There was a time as a sex-positive feminist I believed that women should be able to enjoy porn if it floats their boat, and that all other avenues for female sexual desire should be open as long as elements so fundamental to the world of feminism and sex – choice and consent – are present. But all that changed after watching Tim Samuels’ BBC documentary Hardcore Profits. As a person who doesn’t watch a lot of porn I don’t think about it a lot, but it doesn’t take much to scratch the surface of the porn industry to find that it does more damage than fulfillment.
Samuels’ documentary reveals mainstream pornography as a hugely lucrative business operating behind the respectable and wholesome image of mobile network companies and international hotel chains. But it is the globalisation of pornography, via black market DVDs and the internet, that has the shocking and deeply devastating effect on the developing world. In several parts of Africa, easily accessible hardcore porn turns men into rapists. In his film, Samuels visits a remote Ghanian village where boys view American-made hardcore flicks in mud hut cinemas:
The village has no electricity, but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists, with villagers relating chilling stories of assaults taking place straight after the film’s end. In the nearest city, other young men are buying bootlegs copies of the almost always condom-free LA-made porn – copying directly what they see and contracting HIV. The head of the country’s Aids commission says porn risks destroying all the achievements they’ve made. It’s a timebomb, he says.
Now, I’m not one for simplistic cause-and-effect in arguing that porn creates rapists in men the same way violent films and video games inspire murderous intent, but I will argue that without education and a culture that respects women and girls in a place where male dominance is the law of the land, pornography can indeed have a disastrous effect on the social fabric. South Africa, where pornography is legal and explicit material is available at news stands and on the street, has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world – a fact made worse by AIDS. But it is a society that views male sexual aggression and female passivity as erotic that accentuates the truth behind the statistics.
Sexual violence is commonly connected with sexual exploitation. And no matter what porn stars tell you; that they enjoy their work, have the freedom of choice and consent, the pressure to perform a wide variety of sexual acts (which gets more and more extreme by the day) and go condom-free is great.
I am now anti-mainstream pornography, and do not support the appropriation of feminist language that seeks to validate an “anything goes as long as it’s good for me” rhetoric in the politics of female sexual pleasure. I am, however, still a sex-positive feminist, and believe that sexual pleasure that is respectful and non-exploitative is important to the feminist experience.