The challenges of porn: how to leave a chauvinist industry behind

The challenges of porn: how to leave a chauvinist industry behind

Sexual content on video is increasingly accessible through the internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, generally on streaming video channels.

(María Crespo)
News

The ‘other Hollywood’ is what the pornographic film industry in the United States is known as, a sector with multi-million-dollar profits and huge audiences.

After analysing about 400 million online searches between July 2009 and July 2010, Ogi Ogasa and Sai Gaddam, authors of the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tell Us About Sexual Relationships, concluded that 13 per cent of online searches are about erotic content.

Sexual content on video is increasingly accessible through the internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, generally on Tubes (streaming video channels - a method of transmitting content from a provider to a user), but what is the pornographic industry really like today?

“Tube sites really are the reason that so few people have a full understanding of what is going on in the adult film industry. They are not at all representative of the industry that I work in. In fact, Tube sites have illegally uploaded my content and rebranded it in a very offensive way in order to get clicks.

“For example: I directed a film about a female boss that got uploaded illegally to a tube site and was rebranded as ‘DUMB BIMBO FUCKS HER BIG-DICKED BOSS.’ It was completely inaccurate. The woman was the boss and she was undermining the male employee, but tube sites want to do whatever they can to undermine feminist directors in order to cater to their male subscriber base,” explains American director Jacky St. James.

In St. James’s view, in the mainstream porn industry in which she works, most of the emphasis right now is on ‘pretty porn’, in other words “high production values, elegant wardrobe, beautiful, natural lighting, connection between actors,” while the extreme stuff has become outdated.

Swedish director and creator of her own studio in Barcelona, Erika Lust, is more critical in her analysis of the industry: “Porn is yet another medium in which women are objectified in this society. Mainstream porn shows sex as something that men do to women, or what women do for men; this makes it misogynist porn that actually objectifies women and places unrealistic expectations on both sexes.”

She also believes it turns the industry into a generator of sexist products. “The majority of mainstream pornography is dominated by a certain type of male gaze with the same point of view about sex: middle-aged, white chauvinist men obsessed with tits and ass, who are only capable of filming repetitive sexual scenes, because they have very little sexual intelligence and a very toxic masculinity. They represent women as an object of pleasure and they do not know their sexuality completely.”

The way we consume it matters

In a universe where both sexes explore their sexuality, it is the man who generally controls the action and is the one who decides the terms of sexual intercourse. Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Austin in Texas, is one of the most relevant and critical voices on the subject in the United States. In Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity he describes three common themes in pornographic productions: (1) all women always want sex from men, (2) women like all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and (3) any woman who resists can be aroused by force, which is rarely necessary because most of the women in pornography are the ‘nymphomaniacs’ of men’s fantasies.

For both Lust and St. James, the key to enriching the sector lies in putting women behind the camera. “In this day and age, it is entirely possible for a woman to enter the adult industry, start her own company, and create content that represents her desires. Women can and are reshaping the adult industry as we once knew it,” says St. James, who directs productions primarily for Sweet Sinner.

Why is the feminist vision of the porn industry necessary in the 21st century?

“I believe that pornography, as a means, can help us to understand ourselves better and have better sex, to feel stronger in our bodies, in our lives and in our sexuality, but like everything else, the way we consume it matters. Conventional pornography is a bad educator, but another type of pornography can fight against its influence and even be positive,” explains Lust.

In addition to exploring the richness of human sexuality creatively in her productions, Lust has developed a philosophy to frame the ‘new adult film industry’ based on four principles. First: women’s pleasure matters. “We must show women and men as sexual partners, not as objects or machines,” she clarifies. Second: adult films can have cinematographic value. “It’s unfair to assume that just because someone is watching sex on the screen, they do not want to see something with cinematic quality.”

Third, she says there is a need to show more types of bodies, ages and ethnicities. “It is important that the public is represented in the media it consumes without it becoming a fetish,” she stresses. And she adds, the fourth and last point: the production process has to be ethical. “Every performer has to get a fair wage and there should not be any disparity between them, regardless of their gender. Everything must be discussed and agreed before filming between the actors and a safe and comfortable environment must be guaranteed for them.”

The importance of education

The Swedish Women’s Lobby wants to introduce sex education as a separate and compulsory subject in schools, and wants the creation of a government commission against pornography that examines its consequences for society.

“Today, a school’s mission is to counteract traditional gender roles. Sex education should be a compulsory subject in teacher’s education and must be based on the knowledge of power, gender and violence. Principals and school management should give priority to sex education,” says Emma Blomdahl, a board member for the Swedish Women’s Lobby (Sveriges Kvinnolobby) and a specialist in gender equality policies.

She believes that keeping pornography private has been a success for the industry and that it should be analysed across the board in schools.

“Today we know, from research, that most teenagers have watched pornography but almost none of them have talked to an adult about it. We need to talk about this with our young ones. Just as we talk about how they should be safe while playing online games, we also need to talk about the fact that mainstream porn does not show gender equality or give a fair view of sex,” says Blomdahl.

Professor Jensen reflects on what it means to be human at this particular moment in history in his latest scientific publication Pornographic Values: Hierarchy and Hubris. “Our answer must be consistent with the core progressive principles of dignity (all people have the same claim to being human), solidarity (human flourishing depends on loving connections to others), and equality (dignity and solidarity are impossible without social and economic justice).”

After analysing the objectification, hierarchy, submission and violence of the majority pornographic content, he launches a final reflection. “If we were to look to pornography for answers to this most basic question—’What does it mean to be human at this particular moment in history?’—it is difficult to imagine a just, sustainable human future. Our task is to face those fears and imagine the future differently.”

This article has been translated from Spanish.