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by Harriet Taylor
As an industry and practice, pornography has evolved into an uncomprehending mass of the unusual, obscene, exciting, and dangerous. Extending into a wide array of media, its definition from a modern perspective has lost a certain meaning whilst retaining a distinct and unrivalled taboo. (Stewart cited in Easton, 1994: xi) We live in a society where the notion of sexuality is profoundly legitimate, but pornography is frowned upon as the seedy, unkempt business of degradation.
However, whilst we are quick to point the finger at hardcore peddlers, pornography has seamlessly expanded into the mainstream media without a single notice. This proves dangerous for women as it suggests the notion of right and wrong pornography, what is acceptable and what isn’t, without addressing the concerns and impact this has on the lives and relationships of many. We live in a society of dangerous sexual expectation fuelled partially by subliminal smut. Being bombarded by a large array of sexualised imagery every day of our lives, we often fail to realise it’s even there. Billboards display provocative lingerie models, and perfume advertisements are profoundly intimate short films of embraces. Even mainstream cinema, with such productions as American Pie, The 40 Year Old Virign, The House Bunny, The Girl Next Door, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno attempt to appeal to youth and a newfound porn-centric culture.
Whilst in the seventies, pornographic productions such as Deep Throat were cornerstones of sexual rebellion, they are now merely financial commodities or video artefacts. As such, a new style of pornography has developed, fuelled by notions of taboo, blurring the distinction between the everyday and fantasy. This can be most noted in the recent surge of amateur pornography; the voyeuristic industry of low-key, minimal or no budget productions. As such, pornography is available at a rapidly expanding rate, and tube sites such as RedTube, YouPorn and PornoTube only heighten these encounters, featuring ‘clips harvested from professionally produced productions but also amateur videos operating in the modality of realism and authenticity’ (Paasonen, 2010: 70). These sites bombard a consumer of pornographic content with such a vast array of images, that sheer titillation is no longer the object. Instead, performers going through the same motions compete for space and the viewer’s attention on screen. Arousal becomes diluted, and as such, standard sexual encounters no longer prove sufficient stimulation.
This modality of amateur pornography is in its presentation of the real-life experience is most problematic. Point-of-view and home video-like scenes treat the pornographic experience as the social norm, despite the sometimes extreme and harmful acts it depicts. Foremost in amateur pornography, it is important to note how semen or the characteristic ‘money-shot’ of pornographic narrative engenders biased sexual thought towards gender structure. As Boyle notes, ‘the fascination with “cum” betrays the genre’s emphasis on male pleasure whilst the targeting of the ejaculate (typically at women) becomes part of a narrative of ownership and, often, explicit degradation’ (Boyle, 2010: 8). This translated fascination on the sole male pleasure of sexual activity proves harmful to women in a multitude of ways. Firstly, that for women, sexual experience should solely be focused upon the male partner; women are the baser, secondary focus, and it is received as unimportant that the female partner should be fulfilled to the same extent or more. Secondly, as producers of amateur pornography also tend be to consumers, the sexual experience becomes distorted, and these depredating acts become the norm.
It can be seen that amateur pornography seeks to replicate the acts presented in financially viable pornographic productions. In doing this, amateur pornography forces professional pornographic film makers to experiment, push moral boundaries, and delve into further extreme niche territories to guarantee a consumer a unique experience for their money. Bukkake cumshots, brutal oral sex, faeces and urination, are just a few examples of the broadening spectrum hetero porn has to offer the consumer (Paasonen, 2010: 71). What is most disturbing to note however, is budgeted pornography’s foray into extreme, real-life simulations and alternative media. Staged rape quickly becomes a standard staple of pornography’s appeal to the paying consumer, particularly when viewed as a way to live out fantasy. In Japan, ‘adult movies containing “vivid rape and bondage themes”’ are commonplace (Brislin-Slütz, Neal, Padgett, 1989: 480) and are widely available on an international market or through tube sites. Whilst it is suggested that the wide availability of adult content in the Japanese market contributes to a lesser percentage of reported rape to US statistics (2.4 reported rapes per 100,000 population), (Brislin-Slütz, Neal, Padgett, 1989: 481) this could just as easily be attributed to a reluctance of Japanese women to report rape crime for fear of recrimination.
Regarding attitudes towards women after viewing pornography, Zillmann and Bryant’s test found that those exposed ‘expressed more callousness towards females’ and ‘less support for women’s liberation’ (cited in Padgett et al., 1989: 481). It has been suggested by Padgett (et al.) that these findings were less the result of erotic content, and rather ‘resulted from modelling abuse and domination of women’. (1989: 481) This case study is an example where although the result insists erotic content is not the means of conflict (i.e. brutal oral sex), the impact and harm those acts pose for women remains just as detrimental, through female domination, and is still thoroughly derived from the viewing of hetero pornographic content.
More recently, examples of adult video games from Japan, such as Drug Rape Girl, where a girl is ‘stripped, gagged, bound’ and ‘ready to get raped’, (Neely, 2010: 99) undoubtedly prove harmful to a person’s development. Their outlook on sexual activity and attitudes to women (and in some horrifying instances, girls) are warped, particularly when vulnerable or exposed to the content below the age of consent.
However, the problems raised by pornography cannot merely lie in the material itself, and viewers must remain socially and morally critical of their viewing habits, and the impact it may or may not have on their sexual activity. In terms of sexual partners, women are, at large, on the receiving end of such abuses, particularly where fetishistic acts are seeping into the domesticated sexual experience. It is extremely problematic that amateur productions seek to replicate budgeted pornographic productions (and vice versa) to such an extent as to force a change in the sexual landscape and the sexual relationships between men and women particularly. Pornography in its current state can no longer provide emancipation for women from a domesticated sexuality without the risk of providing equal harm. Whilst the depicted acts challenge an audience’s sexual and moral leanings, it is often at the female performer’s expense, deforming realistic sexual expectations. Therefore, the importance of moderating pornographic content is more important now than ever, in order to ensure those vulnerable, particularly minors, the mentally ill, etc. do not seek pornography as a realistic representation of sexuality and how women are to be treated.
Inside Deep Throat, 2005. Film, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. USA: Imagine Entertainment, HBO Documentary Films.
Boyle, Karen, ed. Everyday Pornography, London: Routledge, 2010.
Easton, Susan M. The problem of pornography, London: Routledge, 1994.
Neely, Sarah. ‘Virtually Commercial Sex’ in Everyday Pornography, Karen Boyle, ed. London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 90-102.
Paasonen, Susanna. ‘Repetition and Hyperbole: the gendered choreographies of heteroporn’ in Everyday Pornography, Karen Boyle, ed. London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 63-76.
Vernon R. Padgett, Jo Ann Brislin-Slütz and James A. Neal. ‘Pornography, Erotica, and Attitudes toward Women: The Effects of Repeated Exposure’ in The Journal of Sex Research, 26.4, Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 1989, pp. 479-491. [Online] Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3812977 [Accessed 08.06.2013]
Harriet Taylor is a second year BA (Hons) English Literature and Publishing student studying at Bath Spa university. She is a poet, reviewer, essayist, and advocate for LGBT awareness, with an interest in areas of feminist study. Areas of particular interest include the pornography industry, female representation in Early Modern Literature, and women in contemporary music.