Pornography: A Personal Feminist Battleground

Photo by Polly Bycroft Brown

I’ve just written a new play.

It talks about porn a lot, and it’s targeted at 13 year-olds.

Lots of people would view this as controversial, but with most boys accessing pornography online by eleven, sixteen year-old lads with erectile dysfunction and the prominence of a pervasive rape culture, I think what we’re doing is nothing less than a public service!

Regardless of whether it offends our sensibilities, or contradicts our views about childhood, all children are being exposed to pornography. Even those who have not actively looked will most likely have been added to social media groups where these type of videos are shared – and that’s before we even start to examine the pornification of the mainstream media. Messages which suggest that women and girls’ bodies are solely objects for male pleasure are everywhere.

From the tone of my writing, you might assume that you can tell some things about me. As you may suspect, I’m white, married, in my 30s, live in the Home Counties and am a mother. What you may not realise is that I have always been very sexually liberal, and consider myself to be body positive, sex positive and am openly bisexual. If you had asked me my views about pornography five years ago, I would have talked about our rights to express ourselves sexually, the long history of erotica and the need for women to create pornography of their own as an antidote to the prevalent male gaze. I would have dismissed any opposition to porn as a restriction of our liberties and a policing of women’s bodies.

So, what has changed?

While researching for this play, alongside talking to large numbers of young people aged 12-19 years, I have looked at quite a bit of porn – My job is weird sometimes! When I say porn, I mean mainstream, easily accessible free pornography available to any young person with a smart phone without filters, not ethical, feminist, pay-for-it niche sites. I typed the word ‘porn’ into Google and saw what popped up, which I’m guessing is what many curious young people do.

There is a vast array of material, which young people can click between in an instant.

Here’s what I discovered:

Categories: All porn sites catergorise their content, making it easier for users to find their personal preferences. Pornhub state that the most searched for term is overwhelmingly ‘teen’, with ‘milf’ and ‘lesbian’ coming in second and third. The fetishisation of youth is evident everywhere.

It is, of course, illegal to promote pornographic material featuring people under 18, but there are countless ‘barely legal’ images with young women who may or may not be of age. The brutal reality of these sites is that it is very difficult to know whether those taking part have consented, and are old enough to make those decisions.  Even older performers largely subscribe to the hairless genital look, making young people think that their pubescent bodies are weird, ugly or dirty. Many young girls we talked to believed removing pubic hair to be cleaner – it isn’t.

With these catergories alone, we can see that porn normalises sexual behaviour in very young people and gives them unrealistic and destroyed views of what their bodies, and those of their partners, should look like.

Bodies: It’s about more than just body image. Many pro-porn campaigners will say that because porn promotes a variety of different body types (eg. different skin colours, sizes, ages), it is a highly inclusive art form. Whatever you are into, you will find. This is, to an extent, true, although there is still something of a “pornstar” look (i.e. boob job, no pubes) which dominates. However, what they are missing is the way in which porn assumes bodies are ready to be sexual at a moment’s notice.

Contemporary porn rarely includes any narrative, and largely excludes foreplay in its entirety. Many young women I know had miserable first sexual experiences, because they need to feel relaxed and that they need to feel turned on for their vaginas to become wet, in order to make penetration possible. Basic understanding of the female anatomy is sorely lacking. This is one of the things I have talked to lots of workshop groups about. Boys are always very quiet when I explain. They don’t want to hurt their partners, but due to watching porn, they assume that’s all there is to it.

Kinks: Everyone is different and unique; we don’t all like the same food or music so, it stands to reason, we don’t like our sex the same way either. Embracing our sexual preferences or kinks in an open and non-shaming way is great. However, mainstream internet pornography moves what would have been considered fetish or at least unusual sexual activity into the mainstream. I broke every rule in the sex educator’s handbook by talking about my own sex life when I told a group of 15 years-olds that I have never had anal sex. I made it clear that lots of people do and, if done safely by consenting adults of any gender or sexuality, it was normal and healthy, just not for me. Some of them were genuinely shocked. Anal sex is seen as so mainstream that girls are actually being labelled as weird or prudish if they don’t want to do it. I thought it was important for someone to tell them that not everyone does this, and they shouldn’t assume their partner wants this without asking first. They were genuinely surprised! It doesn’t stop there. Content of choking, strangling and multiple men with one woman, often simultaneously, are easily accessible too, and that’s really dangerous.

So yes, I have come to the conclusion that I would prefer it if young people weren’t watching porn, and that it distorts their view on sex and relationships dramatically. As we can’t stop this from happening, we need to talk to them about it.

‘Losing It’ Public Gala, Friday 16th June –