t see that, I don’t know. It seems very clear, especially as we witness the arguments brought up *against* mandatory condom use in this debate.

      • doublevez

        “Porn doesn’t care about women”. Thank you for stating that, because it seemed to me you were saying it doesn’t care about *people*.

        • http://blamerbushfire.wordpress.com Bushfire

          Porn doesn’t care about any people. It doesn’t care about men, either. It cares about making a profit.

        • michael

          There are women who direct porn!

          • Meghan Murphy

            SO. WHAT. Women can’t make sexist porn??? If you don’t understand how feminism works, ask.

  • David

    The argument that it’s all just a fantasy contradicts most porn sites’ claims to be full of “real” hardcore action.

  • Rachael

    How can porn be anything but reality if it is a product of men’s minds and their $$? Porn’s very existence and overwhelming popularity says everything. If men’s ultimate no-holds-barred fantasy is women being abused, then right there is proof that our culture has accepted these pornographic themes.

    • http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/ Francois Tremblay

      That’s actually a really good point. Pornography is an expression of men’s sexual psyche, so it’s just as “real” as any non-fiction. Something tells me Lorelei Lee doesn’t understand the concept of myth, stereotype, or all the other ways in which our unconscious influences the kind of stories we create. There’s nothing unreal about that. Of course, in the case of porn, it’s a direct relationship: porn directors make the kind of porn that men want to see.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Hi Michael,
        You’ve left 17 comments on this post in one hour. Most of which repeat the exact same thing over and over again. Please stop spamming my site. I’m deleting your comments. Please go post elsewhere.
        Thanks.

    • michael

      there’s plenty of nonviolent porn, & porn directed by women. Stormy Daniels for example. Any comments?

  • http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/ Francois Tremblay

    I just want to say this entry is amazing. Also:

    “If pornography is in some capacity replacing sex education for people in this country, then mandating condom use is a ludicrously indirect way of addressing that problem.”

    Inadvertently, she’s herself proven that the condom measure is a “ludicrously indirect” way of addressing the problem of pornography. So I guess you two agree on something! What would be a direct way of addressing the problem, according to her? Telling schoolchildren that porn is just fantasy, that it wasn’t made by real people, that it’s not real sex, and that they shouldn’t want to see it? Come on.

  • copleycat

    Great post Meghan. I do agree that to a large extent this measure is like trying to put a band aid over a possibly fatal laceration but I keep recalling what Gail Dines said about this at the last Stop Porn Culture conference. She said that mandatory condom use makes the statement (that runs contradictory to the dogma of porn) that the woman’s life matters. Now her feeling on it if I recall correctly was that the pornographers would just pack up and go where ever they weren’t mandated to use condoms. Still there’s something to be said for at the very least taking the industry to task; they want to claim rights as a legitimate business then they should have to abide by laws governing employee safety. It’s interesting that this is being pushed by the HIV prevention groups isn’t it instead of OSHA?
    I don’t think porn is a legit business or just fantasy – it’s political propaganda that aims to completely destroy the human rights of women and girls. It’s an ad campaign for prostitution which encourages men to use women and girls who are trapped in prostitution with an ever increasing brutality – which in the end results in an ever increasing demand as the product (women and girls) is used up more quickly. It’s an opperant conditioning program through which people can train themselves to equate injustice and oppression with one of the most powerful bio-chemical rewards there is – orgasm, thereby leaving them pathetic junkies who’s fix is perpetrating human rights abuses against others and / or themselves.
    As far as the “it’s just fantasy” argument itself goes, it’s interesting that it gets made with out any acknowledgement of another favored parable in the west and that would be the “follow your dreams” adage that inspires so many people especially in the U.S. where so much of this “fantasy” porn gets made. People here (myself included) are usually happiest when they’re going after whatever it is that they “dream” of. I’d say in general that’s a very human thing; trying to make what you’ve imagined a reality. That fact needs to be pointed out when the “it’s just a fantasy” argument gets dragged out.

  • MissFit

    If women’s safety and well-being were such a concern, maybe psychological counselling should also be mandatory…

    When I worked as an escort in my early 20’s, I did it (among other things) as another way to hurt myself (though I was not totally conscious of it at the time). Isn’t it obvious that the young girls we see in porn, the famous ‘teens’, so popular on the internet, are damaged and have self-esteem issues? Have we been so accustomed with young girls being hard on themselves that we do not care anymore??

    I saw a video recently of young girls violently introducing objects (dildos) in another young girl’s body (everywhere possible…), all the while claiming that they were teaching her how to be a good ‘bitch’ (another word for ‘porn star’). At the end of the video, the young girl, who could barely stand on her feet, looked at the camera, smiled and said ‘I did it’.
    This is a video easily accessible on the internet via a popular porn site. A dog or a cat would have been treated that way and there would have been an outcry from the population!Aren’t we concern anymore about our young girls’ health and well-being? And by letting this sort of thing going, event ‘glamourising’ it, we are pushing our young girls into hurting themselves

    Porn has become so common and taken for granted, nobody talks honestly about it anymore; they will make jokes about it, made allusion to it,without actually describing what it actually is (as for myself, I make a duty of using the correct words to describe what it actually is, and that makes people very uncomfortable…).

  • MissFit

    My post was accidentally sent before I was finish… I was going to say that men and women are uncomfortable about porn for different reasons (the men because they tend to deny the harsh reality of what they have come to eroticise, and the women because it hurts them) but porn does not deserve a free pass and needs to be denouced; we owe it to the future generations of young girls to come… and to humanity.

  • Asaboy

    How can you make the argument that porn is not fiction? It’s scripted, filmed on a set, and acted out by consenting well paid actors. At least the porn filmed in Hollywood is, which this article is about. I’m not making the argument that porn doesn’t depict violent acts against women or scenarios of oppression and male domination, but again it’s not real violence being depicted and some people (women and men) enjoy watching these scenes. There are many other genres of porn which aren’t at all misogynistic. Gay porn is one of the biggest genres there is. Porn is just filling a demand for certain types of fantasies. I don’t think it’s porn which should be blamed but the underlying patriarchal aggression that creates the demand for this type of porn. Also porn is nothing like advertisements. Advertisements exist in public space and are thus much more offence than porn in my opinion. If you want to watch porn you need to go looking for it and it’s always your choice whether or not to watch. Trying to ban something you disagree with is just childish, you should give people more credit than that. Especially as a feminist you should support the freedom of choice and expression.

    • copleycat

      When you see someone having their rectum ripped in porn (female or male in the case of gay porn) it is really happening, there are no stunt doubles, there are no special effects. All the other acts of cruelty and I won’t get into them they really happen to those people in porn. That’s why it’s not fiction. The sets usually have doctors there with tranquilizers and pain-killers and the actors are usually driven to and from the sets because it’s understood they’ll be too messed up to drive. When you consider the abuse their bodies are enduring and how soon this “career” will be over and the condition it will leave them in they are not being paid well.
      I agree that advertising is intensely offensive but two things, one as I said before porn is an ad itself and two ads are in competition with porn for mental space in people’s minds. Attention is a dwindling commodity and ads and porn are constantly trying to out do each other with shock tactics so as to get more attention. The whole freedom of speech amendment does not extent to threats and for the most part I would say most porn and now days a fair number of ads are threats. Freedom of expression does not extend to acts of violence nor should it because once it does people aren’t going to be free to do much for too long.

    • http://blamerbushfire.wordpress.com Bushfire

      Wow, Asaboy. Porn exists in public space. The actors don’t all consent. Gay porn is not the biggest genre. Porn is not filling a demand for fantasises – it’s only one fantasy over and over again– the fantasy that women are objects to be abused.

      Personally, I don’t advocate for banning porn, I advocate feminist revolution, which would have a side effect of making porn obsolete, but even so, banning porn is not childish. How is it childish to fight violence against women?

    • RoseVerbena

      Yeah, there’s nothing like fistulas, anal fissures and permanent anal leakage. Feminists should support the “freedom of choice and expression” that results in permanent damage to the actors/actresses involved. Right?

      I think…not.

      Meh.

    • kurukurushoujo

      Addint to what everyone already said, scripts really do not matter that much in today’s pornography. Have a look at the big “free” porn sites on the internet. The length rarely exceeds half an hour. It’s gonzo.

      I encourage everyone to have a look at Elizabeth Monk-Turner’s content analysis of online porn if you should have access to it. There was no fictional content to analyze because the fictional dimension was simply not present.

  • RoseVerbena

    If porn cared about women, you wouldn’t see so many shots of men — sometimes multiple men at once — shooting off into a woman’s eyes, nose and mouth — basically an STD fountain into her face and delicate mucous membranes.

    The fact that this is the almost-mandatory end to 90% of the male-female porn out there belies all efforts to pretend that it’s just a harmless fantasy.

    She’s not a 3-D image. She’s a living, breathing human being and semen is a vector for disease being blown into her face.

    It’s inherently abusive.

  • http://www.hellyeahimafeminist.com ptittle

    The studies are out there. Wish I had the citations at my fingertips. Of course, the relationship between porn viewing and men’s likelihood of forcing women, their low opinion of women, etc etc etc.

    But the one that caught my attention is that the more men watch porn, the less happy they are with real sex with their partners. So men, your choice: watch other men have fake sex with women you can never have or have good sex with a real woman. A no-brainer. For those who have one.