So today I’m wading into the seething morass that is the debate around pornography, both as an industry and as an increasing presence in our day to day lives (hint: they’re related! Gasp!). Just to clear a few things up first: Pornography is prostitution. It’s the sale of sex in which the customer purchases a video of the sale of the body, instead of the body itself, which some have argued makes it infinite prostitution, prostitution that lives on after the performer is no longer a performer, or even no longer alive. Secondly, while heterosexual porn for male consumption is certainly not the only form of porn, it is the overwhelming majority of what is consumed, and so much of my language, though I try to be inclusive, will reflect that. Many of the studies in the book Big Porn, Inc, which was the impetus for this show, deliberately access the most mainstream selections as chosen by the Adult Video News’ bestselling and most-rented lists (So I can’t access or link to AVN from my computer because I’m writing from work, and it won’t let me at porn sites. Obv. But I could access CNBC, which has a slideshow of the top selling adult videos of all time. CNBC! If that’s not an example of pornification, damned if I know what is).
Also, this is not a discussion about sexual morality, it is about human rights. And for that reason, this isn’t about being sex-positive or sex-negative, those are nonsense terms that are used to often to silence or undermine arguments against prostitution. No one is suggesting that sex is bad, or that women shouldn’t be sexually liberated; this isn’t about sex, it’s about power and violence and poverty, and the conception of women’s sexuality as a commodity. The third largest illegal trade in the world after arms and drugs is the sale of women (if you include all human trafficking, it becomes the second largest), and the legal trade in women, the global porn industry, was worth $96 billion in 2006 (1). Apparently that legal trade is seen as being valuable enough to the global economy – which it is, at 96 billion – that the US government gave its domestic porn industry a 5 billion dollar bailout in 2008-9. For real. That’s the argument against prostitution and pornography, that the sale of women’s bodies is something we should be talking about ending, which involves having some uncomfortable conversations about the socio-economic circumstances that encourage women into prostitution, which includes pornography.
(1) Hawthorne, Susan. “Capital and the Crimes of Pornographers: Free to Lynch, Exploit, Rape and Torture.” 107 – 117 in Abigail Bray and Melinda Tankard Reist, Eds. Big Porn, Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry. Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2011.