Am I a bad person for watching porn?

Comment Culture

Image Description: A pomegranate, a lemon and an apple with slits in them.

CW: rape culture, sexual exploitation, sexual violence.

From porno mags tucked under a bed to the explosion of online porn, watching people have sex has become an almost unquestioned part of our lives. Pervasive and so easily accessible, it’s basically become a statement to decidedly not watch it.  As with everything in consumer culture, the commodification of porn raises concerns about its morality. Can it ever be ethical to watch other people have sex when others are profiting from it? Are we just naturally perverts?

It is pretty uncontroversial to say that there are serious ethical problems with the porn industry. The exploitation of porn stars, porn that sexualises teenagers (even if the actors are actually older), the ideas that mainstream porn gives us about sex, specifically women’s sexuality, and porn that doesn’t show what consensual sex looks like- all of which contribute to rape culture. The list goes on. It makes us more insecure about our bodies and can change our perceptions of what sex between consenting adults should look like. In 2016 there was a 39% increase in labiaplasty, a surgery to change the appearance of a vagina, most people who get this procedure do so for purely aesthetic reasons, and this extreme form of beauty standard is perpetuated by the porn industry. When this material is accessible to anyone with a computer and wifi connection- which is getting younger by the year, we have to seriously consider the long term impact this can have on us as individuals and as a society.

There are more grey areas than this, however, it’s hard to argue that a home video between two consenting adults can be exploitative. Porn can be used to challenge gender stereotypes and give women avenues to express their sexuality. LGBTQI+ porn can normalise sex for people who live in an environment where they are oppressed and/or can’t come out. Also, people just enjoy watching other people have sex- it’s a normal part of human sexuality and it’s been proven that masturbation itself has health benefits. Orgasms improve your skin, boost your immunity, can lift your mood, make your heart healthier and can even lengthen your lifespan. They shouldn’t be considered taboo or demonised.

Even so, opponents of the porn industry say that you can never guarantee that porn hasn’t been produced in an exploitative way. Under the society we live in, gender roles and heteronormativity is always present, amplified and perpetuated by the industry. The commercialisation of a natural human experience will always lead to exploitation and therefore cannot be done ethically. It’s also true that masturbation doesn’t necessarily require porn. The benefits are therefore not tied to the porn industry and the harm that it can cause.

Orgasms improve your skin, boost your immunity, can lift your mood, make your heart healthier and can even lengthen your lifespan. They shouldn’t be considered taboo or demonised.

To say that it is not possible to consume porn ethically is more forceful than to say that the industry has ethical issues. It takes agency away from the people who are most often exploited in porn and who have found avenues through which they can be self-employed and therefore have control over both the content they create and how their profits are used. The recent popularity of Only Fans has demonstrated both the market and willingness for people to produce and monetise their sexuality.

Michelle Shnaidman set up feminist porn site Bellesa to escape ‘misogynistic adverts’, ‘fake orgasms’ and ‘sexual violence’ that dominate mainstream porn sites. Through targeting her site at a more feminine audience, she aimed to create a ‘free online platform for women to watch pornography’. While this may play into traditional ideas about gender roles and ideas about the kind of sex women enjoy, it does offer a different experience to the intensely male world of Porn Hub, where women are often described as objects, as if you were shopping for new shoes or a type of car- not watching actual human beings. Instead, Bellesa tries to promote porn that is inclusive and away from the male gaze. Michelle explains the demand for feminist porn, saying that “women like to see storylines, realism, bodies that look real”. The site is only growing. Their sex toy range has been promoted by Cardi B and the number of users is ever-expanding.

People are going to watch porn. This is inevitable, so it might as well be feminist. Like every other industry, adult entertainment has elements of exploitation that are pervasive and problematic. However, sites like Bellesa and some Only Fans show a way to consume porn ethically and support the sex workers who participate in porn. Promoting and celebrating sexuality in an inclusive and respectful way is an important step in becoming more comfortable with our bodies and normalising healthy, consensual sex.

Image Credit: Dainis Graveris via Unsplash

 

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