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Porn: When did it become acceptable?

It’s a controversial topic and one that I was unsure of how to approach with my niece. Turns out, I didn’t have to start the conversation.

She’s home from university for the summer (I think that’s the right word) holidays. She came over to mine and we were sitting watching TV. I try to let that happen on occasions, otherwise there is the distinct possibility she becomes tired of the sound of my voice. So it’s the middle of a weekday and nothing is on, accept, of course, several episodes of the sitcom ‘Friends’.

You know ‘Friends’ right? Gentle comedy that used to grace us on channel 4 primetime, Rachel’s famous haircut, Joey’s silly womanizing and their slightly incestuous ways with one another. What hilarity. The show had its golden years, and then slowly dropped down the list of money-making channels, first E4, now Paramount Comedy and soon, channel Yesterday (quite apt). Friends is one of those shows that I switch on in the background and no longer laugh at, because I know what’s coming, but hey, it’s better than switching the TV off and actually having to ask your loved one how their day was.

It’s 2.30 in the afternoon and we were watching this episode – if you can’t be bothered watching, it’s the one where Monica thinks Chandler is into Shark Porn. My niece watched it, then turned to me and then back to the TV. I had no idea what was going on, I just hoped to God she wasn’t about to ask me if shark porn was real. But she then said this:

“How come this is on in the middle of the day and their depicting porn on it as something normal and acceptable – surely porn isn’t a thing to publicise?”

Now, I didn’t really have anything to say for a few seconds, because at this point I was wondering, why that hadn’t occurred to me and wondering how I had become so immune to what is a really valid point. I also realised I had been watching Friends since the age of 12.

In this episode, not only is it a funny anecdote, which to be honest, it sometimes can be, but it portrays a wife going to lengths to be part of her husbands ‘porn fantasies’ and being relieved when she realises it’s just “normal porn”. Just normal porn. wow.

That episode used to be on at primetime, so 9pm ish and is now on at 2.30 in the afternoon. I can understand why my niece asked this question.

Porn is one most contentious issues in feminist debates. To some it’s anti-feminist, to others it’s about choice and sexual freedom. Well, to the latter: you’re wrong. At this point if you disagree or are an arrogant male reader, you’ll say I am anti-sex and anti fun. You’re wrong there too. I am anti-exploitation – and an industry mainly owned by men, which makes money from sexual violence towards women is exploitative. Fact.

You’d think the debate would end there, but bizarrely it doesn’t. I embrace the debate and welcome the conversation of those who disagree, but in all of these conversations, I have never left feeling that my mind has broadened in any way or that I have a shifted my view-point. I have, however, always left feeling quite sad and lost for words. Porn isn’t feminist. By its very definition and by the industry in which it exists, it cannot be.

I’ve been to anti pornography training, which actually showed me more than I think I wanted to see, but was necessary to get the point across. How can we accept an industry which promotes objectification of women. If you were to google porn (if you’re at work or under the age of 18 – please, please do not actually do this) there are millions of sites, all of which use derogatory words towards women and are angled to men. How can we justify and industry which come with a list of categories which include, ‘rough and violent’, ‘slave’ or perhaps the one I was most uncomfortable with – “underage and willing”?

I’m amazed that this is a divisive issue in feminist circles. I just don’t understand how it can be. You can use the line: women should be entitled to choose this as an occupation, but the fact remains, choice isn’t usually how they get there. Countless research papers have provided evidence that women in pornography have been victims of violence and abuse, furthermore, research has also found signficant links between abuse in relationships and men who watch porn regularly (for more info on this go to the excellent organisation object’s website)

And let’s think about what the women look like in porn. Aside from the repulsive, school girl look, they are all hair free and more often than not, injected with a mighty lot of plastic. What is a teenage boy meant to think? False advertising mate, women don’t look like that, and more importantly, they’re not meant to. Poor, sad, confused teenage boy. What part of this is ok? None of it seems ok to me.

So thank you, producers and directors of Friends (who, I presume have all retired by now), you made a conversation that could have been difficult, somewhat easier, but could you have a read at this and then ask yourselves, why you put it in your show and more importantly, how something with such a derogatory beginning became so acceptable in the end.

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2 thoughts on “Porn: When did it become acceptable?

  1. Davegjones on said:

    To start with I’d like to say I’m neither pro-porn nor anti-porn, I’m porn ambivalent. In many ways I would compare the porn industry to the banking industry; both have expanded themselves into numerous areas of our lives in recent decades and due to a lack of regulation they have done terrible things with huge consequences. In my opinion the way to fix both is transparency. We want to know what’s going behind he scenes of our banks and we should want to know what is going on behind the scenes in porn. The recent obcenity trial (which was against two male performers) has highlighted a issue with one of the major criticisms of porn. They successfully claimed that if consenting adults commit legal sexual acts together then then recording and distribution of the acts shouldn’t be illegal (to over 18s obviously) neither should watching such acts. The tricky bit is the consent. Are the performs truly OK with all the acts they are performing. Sites such as Kink where cited and praised during the trail for their work, at the end of their videos (which are towards the extreme end to say the least) the performers discuss together what aspects they enjoyed and how they are fully consenting. But they are an exception. Until they become the rule people, mainly women, will be exploited. To make it become the rule we need transparency.

    The effects of porn on society are less clear than you make out. There are also studies that show that porn reduces the number of sexually violent crimes. The argument being that instead of going out and attacking someone these people will watch porn instead. The good people at freakonomics dedicate a chapter to this issue in their second book and if I can remember correctly they conclude that no conclusions can be made. There is not enough good data and far too many contradictions in the studies that have been done.

    To come back to the point of your article and the acceptability of porn. I believe the more acceptable porn is the more we can demand from it and the better it will be for all those involved in the making of it.

  2. I’m so glad you write this. Really, how can porn be acceptable on the notion that ‘women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies.’ I completely agree with the statement but the problem I have with the porn industry is that actually, women who go into it aren’t choosing to do it for themselves but to do it for men. Men run the industry and men are the majority of people who watch it in reality. It just annoys me that its talked about so casually and so many people jump to it’s defense!

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