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"Non-exploitative porn": oxymoron?
September 20, 2005 5:18 AM   Subscribe

"Non-exploitative pornography": is it a contradiction in terms? I'm especially interested in MetaFilter women's opinion. Thanks.
posted by PenguinBukkake to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Making pornography is as inherently exploitative as making music. That is to say, not at all.

The industry that surrounds popular pornography, however, is as inherently exploitative as the industry that surrounds popular music. Which is to say, exploitative to a degree that I think is almost comic in its proportions.
posted by Jairus at 5:27 AM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


Pornography: Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.

I suppose then the question would be about depicting "non-exploitative sex." I don't see that as a contradiction. I do think that much of the porn that is out there is exploitative in a number of ways. That doesn't mean that's the only way to do things though.

see also
posted by heatherann at 5:31 AM on September 20, 2005


Well said, Jairus.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:33 AM on September 20, 2005


Read any Annie Sprinkle yet?
posted by majick at 5:51 AM on September 20, 2005


I find the vast majority of American heterosexual pornography creepy because it seems unavoidably entangled with American sexism. Most American gay male pornography, by context, just seems silly. But not exploitative.
posted by Nelson at 6:00 AM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


I agree with Jairus too. And Nelson. Obviously there is nothing implicitly exploitative about pornography in general -- but a great deal of pornography is (a) exploitative in terms of the actual people involved and (b) exploitative in the attitudes it communicates.

The trick is that while you need to recognize that pornography can be exploitative, you need to avoid investing in the myth of chaste, virtuous femininity that is itself sexist and exploitative.
posted by josh at 6:11 AM on September 20, 2005


Pornography (or anything else) is only "exploitative" if there is an element of coercion.
posted by madman at 6:12 AM on September 20, 2005


I'm not a woman, so discount my view if you like, but I don't think porn is inherently exploitative, but most of us only see the publicly-acceptable face of porn (if that isn't a contradiction in terms in itself). It's a bit like fashion — at one end, you have top designers gluing bits of fur together for thousands of pounds, and at the other, south-east Asian children are going blind making footballs. For me, the question is does the exemplary stuff encourage exploitation at the lower end. I don't think it does, but that might just be a rationalisation (I'm a big fan of silly gay porn).
posted by londonmark at 6:18 AM on September 20, 2005


I have some (honest) naive questions about "exploitation". Answers.com defines "to exploit" as...

1. To employ to the greatest possible advantage: exploit one's talents.
2. To make use of selfishly or unethically: a country that exploited peasant labor. See synonyms at manipulate.
3. To advertise; promote.

When people complain that pornography is exploitative, I assume the mean in the second sense, above. Right? And I'd imagine it's the "unethically" that bothers people, not the "selfishly," because most moviemaking is selfish. (The producers of "Star Wars" selfishly want money and fame...)

Some people think porn, by its very nature, is unethical. So for them, the answer to this thread's question is really easy. Since all porn is unethical, there is no unethical (no non-exploitative) porn. Let's rule these people out.

If SOME porn exploits, who does it exploit? I can think of two answers: the actors and/or the audience. Are there any other possibilities? (I'll expand audience to include people who interact with the audience -- i.e. women who come in contact with men who watch porn.)

-- Actors. All actors are exploited by movie producers (the producers hope for money or fame by mining the actors's talents), so we must be talking about something else here (otherwise why bring porn into the discussion?). The only possibility I can think of is that actors are being tricked (or forced) into appearing in porn against their will (or better nature). If so, then I'd imagine most people would agree that this is unethical. So then the formula becomes simple. If porn actors are consenting adults who are fully aware of what they are doing, then they are not being exploited; if they aren't consenting, then they are being exploited.

-- Audience. I can think of two ways in which the porn industry might operate unethically on non-actors. (1) it could exploit our desire for sex in order to make money. If this is the problem, it's a pretty universal problem. It's shared by advertising, TV-shows, movies, etc. Why single out porn? At least it's honest and direct about what it's trying to do: we take your money; we give you images of sex. (2) Porn objectifies women. In other words, when men watch porn, they think of the women in the films as objects, rather than as people.

Is there any evidence that this attitude comes from watching porn? What is the cause-and-effect relationship with watching porn and objectifying women? Are there men out there who didn't objectify women, watched porn, and then started objectifying women?

Why is porn especially singled out this way? Many ads and other items objectify in the same way?

Why is objectification evil? Don't we do it all the time? When I walk down the streets of New York, I pass hundreds and hundreds of people, men and women. Most of them are objects to me: obstacles that are in the way, eye candy, eyesores, etc. Maybe this is "bad," but it's inevitable. Like all people, I lack an infinite capacity for empathy. But that doesn't mean that I lack empathy. As-soon-as I know something about a person, I become empathic. If I actually met a porn actress and talked to her, I would think of her as a person.

Whenever we feel pure physical attraction for a stranger, we are necessarily objectifying them. Yet we all feel this. Does our human nature force us to be unethical?
posted by grumblebee at 6:39 AM on September 20, 2005


You know, sometimes, a body may just want to be objectified.

If porn exploits women, does marriage exploit men? Do women objectify themselves when they present themselves in a way intended to be 'attractive'?

Seems to me, exploitation occurs anytime someone advertises what they have no intention to deliver. Otherwise, its honest flirtation, the old barn-yard dance.

Encouraging real exploitation? Unfortunately, I think so, for those neanderthals that can't understand the difference between the art of porn and making it with a real partner. I've been with a number of inexperienced partners that have watched porn. They tend to want to try stupid things they saw on film, not realizing it was done that way simply because of how it looks on film, not because it really is fun.
posted by Goofyy at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2005


"Non-exploitative pornography" to me is sort of a contradiction but not because I don't like or enjoy porn but because the point at which you take something meant to be arousing and commodify it, it's as exploitative as any other sort of advertising or titilation meant to make you buy something. Porn is sex meant to be bought. If you see two people fucking in a doorway, it's not porn, it's just sex. Once you call it porn someone wants you to pay for it. Otherwse, what Jairus said.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


Obviously, just about everything in a consumer capitalist society is 'exploitive' in some sense or another (and probably in all societies)

The question I think is if pornography is as exploitive as, say, illegal prostitution by a abusive pimp. The answer is almost certainly no. Pornography is only inherently "degrading" if you view sex as inherently degrading. The problem is that sex in our society is warped, and a lot of men get off on degrading women, so we end up with lots of porn where the 'plot' involves degrading the 'characters'.

That said, the 'high-end' American porn industry is very empowering to women. They make tons of money (a lot more then the men!) and gain real financial independence. On the lower-end, though, it's iffier. But in my view being paid $300 to be in a porno is better then being payed $9/hr to work overnight in a target stocking shelves, or at a phone center doing telemarketing (two job's I've had, ugh!).

It all depends on how you view sex, I think. If sex isn't a "bad thing" then porn isn't a "bad thing" either.
posted by delmoi at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2005


Didn't we already have this discussion, at great length, in the Suicide Girls thread?

My $0.02: I'm a woman, and I'm pro-porn.
posted by matildaben at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2005


What about self-made porno like I Shot Myself? nsfw

That said, the 'high-end' American porn industry is very empowering to women. They make tons of money (a lot more then the men!) and gain real financial independence.

This argument has always bugged me, though I don't necessarily disagree with it. My problem is that it tells women that the only thing they deserve to be paid well for is sex. I don't consider that empowering.
posted by dobbs at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2005


I heart porn.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:40 AM on September 20, 2005


That said, the 'high-end' American porn industry is very empowering to women. They make tons of money (a lot more then the men!) and gain real financial independence.

He means "empowering to women who fit a very narrow definition of 'attractiveness' and also have big huge knockers."

I'd say non-exploitative porn is possible, but not plausible.

P.S. I am a female person. I think there are more responses from men on this thread. That's a whole 'nother post right there.
posted by scratch at 8:46 AM on September 20, 2005 [2 favorites]


That said, the 'high-end' American porn industry is very empowering to women. They make tons of money (a lot more then the men!) and gain real financial independence.

This argument has always bugged me, though I don't necessarily disagree with it. My problem is that it tells women that the only thing they deserve to be paid well for is sex.


ditto, dobbs


Didn't we already have this discussion, at great length, in the Suicide Girls thread?


yes and no. that poster asked a dozen questions simultaneously, and the discussion was all over the place. and, I wasn't a member back then.
posted by PenguinBukkake at 8:49 AM on September 20, 2005


I'm a woman, and I agree with dobbs and Jairus.

There's nothing wrong with sex, but paying poor women to have sex and then calling them "empowered" is stupid. I don't think we have a society set up with enough safety nets that anyone can guarantee that every single porn actor or model can truly "choose" that life. And I don't have to make that choice, but if it was between having more or less forced sex with dozens of strangers or stocking shelves at Target? I'd be at Target.

I do think someone like Heather Corinna, however, is producing non-exploitative porn/erotica. Self-portraits seem to side-step most of these issues for me.
posted by occhiblu at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2005 [2 favorites]


I'm with occiblu, dobbs, and Jairus.
posted by Specklet at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2005


Well, there's always Moral Pornography, courtesy of Douglas Davis.

/disclaimer: worked for the guy for a while.
posted by greatgefilte at 10:13 AM on September 20, 2005


That said, the 'high-end' American porn industry is very empowering to women. They make tons of money (a lot more then the men!) and gain real financial independence.

This argument has always bugged me, though I don't necessarily disagree with it. My problem is that it tells women that the only thing they deserve to be paid well for is sex.


Mmmm, I don't think that tracks. It may say that the only think women deserve to be -overpaid for is sex, but that really reflects more on basic capitalism and gender roles (more men will pay to see women hump than vice versa) than anything else. Additionally, being highly paid for a job requiring little education and looking good is true in Hollywood in general (a place where gender DOES notably impact the payday).

While I find it sad that a smart and educated women could make more in porn than as a school teacher or a number of other professional positions, it's a high paying option that isn't available at all for the male school teacher. So personally I think it's more to do with our attitudes and the economics of media than anything else.

Gender inequities exist but I think for the most part they're simply -also- in porn rather than created by or even encouraged by porn.

And yeah, I'm Yet Another Male Voice in the thread. *shrug* sorry.
posted by phearlez at 10:44 AM on September 20, 2005


On the lower-end, though, it's iffier. But in my view being paid $300 to be in a porno is better then being payed $9/hr to work overnight in a target stocking shelves, or at a phone center doing telemarketing (two job's I've had, ugh!).

But people won't make a snap moral judgement about you if they find out you ever worked at Target or did telemarketing.
posted by luneray at 10:55 AM on September 20, 2005


Look, I like kodak moments as much as the next guy but...pornography exploits the inherent male nature of obtaining thrills from visual stimuli.

While I agree with what dobbs said, it seems to me that most portrayals of pornographic sex display women as sexual objects so I regard almost all pornography, perhaps with the caveat expressed by occhiblu and in relation to artistic efforts, as being somehow degrading to the female gender as a whole, and whether that counts as exploitation is perhaps a matter of semantics.

I'm not suggesting that it be outlawed or whatever but it is a continuous affirmation for men to view women as sexual gratification machines in the first instance rather than as complete human beings. I've expressed here before a lament about the fact that some young guys developing their fantasies and girl interaction skills and expectations primarily from pornographic input as they mature, may end up with really skewed attitudes and coping skills. I'm not sure if exploitation is the right word, but in my view, the ubiquitousness of porn has a net negative effect on how women are viewed as human beings, regardless of how much someone might be paid.
posted by peacay at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


With men getting paid less than a tenth of what pornographers pay their actresses, I would say exploitation is blatant.
posted by mischief at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2005


I love how most of you are assuming that "porn" always involves women. You just take that assumption and run, and you're embarrassing yourselves.

For those who find structural or actual exploitation in straight porn, maybe you can tell me where I could find it in gay porn? The guys never look exploited to me. The producers make the same kind of money off them, so I suppose there is a common feature there, but it's two separate worlds otherwise, a fact that self-professed critics or opponents of porn always conveniently gloss over. It's even more problematic for these critics and opponents because the nominal consumers are men in both cases.

Any critique of pornography has to be much more tightly focused than what I usually read, including within this thread.
posted by joeclark at 11:15 AM on September 20, 2005


Joeclark: Having known a guy who worked in gay porn for a while, I can say with certainty that gay porn actors are routinely exploited. They're given misrepresented contracts, lied to, pressured, and underpaid. And quite a few of them start out with low self-esteem which makes the process easier.
Which isn't to say that everyone in gay porn isn't just having a grand ol' time, just that (as with any commercial enterprise) the folks on the bottom often get screwed.
posted by klangklangston at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2005


By coincidence, slate.com just started posting a discussion-article ("book club") by three women:

We're supposed to grapple over two new and pretty alarmist books on the state of sexual culture in America: Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, by Pamela Paul; and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy.
posted by WestCoaster at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2005


I love how most of you are assuming that "porn" always involves women. You just take that assumption and run, and you're embarrassing yourselves.

Given that the question explicitly includes mention of being interested in female perspective I think we're just actually RTFQ where you're looking for a grindstone for your axe.
posted by phearlez at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2005


dobbs writes "My problem is that it tells women that the only thing they deserve to be paid well for is sex. I don't consider that empowering."

No, it tells women that one thing they deserve to be paid highly for is sex. People who look at one example of something and think it defines a wider situation tend to miss The Point.
posted by benzo8 at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2005


And what's The Point?
posted by occhiblu at 2:08 PM on September 20, 2005


The guys [in gay porn] never look exploited to me.

Are you aware that a great many of the men in gay porn are actually straight but that often the only way for them to appear in straight porn is to first "apprentice" in gay porn? I consider that exploitative.

it's a high paying option that isn't available at all for the male school teacher.

Were it not for the fact that the male has the opportunity for a high paying job (or, at least, a higher paying job than a woman in an equal position) in absolutely every other profession except prostitution, you may have had a point. However, seeing as that's not the case, I fail to see your argument.

People who look at one example of something and think it defines a wider situation tend to miss The Point.

Well, I can't argue with that kind of logic.
posted by dobbs at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2005


klangklangston: gay porn ... the folks on the bottom often get screwed.

I'd make more of a snap judgment about the Telemarketer than the Porn Star. One of them bothers me during my daily life.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:00 PM on September 20, 2005


Two gay-married "Metafilter women" right here say Who Cares. We have too much barely-legal creampie porn and Rocco flicks to make room for woman-centered scissorfucking and mutual cunnilingus. Maybe it's not an oxymoron, but it's not hot, either.

We might be able to give a better answer if we knew why you were asking. Are you looking for non-exploitative porn because you feel guilty? Because you want to show it to a girl? Or some other reason?
posted by crabintheocean at 6:11 PM on September 20, 2005


We have too much barely-legal creampie porn and Rocco flicks to make room for woman-centered scissorfucking and mutual cunnilingus

why don't you sell those creampie and Rocco dvd's on eBay, so that you'll have more shelf space for the girl-on-girl stuff, then? I'm sure you'll find plenty of buyers, even here on MeFi
posted by matteo at 9:00 PM on September 20, 2005


Dobbs pretty much elucidates my feelings on the subject.

Porn with consensual actors is non-exploitative in that the actors choose to be there and are thus in control of their sexuality. They have made the choice to display themselves; thus they are providing their bodies for mass consumption and it is not a forced act.

However, that ignores the larger issue--the overwhelming pressure put on women in our society to hold appearance and sexiness and display above everything else in their lives. This inevitably results in more females than males seeing sex acts as their only marketable skills. So, I dunno, you could argue that until we live in a society that views male and female sexuality on an equal level of importance porn will always be exploitative.

On the same token, you can't argue that about all porn, because for all you know that chick getting gang-banged has deprogrammed herself of all those societal teachings and has gone into the industry entirely for her own enjoyment and is being paid more than her male counterparts entirely due to her superior skills. *shrugs*
posted by schroedinger at 11:35 PM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


No, the question merely stated "I'm especially interested in MetaFilter women's opinion." It did not limit the question to women in porn.
posted by joeclark at 9:46 AM on September 21, 2005


I have some (honest) naive questions about "exploitation". Answers.com defines "to exploit" as...

1. To employ to the greatest possible advantage: exploit one's talents.
2. To make use of selfishly or unethically: a country that exploited peasant labor. See synonyms at manipulate.
3. To advertise; promote.


To run with Grumblebee's assumption that people are referring to the 2nd definition as the problem:
I think that is a good definition of exploitation. I think the other two definitions match the pornography industry better than the 2nd.
Capitalism is by nature selfish so someone acting in that way in producing a movie to make money is just a capitalist. That person risks his or her own money in making the film and expects a return on the investment. I don't see a problem here with exploitation.
Unethically doesn't really apply because the definition doesn't say it's exploitation for asking them to do something unethical. It says to unethically force someone to do something, such as the peasant labor example. It's logic. These actresses and actors have (mostly) all agreed to do such acts for pay. If they are exploited, it's not by virtue of the act being unethical or immoral.
There are people in EVERY type of profession who are exploited. That's why they came up with organized labor, which the porn industry has. The women who are in porn because it's the only way they can make that kind of money are glad to have the opportunity but most of those women would never say they are there because that's the only way they have to be of value. Many love to have sex (love their job.) Not many people can say that. Also, the women in the industry have the power. They decide what acts they will or won't do. They decide what actors they will work with. Their much higher pay is further evidence of that. The actresses, actors, producers, and directors will all tell you that.
Just because porn is overwhelmingly viewed by men just means that men have a greater need for it. We are very visual creatures and, let me tell you, it brings a certain relief at times. The reason it seems that women are exploited or objectified is that they are what tickles mens' fancies. Big Deal!
I have seen few movies where the female characters motivation to have sex was anything other than her wanting to have sex. I can't even remember seeing one in which the woman was coerced. That's not saying that they don't exist. They are largely the exception, though.
If there wasn't a real societal need for the industry, even the sex industry in general, then why is it so huge. These women are making six or seven figures! Sure there is the low end but that is every industry.
The fact that a very smart woman who could be an accountant or doctor, etc. instead goes into porn is not a function of exploitation. There are more educated women than you would think although I no longer have the numbers. It's a product of supply and demand. These women have what the market is looking for and they decide to take advantage of it while they can. It's just like a football player heading to the draft while he can make millions. In either industry, the career opportunity won't wait around for long.
I personally happen to not believe that sex needs to be or should be hidden and secret. I would never look down on someone for having this profession. They were blessed with certain attributes that are in demand and they are taking advantage of that. The men shelling out money are being exploited as much as the women getting paid for sure. Like most people, I wouldn't trade a lifetime of one night stands for a lifetime in a loving relationship. The sex is always best that way. The actresses also make that distinction.
The people who think that women are being exploited are primarily conservative minded people who have traditional view or religious view of sex. They, in their own minds, cannot see how a woman would choose to do this. I contend that women are smarter than that and are not just victims. So maybe the industry doesn't require a lot of PhD's. There are a lot of "honest" jobs that don't and most of those people make a fraction of what these "feeble-minded" women earn. You people who call these women exploited should go see if you could even get a job in a movie.
Of course, I have only covered one area of pornography (the one that seems to be most controversial.)
I'll just address one other issue. Men do not graduate from gay porn to straight porn. The gay actors have their own reasons for being there. They are almost entirely separate industries. The factors that get men into straight porn are 1) the ability to produce many, many erections and ejaculations. That is far and away the number one factor. How else can you explain Ron Jeremy's successful career. That was why he was around so long. It surely wasn't 2) Physical appearance, which does include endowment. Endowment wasn't Ron Jeremy's shortcoming, though.
It was originally thought that men would rather see less attractive men in these movies; that it would make them feel better about themselves. They have since found that it's more of a fantasy scenario for men, where they like to imagine themselves in his place. Therefore there's a trend to find more attractive men for these roles. I'm sure the actresses are not complaining.
My main point is that most of these women are not victims. It's easy money for them. They choose it. The argument that these women coming out of porn won't be taken as seriously is unfortunately true. The funny thing is that the people yelling about the exploitation of these women are largely the same ones who can't see the benefit of these women and the wonderful money they make and that they are controlling their own path. The so-called womens' advocates are the very ones calling these women victims. Who devalues these women more? I bet the same people who complain that these women will not get the respect say so because they will be the ones not giving them any.
I almost forgot to address this posting by Shroedinger:
However, that ignores the larger issue--the overwhelming pressure put on women in our society to hold appearance and sexiness and display above everything else in their lives. This inevitably results in more females than males seeing sex acts as their only marketable skills. So, I dunno, you could argue that until we live in a society that views male and female sexuality on an equal level of importance porn will always be exploitative.
Attractive people--men and women alike--have an easier time in life. It's not a gender issue but it's been turned into one. Who's more likely to command respect- Brad Pitt or me? I can give you that answer quickly. University studies have shown that people generally thought of as more attractive were assumed to be smarter than their less desirable counterparts. That was less true with women than men, further rebutting the claim that women have a tougher physical standard.
Also, if you were to ask all of the women doing porn what they want to do after that career ends, a high percentage of them will tell you college. The way people say that these women see sex as their only path is just not true. Of course there are the lazy ones who will just try to marry well and sponge. But there are also those who will be able to retire off of the money they earned in their short career. It's true. Look it up.
posted by BryanHfromKC at 2:56 AM on October 26, 2005


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