Pornography seems to be everywhere these days, from daytime television to the internet. However, how is this infiltration into our homes affecting our lives? In addition, how does porn portray men and women? Since pornography has become more prevalent, how it portrays the sexes will have some ramifications on society. What are these ramifications, if we can tell?
To find this out I have passed out surveys, both online and in person, asking various questions about porn and porn consumption. In addition, I interviewed two males about pornography. I also have looked at books and newspaper articles about pornography.
There were 23 female participants and 16 males. Of the males, nine make less than $20,000 a year, five make $20,000 to $50,000 a year, one makes $50,000 to $80,000, and 1 makes $80,000 to $100,000. Of the females, 14 make less than $20,000 a year, nine make $20,000 to $50,000 a year, and one makes $50,000 to $80,000 a year. No one who filled out a survey made more than $100,000 a year. Nearly half of the participants are college students, 8 males and 12 females. The other half consisted of one female who did not respond six males and six females with a high school diploma or GED, and two male college graduates and five female college graduates. The age range was 18 to 47, over half being between the ages of 18 to 26. Religious beliefs varied as well. There were one male and one female who are Agnostic, seven males and ten females who did not respond or wrote none for religion, one male Catholic, two males stated they practiced self worship, two male Baptist, one female Greek Orthodox, four female Pagan/Wiccan, two female Atheists, two males who are Taoist, and one female who labeled herself as practicing a religion as other. How these statistics affect their views on pornography will be looked at as well.
Gender of Participants
What is pornography? Since the public has had trouble defining it, it has been left up to the Supreme Court on numerous occasions, such as Ginzburg v. United States and Mishkin v New York (Gagnon 137). However, all that these cases really proved was what may be considered obscene. In the Ginzburg case, the Library of Congress had already translated one of the books in question, Fanny Hill, into Braille. According to The New American Webster Dictionary, pornography is obscene art, writing, etc. from the Greek word porn?, which literally means “the depiction of prostitutes (Morehead 524).” The use of the word dates back at least to Pompeii. This is extremely vague and can be left to interpretation. Nadine Strossen publishes another definition in Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights. In her book she quotes Catharine MacKinnon’s definition ass “Pornography, in the feminist view, is a form of forced sex, … an institution of gender inequality… [P]ornography, with the rape and prostitution in which it participates, institutionalizes the sexuality of male supremacy (Strossen 11).” Since there is such a vague definition, through out this text pornography will refer to text, pictures, video, or other media that depicts sexual intercourse and sexual activity.
In Indonesia, there is a debate between the Muslim clerics in charge and the public as to what should be considered pornographic. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono even recently stopped a singer from appearing at a presidential function because “her belly button was showing (Paddock 31).” This is addition to Playboy starting an edition especially for Indonesia. The editor, Erwin Arnada, stated they changed the content to fit the countries culture. The magazine contains no nudity, to the disappointment of many buyers. However, Islamic militants demonstrated outside the magazine’s main office. In America, however, the lack of nudity would cause this magazine not to be considered pornographic. This shows that even different cultures have different definitions.
In a discussion with a 27-year-old male, Chris, I brought up animated films with nudity and sexual intercourse. He stated that this was not pornography, just adult entertainment. On the other hand, Art, a 37-year-old male, said the opposite. His thoughts on the difference were “It just takes more talent to draw the animated porn.” When Art’s comment was brought up to Chris, he laughed and said “Yeah, but still, it’s not a naked chick doing a guy or two chicks doing each other.” Therefore, I asked Art what makes something pornographic. “Well, there’s going to be nudity, and you’ll at least see the chick’s pussy. Plus good porn will have sex. The soft stuff may just have oral (sex) or masturbation, but there’s some sort of sex.” This seems to be the consensus, pornography is very sexually charged.
When I brought up the subject of pornography to Art, he seemed almost giddy to discuss the topic. Art informed me that he has an intensive collection of porn, the videos varying in type, from a video where all the girls do is shave their labia to rape porn. His collection also includes severely obese women staring in the film and one film starring transvestites. Art stated that there is a pornographic film for all tastes. “It is a visual of what someone is already fantasizing about.” Then I asked him about the obese woman video and transvestites, he said, “I’m not into those two, I have those just because they are funny. You have to keep in mind someone out there will fantasize about those. I collect porn.” He left it at that for the day.
Neither male would comment on how pornography portrayed males and females. Their comments were all focused on why people watch porn and what types of porn exist. Art told me that people should be careful about how much pornography they consume. “Even though pornography goes back to ancient times, pornography can escalate the sexual drives of an individual an amazing rate. I honestly believe this is why we have rapist and pedophiles.” Chris made similar comments stating that pornography can be like a drug quoting Glen Beck “about 10% of adults are addicted to porn where as only 7% are addicted to alcohol. I’d say that is something to look into.”
From the Theater to the Home
Pornography used to be seen in a seedy theater with sticky floors. Someone might see you walking into the theater and your repetition would be ruined. So when did pornography go from the theater to inside our homes? Paul Fishbein went on the Glen Beck show and stated “it’s technology. It’s the invention of the VCR and, in the late 1970’s, people getting VCRs for their home for the first time and then wanting to see an adult movie and not having to go out in public and not having to have their neighbors see them.” With technology evolving as it has, the medium in which porn is viewed has evolved as well, through DVDs and the internet, the next stage being your cell phone.
As pornography has made its way into our homes, it has become more mainstream and seemingly more acceptable. With the stigma fading from pornography, it has started to proliferate daytime television. During a 3 p.m. episode of What I Like About You, a television series on the CW, a channel anyone with a television antennae can watch, started an episode with character Valerie Tyler talking about a pornographic film with her boss at the end of a date. She can be quoted as saying to her date “Who knew people would be so interested in porno?”
Another show that has brought up pornography is The Man Show. Comedy Central, a cable channel, developed the show specifically for males. One of their bits on the show, starring Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Corrola, stars adult film stars showing viewers how to do small things around the house. This skit usually shows the actresses cleavage; she loses her shirt, amongst other things that expose the adult film stars body that on regular television would be very inappropriate.
Cable television has made including pornographic references easier due to the leniency of cable. On Cartoon Networks late night segment “Adult Swim,” several shows recently showed references of varying degrees to pornography. On the new show Metalopalypse, the band the show is about is invited to appear at the pornography industry’s equivalent of the Emmy’s. In this episode, the lead singer almost causes the band this “wonderful” opportunity due to his controlling girlfriend who is against pornography. His girlfriend falls down several flights of stairs and is in a coma so the band is able to attend the event. Another instance on “Adult Swim” of pornography being used in the plotline is on the show 12oz Mouse, a show about a green mouse and a gerbil. In one particular episode, the city is being attacked and the attackers make a point to fire upon the 18-wheeler labeled and carrying pornography. In another show on the late night programming block, “Family Guy,” Adam West chases a pizza delivery guy threw town shooting cats at him. On one shot, Adam shoots out the window of the pornography store. Chris, the 13-year-old son on the show, and some of his friends rush into the store and still some pornography. They take the films back to Chris’s house to watch but get busted by Louis, Chris’s mom. She asks why they are watching the films and are they not learning about sex at school. Chris replies no. In this instance, the pornography was used to open up the topic of safe sex with teenagers, but the other instances seem like plugs for pornography, just like Brad Pitt would plug one of his movies on a television news programs.
The Man Show’s love of the female porn star is only escalated by their use of barely clothed females dancing around their stage. These images combined with other television shows use of scantly clad women as background and set props contributes to the body image problems that plague young America. American porn stars and dancers on male centered shows are top heavy with large breast and tiny waist and extremely skinny. This is in addition to the images that bombard us everyday through the media.
One of the questions asked in my online survey was “How does porn represent men/women?” The answers were interesting. Most people agreed that women were viewed as sexual objects and men as the dominator in the sexual situation. However, I would like to share their insight into these representations of males and females through the eyes of casual porn viewers.
Daxx, 31, watches porn approximately once a month. Daxx said, “I feel porn represents men as being dominant figures in our society. Well, not just in our society, but other societies (as well) dealing with human sexuality. When you look at most of the porn that’s out there, the men are mostly in control. There is no doubt that this is a market that was designed and created by males.” Daxx then shared his opinion of how women are presented in pornography, “There is a sort of a double standard that is present that exists on all levels when dealing with how porn represents women. The representation in which I speak of has a subliminal stigma attached to it. Society has always viewed women as less, especially when there is a sexual deviant involved. Porn also represents women as being submissive.” His opinion of women being presented as submissive was shared with many who answered the question.
Donna, 23, who says she views pornographic material maybe three times a year, stated that she felt men were represented poorly since most of the films “focus on the women.” She also stated that she felt that porn represented women well, focusing on her pleasure. Brandon, 23, who views pornographic material once or twice a week, agreed partly, but stated this is not a norm in the industry; women are also “portrayed as empty headed sluts who’ll drop their panties at the earliest opportunity.”
Rob, 30, who views pornographic material a few times a week, seemed to have the most comprehensive answer to the question as to how pornography portrays men and women. Rob wrote, “I think in both cases it represents the gender as an unattainable ideal, while still making them unemotional figures. Men are nothing more than grunting machines pounding away on interchangeable women that are for the most part just a piece of meat. The men are all well endowed and able to have sex for hours on end and the women are all able to engage in a variety of sexual acts that the majority of society will take no part in. This leads men to wonder why they can’t find a woman that will do all the things they’ve watched and women wondering why all men aren’t the stallions they see on the videos.” Rob did not include the variety in the pornography industry; however, most people only stick with the form of pornography they are comfortable with.
It should be noted that two respondents are involved in the making of pornography. Cody and Amanda, both 26, have different views on pornography’s representation of males and females. Cody stated that he felt pornography portrayed men as “studs (as in horses)” and women as “real people behind closed doors, although sometimes it does get degrading.” Amanda on the other hand “hardly notices” the men in pornography because she “notices the girls more.” She stated that pornography represents women as “sexually open, free, fun loving.” Having the input of individuals involved in making pornography should be included here. We now have an inside view.
A Comparison between two Pornographic Films
On any given night, you can see the commercial for the Girls Gone Wild videos. These videos are shot during such events as spring break where 18+ females ask how they can get one of the t-shirts with the shows logo on it. The young women are usually drunk, in one scene the girl was so drunk she could barely walk, when they ask this. The guy who runs the show asks the girl to do various acts, such as remove clothing, masturbation, and occasionally kiss another girl. Some of the females do no need his prompts and will do what they believe they should do to get a t-shirt. The girls in these films are not actors. There are no men on screen, but the voice off camera is one that directs the female and dominating by telling the female what to do. The only things disturbing about the films are that they would allow the extremely inebriated female to participate. By law, she should not have been allowed to get that intoxicated. The other thing is these girls are only getting a tank top for their exploits on film that may come back to haunt them later. Since they are drunk, they may forget that they participated except for the shirt.
The reality is that young females are doing these kinds of behaviors with out the prompts of the creator of Girls Gone Wild. If one goes to a college party or a high school party where alcohol is being served, the females will do some of these types of behaviors. It is known that alcohol lowers inhibitions and that this can lead to being more sexual, including bisexual behaviors even when the female is not bisexual.
I viewed another video that contained only females. Titled Pink Velvet 3, it is a foreign film out of a Spanish speaking country. This film contains a plotline that follows a mother and daughter and their lesbian sexual exploits in the hotel they run. The video hardly shows open vaginal shots like most American pornographic films. The majority of shots of the vaginal area are covered, shadowed, or are from afar. There is more concern for the pleasure of the women than in their sexual organs. This concern is reflected in the cinematography of the film. The majority of females in the film were young, between the ages of 18 and 21, with the exception of the mother character.
This film seems to depict women as very sexual and in control of their sex lives. They know what they like. When their partner does something they like sexually, they encourage them with the touch of their hand. In many American pornographic films the male’s performances is the focus. The female is being pleased, but many times, such as in The Young and the Filthy, she is being submissive to the male, allowing him to do what ever he pleases. Since there are no males in the film, the females are pretty much equals during the sexual acts depicted in the film. Even if the film had been recorded in English, it would have been obvious that it was not American do to how the women interacted with one another and the cinematography.
The Young and the Filthy video may be viewed by some as degrading. The basis of the video is that females are very young. The video does state several times that all of the females in the video are 18 or older at the time the video was recorded. The girls have lollipops and wear stereotypical “school girl” clothes. The man in the video is extremely aggressive and some may view his actions as violent since he grabs the girls by the throat, gags them with his penis to the point they are spitting up on themselves afterwards, and then throwing them down on the couch after gagging them. The male talks down to the girls asking them if they love their “da-da” and things of that nature. The females seem to enjoy this behavior and submit to the male and do as they are told or made to do by force. They smile as much as one with a full mouth can. This particular film depicted men and women to the extreme of the two stereotypes previously mentioned.
Amanda wrote in her survey “I think porn is undying and could never be stopped. The more it is oppressed the more it will get weirder and the more it will be wanted.” She also included that she feels that pornography has a neutral effect on society. “Sex sells, it drives us. I mean I don’t want my five year old looking but I also know that hormones drive us.” Cody said that pornography is having a positive effect on society by helping people shed their shame. He stated that there was no place for shame. In addition, he stated that as someone just getting started in the porn industry, there are many laws and rules to learn. “It is an industry you don’t want to jump right into… It is a business and should be treated like one. Other than that, yeah, it can be fun to watch from time to time.”
The effect porn has on us is seen as both positive and negative depending on who you ask. As seen above, each individual has a separate opinion. In the surveys, many stated there was a neutral effect. Rob stated that he feels pornography has a positive affect on society. “It allows people to see things that they otherwise would not be allowed to see, and gives an outlet for people with unorthodox fantasies.” Brandon said that he does not think that porn itself is the problem but rather society’s reaction to it. He concluded that pornography is simple entertainment, having no intrinsic value beyond that. Many stated that pornography is having a neutral effect. The main argument is that it is up to the individual to make proper decisions in regards to their pornographic intake.
There were those who were very adamant about the negative affects pornography is having on society. Kim, 31, who has viewed pornographic material maybe four to five times in her entire life, stated that women are portrayed as “degrading, sexual objects where men are portrayed as masculine, dominant figures.” She went on to say that, she does not like pornography because it “defies what sex was meant to be according to the Christian religion.” Sara G., 23, who does not view pornographic material, agrees with Kim that pornography portrays sex in a way other than natural.
Sara M., 23, who views pornographic material every few months or so, thinks that pornography, is having a negative effect. “With rising commercialism and our disposable culture, I think that it is generally cutting out the art of erotica and advocating the ‘quick fix’ of porn. With this are several areas where the art of sex is no longer an issue, but involves almost childish approaches to getting off quickly, including the marginalization of others. Since rape is an expression of power, I can only think that this cannot be healthy according to the porn I myself have seen.” Sara’s statement shows that there is such a wide variety of pornographic material that it can be easy to only see one type if one only watches porn once every few months if that often, such as she has.
Amber, 26, who watches pornography about three times a week, stated that she thinks that the affect goes along with the rest of Hollywood and projects a negative female body image. Tara, 25, who watches pornography once to twice a week, added that “I think it is having a negative effect on society for the simple reason that it gives people certain expectations about how sex is like and what people are supposed to look like and how to act.” Jenny, 25, who rarely watches pornographic material, agreed with both. Rachel, 22, who views pornographic material once every couple of weeks, stated it has a neutral affect. “It doesn’t affect me. I think people make way too much emphasis saying that porn is bad and that it is demeaning to women, but it’s the woman’s choice to do what she wants.”
Who is saying this behavior is sexually overt? America went through Puritan cycles where women have been marginalized compared to times past. America is country of immigrants, many from Europe. Much of Western European culture is based on the culture of ancient Greece and Rome. Those cultures were known for their overt sexuality. Even with the onset of Christianity, much of Western Europe still held onto Rome’s sexual liberation. However, sects of Christianity did not carry on these principals and some moved to America. This was the beginning of the Puritan attitude towards sex and sexuality in America. As immigrants from different areas of the world came to America, the attitudes toward sex and sexual display changed as well. The next time that Americans overtly covered up sexuality was the Victorian period. Some argue we are in the process of going through another one of these periods. There are the anti-pornography campaigns that have tried to make all nude pictures, even those that are art, illegal.
Society is changing and evolving everyday. On the morning news on TXCN cable channel 38, there was an article about how people are checking their email among other things with their Blackberry cell phone. Technology is progressing quickly, to the point if you blink your eyes you will miss the next big thing. Technology has been assisted by pornography, a fact that many people are either not aware of or refuse to look at. The proliferation of the VCR and DVD player into our homes directly corresponds with the infiltration of pornography. It has been proven that pornography is the reason that these new technologies became so widely used.
Pornography is not going to disappear. It has existed since at least ancient Greece and Rome and still exists today. It is hard to tell how it has changed over the millennia since many “heathen” text were destroyed during the conversion of Europe. Nonetheless, the amount of pornography and the ease of acquirement has never been at these levels. Pornography is like beauty, and is in the eye of the beholder, the appropriateness and extremities that it goes to vary by taste.
Shows directed specifically at men tend to portray women the most sexually. They show women in the least amount of clothes and mention pornography the most, for example The Man Show previously on Comedy Central. These shows portray women as purely sexual objects, as in the case of the “Juggies” on the show and the bit about adult stars with household tips. These two instances focus more on the women’s bodies than on any other part of the woman.
The effect pornography is having on society is debatable. Depending on the individual views and values of each person determines how they view the affect of the industry on society. Of those surveyed, many thought the pornography industry was either having a positive or neutral affect. Again, this is a matter of perspective. Depending on upbringing and preferences, one will view the affects differently. With pornography infiltrating our homes in unusually large amounts and increasing daily, it is hard to tell how this will affect our society. It will take at least a generation to truly tell, since those partaking in the pornography and those not at this time are blinded by what they are presently experiencing. However, sexually infused advertising has been seen to cause young people to act and dress more sexually overt.
In conclusion, pornography cannot be truly seen as positive or negative on society. Seeing as it has been around for millennia, we know that will not be going anywhere, even with legislation. What needs to be addressed is how men and women are portrayed in the genre. There needs to be more realistic image set in these films and pictures that if people want to measure their lives against them, it would be more accessible and less damaging.