Make Porn Fair Trade

Still synonymous with depravity and decadence, if the politicians gave pornography a kinder rub, maybe people wouldn't be so offended.
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Still synonymous with depravity and decadence, if the politicians gave pornography a kinder rub, maybe people wouldn't be so offended.

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There’s a lot of pornography out there. From the moment one of our ancient ancestors thought to scrawl a picture of a spunking cock on his (or her) cave wall, humans have sought to depict their sexual desires in paintings, prose and any other medium that science has since progressed to make possible - after all, the porn industry has always been at the sweaty, panting forefront of modern technological advances. Some people like to be aroused vicariously, while some people like to exhibit themselves as the masturbatory muse of an unseen audience. Some people like to do both. This has been the case throughout the history of every known civilisation. From high art, through niche kink, to raw, basic wank-fodder, porn takes a whole spectrum of forms. Why, then, is the modern debate about porn reduced to a binary argument about whether porn - any porn at all - is a good or bad thing?

Again, there’s a lot of pornography out there. Some is exploitative, depressing and degrading for both those involved in making it and those doggedly struggling to bash one out in front of it. Yet some porn is quite the opposite - some porn can be a deeply satisfying experience, both to create and to view. Good porn exists for you, whatever your gender identity, orientation and personal peccadilloes may be. This is rarely addressed in any mainstream debate, however.

One such debate occurred recently on BBC2's Jeremy Vine Show. I must point out that, without exception, every Jeremy Vine Show discussion and phone-in I've ever heard has resulted in my descent into immediate, weeping, face-clawing despair. Aside from the comments section of the Daily Mail website, the demographic that contributes to Vine’s discussions is the one that most shakes my faith that the human race has advanced at all since the times of those cock-drawing cavemen.

This particular debate concerned whether seeing kinky porn on the internet caused a man to kill a woman. There’s no point getting into the details of the case itself, or the many conflicting studies into how viewing (unspecified types of) pornography affect behaviour, but BDSM was the sticking point here: Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism. You see, for the not-so-silent majority of the Jeremy Vine audience, morality really is that basic: good people vs evil people; virtue vs porn; ordinary, missionary-position, reproductive sex vs perversion.

Misinterpretations by those who condemn pornography only stifle intelligent debate about creating a safer, fairer and healthier industry.

As a Dominatrix, I’ve had to explain many times that everyone has their own individual kinks. Absolutely everyone. Some kinks, when taken out of the context of safe, sane and consensual role-play can appear, at the very least, distasteful. Yet BDSM is not an unhealthy or even uncommon set of practices. All human beings have fantasies that veer into the uncomfortable realms of predator and prey, pleasure and pain, and towards a whole other series of dark alleyways we wouldn’t necessarily admit to gazing down on a lunchtime phone-in on Radio 2. This is normal. If everyone were able to discuss their kinks more honestly and explore them in a safe environment with other consenting adults without the fear of being disastrously misunderstood and outed as a sicko, and alienated by family, friends and red-top tabloids, the world would be a far nicer place.

Sadly, it isn’t. In the mainstream media, BDSM is either demonised or ridiculed. We are stereotyped accordingly by the press, depending on our gender and our status as “top” or “bottom”: a man is seen as either a lone, serial-killer-in-waiting, or blushing, elderly gent dressed as a naughty schoolboy; a woman is seen simply as being a victim or a whore.

Vine’s audience accepted and repeated the notion that a man could magically become a monster by clicking on the wrong website. After all, to blame the existence of porn for someone’s actions is far easier than to confront the idea that we all have kinks of one kind or another, and that a frank discussion about gender, consent and sexuality might be more practical than blanket condemnation. The singular, perpetually-shouted-over voice of reason on Vine’s show belonged to Alex Dymock, spokeswoman for Backlash, an organisation defending the freedom of consenting adults to view material containing other consenting adults having kinky sex. “We do not condone all the forms or means of production of pornography,” they thoughtfully assert on their website. “Backlash encourages a broader debate on the nature and role of pornography.”

When I suggest the notion of ethical, fairtrade, feminist porn to people, you see, it is often assumed that I mean a dull, soft-focus hour of earnest lovemaking with a lot of cuddling and romantic music. I don’t. Porn can be dirty, violent and thrilling, whilst also being thoroughly enjoyed by those involved in creating it. Some of the most extreme (legal) BDSM websites are staffed by enthusiasts who perform through a passion for their kinks, not through coercion, addiction or a mere craving for cold, hard cash. They promote consent, mutual enjoyment and open discussion. Most mainstream vanilla-porn studios aren’t nearly as conscientious.

In her 5 Live documentary, Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary is said to have been “shocked” at the ease of pornography’s availability online, and “felt completely innocent” on a visit to last year’s Erotica exhibition. The Guardian’s Kristina Lloyd said, in her sensible response, that “a great deal of lazy thinking, myth making, poor research and anecdotal evidence surrounds debates on the sex industry.”

Much of the world’s economy is propped up by the exploitation of female labour, paid and unpaid.

The sweeping generalisations, misinterpretations and outright lies used by those who publicly condemn all pornography only stifle intelligent debate about creating a safer, fairer and healthier industry. There’s a danger that well-meaning feminist campaigns to eliminate anything perceived as sexual objectification will censor the female body, unwittingly presenting female sexuality itself as something obscene. There are many things I find offensive about The Sun’s Page 3, but the sight of a pair of bare norks is the least of them.

There’s a lot of bad porn out there. There’s exploitation, misogyny and performers in various states of poverty, drug addiction and non-consent. However, the more these issues are addressed, the better the industry can become. The rise of the internet and the gradual collapse of traditional male-run studios have led to many enthusiasts (largely female) setting up their own businesses, creating wank-fodder on their own terms, in healthy, comfortable conditions and for a fair wage. By grouping harmful material together with ethically-produced erotica like this, anti-pornography campaigners are quashing sensible debate and preventing the demise of the very porn they continually condemn.

Popular opinion states that porn is the industry that most harms and degrades women. Yet much of the world’s economy is propped up by the exploitation of female labour, paid and unpaid. A 2005 article in Bloomberg Business Week estimated that women are responsible for 80% of spending, despite earning an average of 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. Advertising has adapted itself accordingly. Mainstream magazines are filled with photos of celebrities, each adorned with a caption telling us who looks too fat, thin, old, tired, slutty or frumpy, beside endless promotion of diets, surgeries, cosmetics and clothes that promise to make our lives better if we throw money at them. When it comes to industries that profit from the degradation of women, porn should be only one of many worries.

In the many debates surrounding pornography, few people ever mention that women often enjoy perusing it too. Sometimes the content is different to that which is liberally spunked over by the chaps, but it is wrong to assume that erotica is always the harmful product of a misogynistic, exploitative industry geared towards men. Things are changing, especially in BDSM. We should throw off the shackles of crap, conveyer-belt pornography and the simplistic debate that surrounds it, and embrace the complexities of human sexuality and the industries, communities and concerns that surround it. Then, if you’re so inclined, you can throw on some shackles of your own choosing and have a rollicking good time.

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