Last week was Triple J’s ‘Porn Week’, with a special focus on stories about pornography and “discussing all things porn”, promising to examine “every facet of pornography”.
Perhaps a thorough examination of every facet would include a discussion about sexually violent content in pornography, including frequent acts of aggression, cruelty and humiliation of women, the normalisation of a male dominance/female subordination paradigm, or a critical look at the sexist and racist tropes that are commonplace in porn.
Maybe it would include accounts of mistreatment from female pornography performers, citing abuse and exploitation within the industry and being raped during production or high rates of suicide among performers.
It might also include a conversation about the experiences of women and girls growing up in a ‘porn culture’, with growing numbers reporting sexual coercion in their intimate relationships with men and boys, and pressure to submit to unwanted, painful or degrading sex acts.
Maybe a segment would be devoted to the potentially devastating impacts of children’s early exposure to hardcore pornography and how it shapes their attitudes and sexual practices. The quadrupling of child-on-child sexual assaults attributed to pornography, reports of girls as young as twelve requiring medical treatment for sex-related injuries, or more recently, the sixteen-year-old girl forced to get a colostomy bag after rough group sex
But there was no meaningful discussion of any of this.
Rather than engaging with legitimate criticisms of the pornography industry, or a growing body of research documenting how pornography harms women, children and men, Triple J instead promoted pornography use with articles like “How porn can be a positive force in your relationship” and “Porn, kinks and kink-shaming: You're not weird for watching the porn you watch”, just weeks after publishing a piece entitled “So you want to book a sex worker”, with instructions and advice on the ins and outs of purchasing sex.
What could have been a frank and much-needed examination of pornography felt more like a week of free PR for the sex industry.
Viewing rape porn "nothing to be ashamed of"
The article “Porn, kinks and kink-shaming” reassures readers that it is both normal and acceptable to masturbate to rape and incest porn- that these are “kinks” and “nothing to be ashamed of”. Masturbating to the physical abuse of women is framed as a matter of individual preference, and kink advocates quoted in the article warn against “kink-shaming” or “demonising” consumption of this material. Porn is, we are told, “only a fantasy”.
But it’s not just a fantasy. Fantasy occurs in the mind. When acts of sexual violence and cruelty are carried out on the bodies of living women, this ceases to be a fantasy and becomes reality. A porn scene featuring a woman being choked cannot be produced without an actual woman being choked on camera. That’s not fantasy, that’s a man’s actual hands around a woman’s actual neck, actually choking her.
It’s also not merely fantasy when it happens to women outside of pornography. A recent US study found a quarter of women surveyed have felt scared during sex. A number of these said their partner had tried to choke them without warning. Researchers in London studying heterosexual anal sex among teenagers found a climate of coercion, and that young people rarely spoke about anal sex “in terms of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”.
Eurydice Dixon’s killer Jaymes Todd was this week sentenced to life in prison for her rape and murder. The court heard that Todd watched violent pornography before and after raping and killing the young comedian, and that Todd was addicted to a fantasy of coercive rape, including fantasies of death, and searched for snuff films online, in which people are killed. Was Jaymes Todd’s preference for pornography depicting rape and extreme violence against women, even murder, a mere “kink”? Was it a coincidence that a man who was obsessed with porn depicting the sadistic rape and murder of women carried out these same acts against a real woman?
Triple J promotes "ethical" porn
Another segment was dedicated to ‘ethical’ porn, with a visit to a Sydney porn set. So-called ethical or feminist porn is often positioned as a positive alternative to run of the mill misogynist and male-dominated pornography. But the bar for what constitutes ‘ethical’ porn is very low, and typically only refers to conditions of production, such as fair compensation and labour conditions, representation of diverse body types and sexualities, consent and authenticity.
The actual content in ‘ethical’ or ‘feminist’ porn may be indistinguishable from violent and abusive mainstream porn. Rather than showcasing more egalitarian or non-violent content, degradation and acts of physical violence against women such as slapping, gagging and strangulation are still found in ‘ethical’ porn. Does this sound all that ethical? And if ethical porn truly exists, is anyone interested in watching it?
Dr Meagan Tyler, Senior Lecturer at RMIT, argues that the notion of ethical porn is a cynical attempt to make porn companies look like good corporate citizens.
“It’s a marketing ploy and an exercise in obfuscation,” she says.
"It's for a small segment of consumers who would like to think that their pornography consumption is unproblematic and they would like to think that what they are doing is totally different from what others are doing when, in reality, it all feeds the same commercial sex industry."
“It speaks volumes about how much pornography has colonised our understandings of sex that we can only imagine the possibility of a (potentially) slightly less harmful pornography, not a happy life without pornography at all.”
Were any researchers who have analysed the harmful impacts of pornography, especially in young people in their sexual development, consulted? Or was it only those in favour of porn consumption, including those with vested interests in the industry? ABC is a publicly funded broadcaster, and Dr Tyler says we need to ask questions about who commissioned this discussion, and under what circumstances.
“Triple J ‘Porn Week’ [is a] week long advertorial for why porn is great - we can’t ignore the intersections of men’s violence against women and intimate violation of women and the multi-billion dollar global pornography industry.”
We need to have honest conversations about the realities of pornography and our engagement with it. Porn Week was a platform for pro-pornography indoctrination, and many more women and girls will suffer as a result.