There have recently been a number of programmes and articles discussing the notion of ethical porn. The BBC aired a three part series called Porn Laid Bare in which a group of young people travelled to Spain to take a closer look at the pornography industry, their porn consumption and their beliefs and values. Channel 4 aired a programme Mums Make Porn where five mums collaborated on their own porn film aimed at challenging the norms in pornography and presenting a film they would want their own children to see. In addition there have been a number of radio programmes questioning the adult film industry and I feel encouraged to a degree that people are starting conversations about the morality, ethics and values communicated through pornography. However, I am also dismayed. Mums getting together and making a porn film that they feel holds ‘healthy values’ - are you for real?! Porn is fake. It’s never authentic because, whatever anyone says, it has been created to make money.
Feminist pornographers such as Erika Lust are making porn intended to be from the ‘female gaze’. Apparently these films feature a story, and performers should be valued. The films are about the arousal of women as well as men. But whatever Erika wants to broadcast about the porn she is making, ultimately she is still making money out of sex. For me, sex is not and never should be something that can be traded or bought. Sex is about connection, intimacy and honesty - it is not a performance.
The need for what we do continues because, as much as people are questioning the pornography industry, these debates seem to centre on the consequences for performers. Don’t get me wrong, we need to have discussions about the implications of the industry on performers and those who work in the world of porn. But critically we also need to start questioning the morals, values and ethics for the consumer, especially when they are school aged children. What does it mean for the viewer who is being satisfied by watching other people have sex? Ultimately their desires are being hardwired to a computer screen. Their experience is not about connection because who are they going to connect with? They are watching porn by themselves to satisfy themselves and no one else is involved other than the distant performers on screen.
Young people are at increasing risk of becoming a generation of voyeurs. People seeking endless novelty with multiple tabs open, viewing any act imaginable and doing all of this completely alone. We have millions of young people who may not have even had their first kiss, yet have viewed incredibly explicit pornography online. What does this mean for their sexual development? Surely young people are emotionally and mentally confused by all of this. They inherit unrealistic ideas and expectations before they even embark on their first relationship. What is this going to mean for their future relationships and their ability to form healthy and lasting relationships.
I listened to a debate recently where a pornographer and lawyer said they were happy for people to watch pornography which shows simulated rape as long as it's not hurting anyone! How can that sort of behaviour not be hurting anyone? It's hurting lots of people, even if a performer has 'consented' to this act they are physically and emotionally living it, they are being debased and humiliated in the name of entertainment. As Eleanor Mills of the Sunday Times said, porn is a “smorgasbord of unimaginable depravity.” Are we ok with people consenting to these acts for a living? Are we ok with people viewing this for pleasure?
I recognise there are people out there saying "Well, what about consenting couples who film themselves having sex and then upload it online?" I would say that those couples are likely to be still making money from their content and I don’t think sex should ever be commodified. In addition, it is still focused on creating spaces for others to be sexually satisfied by themselves. It's all about me. We are living in a generation where all we are focused on is individual needs, about getting what I want when I want it. What about connection with others, what about their needs. We have become so self-focused, we've forgotten to consider anybody else.
I recognise that there are plenty of people viewing porn or people who work within the adult film industry who enjoy it. They find porn pleasurable and they don't see how they're hurting anyone else. And for performers and I guess for many people in society, every time we share intimate acts with someone we give part of ourselves to them. We can't get that back. The more we share that part of ourselves we deduct from its value, sex becomes less meaningful. Sex is no longer safe, it is no longer authentic, there aren't any boundaries anymore, so how on earth do we protect our hearts. And as we fritter sex about, sex becomes ultimately about getting a fix, a high in an instant, rather than about intimacy. And I say to viewers that you are hurting yourself every time you view it because it's not a relationship, it's about people being products. It's about objectifying the people on screen. If that was your daughter or your brother or mum how would you feel. It's hardwiring you to experience a fraudulent form of sex that means that whilst you may experience pleasure in the short term you can no longer find pleasure in real connection with a partner.
At Love Matters we want to encourage people to seek an alternative to viewing porn, to help people to get back to connecting with real people, permanence in real relationship rather than the titillation and transience of online content. We want to see young people forming healthy bonds with others, developing respect, honesty and a willingness to give up time to see a relationship flourish. We also believe in hope and restoration, we believe that whatever someone might have seen, heard, partaken in they can renew, they can start again. People can choose to stop watching porn. People can set up safeguards on their computer, they can get accountable to others, they can seek counselling, they can join a support group. We are not powerless. We do not need to be defined by our past, wasn’t it Jesus who said come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Let us seek rest, let us seek hope, let us seek transformation.
Written by Kate Mitchell, Co-Founder and CEO of Love Matters