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What Does Pornography Say About Our Society?

December 15, 2011

by Pamela Zeller, Executive Director, Sexual Violence Center

Pornography is the normalization of sexual harm. Think about that for a minute. Violence, humiliation, dominance, control and the objectification of a human being are normalized through the making and viewing of pornography. Unlike other movies and fantasies, where someone is shot yet not harmed, or drowned but still alive, or beaten yet remain unscathed…what happens in a pornographic image or movie is actually happening to that adult or child.

People may say that they are horrified by pornography and the harm it perpetrates, yet they financially support those who reap billions of dollars each year from this trade. Time Warner, the owner of HBO and Cinemax, among other outlets, shows “adult” films on their channels. Not only does this method increase access to pornography to more adults and minors, but it legitimizes “adult” films as just another viewing choice. All of this contributes to the normalization of sexual harm.

I say, boycott Time Warner and other producers of pornography, and send them an email or letter explaining that you will not support the normalization of sexual harm, that harms “the women and children used in the production of pornography; women and children who have pornography forced on them; women and children who are sexually assaulted by men who use pornography; and in living in a culture in which pornography reinforces and sexualizes women’s subordinate status.” (“You are what you eat: The pervasive porn industry and what it says about you and your desires” by Robert Jensen, Clamor magazine, September/October 2002, pp. 54-59)

There are a number of publications about pornography and other forms of sexual harm that are culturally-normalized. Click here for a list of resources.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel O. permalink
    December 16, 2011 4:14 pm

    Pamela- Can you, or anyone at SVC, point in the direction of some online resources that speak to the affect pornography has on society?

  2. December 19, 2011 5:49 pm

    Here’s an awesome article about some of this issue: Here’s another one about young children and sex education:

    I think some of the most important aspects where pornography fails us as a society is that it does not teach consent or safe sex. Most (not all, there is sex-positive porn out there!) pornography depicts violent and dominating sexual acts without the context that these are two people consenting to role-playing a scenario. Rarely do we see protection or conversations about boundaries, safe words, or even “checking-in” during the act (like “does this feel good?”). Rather, we typically see a woman, sometimes a young girl, being dominated by one or more men without protection and without her consent. These are rape scenarios that we watch and get off on. Yes, that is normalizing sexual violence. Everyone has fantasies and fetishes, and it’s good to understand those, but within the context of safe, consensual sex with adults!

    Imagine a different kind of pornography: two adults (or more…) having a conversation about the kind of sex they’d like to have. “Yes,” they say, “let’s act that out. How about we come up with safe words?” And they use protection, and they check-in…! That is sex-positive. Until the porn industry gets it right, I agree with Pamela — down with it!

    You can always support local feminist sex-stores like the Smitten Kitten as an alternative.

  3. December 22, 2011 9:20 pm

    Thanks for the great comments and questions!

    Daniel – if you’re looking for more information about the effect that pornography has on society, here are some books you might like to check out: “Pornified” by Pamela Paul, or “Pornland” by Gail Dines. There’s also a film called “The Price of Pleasure” that takes a look behind-the-scenes of the billion-dollar porn industry. As for online resources, you may want to research some scholarly articles and research on this topic.

  4. Daniel O. permalink
    December 27, 2011 4:28 pm

    Thanks for the info! The reason I was asking for online recourses is that many people don’t always have the financial ability to purchase numerous books. I definitely agree that the pornography industry doesn’t have it right. I’m a queer person, so I really didn’t know a lot about the straight pornography industry until a few years ago. I agree, it’s almost completely awful, rape and oppression laden.

    Gay pornography definitely has it’s issues as well, to be sure, but it seems to me that there is more to offer in the form of consensual sex in gay pornography. It’s by no means perfect, but definitely several steps up from straight pornography.

    This is an interesting topic for me, as a viewer of pornography. I want to be sure that I’m taking the steps I need to take to make certain that I’m doing so responsibly.

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