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The Pleasure Dilemma: Is Porn Feminist?

Written by Eleanor Thornber.


“I watch a lot of lesbian porn because straight porn is mainly made for men, so it’ll have blowjob scenes that go on for 10 to 15 minutes. Well, why don’t I just watch someone file a tax return? You know, I spend a lot of my day annoyed about the patriarchy and that, so the last thing I want to do when I’m trying to relax is watch a man having a nice time”.

The rise of the internet in the past 30 years has made it possible for anyone with internet access to find porn with three taps of a screen, with no age restrictions, no payments and no passwords needed. Modern advertising has also seen a rise in the sexualisation of women as a way to sell something - sex sells, as they say.


Those opening words are a quote from Scottish comedian Fern Brady. But despite her humour, Fern makes some good points. Points that a lot of feminist theories would agree with. Feminist theory has maintained that porn emphasises and, if anything, promotes the subordination of women as it is the male viewer’s experience that is prioritised.


In short, the agreement is that porn is not feminist. The National Centre on Sexual Exploitation are pretty firm on the matter: “pornography is not and cannot be feminist”. Interestingly, PornHub revealed that their most common search in 2022 was lesbian. So, unfortunately for Fern, even if she was enjoying that lesbian porn, it was probably not made for lesbians, but men, which is quite a crazy thing to think about. I don’t know a single straight woman who watches man-on-man porn because they find it as or more enjoyable than straight porn - but is this because this is catered for men, albeit gay men? If man-on-man porn catered for the female gaze, would it be drastically different and, therefore, drastically more popular with women in the way lesbian porn is? It’s starting to look like the answer to this is yes.


Beyond this angling for the male audience, there is the more apparent issues of sexual violence that are becoming more and more normalised in porn. Academics at The Journal of Sex Research have called this phenomenon “making hate to women” as opposed to love. Even research from the UK government has found evidence that “mainstream pornography depicts (to varying levels) sexual violence and female degradation” in a worryingly easily-accessible way. Alarmingly, this report in particular found that watching porn greatly increased the likelihood of having hostile sexist thoughts and an unhealthy expectation that women look and behave as the subordinate creatures that appear on PornHub.

Porn that claims to be “feminist” often only fulfils one crucial criterion: that it is consensual. Personally, I cannot pinpoint the last time I saw a porn video which included a conversation, a condom or consideration if I have ever seen one at all. What’s more concerning than the lack of these things is the fact that a BBC study proved just how badly the normalised violent actions in porn have trickled into real life. 70% of the questioned men admitted to engaging in violence during sex, including spitting, choking and slapping, among many other acts. Half admitted that these actions were influenced by the porn that they watch.


So, what would have to be done to make porn feminist? One website, Bellesa, seems to be trying to pinpoint the right direction. It proves that porn can be feminist if it's made, watched and enjoyed in the right way. The Canadian company’s slogan is just “porn for women” and is marketed towards only women, seemingly very successfully. None of my male friends have even heard of it, but so have few of my female friends. Steps have to be taken to ensure that porn does more harm than good, otherwise, society is just better off without it.




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