We cannot reject the toxic culture pornography has created without rejecting pornography itself

If pornography were empowering men would be standing around jacking off on each other and we wouldn’t get a look in.

It is difficult to know where to begin to describe the toxicity of our current cultural reality. I suppose as good a place to start as any would be the aggressive and deliberate attempt by the pornographers to forcibly inject themselves into the mainstream. This shouldn’t surprise any of us when we all know that forcible penetration is the core action that defines the act of rape, and that the pornographers, in all of their actions, are doing to women what the rapist does to the individual. They are out to destroy us, and to have fun doing it.

I was part of a demonstration that took place last Friday outside PornHub’s new pop-up store in Soho, New York. I’m glad to say we delivered our brief presentations to the media before we went into the store, because if we had done it the other way round I would have been so angry that — Uma Thurman style — I’d have had trouble articulating myself. When we went into the store my eye was drawn to the large black bomber jackets with the PornHub logo plastered across it. On the back of the jackets there were scores and scores of much smaller words beneath the logo.

I learned a new word that day: bukkake.

I googled it today, and found different but similar descriptions of the term. First up was “A sexual practice that involves a group of men ejaculating on one person, usually a woman.” This was from Dictionary.com which, presumably, thinks “usually” is synonymous with “almost always.” Urban Dictionary, in a spectacularly insulting example of illogic, tells us bukkake means, “When a group of guys cum on a girl for her own pleasure.” It is also, I am told by anti-porn activists, used to describe situations where dozens of men ejaculate into a cup, physically restrain a woman, hold her mouth open with gadgets and forcibly pour the semen down her throat.

The nature of such behaviour was understood when it was first practiced. Another definition reads: “To gather around a woman and cum on her face as a group. Originally used in Japan as a form of punishment, it is now performed for kinky pleasure.”

We need to loudly voice a question and more loudly voice its answer — the question being, whose pleasure? Why have we allowed ourselves to be sold the lie that women enjoy a degrading form of torture?

The degradation is the torture — let us be clear about that. Strangers’ semen ejaculated over any of us cannot cause us physical harm. The harm is psychological, emotional, and intentional.

A whole raft of lingo has sprung up to describe the degradation of women in porn, and our reactions to it. “Mudskipper” apparently means, “A term used to describe a girl after an extreem [sic] facial come shot, gasping for breath as a mudskipper fish does when on land.” This word is clear in its connotations: it describes a woman in an ordeal, or trying to escape or recover from an ordeal, in a situation where she is helpless.

I have focused on one word I saw on that jacket, but there were scores of them. A lot of the language on PornHub’s website binds racism and sexism together in ways that are frankly grotesque. Some of it refers to incest and child sexual abuse directly and explicitly. The words on that jacket were more general terms; some described acts, others described situations — all of them vile and degrading and abusive. These are jackets we women are expected to move through the world watching men wearing. These are jackets designed for men to put on their own backs and move through the world alongside us — walking advertisements of how much they despise us.

I have a couple of things I want to say to men and women.

To women, I would say: I know why so many of us are silent. We are silent because we are afraid of bullying and harassment. Most of us don’t watch porn. We know that pornography is sexualized violence, which is the biggest reason why we avoid seeing it, but we cannot stay silent. We don’t have the luxury of saying nothing, because saying nothing has a price tag attached to it that we can’t afford to pay. And to women who do watch porn, I would say there is something distorted and malformed in our sexuality when we are taking pleasure in visual depictions of ourselves being treated as subhuman.

We women ought to outright reject the lie that men have some kind of right to jack off to our degradation, much less engage in it ourselves. And we need to wake up fast if we’ve been further sold the lie that this is empowering. If pornography were empowering men would be standing around jacking off on each other and we wouldn’t get a look in. Porn has been bleeding into the mainstream for decades; now it is involving itself in one final aggressive push to stake its claim on the high street. Every woman has an obligation to defend herself against this. We cannot reject the toxic culture pornography has created without rejecting pornography itself.

To men who don’t watch porn, I know why you’re silent. Enough of you have said or intimated that you too are frightened, though yours is a different kind of fear. I only have this to ask: Do you think your fear of ridicule is more important than society itself? And to porn-watching men — which includes most men — I have this to say: You have sexualized every bit of contempt towards us women that you could muster, and, to add insult to injury, called it entertainment. You are training yourselves to be predators and forcibly turning us into your prey. You have weaponized your desire and, in doing so, you are killing the intimate connection between us. You are destroying us and destroying yourselves. You are killing love itself.

Rachel Moran is the founder of SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) and the author of Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution.

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