The internet has profoundly changed the nature of pornography consumption, offering consumers the 4 A’s of accessibility, affordability, anonymity, and even acceptability, thereby drawing in an increased number and variety of viewers. Porn has become a ‘norm’, with the overwhelming majority of children consuming pornography before the age of 16.[1]

Yet should mainstream porn be the norm? Should porn be teaching us about sexuality? Is there a link between pornography, prostitution, and trafficking? One outcome of the ease of access of pornography has been a parallel increase in violent and degrading sexuality displayed within pornography. In comparison with research conducted 10 years earlier, research in 2010 shows that the instances of physical aggression in pornography have quadrupled in number.[2] Nine out of ten mainstream pornography scenes contain physical aggression, and at least half contain verbal aggression. The most common physical aggressive acts are open-hand slapping, gagging, shoving, hair pulling, and spanking. Gangbang and ass-to-mouth (ATM) scenes are also common within mainstream pornography. The overwhelming majority of individuals in pornography that are targets of physical and verbal aggression are female. What is even more troubling is that women’s reactions to the different forms of aggression are almost always positive or neutral. Even when a woman in pornography initially says ‘no’ to a sexual advancement, she eventually shows pleasure and enjoyment. Why is this worrisome? Men and boys watching pornography receive the message that even if a girl says ‘no’, she will enjoy the sexual act in the end, and for girls, the message is that aggressive sexual acts are pleasure enhancing. It should not come as a huge surprise, then, that we are observing sexual offences among younger and younger people.

Porn not only negatively influences consumers, but also those involved in its production. Often, people try to separate pornography from prostitution. Yet pornography, by definition, is a form of prostitution: it is most often paid sex that is filmed. In addition, research has found that in parallel with street and indoor prostitution, females acting within pornography suffer from poor mental health and social conditions: actresses are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 1.5 times more likely to be living in poverty, and 3 times more likely to have been victims of childhood sexual abuse than women in general.[3] In a study of interviews with 849 prostituted persons in 9 different countries, it was found that 49% of the women interviewed had also participated in pornography, demonstrating the undeniable link between prostitution and pornography.[4] Furthermore, these particular women had far higher rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) compared to women who had not participated in pornography, suggesting that pornography is a particularly damaging form of prostitution.[5]

Pornography, as a form of prostitution, is therefore a root cause of human trafficking. It is one of the most lucrative markets in the world. Not only are consumers exposed to sex that is aggressive and lacks explicit contraceptive use, but those within the industry, in parallel with other forms of prostitution, are forced into the industry by desperate circumstances.

Meghan Donevan

[1] Mattebo, M (2014). “Pornography and Sexual Experiences Among High School Students in Sweden.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, Vol. 35(3):179-188; Wallmyr, G. & Welin, C. (2006). “Young People, Pornography, and Sexuality: Sources and Attitudes,” The Journal of School Nursing, 22(5):290­-295; Mattebo, M (2014). “Pornography and Sexual Experiences Among High School Students in Sweden.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, Vol. 35(3):179-188.
[2] Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C., and Liberman, R. (2010). “Aggression and sexual behavior in best­selling pornography videos: A content analysis update,” Violence Against Women, 16(10):1065­-1085.
[3] Grudzen, C., Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., and Gelberg, L. (2009). “Pathways to Health Risk Exposure in Adult Film Performers,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 86(1):67-­ 78.
[4] Farley, M., et al. (2003). “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2(3):33-74.
[5] Waltman, M. (2010). “Rethinking Democracy: Legal Challenges to Pornography and Sex Inequality in Canada, Sweden and the United States,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 63(1):218-237.