The pornographic industry is estimated to be worth a whopping $97 billion on a global scale. In fact, the total internet user’s traffic on porn sites is greater than the combined traffic on internet giants: Netflix, Amazon and Twitter. There are 4.2 million pornographic websites which form 12% of the total websites on the internet. Users search for pornography on search engines 68 million times on a daily basis forming 25% of the total search on the search engines. There are 1.5 billion pornographic downloads per month forming 35% of the total downloads. The average age of children when they first watch porn is eleven years. One in every five smart phone users in India watches pornography on their device. These numbers indicate that pornography is a massive commercial industry and is here to stay and evolve to generate profits, just like any other profit making arena of capitalism.
In the context of the porn industry generating huge revenues across the globe and capturing the imagination of internet users, especially young people on a wide scale, it becomes important to understand the impact which pornography has on the youth in order to minimize the damage which it can cause in terms of inculcating inappropriate sexual behavior in young adults and also in instigating sexual violence in the society along with the adverse impact it has on the private sexual lives of people. The element of an inherent power dynamics in pornography which is more inclined to male sexual pleasure and dominance in sex, leads to women being the worst sufferers of sexual violence, risky sexual behavior and unrealistic sexual expectations which pornography propagates.
Pornography propagates the existing gender inequality in the society in the sexual spheres of life and breeds sexual violence, as a result of which women end up becoming the victims of everything offensive that pornography depicts and stands for. The most popular pornographic videos are loaded with scenes of physical violence and verbal abuse. 87% of violent acts are performed on women in these videos and 95% of their reactions to this violence are either neutral or signify pleasure.
Amidst such a grim scenario for women, it becomes extremely important to critically examine pornography from a feminist lens and so I decided to give it a try. I conducted a small pilot study in Jamia Milla Islamia University, New Delhi and selected students, both male and female, between the age group of 18-24 for the study. I used a feminist lens to understand the role of pornography in shaping the sexual behavior in the youth and my findings were nothing less than shocking.
Stigmatization of a healthy discourse on pornography: The core issue, that pornography can have a negative impact on the youth and that there should be an informative and healthy discourse around it, is hardly accepted because of the stigmatization and taboo around anything which is related to or depicts sex. The ‘hush hush’ attitude is not helping and only making things worse for the women in our society.
Pornography is easily accessible to minors: The mean age at which the respondents of my study first saw Pornography was roughly 15 years and most of them had accessed web pornography. They distinctly remembered the first time they saw porn which in itself signifies that the experience had an impact on their psyche.
Emergence of pornography as a dangerous alternative to sex education: The respondents unanimously agreed that at one point of time they heavily relied on pornography as a source of sex education and some even justified it as an alternative to sex education in a closed Indian society, where it is a taboo to talk about sex and sexuality.
Pornography breeds sexual violence in the society: During a focus group discussion the respondents linked pornography and increasing sexual violence in the society, holding pornography responsible for the violence, not just in the public sphere but also in private sexual lives of people making women the worst sufferers of this violence. The girls in the FGDs linked pornography to some of their personal experiences. A survivor of sexual abuse in one of the FGDs said, “I was sexually abused at the age of seven by a boy who was fourteen years old. I am sure he learnt about sexual assault from pornography.” Similarly other girls in the group also held pornography responsible as one of the reasons for which they had to face sexual abuse by people who were much older than them. One girl shared that she was shown pornographic clips purposefully by her uncle who sexually abused her.
Pornography is degrading to women and normalizes violence: Pornography is very degrading and oppressive towards women and normalizes violence during sex. Majority of the pornographic videos end with women taking the man’s semen on her face or swallowing it. Pornography like all other aspects of society is patriarchal in nature.
Reciprocal and reinforced relationship between patriarchy and pornography: Pornography and its male dominated content has emerged from the demands of a patriarchal society and even in the absence of pornography influencing the sexual lives of people; it is still male pleasure which reigns supreme during sexual intercourse. Pornography reinforces that unequal power relations and a reciprocal cycle is formed in which the patriarchal society influences the content of pornography which in turn reinforces the clutches of patriarchy.
Pornography creates unrealistic standards of sex and body image: Pornography creates unrealistic standards of sexual intercourse and women end up becoming the worst sufferers of these standards. The women are forced to replicate the unrealistic scenes in pornography during sex with their partners, who many a times resort to violence to fulfill their pornographic sexual fantasies.
Pornography develops an acute fear of sex among women: One of the shocking findings was that some female participants in the FGDs had seen pornography just once in their life, but that one particular exposure had developed an acute fear of sex in them and they do not want to marry now as they don’t want to have sex even with their future spouses. Their entire idea of sex has been shaped by that one porn video which they saw.
These were just some of the many findings which depicted the sufferings of women due to the menace of pornography which is a major source of male pleasure. After all, even masturbation for which pornography is so frequently used by men is also a male privilege in a patriarchal society.