…a Cindy Gallop production
“I consider myself a rampant feminist.”
In my (2nd)last post, I mentioned Professor Gail Dines, a leading anti-porn activist and author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, after her appearance on the ABC program Q&A. Dines claimed that porn is harmful, addictive, and shaping male and female sexuality in ways it never has before, thanks to the ubiquity of technology and porn’s “mainstreaming” into popular culture. Judging by the number of search referrals, many people are interested in the work and views of Dines – some because they agree, others because they vehemently disagree. Because of this I’ve been reading more about her views online, but am yet to read her book.
Another panellist on that episode of Q&A was Leslie Cannold, ethicist and author of The Book of Rachael. Cannold argued against Dines’ position, saying she did not believe that the “gonzo porn” that Dines referred to (which on the program she described as “violent porn”, but more broadly means point-of-view porn without a storyline), is mainstream at all. Cannold described this type of porn as fringe material. She said that trying to link the use of gonzo porn to violence or predatory behaviour is insulting to men, and warned against moral panic, urging the audience to focus not on pornography, but the underlying inequality and violence against women, which has existed for centuries.
My own views on porn sit somewhat between Cannold’s and Dines’, primarily because pornographic material is so diverse, and so perennial throughout human history. Moral outrage and über conservatism make me nervous. There are many types of pornography, and I reject the idea that they are all harmful (whatever you define “harmful” to be). Surely there are women and men of all sexual persuasions who are both consuming adult material and also maintaining functional, respectful, healthy relationships? Understanding the difference between fantasy, titillation, and real life?
The Porn Report
Was published in 2008. It is based on the three-year “Understanding Pornography in Australia” research project, funded by the Australian Research Council. The project involved a survey of a thousand Australian consumers of pornography, interviews with consumers and producers, and a detailed analysis of the fifty most popular DVD titles from the largest distributors (the first surveys were conducted in 2003. At the time, DVDs were still more popular than internet sites. This has obviously changed).
The surveys in 2003 found that one third of adults in Australia consume some form of adult material in any given year. Across most demographic categories, consumers of porn are more or less like the average Australian in terms of age, geographical location, voting preferences, religion, monogamous relationships, et cetera. About 80% of the consumers are male and about 20% are female.
One of the questions respondents were asked in the survey was whether or not they had ever seen anything that had distressed them in pornography. Most of the respondents were quite clear about what they found disturbing – anything that resembled forced sex, coercion, or performers who were clearly uncomfortable. There was a small minority of respondents who said they preferred that kind of material, which is a sub genre in porn. Generally though, says Katherine Albury, one of reports authors, sexual enthusiasm in both partners was favoured, and the absence of said enthusiasm would diminish a large part of the market. Respondents were also asked what they thought made for good porn. The second top answer? Genuine enthusiasm.
This is clearly not the kind of porn Dines is talking about in her activism. Unfortunately her blanket statements (particularly about men, which understandably annoy people), generalisations, and highly emotive and hyperbolic assertions about pornography tailored for time-limited media appearances and interviews detract from what I think is her most important point, at least to me – that the porn industry is just that – an industry, and an extremely lucrative one at that. Like any industry, their bottom line is profit$. Generally speaking, the industry does not exist to liberate sexual expression or our sexuality, or champion freedom/free speech, but to continually push products to a mainly male audience. To be concerned about the nature of some of those products, the accessibility of those products (particularly to children), and questioning their impact on the health of society at large doesn’t make one an “anti-sex” prude.
Porn and sex are seemingly interchangeable terms these days, but of course, they are not the same thing. You can be quite enthusiastic about the latter and not so enthusiastic about the former. Or kinds of the former.
That being said, 59% of consumers of pornography surveyed in the Understanding Pornography in Australia study thought that porn had had a positive effect on their attitudes towards sexuality. Eg. Making them feel more comfortable with their sexuality, making them more tolerant about other people’s differing sexual preferences, spicing up long term relationships, and fostering discussion between partners about what they did and did not like in their sex life.
All good things.
The study did bring up a few other facts that I find … noteworthy:
- 58% of porn-using respondents described themselves as religious. That’s right, a majority. And most were able to articulate how they separated their taste for porn from their faith, or combined/reconciled the two.
- The ABC was the top television station viewed by the porn users who responded to the survey(LOL!).
- And respondents had a high level of education compared to the national average.
This is possibly because the survey was an extensive written survey. Does this bring into question the accuracy of the study as a measure of the porn consumption habits of the broader nation?
The type of people who participated in the study self selected themselves for participation. This meant that they already felt comfortable with their porn usage and the material they were accessing, perhaps because they understood their viewing habits to be within the range deemed acceptable (as far as adult material is concerned). Still, the study did dispel some of the old stereotypes about who consumes adult material.
Make Love Not Porn
Now in regards to the distinction between porn and sex, this week I got an email from a reader (I know, shocking, a reader… I was genuinely alarmed) about my (2nd)last post and a website called makelovenotporn.com [18 years and over only].
I had a friend once lament that hardcore pornography was turning the young men she dated into aggressive, lousy lovers with ridiculous expectations of sex, the female body, and intimacy (verbatim). This site reminded me of her lament.
Cindy Gallop, the sites creator, is an entrepreneur with extensive advertising experience, and an older woman who dates younger men. Although a self-professed fan of hardcore pornography, Gallop is concerned with the way porn culture and hardcore skewers young men’s view of sex – those men for whom hardcore is their primary form of sex education from a young age. Why this concern? Because she’s encountered them in her own dating life.
The website is therefore meant to be informative and non-judgemental, by dispelling the myths of hardcore porn, balancing them with gentle doses of reality. (It’s sad that those doses of reality might actually be revelations to some people, but there you go).
So…… perhaps EDUCATION (not necessarily in this format, but certainly not excluding it) is the best answer to the less savoury effects of porn culture that Gail Dines and people like her say exist, and campaign against?
You be the judge.
Cindy Gallop gave this brief presentation on Make Love Not Porn as part of Ted Talks in 2009. Warning: contains explicit language: