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Opinion

Porn isn’t inherently problematic

Though overwhelmingly perverse, the medium can also empower women

The Internet has fundamentally changed the nature of pornography and our relationship with it. With a mere click, anyone can access millions of clips of hot, sweaty bodies, contorted in any number of positions, engaged in any number of sexual acts.

Many feminists criticize pornography as anti-woman, with some going as far as labeling it a form of sexual trafficking. Though the industry is rampant with corruption, pornography is not inherently harmful. In fact, the pornographic medium has the potential to expand our narrow view of female sexuality.

Pornography is a polarizing issue within the feminist community. Proponents argue that pornography is a means of empowering women. According to this logic, performers are merely owning their sexuality and should not be slut-shamed for making a personal choice. Recently, a Duke University student revealed to the world that she performed in pornographic films as a way to pay for college. Many feminist bloggers gave her accolades for her bravery.

Those who believe pornography is empowering to women need to remove their rose-colored glasses. There is nothing empowering about scenes portraying forced sex or rape. There is nothing empowering about scenes in which women are infantilized. Overexposure to these images can alter the way men see women and diminishes female personhood. The most extreme effect of overexposure is sexual dysfunction. With more than one third of 16- to 17-year-old boys intentionally viewing pornography online and 90 percent of 8- to 16-year-olds exposed to pornographic images, these scenes can have a lasting negative impact on the psyche of both genders.

In addition to the negative effects on viewers, female performers suffer greatly. First, clips in which victims of sexual trafficking are forced into sexual acts appear on major porn sites. Even if a performer gives initial consent, pornographic directors use economic or psychological vulnerabilities to coerce performers into performing sexual acts with which they are uncomfortable. While some porn superstars make millions, the average female performer is paid between a mere $600 and $1,000 per performance.

As a feminist, I believe that merely banning pornography is not the correct solution. First, such a ban isn’t feasible. Perhaps before the advent of the Internet such a ban was enforceable. But the existence of proxies and darknets make cutting off access to online pornography impossible. In the United States alone, the porn industry grosses $13.3 billion a year, and 42.7 percent of Internet users view pornography. The demand is high, and therefore content will be provided to meet that need despite government actions.

It is the responsibility of the feminist community to provide content to counterbalance the negative effects of mainstream pornography. While mainstream pornography portrays women primarily through the male gaze, female directors are developing “porn for women” and “feminist porn.” Rather than reinforce dominant stereotypes, these directors seek to complicate predisposed notions of sexuality and gender. They argue that their films aren’t merely intended to provide the viewer with pleasure, but to force them to think. In addition to providing alternative content, feminist pornographers make fair and ethical treatment of performers a priority.

Pornography is neither good nor bad. It is a medium that can be used to advance any number of ideas. Rather than attempt to destroy this medium, we can utilize it to expose both men and women to diverse sexualities. Because let’s face it: The market for feminist theory books will never come close to $13.3 billion. If young people are exploring their sexuality through porn, we must meet them at the source.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.