- Sexual Politics Now - http://www.sexualpoliticsnow.org.nz -

Pornography: Driving Consumption and Shaping Appetites

‘Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography’ [1] sensitively broaches the subject of misogyny and its infusion within mainstream pornographic material. Within a social context where a ‘male sexual drive discourse’ perpetuates a ‘need’ for male gratification, pornography appears to ‘sate’ these appetites. However, as pornography producers working from a business driven model that continually ‘pushes (a submissive partner’s) boundaries (and bodily integrity)’ in an effort to create a film that stands out in a competitive environment, it also shapes and reinscribes what is acceptable, normative and culturally permissible for those who engage with it. These were the main messages I gleaned from the film.

As a young woman who grew up through an increasingly digital age, where the cultural meanings attached to internet pornography shifted from being ‘edgy and sexually deviant’ to ‘mainstream’, this cultural analysis gave a language to my increasing and unarticulated discomfort about the some of the content that appears in pornographic film. The film drew on a range of sources, canvassing broad perspectives on pornography, from those who produce it, those who appear in it, those who watch it, to those whose lives are impacted by it. Young people’s accounts emphasised how pornography consumption influenced their understandings of sex, and mislead them about what to expect in sexual contexts. Film directors spoke without any sense of personal or social responsibility for the impact of increasingly normalised misogynist pornographic material. Accounts from pornography performers emphasised an upbeat and positive view of their work while discussion about managing the physical demands of the job, and distinguishing between ‘sex with a partner’ and ‘sex for work’, belied some of the inherent difficulties and challenges. Overall, the range of perspectives challenged a suggestion that mainstream pornography, which is informed by and creates broader gendered inequality, is ‘just sex’ and innocuous in its delivery and people’s consumption of it.

It is often difficult to broach a critical perspective on pornography without being shot down for being a ‘prude’ or being perceived to ‘have personal issues’ that are irrelevant to pornography. By outlining the social issues through a range of sources, and not over-stating the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ aspects of pornography, ‘Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography’ achieves a gentle and thought provoking critique of the industry and its effects. Through articulating and mobilising a critique of a shifting social phenomenon, this film has wide spread applicability to those who think pornography is ‘just sex’, those whose lives have been influenced by it, and those who are unaware of its pervasiveness and social impact.

Guest post by
Jade Le Grice, Maori feminist researcher