5 Criticisms of the Porn Industry That Totally Miss the Point

Criticizing the Porn Industry for the Wrong Things

Recently, The Atlantic interviewed a gender studies professor named Shira Tarrant about a study she had published on the hidden economics of the porn industry. The interview is insightful in regards to the underlying makeup of a shadowy industry, but unfortunately, the consensus of the article is skewed. What Ms. Tarrant sees as some of the underlying problems with the porn industry completely skirt the overwhelming reality that pornography, regardless of the economic makeup of the industry, is bad for society, and distorts sexuality at a neurological level. As we have noted on Go Everywhere, sexual expression through pornography reinforces a type of counterfeit intimacy that ultimately will create a barrier to authentic intimacy. It’s unfortunate that some people buy into the idea that addressing surface level criticisms of the pornography industry might somehow be able to lead people into a healthy relationship with porn.

Here are five of the problems with the porn industry discussed in The Atlantic article that completely miss the point in their criticism.

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It’s a Monopolized Industry

According to certain estimates, one of the top 10, some say even one of the top 3, users of global internet bandwidth is a company called MindGeek. Coming in behind streaming behemoths like Netflix, Youtube, and Twitch is the erroneously named MindGeek, a parent company that owns a conglomeration of porn “tube” sites. Tube sites are so named because they mimic Youtube’s browsable streaming content strategy, with an emphasis on a vast library of short videos.

Coming in behind streaming behemoths like Netflix, Youtube, and Twitch is the erroneously named MindGeek, a parent company that owns a conglomeration of porn “tube” sites.

The economic impact of MindGeek on the porn industry is hard to overstate. Besides owning an estimated 8 out of the top 10 tube sites, they have also been aggressively acquiring some of the industries major production and distribution companies since the Great Recession hit the San Fernando Valley in 2008. At this point, MindGeek is a sort of undefeatable bully in the industry. Producers are completely outmatched when it comes to getting their pirated content off of MindGeek’s tube sites, and performers are too intimidated to criticize MindGeek’s hold on the industry for fear of being blacklisted. To put the scope of their hold on the porn industry in perspective, a recent Slate article used a Hollywood analogy, positing “imagine if Warner Brothers also owned the Pirate Bay”.

Learning about MindGeek’s hold on the industry is certainly interesting, but criticizing a monopoly’s hold on a shadowy industry misses the point. That type of criticism relies on the idea that this type of monopoly is bad for business. As Ms. Tarrant notes, “the [porn] industry employs 20,000 people. And it’s estimated, again, that stolen porn impacts the adult industry by about $2 billion a year. So there are the questions about ethics and crime, but we’re also talking about a lot of money.”

So, according to this type of thinking, one of the main problems with the porn industry is that the business environment isn’t good enough. As if what we really need is a healthier porn industry, economically speaking.

To propose this type of thinking is to completely ignore the fact that viewing porn negatively affects individuals in a variety of ways. Those negative impacts happen regardless of what platform an individual is consuming their porn from, and regardless of which company is profiting from the consumption.

Porn Consumption Violates Copyrights Ethics

A tangential argument to the monopoly problem is the underlying reality that many of MindGeek’s tube sites are built around pirated content. Consuming pirated content, according to Ms. Tarrant, “is the equivalent of walking into the grocery store and walking out with food that you’re not paying for.”

In some ways, we forget that porn producers consider their videos as works worthy of copyrighting. This may be because by definition it surely must be considered a stretch to afford this type of content this unique legal designation. According to copyright law, copyrights are extended “to original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form. “Original” means merely that the author produced the work by his own intellectual effort, as distinguished from copying an existing work.”

So, is a video of two people having a sex an “original work”? I suppose so. But is it a work that is distinguishable from an existing work? I’m not so sure about that one.

Regardless of whether or not you think porn content receiving copyright protection is appropriate or not, the problem that MindGeek has brought to the porn industry is that even though these videos have been designated as copyright protected, MindGeek has made it difficult for producers to get their copyrighted content removed from the vast array of pirated content that is hosted on these tube sites. To be clear, though, MindGeek sites do respond to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests, but they require producers to jump through so many hoops that it proves to be a full-time job just to keep up with removing the steady stream of newly pirated content.

While protecting copyrighted content (if you can even justify the legal designation) is a problem. It’s a problem that once again misses the overwhelmingly negative impact that pornography has on culture at large. According to Ms. Tarrant, the fact that a consumer’s ethics are being compromised when they view pirated content is one of the main problems with porn in our culture. She mentions a porn consumers state of mind being compromised by their sexual arousal, but to her, the problem with the compromised state of mind is the fact that they may be viewing pirated content. Is that really the worst thing that is happening when someone goes down the rabbit hole into one of these tube sites? She makes no mention of the fact that pornography is inextricably linked to prostitution. She makes no mention of the fact that continued porn consumption is decimating relationships by literally rewiring the brain to have a skewed expectation of sex.

She mentions a porn consumers state of mind being compromised by their sexual arousal, but to her, the problem with the compromised state of mind is the fact that they may be viewing pirated content. Is that really the worst thing that is happening when someone goes down the rabbit hole into one of these tube sites?

Porn Searches Reinforce Misogyny

One of the realities of the current internet age is that websites are constantly collecting data on their visitors. Large companies like Netflix and Facebook have famously sophisticated algorithms that capitalize off of the behaviors and actions that you take on their sites in order to hopefully ensure that users stay engaged.

The porn industry, and especially those tube sites, are no slouch when it comes to mining the data that website visitors are providing them in order to re-engage them. According to Ms. Tarrant, “ MindGeek, for example, uses algorithms to create highly curated personalized sites that are based on the user’s search history.” So, your search patterns are reinforced with more of the same content, and the further down the rabbit hole consumers go, the more personalized their experience will seem.

The problem arises in the way these tube sites have keyworded their content. The search times reinforce oftentimes sexist definitions of whatever search terms the user is looking for. Without delving into keyword examples, the easiest way to put it is that pornographic content is almost always built around unrealistic fantasies of female performance for male pleasure. The way that these tube sites keyword their content and feed it to users who are searching reinforces that type of sexist view, and those views begin to bleed into popular culture. The term “MILF” is an example of a pornographic search term that has found its way into the cultural zeitgeist.

This criticism of the porn industry is actually well-deserved and is definitely something that has contributed negatively to culture at large. In fact, it’s these search terms that have contributed to redefining what hardcore pornography is. According to Dr. Norman Doidge, author of “The Brain That Changes Itself”, “Thirty years ago, “hardcore” pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse between two aroused partners, displaying their genitals. “Softcore” meant pictures of women, mostly, on a bed, at their toilette, or in some semi-romantic setting, in various states of undress, breasts revealed. Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes” as well as various sexual scenarios that are propagated by the keywords associated with the content.

The problem with this criticism is in Ms. Tarrant’s underlying assumption that the solution to the problem is not less porn, but less sexist porn. It’s a repeated myth by healthy porn advocates that realistic, non-fantasy porn is the key to combatting the admitted consequences of viewing mainstream porn’s unrealistic sexual scenarios.

Better porn is not the answer, however. It’s like saying higher quality drugs are the answer to fewer people overdosing. Implying that the high is not the problem is counterintuitive. The high is, in fact, the problem. Encouraging people to suspend reality and cognitively engage in sexual scenarios, whether sexist or not, contributes to unrealized expectations in real life.

We Need Fair Trade or Ethical Porn

A byproduct of the unhealthy economics of porn is the fact the individual performers and content creators suffer from the overly monopolized hierarchy of the industry. In The Atlantic article, a reference to “fair-trade” porn is made. According to Ms. Tarrant, the idea of “fair-trade” porn is wrapped around making “ethical, non-sexist, non-racist porn”, and to her, that is “really exciting”.

In this proposed scenario, one would assume that performers and content creators would be adequately compensated and that performers wouldn’t have to fall back on even more unseemly careers like prostitution and escorting. Ms. Tarrant sees a similarity with the organic food movement from years ago. Originally, organic food held a very small, very niche place in the market, but as larger companies caught on to the popular demand for healthy food, the idea of providing consumers with organic options caught on.

According to Slate, one of the most successful strategies for combatting the MindGeek hold on the industry is the development of smaller niche porn sites. At this point, “fair-trade” porn would certainly be considered a niche, but unfortunately it’s also a complete fantasy and one that deludes the negative impact of consuming any type of porn.

As we have referenced before, a study of a popular Reddit community found that almost 50% of its members who engaged regularly in pornography had also never had sex in real life. Regardless of how healthy and “fair trade” the porn content might be, in what delusional scenario would that type of sexual behavior be considered healthy?

The User Experience is Bad

The most laughable criticism from The Atlantic article is the idea that one of the problems with the porn industry is that the user experience is bad for consumers. Going down the rabbit hole into the world of porn tube sites will present consumers with a deluge of flashy, click-here type ads and images that are messy, unseemly (although that might not matter), and poorly designed website content.

The funny thing is that Ms. Tarrant references the improvement of the user experience in porn consumption through the decades. Before the internet age, porn consumption involved visiting dirty pornographic video stores, or at worst, a pornographic movie theater where users would be required to sit in dingy theaters, which again is an overwhelmingly sexist environment.

Now that the internet has freed us to at least feel anonymous in our internet browsing, the sky is the limit as far as the user experience is concerned. According to Ms. Tarrant, “the mainstream tube-site conglomerate is almost like fast food—get in, get out, do what you came to do.” What if these sites cleaned up their act, and provided a clean, user-friendly aesthetic for their visitors?

This supposition is so incredibly off-base, it’s disheartening. Making porn consumption a high brow, design-centric, user experience is not the answer. Is it not apparent that these sites are preying off of the base and carnal nature of the act that it’s website visitors are looking for assistance with? Their unwieldy design isn’t driving the experience, they are simply mirroring the nature and sentiment of the act of isolated sexual stimulation that their website visitors are interested in.

Is it not apparent that these sites are preying off of the base and carnal nature of the act that it’s website visitors are looking for assistance with?

The fact remains, no matter what the experience of consuming porn is like, encouraging people in the fictional idea that they can find true sexual satisfaction outside of a committed relationship is fallacious, misguided, and deleterious.

An Appropriate Criticism

What this article in The Atlantic misses is that any type of pornography puts at stake the ability to have an experience of authentic intimacy with another person. Promoting a steady diet of anonymous, self-serve sexualization literally eats away at the wiring of an addict’s brain, and can lead to serious difficulties in regards to not only having sex but also in experiencing authentic intimacy.

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Chad Hugghins

Chad Hugghins

Founder, Go Everywhere

Chad Hugghins is a father to Birk and husband to Signe. He’s also the Marketing Manager at CV North America, and an arts advocate for his local community.

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