Porn, Watching Porn, and Misogyny (The F Word: Let’s Talk Feminism and Gender)

(This piece first appeared for a fortnightly column entitled 'The F Word: Lets Talk Feminism and Gender' that I am writing for The Weekend Express of News Express LtdAn extract of this column was also published on bakamoono.lk's Latest New's section)

A few weeks ago – bakamoono.lk released a report entitled ‘800 Odd Criminals: Watching Porn in Sri Lanka’. This report displayed the results from a survey they conducted that asked over 800 people how they view porn online. The report is titled regarding the fact that despite Sri Lanka topping the world in the number of Google searches for ‘sex’ with regularity - as per the law “Every single person who has ever watched, glanced at, stored, shared, or searched for porn, is in the eyes of the Sri Lankan law – a criminal”. How apt – we do it, we’re not supposed to do, but everyone does lots of it anyway.

The data from the survey was occasionally cliché (anal and big tits predictably ranked highly in the most watched categories), male and English/Colombo dominated, and at the same time raised some interesting and arguably alarming questions. It is difficult when looking at some of the figures not to ask what this means as to how those who view porn online by extension view sex and sexuality. What does this mean for young people with easy access to porn coupled with little to no sex education? What stereotypes about people’s sexual orientation and preferences does mainstream pornography reinforce? What (if any) are the issues with consuming mainstream hardcore pornography regularly?

Pornography has been around for eons, and for as long as any other art form. Erotica was created in every era of history, and today it is an USD 97 billion industry. There is a ridiculous amount of porn, catering to every fetish imaginable available – and it is incredibly easy to find, even if you aren’t actively looking. All you need is a device that can access the world wide web and you’re there. The reponses given in the survey came from every district in Sri Lanka – except for Kilinochchi, a range of age groups responded and they used PC’s, tablets, and phones. There were a couple of key stats that caught my eye – and spurred on questions I have been asking about the objectification of women, gender binaries and role, and of course the equality of the sexes – feminist questions. What role does porn (if any) play in these arbitrary, hotly debated upon, ideas? What link does a school boy masturbating to a video of a girl having sex with several men (filed under ‘gangbang’) have to do with catcalls and rape? Here are some extracts of the report that jumped out to me in relation to all this, and what it means in the bigger picture.

Kids as young as 13 are accessing and watching porn on a regular basis: Cindy Gallop authored ‘Make Love Not Porn: Technology's Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior’ (based on her fabulous TEDx talk) where she writes about her experience being an older woman engaged in sexual relationships with younger men. Through personal experience and research, she describes how by accessing hardcore pornography as their primary source of sex education – young men and women have developed warped ideas that real life sex and intimacy is what is portrayed on screens. They fail to or struggle to understand that these are performances, and are not always reflective of real life wants and needs. 800 Odd Criminals asks, “With people accessing porn as young as 13, has online pornography become the primary source from where people draw their information about sex and sexuality?”. Women are portrayed as little more than sexual objects, ready to go at a moment’s notice, and men are shown as constantly dominating and aggressive figure, it is difficult to argue that this will not have an impact on real life intimacy and relationships.

The viewing of and distribution of pornography in Sri Lanka is against the law, through The Obscene Publications Ordinance (1929) and The Penal Code of Sri Lanka, Chapter 25 Of Offences Affecting The Public Health, Safety, Convenience, Decency And Morals: As per usual form – how we try to stop something from happening is to make it illegal. This of course hardly ever works, and unsurprisingly very few people are even aware that it is illegal in the first place. The watching of porn is not an issue, the problem arises with our secrecy and treating the concept of sexual desire as something shameful. This causes what is very natural sexual curiosity to be driven underground, where no regulation, understanding of damaging concepts and alternative views happen. We need to address and be open about sex and sexuality – not place a blanket ban on channels that explore it.

Homemade and Hidden Camera Porn i.e. the Allure of Reality is very much present and based on the popularity of sub-categories: Sri Lankan Teen Girlfriends starring in Homemade porn are the most widely watched: The days of actors in well-lit studios are passing us by to make way for real people starring in homemade sex tapes. With a basic smartphone now housing a camera of clarity that was unimaginable even in the bulkiest devices 25 years ago, all you need now are people to make your piece. What is concerning however is that many of these real women are unaware that they are being filmed, or that what was created in private is now public - their intimate moments are public masturbation material. Women are treated as nothing more than objects to lust after, and their consent in having their bodies watched by thousands is hardly a consideration. This ties in closely with the rampant culture of sharing ‘nudes’ that is a fast-growing issue in Sri Lanka and the world. We treat our women like sex objects, flash hotly in anger about ‘hysterical feminists’ when the question of objectification is raised, and all the while the issue rages.

Watching Violence: A reasonable number of respondents said they watched gangbang, rape, BDSM, and Revenge porn: As the report aptly points out, “Pornography has the potential to create misconceptions about sexual orientation, non-conforming sex acts, gender identity, sex, sexual preferences, sexual violence, and relationships”. The portrayal of BDSM and other kinks in mainstream pornography has long been decried as misleading and wrongfully portrayed. Porn in often created for and catered to the male gaze, which means that it is a singular world-view often not reflective of reality. For example, lesbian porn is not watched by lesbians but rather by straight men who prefer the fetishized version of lesbians where their real focus is the man. The popularity of violent categories and their impact on sexual relationships must be questioned – effects can and have been harmful.

Porn isn’t the problem – it is the vacuum in which it is watched that is the issue. When mainstream, hardcore pornography becomes default sex education and the primary source through which all types of sex are defined – then a warped world view emerges. This view is not only limited, it has the potential to be very harmful especially towards women and non-conforming gender minorities. Sex is an intimate act that should be performed between consenting adults – heavy emphasis on consenting. If anyone wishes to be public, they have the right to do so, if all involved are consenting adults. It’s really not as difficult as it is made out to be is it?

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