Paid to watch porn

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In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, porn is produced and controlled by an agency called 'Pornosec', staffed exclusively by teenaged girls. ''The theory was that men, whose sex instincts were less controllable than those of women, were in greater danger of being corrupted by the filth they handled''.

Other pop cultural references to censors show porn as both scintillating and corrupting. In a Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch, innocuous videos such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are signed off, classified and approved for public viewing by a single censor. The much racier Lesbian Lavatory Lust, however, is viewed and rated by a dozen censors. Clearly, they all wanted in on that screening.

In Australia, there are no censors, but ''classifiers'' who look toward ''community standards'' when rating material. But here's the thing – some material will be refused classification, and therefore will become technically illegal, not fit for mainstream public consumption. However, since the internet is a one-stop-shop for all of one's pornographic needs regardless of how esoteric they might be (as per rule 34), and since illegal material is sold as a matter of course in adult stores across the country, censoring material is futile.

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In his new book, Money Shot, Jeff Sparrow explores censorship and pornography. Pretty quickly, his interpretive gaze shifts from the people who classify materials to the debates surrounding whether we should even bother trying to censor material in the first place.

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The debate, as Sparrow explains, is weird. It's weird precisely because of the strange alliances it brings out.

On the one side are feminists who say that porn objectifies women, damages those who watch it, and puts a host of expectations on young girls who are expected to be and look like porn stars. The expectations are formed by boys who have been taught all they know about sex from porn. Violent porn, it is argued, begets sexual violence. These feminists are aligned with Christian Lobbies who think that depictions of pre-marital sex are immoral. Said lobbies usually also want to end legalised abortion. An uncomfortable alliance indeed: Sparrow even encountered a Christian lobbyist who suggested he explore the anti-porn sentiments of radical feminist and lesbian Sheila Jeffries.

On the other side are lefties and libertarians (including some feminists) who simply think that people should be left to enjoy whatever it is they enjoy. As long as the actors consented to being in the show and as long as nobody is forced to watch materials that discomfort them, nobody is harmed. They are aligned with the adult industry. While many in the adult industry do try to produce porn that is respectful to women, sexism is rife in the industry. As is racism. Porn websites are often derogatory, on some sites the word ''woman'' seems to have been auto-replaced with the word ''slut'', and racial slurs are entirely run-of-the-mill. People in the adult entertainment industry aren't necessarily the kind of people who would be reading their weekend Age over a latte on Lygon Street talking about ''consenting adults'' and marching at their local SlutWalk.

At Sexpo, Sparrow compares the role of the host, Russell Gilbert, dressed deliberately in a ''suburban'' manner, positing himself as the every-man, with the celebrity, female porn stars onstage who periodically remove their shirts. Maybe the stars feel ''empowered'' and good about their job. They probably earn a lot of money. Nonetheless, it's clear enough what the dynamic is – Sexpo is meant to fulfil male sexual desires. Echoing the theory behind Orwell's 'Pornosec' committee, female sexual desires simply don't exist.

Despite that the sex industry can be sexist, Sparrow doesn't endorse a pro-censorship view. Censorship is impractical and only tends to work to increase the edginess and therefore popularity of banned material. Even Lesbian Lavatory Lust wouldn't be so salacious if it were mandatory viewing. Moreover, porn is a product of Western culture, a symptom rather than a cause of sexism, mixed with the idea that ''empowerment'' is found through profitability.

Given that porn will always be found, making it completely taboo can itself be damaging. If a young person encounters porn (which is inevitable) without any sense of what it is and without being able to talk about it, then it's far more likely it's going to cause problems than if the dialogue is open. Moreover, if a girl is asked to do something compromising, she is more likely to be victimised if she doesn't know anything about the raunch culture that surrounds her. This is already the case. Images of young, drunk women are exploited on Girls Gone Wild, and through the (now defunct) website, 'Is Anybody Up?', where vengeful men post naked pictures of female ex-lovers (along with their Facebook and Twitter information) which had been given to them during the relationship in confidence.

Instead, openness and education is the answer. For instance, some level of porn-literacy is important for young people to realise that what they are seeing is fake. Maybe being frank and realistic about sex and taking the edginess away from porn would stop boys from falling over themselves to access it.

There also needs to be some way in which women can redefine the terms in which their sexuality is expressed. At the moment, ''It [is] entirely your choice whether to send your boyfriend a nude picture. But if you don't, you're frigid, and if you do, you're a slut''. You're either the girl on the 'Pornosec' committee, or one of the cast of Lesbian Lavatory Lust. Neither choice is empowering because neither choice expresses the reality of one's full character.

The contribution Money Shot makes is that it redefines the terms of the two-sided debate of strange bedfellows into something more constructive – how to best empower all of us in a society where porn will invariably play a part.

17 comments

  • The "Pornosec" was to be staffed by teenage girls ?
    Maybe the teenage girls of 1948 were somehat different from those of the 21st century.
    Maybe dear old Eric was either a very old fashioned chap who believed young women would have had no interest in sex,? or was the implaction that the stories would be more raunchy, because the porn was produced by "teenage girls"?

    Commenter
    LeftyRoy
    Location
    Cidnee
    Date and time
    August 22, 2012, 9:41AM
    • It's inaccurate that feminists are aligned with the christian lobby. This rhetoric is designed to dismiss feminist arguments without having to answer them. Feminists are not arguing for the censorship of pornography. They're arguing that far from being a simple matter of free speech, the sex industry is largely an unethical, unregulated and often criminal industry that's particularly harmful to women, especially the women in the industry itself who are there due to sexism, racism, social disadvantage or outright force. It's no good saying 'I'm all for it, as long as it's consensual' when you don't know whether it's consensual or not. You might also want to ask yourself whether you agree that tearing open a woman's rectum or subjecting her to a gang bang that puts her at risk of injury, shock, trauma, infectious disease, infertility, unwanted pregnancy and abortion etc. for cheap entertainment is OK 'as long as it's consensual'.

      Commenter
      Em
      Date and time
      August 22, 2012, 9:47AM
      • If it's true that porn is an industry run by criminals that's because, like illicit drugs and other things, it's suppressed and unregulated. Stop suppressing it, regulate it, and whatever problem exists should be easier to handle. If you don't support this and just continue to rail against it from the sidelines, then I can only conclude you are taking a moral line that is indistinguishable from the conservative christian lobby.

        Commenter
        rudy
        Date and time
        August 22, 2012, 11:58AM
      • One of the issues with anti-porn feminists is their propensity to do exactly what you've done in this post: cast all porn performers as victims without agency and say that all porn is violent and degrading to women. It's not helpful to make these generalizations as they're simply not true. Many porn performers willingly choose their work and we should not disrespect that choice by insisting that they've been somehow coerced. Similarly, there is a huge variety of types of porn - including gay porn - and the attitudes and sex acts vary greatly. Yes, there is a lot of unethical and bad porn out there and there's probably also exploitation too... but let's be specific in our criticism.

        One other thing: the preferred phrase is "safe, sane and consensual". And as long as people are enjoying themselves and choose to do it, who are you to tell them otherwise?

        Commenter
        Ms Naughty
        Date and time
        August 22, 2012, 2:03PM
    • "People in the adult entertainment industry aren't necessarily the kind of people who would be reading their weekend Age over a latte on Lygon Street talking about ''consenting adults'' and marching at their local SlutWalk".

      Wrong. Slutwalks were actually organised by the Australian Sex Party, who are members of and lobbyists for the Australian sex industry. The sad irony being that these people profit from the sale of material that includes depictions of sexual assault, rape and violence against women.

      Commenter
      Kim
      Date and time
      August 22, 2012, 9:53AM
      • Kim, the Slutwalk in Brisbane was organised with the aid of the Sex Party, it made use of their public liability insurance. But it was an independent event.
        The Sex Party are actually a libertarian party in favour of freedom of speech, feminism, gay rights, sex worker rights, environmentalism and more. I recommend you actually look up their policies. You should also study the Classification rules regarding what kind of porn is actually allowed to be sold in Australia. Then you can get your facts straight before suggesting that adult retailers are selling illegal material such as violence or rape in porn.

        Commenter
        Ms Naughty
        Date and time
        August 22, 2012, 2:09PM
    • "For instance, some level of porn-literacy is important for young people to realise that what they are seeing is fake".

      No, they need to realise that what they're seeing is real. When a woman's body and mind is injured, bruised, torn, traumatised, infected with disease etc. this is real, not fake.They need to be taught that this is the problem with pornography, not churchy moralising about 'sex taboos'. The idea that sex is taboo in our society is a laughable notion anyway. What seems to be most taboo is questioning the exploitative, unethical, harmful and destructive nature of this industry.

      Commenter
      Emm
      Date and time
      August 22, 2012, 10:10AM
      • Is gay porn degrading to women as well? How about dominatrix porn, where women verbally humiliate and physically abuse men? Both are pretty big sub-genres but for some reason whenever "porn" is discussed people zero in on the sub-genre where women are degraded and humiliated.

        I think the mindset that porn leads to sexual assault/abuse is like saying chocolate leads to obesity...it might be true in a technical sense, but most people eat chocolate without looking like the Michelin Man, just like most people watch porn without thinking "Lord, I'd really like to have sex with somebody against their will right now".

        As for the "classifiers", well, nobody has yet managed to convince me that these people are so mentally fortified as to withstand a barrage of filth that would supposedly cripple the rest of us.

        Commenter
        AdamV
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 22, 2012, 11:01AM
        • Really well put AdamV - great post.

          Commenter
          damo
          Location
          melbourne
          Date and time
          August 22, 2012, 4:07PM
        • Dominatrix porn demeans women because the actions of the Dom are really being performed at the behest of and for the titillation of the Submissive. Hence the Sub is the one who really holds the power in the relationship.

          Guy-on-guy porn demeans women because... because... BECAUSE SHUT UP! THAT'S WHY!

          [sigh]

          The rhetoric that "porn degrades women mkay?" is deeply unhelpful to debates surrounding censorship and sex education. Yes, a lot of porn does demean women. Yes, exposing young people porn that focuses on the degradation of one's sexual partner has the potential to damage their ability to form healthy relationships. And yes, working in the porn industry does have the potential to emotionally damage a person. None of this means that any person who watches porn of any kind will automatically morph into an emotionally-damaged, abusive misogynist.

          It is also a fact that pornography has existed pretty much since mankind first figured out that they could make marks on things that looked like other things. It's not going to go away.

          So perhaps instead of spouting pointless rhetoric, we could, as a society, try to come up with a realistic way to minimize the harmful effects on our society. Like it or not, this is probably at some point going to involve explaining to teenagers that (for example) bukkake porn exists and talking to them about why their partner might not necessarily want to try it at home. And a whole bunch of other stuff about consent and respect and human dignity.

          Commenter
          Sweet Sister Morphine
          Date and time
          August 22, 2012, 4:34PM

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