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Does porn empower women?

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YES 

Charlotte Green

The easy answer to this question is no. It’s easy to say that an industry based around watching surgically-enhanced idealised women faking orgasms is degrading, sexist and overall extremely un-empowering. But to say this is to have some basic confusion about what pornography actually is. It isn’t merely watching two normal people have normal sex in a room with average lighting and teddy bears on the shelves. Pornographic sex is about as far away from normal sex as sharks are to goldfish. Both fish, but one has a lot more vibrators and varying camera angles. Pornography is fantasy, expressions of raw sexual desire, fictional scenarios and unreal positions. And within this context, it does empower women.

Pornography is the ultimate expression of sexual freedom. Having sex for money with numerous partners is no longer stigmatised as ‘selling your body’ or ‘losing your virtue’. These days sex is a skill, and if you do it well it can even make you a star. The women who participate are not demonised as whores or sluts; simply women who enjoy sex enough to make a living out of it and uninhibited enough to share it. In this sense it differs from other branches of the global exploitative sex trade in that the actors made a choice to be there. For me that says a lot. Making a deliberate choice to be paid for sex rather than having no other option shows a confidence and empowerment of sexuality rather than degradation.

The industry has also been a contributing factor in destroying the myth that women do not in fact enjoy sex, just roll around woodenly in the hope of possible babies. I admit that having women writhing and screaming during the most banal of sexual acts might be stretching the truth somewhat, but it’s a far cry from Sigmund Freud’s assertion there was no such thing as the vaginal orgasm. Of course for every type of film that portrays female characters as self-aware, realistic sexual beings there is an antithesis; Bridesmaids and Transformers, Caligula and Two Girls, One Cup. It should be made clear that exploitation and degradation of women is not limited to pornography, often the most calculating offenders are the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters who use gratuitous sex and nudity to guarantee packed cinemas. I mean, who among us can really remember the plot of Basic Instinct? At least pornos are gratuitously honest.

Ultimately porn empowers women because it acts as an arena within which women can be overtly, publicly sexual, not because they are forced to, but because they want to. I think it’s important to show that women are capable of dominating, being dominated, having sex with single or multiple partners and enjoying it. Sexual preference is one’s own, but understanding that women can have the same sex drive as men and can be empowered by that sex needs to be general knowledge, and if it requires pornography to achieve that then I say roll on the cameras.

NO

Alice Rigby

On the surface it appears that porn today could easily be a media through which women are empowered. Women are most often the stars of pornography, with their participation essential to the viewer’s pleasure. Women are consuming porn in ever increasing numbers, disturbing the traditional view that it only interests men. Women’s sexuality has been brought to the forefront of society, thanks largely to the ‘50 Shades’ phenomenon. The type of male domination and female objectification addressed by the sepia laden Lovelace seems to have stayed in the 70s.

Many of these developments have led to a widespread defence of porn, particularly in light of the restrictions proposed by the government earlier this year. Many now consider porn an issue of free speech, with women’s rights no longer an essential element of the debate. Many women actively support porn, only increasing the normality with which it is viewed in today’s culture. More exceptionally, competition to star in porn is now fierce with many viewing it as an acceptable platform from which to launch careers.

However, there have been just as many changes in pornography that have served to damage women. The aesthetics of the industry are a clear area in which pornography is detrimental to women. In ‘mainstream’ porn cosmetic surgery is rife and apparent, with the ideal sexual partner portrayed being an unrealistic standard against which men, particularly early teenagers with little sexual experience, will undoubtedly judge future partners. Furthermore, any appearance that varies from this norm is placed in a specialist category, specifying this as entirely unusual. Over the last few years we have become increasingly aware of the devastating affect our aesthetic culture has had on girls and women. The porn industry is, like fashion, one of the areas that dramatically lags behind in implementing the change needed in light of this.

Furthermore, the industry itself has failed to empower women using the simplest means available to it. Although women are the prominent stars of the industry, the business and commercial side of porn is still dominated by men. It is these men who make serious money out of porn, who recruit porn stars and who control the production of porn: its aesthetics, its content and the ultimate product distributed the consumer. This is one of the areas of porn in which women could have made the largest strides. Artistically, it is not outlandish to assume that when men are in control of producing porn they are unlikely to do so with women’s sexuality in mind, a situation that prevents porn from empowering women inherently.

One of the most powerful arguments that has been made in favour of porn in recent years is that it is increasingly consumed by women alongside men. This seems to be a compelling defence and surveys suggest that female consumption of porn has increased from around 20% in the 1970s to 75% or more in the last 5 years. However, in light of the male consumption figures this defence collapses. The same study that produced the figures listed above also found that 100% of the males they surveyed had viewed porn. Other studies, looking into the effects of porn consumption, have also struggled to find male participants that haven’t viewed porn.

This figure clearly shows that the primary consumer of porn is still the male population. Basic business principles dictate that the product will be created with this consumer in mind. While it is primarily men who are viewing porn it will be male sexual gratification that the industry has in mind when creating its product. Any female gratification will simply be an accidental by product of this process. Despite this occurring, the process of producing porn still consists of the use of female performers to create films that are focused on satisfying men. This is the antithesis of female empowerment.

While it cannot be denied that the pornographic industry has developed hugely over the last 30 years, not all of these developments have been for the better. More specifically, thanks to its aesthetics, business structure and primarily male consumer the patriarchal elements of porn have become engrained in its culture. Though the expression of female sexuality has become fashionable over the last year, the porn industry still falls drastically behind on catering to or even acknowledging this. While porn continues to be consumed primarily by men, men will remain in positions of power within the industry and the content of porn will keep on representing women as categorically failing to adhere to perfection. Until the basic motivating factor for the production of porn, male pleasure, changes, porn cannot empower women.

Tags: Debate, empowerment, feminism, Porn, porn debate

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