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Pornography and the Industrialization of Sex

Excerpt from Introduction

“Don’t Come Here Looking for Love.” -  Ad for porn site, Im Live

I am in a cavernous convention hall surrounded by hard-core porn images of women …. trying to have a conversation with Patricia, a middle-aged African-American woman who is a security guard working for slightly more than minimum wage, but we both have difficulty hearing as our voices are being drowned out by the orgasmic sounds coming from the movies. Patricia is distinguished from the other women in the hall, not only by her age and race, but by the fact that she is fully clothed. Most of the women in the hall are dressed in only thongs and pasties while the thousands of men here are fully clothed. .. . I am at the Adult Entertainment Expo, the pornographers’ annual trade show in Las Vegas.

Patricia has a bad crick in her neck from trying to avoid looking at the porn that is being projected onto the screens. Needles to say, this is no easy feat as porn is everywhere. She expresses her frustration about being forced to work this detail, as she has never before seen porn. Divorced for many years, Patricia tells me that after doing this job for a few days, she now knows why she “can’t find a good man to settle down with.”  As we talk, one of the very few African-American porn performers in the hall walks past us, dressed in the usual porn garb of high-heeled shoes and not much more. Patricia taps me on the shoulder and says “go and tell her that it is not good for her to be doing this stuff.” At that very moment a fan goes over to the porn performer and puts his hand on her crotch; his friends take a picture. Patricia groans.

As someone who studies porn, I am accustomed to these kinds of images, but Patricia is new to them, and it is through her eyes that I see it for what it really is: a parallel universe where the complexity of humans, the multiple pleasures of life, and the deep connections that nourish and sustain us, vanish. …. Both Patricia and I are in the middle of  a world which reduces humans to orifices and body parts, bled dry of soul, personality, history, and future, as life in the porn world is only about the here and now where penetrating someone or being penetrated is all humans exist for. As I am writing notes for my book, Patricia starts to plot her future far away from Las Vegas.

As I wander around the hall, talking to pornographers, it becomes very clear that they are not particularly interested in sex. What turns these people on is making money. The only time they seem excited is when they are discussing market shares, niche products, or direct marketing versus bulk mailing in one of the many business seminars that accompany the trade show. Many of the porn producers I interviewed freely acknowledge that they are in the business to make money, not to further our sexual empowerment or creativity. They see themselves in a business that, thanks to the growth of the Internet, is like a runaway train because nobody really knows where it is heading. What they will admit is that porn is becoming more extreme, and their success depends on finding some new, edgy sex act that will draw in users always on the look-out for that extra bit of sexual charge. Not one of the men I talked to seemed particularly interested that this new, edgy sex act will be played out on real women’s bodies; bodies that are already being pushed to the brink of their physical limits. No, these men want a piece of the pie, and their single-minded focus on the bottom line is evident….

Images have now become so extreme that what used to be considered hard-core is now mainstream pornography. Acts that are now commonplace in much of internet porn were almost non-existent a decade ago. As the market becomes saturated with porn and consumers become increasingly bored and desensitized, pornographers are avidly searching for ways to differentiate their products from others, in hopes of expanding their market share and increasing their consumer base.

This shift …. has had profound implications for the ways boys and men experience porn. To begin to understand the changes, consider how young men and boys were introduced to porn in pre-Internet days. Hormones raging, boys would most likely discover their father’s Playboy or Penthouse to masturbate to. These magazines, with their soft-core, soft-focus pictures of naked women, taught boys and men that women existed to be looked at, objectified, used, and put away until the next time.  Their future supply of porn was dependent on what they or their friends could pilfer from their father’s stash or from the local convenience store because going to a porn shop was out of the question, given their age. The sexism of these images was bad enough, but compared to what adolescents or adults have unlimited access to today, the porn of yesterday seems almost quaint.

Rather than sporadic trips into a world of coy smiles, provocative poses, and glimpses of semi-shaved female genitalia, youth today, especially boys, are catapulted into a never-ending universe of ravaged anuses, distended vaginas, and semen-smeared faces.  When they masturbate to the stories, acts, and narratives of the porn in a heightened state of arousal, the images send a cornucopia of messages about women, men, relationships, and sex to the brain.

…. Porn, like all other images, tells stories about the world, but these stories are of the most intimate nature as they are about sexuality and sexual relationships. When men go to porn to experience sexual arousal and orgasm, they come away with a lot more than just an ejaculation, as the stories seep into the very core of their sexual identity. To suggest otherwise would be to see sex as just a biological urge, removed from the social context within which it is developed, understood, and enacted in the real world. No biological urge exists in a pure form, devoid of cultural meaning or expression, and in American society, porn is probably the most visible, accessible, and articulate teller of sexual stories to men.