Punk Science: Let’s talk about porn

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Courtesy of Opal Savoy

Welcome back, my fellow punk scientists! This week I have a special topic to bring to your attention, one that is probably both incredibly relatable and also incredibly awkward all at the same time. I am of course talking about porn.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and examine this with a few statistics before we go ahead and dive off the deep end into the world of adult entertainment. First off, according to Swedish Porn Activist Erika Lust in her TEDx talk about the subject, in 2013, nearly one third of the world’s internet traffic was porn. How about that for trivia? Our next factoids come from a 2019 opinion piece in the Guardian in which is presented the following: the average time spent on a porn site is ten minutes and thirteen seconds. Next, in the same piece, the writer notes that the porn industry probably makes around 15 billion dollars or more a year. By comparison, Netflix only makes around 11.7 billion and Hollywood in its entirety comes in at 11.1 billion.

That’s some pretty hefty data for something that makes people gasp or titter behind their hand at dinner parties. Considering that porn has been around for tens of thousands of years in one form or another, however, these numbers shouldn’t prove as shocking given our level of information technology.

So, what’s the point of all this? Well, the thing about porn in its current iteration is that, for the most part, it’s made for and consumed by heteronormative, middle-aged men. Seeing as how that leaves out a large portion of the rest of the world, you can begin to see how this might develop into a bit of a thorny problem. Add on top of that the concept that a large portion of young people today learn about sex through the consumption of porn and we’re staring at a crisis of sexuality on a global scale.

Time for our readers to take a moment and conduct a simple mental survey before we continue. As you’re reading this article, what are some of the thoughts that you might be having right now regarding porn? Do you feel represented or alienated by the actors and actresses in porn? For now, at least, keep those thoughts in your head as you read along. You might find that you have a different concept of porn moving forward.

One of the first problems that comes across when looking at porn and people’s perceptions of it is representation. As mentioned previously, most porn is made for a heteronormative male audience and as such, many minorities get tossed to the wayside or are exploited for a small portion of the population’s pleasure. Women, LGBTQ+ people and people of varying races and sexual orientations often find themselves the victims of stereotypes and fetishism in mainstream pornography. Many of the performers don’t have a lot of agency over themselves or their content which makes the porn industry an unpleasant place to work for those that fall outside of the “societal norm.”

Enter feminist porn. A growing movement in the porn community is being led by a wave of liberal feminism that is looking to change how the world watches and perceives porn. How is feminist porn any different from regular porn, you might be wondering? Well, again, look in your own mind for a minute and ask yourself that question. You probably have some opinions about what feminist porn might be, whether you’ve heard about it or not. The reality is, there are some specific rules when it comes to feminist porn as laid out by the Feminist Porn Awards held in Toronto, Canada. In order to qualify as feminist porn, a piece must feature all the following:

#1: Women must be involved in the production, conception, and direction of the piece.
#2: The piece must depict real female orgasms and all performers, especially women, must have agency.
#3: The piece must have a more diverse cast, including women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and members of any or all races and sexual orientations.
#4: The piece must somehow challenge the tropes of mainstream porn and expand sexual representation on film.

This all sounds pretty good right? Given the relationship that many have with mainstream porn, a diverse and inclusive alternative sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Not only that, but often in feminist porn, the relationship between sex and violence is often absent which makes for a safe and autonomous environment, a crucial piece of sexual freedom and health.

In another TEDx talk with speaker Olivia Tarplin, feminist porn seeks to treat itself and those who work in it as if they were a fair-trade system. For context, go look at the tenets of regular fair-trade and then apply them to porn and you’ll get a pretty good idea why this is important.

For now, I’ll stop there and leave you with these few points. Depending on the reception of this week’s column, I may do a follow up for the next issue that looks at some of the other aspects of porn. For now, keep challenging the ideas in the world around you. Until next time, farewell from Punk Science: where
we’re making science cool again.