Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20/Power in Pornography

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Sex work and the web (13885789827)

Neil Malauth, a psychology student at UCLA, calculated that 1 in 6 internet searches are Pornography.[1] This implies that the pornographic industry has the Power to impact a high number of internet users, shaping their views on sexuality in ways that can be both beneficial and damaging. However, as well as a sociological impact, Pornography also generates power dynamics in economics and health that manifest through inequal funds or access to health services. In this article, we will be using video pornography as a case study to exemplify how power affects these disciplines.

Sociology[edit | edit source]

This section looks at how certain social groups are empowered or disempowered through pornography.

Disempowering Pornography[edit | edit source]

Fluffer on set

Pornhub, among the most popular pornography websites, released its statistics for the year 2018. In the list of most searched categories, minority groups such as “Japanese”, “Ebony”, and “Lesbian” rank in the top 5, while others such as “Transgender” reside further down the list. This reflects the perpetual sexualization and fetishization of certain individuals based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, mirroring the power dynamics where one only exists through the lens of the majority as a sexual fantasy instead of an equal human being.

Titles of pornographic videos containing black, Asian or Latino actors are often very stereotypical and derogatory[2]. This not only encourages a caricatural understanding of these minority groups but it also greatly limits the opportunities of actors and contains them to a restricted set of roles. As stated earlier, transgender has become increasingly popular and mainstream and is now an important part of modern pornography[3]. However, transgender pornographic videos are synonymous with being machine-like sexual individuals, which is dangerous when this industry is one of the biggest in terms of transgender representation. This means young men, the targeted audience, get a false and and damaging portrayal of transgender people, leading to high rates of violence and sexual abuse against trans women. Indeed, the report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality shows that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime[4]. This reflects the power of pornographic videos to influence the viewer's mindset which creates scenes of vulnerability for minorities.

Empowering Pornography[edit | edit source]

An abstract depiction of a female human back

While the impact of pornography at representing certain groups is done at a small scale today, it's arguable that pornography isn't problematic by nature but by the way it is used. The idea that damaging pornography (that objectifies certain groups through discriminatory stereotypes) is a symptom of Discrimination and Objectification in wider society rather than an origin of the latter is a view shared between multiple pornography advocates.[2][3]

The main argument in defense of pornography is that it has the power to shift sexual narratives in favor of pornography that promotes consent and health in its practice and becomes a manifestation of minority advancement and empowerment.

This is what the arising field of ethical porn seeks to establish. This area of the industry validates more 'niche' sexual preferences, broadening the spectrum of sexual liberation. The driving view is the idea articulated by Cindy Gallop that, “When you force anything into the darkness, you make it much easier for bad things to happen, ... The answer is to open up.” [4]

This could explain why a study undertaken at Minnesota State University wrote: "Two qualitative studies have found that gay, bisexual, and queer men report very few negative effects of porn consumption.".[5] While pornography can be degrading for certain minorities, it also validates various sexual preferences that illustrate the capacity of pornography to empower certain groups.

Similarly, some Liberal Feminists use the influence of pornography as a medium for sexual liberation and personal fulfillment.[6]

The power within pornography is its nature as an outlet for people with particular sexual fantasies to escape repression and find liberation. Brian McNair introduces this notion in 2002 as the 'democratization of desire" in his book, Striptease Culture: Sex, media and the democratization of desire.[7]

Economics[edit | edit source]

The pornographic industry's revenues are estimated to be worth $97 billion a year globally.[8] This sum is divided amongst different talents such as writers, directors, sound technicians, actors, and more. However, as in many industries, inequalities of remuneration exist between different jobs which reflect the power dynamics of income inequalities.

The industry contains payment inequalities firstly between genders where, interestingly, men are paid less than women. An actress receives between $800 and $1000 per scene, while a man receives $500 to $600, almost twice as less.[9] This difference illustrates women's economic power over men in pornography as they are considered to be central to financial gain.

Ethnicity and sexuality also determine the remuneration of actors. Income can vary up to 40% depending on the ethnic origin of an actor. An actress from Eastern Europe gains 30% to 40% more than a French or English actress.

Furthermore, in the USA African-American actors gain nearly half as much as a caucasian actor.[10] A white actress can double her payment if she performs in a scene with a black man.[11] This is because these arrangements are considered "unusual" which increases their popularity.[12] These financial inequalities highlight the issue of power in economics.

Health[edit | edit source]

The area of health, concerning the wellbeing of actors, relates to the issue of power in pornography through inequality in access to services and influence over the use of preventive measures.

The lack of access to health resources for adult film actors results from the freelance nature of their work. As described by Danny Wylde, actors are paid for individual jobs. They, therefore, lack health insurance or any facilitated access to health services. Danny Wylde's career was ruined because of the industry's excessive use of Sildenafil (viagra).[13]

Erectile dysfunction (Erection)

There is an increase in STDs within the porn industry: nearly 50% of 168 actors studied were either tested positive to having chlamydia, gonorrhea or both.[14] These actors are exposed more frequently to STDs and STIs yet receive no health support once infected.

However, in the Netherlands, sex workers are "encouraged but not required" to have screenings for diseases and infections multiple times a year.[15] and are protected by free government-funded healthcare. This validates sex work as a profession and implies that adult film actors aren't faced with inequalities in access to healthcare.

Another representation of power in pornography is the disapproval of the use of condoms which undeniably increases transmissions between actors. A study found that filmmakers believe the use of condoms decreases the "marketability" of porn, resulting in a minimal percentage of heterosexual porn being shot using such preventive measures, encouraging workers to put themselves at risk.[16] These power dynamics within pornography pervade the disciplines of health and economics.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

It is clear that power is an issue that permeates a number of disciplines, in this case, economics, sociology, and health, which we have illustrated through the analysis of power dynamics and inequalities in the pornographic industry.

References[edit | edit source]