The Porn Portfolio #1: Attempting to debunk some myths

This is the first of what will be a regular series relating to online pornography. This year I am undertaking my honours year in sociology and I have decided to look at the effects online pornography has on the attitudes and beliefs that young men have towards women and sex. Because of this I have decided to use this blog as a way to organise and consolidate my ideas.

To begin with, I want to address a couple of porn myths (at the least, they are myths to me) that I have been hearing a bit lately. Before I do so, I want to make a couple of things clear: I am not anti-porn. I am not against the visual representation of sex, nor its mass production or consumption. People have a right to film themselves or film others and sell this content onto the public. More power to them. What I am though, is anti-degradation and anti-violence. The porn I am examining and I speak of in this and future pieces, is a particular brand of pornography that is rampant online. It might feature body-punishing acts, offensive name calling, and lots of fluids going where they shouldn’t if you had even the tiniest modicum of respect for the other person. It is degrading, disgusting, offensive, often extreme and not merely confined to the dark recesses of Webville. Indeed, of the six porn websites that feature in the Top 100 visited sites, all of them are rife with videos of this kind. And I’m not okay with it.

Anyhoo, onto two myths (although I’m sure there will be lots more debunking to come over the next 12 months).

Myth Numero Uno:

“The media we consume has no influence on who we are or how we behave in society.”

Media, both fictional and factual, socialises us, informing our beliefs, customs, mores, relationships, and behaviour. Stating this fact does not remove free will from people. We aren’t merely direct products of the media we consume, but without it, we would not be the same people. The mass media, as noted by many sociologists, is one of the main agents of socialisation. As Anthony Giddens has noted, “the media profoundly influences people’s attitudes and outlooks…[conveying] a whole variety of information which individuals would not otherwise acquire” (from Sociology 2nd Edition, pg 79). That last part is important, because it alludes to the way that new information can enter into a culture, affecting its beliefs and customs.

The Dickheads

Global mass media has expedited this phenomenon, where a culture may become influenced by content from outside. The ubiquity of American television screened in Australia is a good example of this. Two and a Half Dickheads, while not being informed by Australian culture, is still able to influence it by appearing on Channel 9 every bloody night. In the same way, pornography which depicts sexual acts which are new can influence the way someone thinks about sex and how they engage in it. And because porn is available online – a global industry – it too can impact on cultures all over the globe.

To say that we remain uninfluenced by the media content we consume is misguided as we are products of our culture. The media – something we will never be able to live without; something we will continue to consume in increasing volume and in a myriad of ways – is one of the cornerstones of any modern culture. Ergo, the media influences who we are. Which is why we should be wary of media content that is unregulated, unrestricted, and available to all.

Myth Numero Dos:

“Porn is just fantasy, and if anyone views it as real or takes inspiration from it, then they are at fault.”

This is a common myth purported by porn apologists and it is flawed for a number of reasons. First and foremost (and linked to the first myth), just because something is a myth, does not mean it cannot affect our attitudes and beliefs. Movies have, since their inception, influenced how we think and what we think about. When we watch something that is based in reality, how are we to know what to believe? How are we to know the difference between what is a complete fabrication, and that which isn’t? This is further complicated when we have no sound knowledge of the reality being presented. As Cracked wrote recently, Mythbusters is such a success because people believe the urban legends they are told and the stories they watch.

Anita Sarkeesian…livin’ the dream

Secondly, if the fantasy element of porn removes any influence it has over us, then other forms of media that are also obviously “fake”, will similarly have no effect. In this way we could state that video games, which are stylised recreations of reality produced with avatars and paid voice actors, have no influence on the way we perceive the world. If this is so, then Anita Sarkeesian’s much anticipated work on female tropes in video games seems a bit redundant. I mean, if video games are examples of consensual fantasy – just as porn apologists argue porn is – then it needn’t matter how male/female roles and relationships are depicted. They aren’t going to affect us – they’re fantasy, after all – so why bother trying to change it?

If there exists no corollary between some porn and negative attitudes and behaviours towards women, it would stand to reason that there is no corollary between any media, and any type of behaviour/attitude. But Sarkeesian would seem to disagree, stating that all forms of media “play a role in amplifying, reinforcing, or normalizing regressive gendered myths.” I don’t think Sarkeesian would argue that sexist video games are the cause of sexism. But she certainly understands how the media plays “a big role in helping to shape individual and society-wide values and belief systems”. (both quotes)

We could go further: if we take it for granted that porn is fantasy, and is entered into by two (or more) consenting adults, then the content shouldn’t matter. Right? Okay, let’s consider what Gail Dines refers to as Pseudo Child Porn (PCP), explicit  content where adult “performers” dress, look and behave like children for the legal gratification of pedophiles everywhere. The worst examples of these are a particularly sordid series of sites depicting the “fantasy” of the incest and statutory rape of a daughter by her father. But yet, all “performers” are over the age of consent and it’s just fantasy, right?

How about we consider a porn movie featuring the simulated rape of a black woman by a group of men dressed as the Ku Klux Klan? Consensual? Sure. Fantasy? Yah, I’m sure it is for someone. But do you maybe think this is reinforcing some pretty disgusting beliefs and referencing an awful reality? The myth – and those that would purport it – states that there is nothing wrong with this content because it features a “fantasy”, played out by adults with absolute agency. You don’t like it? Don’t watch it. I call bullshit on this. Bull. Shit.

Hate-filled content is hate-filled content. It doesn’t matter if it’s homophobic reggae, an ad on the side of a bus, or “fantasy” porn. This content matters. And not just because it signals that the creator of the content is a sick puppy. No, it matters because it has the ability to reinforce and even instil notions of superiority and inequality.

The influence of the media is not magically absent in the context of porn. Indeed, because of the ubiquity of porn, and the apparent failure of education systems and familial dialogue to instruct on the realities of sexual relationships, porn succeeds more so in this because there is so little conflicting information. In the case of a 15 year old, one who may have no understanding of the realities of sex, it seems completely unrealistic to say that there is something wrong with them if they do not understand that when a man slaps a woman while he penetrates her anus, before ejaculating on her face whilst calling her a slut, they are “just playin'”.

I want to make one point very, very clear as I conclude. I do not advocate for leniency or understanding because a criminal states they were adversely affected by a heady diet of porn. The responsibility for their actions never leave the wrong doer. Not ever, for any reason. But to believe in free will and the full responsibility one must take for any transgression, does not mean that we can not also believe that certain aspects of our culture make negative attitudes and behaviours more likely and accepted. If we want a world where equality is the order of the day and women can go about their business – learning, loving, living – without the constant threat of Schrodinger’s Rapist, then we must question the existence of all aspects of our culture which support the idea that men are entitled to use women for their sexual pleasure. And that includes porn.

And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.

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14 comments on “The Porn Portfolio #1: Attempting to debunk some myths

  1. Thāran says:

    Thanks for writing this. On myth 1 http://maleonfemaleviolence.wordpress.com/ (nothing public yet, just referencing) made a pertinent point today – how much does advert time/space cost? It would be worth nothing if that 30 seconds of regular media didn’t reach and affect so many.

    • Sam Loy says:

      Yes that’s so true. I think some people want to deny the influence the media – and other aspects of their culture – has on them, because it someway denies them absolute autonomy. This is, of course, a little silly. Thanks for your thoughts and I await that other blog. Let us know when it is live.

  2. You don’t answer your own question. “But yet, all “performers” are over the age of consent and it’s just fantasy, right?” It IS just fantasy and everyone who is watching it knows that. Can it be hateful? Yes, absolutely and we can call it out on that front, but we can’t reverse the causal connection. Violent, misogynistic societies cause violent, misogynistic entertainment, not the other way around.

    And you can’t forget the fundamental facts of the types of porn you’re talking about. Women and young girls watch porn too and we’re far less likely to rape someone. And don’t anybody kid yourself that there isn’t a hell of a lot of rape and BDSM porn that involves women in the power position. Hell professional dominance is a legit career choice and one of the few that is primarily female.The genders become even less defined when you’re talking about porn marketed toward the LGBTQ community. Every demographic has rape fantasies. Yet males are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of rape. Unless you’re contending that males are somehow more vulnerable to porn than females your assertions are logically inconsistent.

    Everyone has the same access to pornography. Everyone gets the same mixed messages from pornography. The less heterosexual and/or the more “hardcore BDSM” the pornography becomes, the more likely it is to be gender equal in terms of who is taking what role. Yet males are overwhelmingly more likely to commit rape. Pornography is in no way causal to rape. I would argue that in the 21st Century, it is not even corollary. It’s an excuse that many people use but so are short skirts and lipstick. None of those excuses are valid. The responsibility lies with the rapist, not with pornography.

    • Sam Loy says:

      Thanks for your thoughts and re-posting a large part of your former post. I kind of feel like you didn’t really read my piece as I have addressed some of your points in it. At any rate…

      “You don’t answer your own question.”

      Yes it’s called a rhetorical question; it doesn’t require an answer.

      “It IS just fantasy and everyone who is watching it knows that.”

      Absurd statement. What you really mean is “I know it is fantasy” or “all my friends and I know it is fantasy”. It’s kind of like me saying that everybody likes Tom Waits and Mexican beer, just because I do. Show some evidence or else don’t make such a generalised claim. Furthermore, at what age do you think a person gains the understanding that porn is fantasy? And on what have you based that? Aside from all this, it doesn’t matter whether the person recognises the porn as fantasy or not. I have addressed this in my piece.

      “Violent, misogynistic societies cause violent, misogynistic entertainment, not the other way around.”

      The influence is cyclic. So you could say “societies cause entertainment cause societies cause entertainment…”. It’s sort of like a chicken and the egg thing – you can’t have one without the other. Except in this case our entertainment is only one thing that makes up our culture. So it’s sort of like a chicken with many eggs – or an egg with many chickens.

      “Women and young girls watch porn too and we’re far less likely to rape someone.”

      Yes the percentage is something like 28% of online porn viewers are female. However, the overwhelming majority of porn producers, directors, distributors, profiteers, and viewers are male. Just because women also watch and enjoy does not mean it is not an industry that is mostly male-dominated, in the business of providing (mostly heterosexual) men with sexual gratification. The cues that are largely sent to women in a lot of porn is sexual subservience, not dominance. That, they direct at men.

      “And don’t anybody kid yourself that there isn’t a hell of a lot of rape and BDSM porn that involves women in the power position.”

      “Hell of a lot” is subjective and non-quantifiable. 80% of all content? 50%? Or just “a hell of a lot” of the porn you seek out and watch?

      “The genders become even less defined when you’re talking about porn marketed toward the LGBTQ community.”

      Not really. As discussed in the book, Gay Male Pornography, porn intended for MSM features many instances of hyper-masculinity dominating a feminised and emasculated other. The intersectionality of sexism and racism is also present, when Asian men are often used to represent this feminised participant.

      “Unless you’re contending that males are somehow more vulnerable to porn than females your assertions are logically inconsistent.”

      Um, yeah, that’s what I’m saying, because porn is mostly directed at straight men. Ask yourself: who is more susceptible to use products and treatments available in the beauty industry? What gender spends more on external perfection? What gender is more likely to suffer eating disorders? Now, I wonder why that is. Could it be because that particular gender is socialised to believe the “beauty myth”, more so than the other gender? Apply the same reasoning to porn.

      “I would argue that in the 21st Century, it is not even corollary.”

      You don’t know what you’re talking about. Correlation can exist anywhere. There is a correlation that exists between hot weather and swimming. Is there causation? No. There are many factors that would make someone go swimming, and that says nothing for the fact that people swim when it isn’t hot. But there is a strong causal link. There is most certainly a correlation between porn and rape that has been discussed here, explored here, and most recently researched here. This is but a tiny sample of all the work that has been put into contradicting that statement you made with nothing more than opinion and a hunch. The issue of causation is still out to the jury, and as such, no one with any knowledge of the subject and the scientific process – including me – would make such an accusation that porn causes rape.

  3. BroadBlogs says:

    Sounds interesting. Look forward to more.

  4. Rosie says:

    Samwise, check out the book ‘the brain that changes itself’. There’s a whole section devoted to changed brain mapping as a result of increasingly bizarre and hard core porn that I think you’d find interesting. The problem with with increasingly hard core pornography is the human brain’s amazing ability to adapt leading to an increase in other products such as Viagra and issues with what is able to turn someone on. I won’t do it justice so I’ll just say again – check it out!

    • Sam Loy says:

      Thanks Rose. I’ve heard a lot about that book actually. It comes up in conversation in many different situations. And I was at a conference in Brisbane that had a seminar on it in the next room. I think I’ll definitely check out the section you spoke of.

  5. beckyb93 says:

    Really interesting take on porn. I’m a sociology major and I’ve recently been developing my thoughts on porn as well. I don’t think it is inherently bad – only when it perpetuates gender inequality and eroticizes violence. I really enjoyed this, looking foward to more!

    • Sam Loy says:

      Yes, I agree with your thoughts. The idea of sex being on screen doesn’t bother me, nor do I think it cause any great concerns. But there is some truly degrading stuff out there, and the real problem arises when that content slowly becomes more mainstream and normalised.
      Good to have another sociologist on board! Looking forward to reading your stuff.

  6. Faye says:

    Wow, interesting piece.
    It’s hard to to find articles which not only engages in some intellectual discourse but leaves you with food for thought, very much so in this ever-growing climate of revering brute athleticism over intellect and innovation.
    I’m studying a JD at the moment and as I venture deeper into many contemporary issues of today I find sociology an increasingly relevant point of study to gain insight and better understand the society I operate within.
    Porn is often seen as a harmless past time to wean men and women (of course, being so visual and sadly lacking of any plot since most porn plots are as deep as a puddle, it would attract less women than men) off active engagement of sex during times it is not adequately, socially or conveniently accessible or even accepted. However its effects are far more insidious than one might think.
    Thanks for the brain food and I look forward to more pieces from you when I drop by.

    • Sam Loy says:

      Hey, thanks for the message and your thoughts. Am I right in assuming ‘JD’ is journalism? Set me straight if not. Feel free to subscribe to my blog so you get notified when I add new posts. Cheers.

      • Faye says:

        Hi Sam,

        JD means jurist doctor. I’m not sure why they didn’t just call it ‘law’ but I’m guessing its a marketing ploy to make something ordinary and normal sound unnecessarily fancy – such as ‘hygiene engineer’ or ‘nail technician’.

        I worked as a cashier back in my youth for pocket money and back then we were just called ‘cashiers’ and not ‘business to consumer claims officer’. Not that I want to gripe about it but sometimes these labels confuse me to what the person’s actual role is.

        But no harm done, I don’t actually really mind it as long as I don’t call the police or an ambulance during an emergency and waste precious minutes perhaps figuring that ‘sentient life abetter’ means medic.

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