Categorized | Sex & Health

Porn: Exploitation or Exploration?

Two girls. One cup.
Those four words can spark many emotions depending on who’s hearing them: disgust, hatred, sickness, and dare I say, excitement or arousal? While the video is extremely hardcore and explicit, it nonetheless fits the category of pornography. And it’s a prime example of how pornography has permeated our everyday lives.

According to the Internet Filter Review, the pornography industry worldwide was nearing $100 billion in revenues in 2006, a number that has no doubt increased since this time. The line between what is considered pornography and what is considered obscene has blurred with the Internet video boom. And while more people might be watching the “Two girls. One cup” video in order to gross out their friends or roommates (or in some cases, their mothers), the fact is the advertising revenue gained for such a popular video is through the roof.

We know what’s going on behind the computer screen. What we don’t always know is what’s going on in front of the camera – or behind it, for that matter. And while the amount of time spent on pornographic Web sites has nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008, some would still argue porn is more about exploitation than exploration.

Women, gender and social justice professor Penny Gardner is one of those people. “My perspective on pornography as a feminist is that it’s misogynist, and it puts women in danger and incites violence against women,” said Gardner. “And I’m talking about the hardcore pornography that has women in chains or hurting the woman, that kind of stuff. I don’t know that much about pornography. It absolutely turns me off, and I’m not a prude at all.” Gardner’s views follow closely to those of feminist Andrea Dworkin, who wrote a series of books and articles calling pornography degrading toward and exploitive of women.

Dworkin’s main grievances were with the violent pornographic movies, comics and pictures that eroticized chains, hurt and pain. And with that, she claimed all pornography was demeaning toward women. She feared these materials caused more pain and led to women being sexual assaulted, raped and murdered.

Whether pornography has caused these attacks on women is inconclusive, but it is still a huge topic of discussion among feminists. “We’re a repressed culture, and we don’t like to see people’s sex or sexuality, putting the weird violent stuff aside,” journalism senior Pete Nichols said. “When we do, we have to find something wrong with it. When the women’s lib[eration] movement was rolling through the ’70s, that was an easy thing to point the finger at.” Nichols said porn as a whole can’t be completely anti-feminist because of the control so many women have in it.

Not all pornography puts women in compromising positions, whichever position they happen to be in. Sex can make women feel empowered or worshiped, but questions still exist about whether those feelings transfer when the sex is being viewed by someone else with other intentions.

“I mean, I think that a lot of women who are feminists aren’t opposed to porn, even people who would consider themselves die-hard feminists,” history professor Aminda Smith said. “It’s always been a really contentious issue within the feminist movement, whatever that means, because it’s not even a unified thing. And then, maybe feminist porn would be okay. But does it even exist?” The answer is yes and no. Some feminists have been committed to creating pornography they call feminist; this has been documented in “Hot and bothered: feminist pornography,” a movie about a group of women who create porn while still fighting stereotypes and sexism in the historically chauvinistic industry. Last year, the second annual Feminist Porn Awards was hosted by “good for her,” a self-proclaimed high-quality sex toy shop catering to females, in Toronto.

This trend toward porn that’s good to women is something the user may actually prefer. Nichols, who is a fan of the classic 1950s and 1960s pin-ups, thinks it’s a great idea. “For stuff like that to be effective, there has to be at least some kind of emotion in it,” Nichols said. “I really think that that’s a positive step forward. I think it’s brilliant.”

Some women argue the porn industry is quite often more than fair to women, especially when it comes to professionally produced videos. “It’s one of the very few industries – maybe the only industry – where, on average, women make more than men,” Smith said. “And some people would say, ‘Well, that’s not enough to make it worth it.’ But other people who are fighting for economic equality would say, ‘Women should have a right to engage in one of the only industries that gives them more money.'” Women as famous as star Jenna Jameson are pulling figures that no men in the business are. Her production company, Club Jenna, made more than $30 million in revenues in 2005, according to a Forbes article, and Jameson wasn’t putting out any new videos of herself. Former adult and actor and current owner of Baileey Productions, Inc., Baileey, thinks the entire porn industry is a bit misunderstood. His business has clients like Club Jenna and Playboy, and Web sites like Reality Kings. “It’s like any other business,” said Baileey, who works and lives by his stage name. “The government is coming down a little bit harder these days. But I don’t think it’s any harder than having any other business. I have to worry about my taxes, making sure [of] all my IDs and 2257s. I have to make sure that I abide by the rules of that 2257 law.” The 2257 law makes reference to records that businesses must keep, particularly in the pornography industry, to ensure children and minors are abstaining from both working in pornography and viewing content that is not legal for them to see. Other than that, Baileey addresses typical business concerns, with just a bit more nudity.

While it would originally seem the surplus of free video Web sites like the monster XTube (the porn world’s answer to YouTube) would be a detriment to professional porn, it doesn’t have quite the effect on pornography that downloading did to the recording industry. In fact, it is just the opposite. “It’s just encouraged [industry growth]. These Web sites make people want to see their favorite model or actor more, so they come to professional porn for that,” Baileey said. “It’s only increased the number of people viewing porn.” XTube claims to have more than 2 million users and as of July 2007, more than 5 million visits per day.

The explosion of porn sites is evident; some statistics state 12 percent of all Web sites are pornographic in some manner. “It’s kind of like with radio: there was AM and then FM. The Internet is kind of the FM for porn,” Nichols said. “Suddenly there’s a much broader scope. It’s expanding and at the same time becoming more particular. You now have sites that deal with very specific things.” Everything from rubber fetish to silver daddies to defecation porn are available without having to get out of a chair, not to mention the incredible amounts of user-uploaded content.

Sites like XTube have created a new and easy way for users to not only view professionally uploaded content, but real amateur content. Users are able to upload videos or pictures of themselves or others to this Web site for public display. People can explore their sexuality through idle viewing, or by actively commenting on or creating pornography themselves. However, the amateur uploads don’t supply the user with any type of financial support, even in such a lucrative business. Baileey who started as a paid amateur at 18, has since gone into production work because, as he said, you can’t stay in front of the camera forever. “To be honest with you, when I was in college, it paid for all my bills,” he said. “The money was fantastic and it allowed me to finish school with no worries and get my degree.” But that type of money isn’t being seen by the users uploading to sites like XTube. The answer to why people would use such sites may lie in an overarching trend in entertainment.

People are obsessed with reality. The number of reality television shows has sky-rocketed and there is a serious demand to see things that are perceived as real. “It just seems like amateur porn is just another facet of that,” Smith said. “And a lot of people have argued that amateur porn is partially responsible for our demand for stuff that feels really real, really authentic and really gritty – whether it be just people’s social lives or Real World and stuff like that. But I think it’s part of a larger trend, where a lot of consumers of entertainment are craving some kind of authenticity that they’re not getting from the really slick, really packaged things that were available before this. The ironic thing about all this is that sometimes the stuff is more packaged and more slick than some of the other stuff.” The demand for the realness has users feeling like they are wanted, and positive feedback on sexual prowess on- or off-camera can be a huge inflation to the ego.

Users of all ages, backgrounds, sexualities, ethnicities and even disabilities can represent themselves sexually on the Web and often find a fan or two. It’s diversifying the porn selection in a way that hasn’t been done before. “I’m not sure that the feedback a young woman would get from masturbating on camera or showing her breasts or her vulva, what kind of feedback would it feed her…would it make her stronger, would she be empowered by that?” Gardner said. “And would that empowerment be the kind of empowerment she needs to survive in a global community?” The women who break stereotypes and gender roles and still receive positive feedback may indeed feel empowered enough to survive in the global community.
Whether this is happening has yet to be determined, but if there’s any place for it, the Internet is it. “There’s always been porn in society, but it’s always been something to hide. You hide it in your sock drawer or in your brown paper bag,” Nichols said. “But now because of the Internet, it’s becoming more mainstream. Porn stars are well-known and famous. It’s more out in the open. And that’s a good thing because along with that, you’re going to get more safety and more control in the industry.”

Whether the videos you prefer are gross-out porn or someone masturbating while watching the latest from Club Jenna, porn is weaved throughout our culture. It has historically been viewed as degrading and humiliating toward women, while simultaneously being a rite of passage to exploring one’s sexual self on a personal level. The Internet has changed things forever: increasing the availability, the sheer number and the reality of pornography. Despite this rampant growth, Grandma might not be ready for “Two Girls. One Cup.” But if you choose to show it to her, make sure to videotape her reaction and upload it to YouTube.

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