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Pornography: BBC Three lays it bare

Whether you consider yourself a none-user, casual viewer, heavy consumer or avid abuser of pornography, it’s safe to assume that we have all observed some form of pornographic material in our lifetimes.

With the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and the subsequent development of the multi-billion-dollar adult film industry, many believe pornography is a relatively modern phenomenon. However, images of an erotic nature predate recorded history.  To put it simply, erotic imagery has probably existed for as long as humans have been able to farm – if not longer.

For many, such a widespread societal phenomenon is a source of great intrigue. It raises several questions about the effects of pornography on society: Are certain types of pornography too extreme or unethical? Does pornography affect young peoples’ perceptions of sex and relationships? Are women portrayed as sexual objects in pornography? And what are the ethical implications of certain porn genres?

A recent UK survey shed light on these questions. It revealed that 77% of young men and 47% of young women had watched porn online in the last month. More distressingly, 55% of men admitted that porn was their “main source of sex education”. 50% of the female participants agreed pornography “dehumanises women” and 51% of participants said pornography centres on “male pleasure”.

A recent BBC documentary, Porn Laid Bare tackles these issues in much more detail. The show follows six young people, of differing opinions and viewing habits of pornography, travel to Spain. For two weeks they explore the ins and outs of the Spanish porn industry. I had the opportunity to catch up with one of the six, 21-year-old Cameron Dale – a “casual viewer” of pornography.  He regales me with some of the more disturbing stories from his trip.

One scene showed Cameron and two others witness a group sex scene. It featured a 19 year old girl have sex with 20 men, whom she had never met before. All male participants wore a variety of strange masks to conceal their identities and only one man was willing to speak to the crew. Cameron confesses that it was “one of the worst things” he has ever seen.

The film was produced by a notorious Spanish porn kingpin, Torbe, a man previously accused of harassment and distributing child pornography. Torbe’s irritation grew as the group stopped the filming to question the feelings of the female actress, as did his reluctance to comment on the implications of his type of porn on viewers. Cameron also mentions how, off camera, some of the men in the film began to get confused about the nature of the group’s questions, becoming more and more irritated as they stopped filming to verify the girl’s identity.

He suggests to me that he thought there was “more going on than meets the eye” and tells me that the 19 year old girl expected half that number of men on the shoot. He also tells me about seeing a “seedy, small room” where the actress stayed in the hours leading up to the shoot.

On the trip, the group also met Rob Diesel, another adult film producer and actor. During the documentary he appears to adhere to ethical standards of porn production as he demonstrates to the group on their initial visit. However, we later find out that he creates and stars in adult films referred to as “public disgrace videos”.

These types of films generally involve humiliation and degradation of one of the actors, who are usually female, in a public area. When questioned about this kind of porn, Diesel says that he “doesn’t think this type of porn is harmful” and that “the film crew are careful to avoid families seeing the filming”.

Despite his claims, Diesel’s public disgrace videos show onlookers on one of the documentary clips. Cameron had the chance to visit one of the filming locations post-filming. He confirms “there were lots of people, even children there”.

The trip also revealed the feminist potential of the porn industry. The group had the opportunity to meet a female porn producer “Erika Lust” who  specialises in “ethical pornography”. Lust’s films focus as much on female pleasure as on male pleasure. She tells the group that she wants to “empower” women and to promote greater equality amongst the porn-viewing community. Certain genres of adult film are a potential solution to the largely male-centric depictions in pornography.

Cameron expressed his feelings regarding pornography after having witnessed it first-hand. Like many other commodities, pornography seems “largely ethical” but there is “a darker side and potential for abuse”. Cameron reminds me of the harassment that can happen behind the scenes, as well as risk of STIs from improper screening of actors.

In addition, Cameron expressed worry about the impact of pornography on the viewer. He felt that “pornography is being used as sexual education” rather than simply a “stimulus”. He voiced his concern about the effects on “young men and women” who “may see porn and think it is what real sex should be”.

“Men and women may compare themselves to the actors in the film or harm their sexual partners, mentally or physically”. This stems from “watching more aggressive types of pornography”.

Three episodes of the documentary are available to view on BBC iPlayer. Each explores a different issues related to pornography. As well as the varying viewpoints of the six colourful characters in the show. Laughs are shared, tears are shed, and perspectives are transformed at every turn.

Tags: bbc three, documentary, interview, Porn, pornography

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