Lies, sex and sustainability

By Francesca Killen, GLOBUS Correspondent

A growing trend for Gen Z is sustainability. The food, energy, and overall lifestyles are increasingly sustainability focused . After eating avocado on toast and shopping for clothes in charity shops, it may seem as if we have done our bit – but what about porn? In 2019 alone, PornHub had 42 billion visits – nearly six times the world population. As a result, due to the sizeable consumption of pornography, it seems a very good – and albeit awkward – place to start discussing social sustainability.  

In order to ensure socially sustainable and ethical porn consumption, it would have to incorporate human rights, labour rights, include no racism, sexism or ageism and exhibit social responsibility. Analysing this list, it would not be incorrect to assume that pornography is lacking in all the aforementioned departments, but with social sustainability being “largely neglected in mainstream sustainability”, this unfortunately comes as no shock. Additionally,  with SDG 5 being to “underscore women’s empowerment”, it is troubling that recent content analysis of pornographic films has shown that “94% of all acts of aggression are directed towards women.” The prolific inclusion of gender-based aggression in porn, is evidence that a damaging rhetoric – and new reality – is being perpetuated. Therefore, it is unsurprising that UNESCO reported that after watching porn, men feel more aggression and less empathetic towards women.  

If these facts aren’t convincing enough, it only takes a look at pornographic categories to learn how “women, BAME and trans people are fetishized and reduced to harmful stereotypes.” These stereotypes affect more than just the consumers, as pornography in its current form can be potentially jeopardous to the performer. As the average porn career only spans from six to 18 months, it is naïve to believe that a career in the sex industry is a sustainable and secure form of employment. As a result, it is now vitally important to dismantle the unsustainable practices prevalent in pornography. 

In efforts to curb this, a growing trend in recent years has been the production of so-called ‘feminist-porn’. Feminist pornographers are concerned with creating a non-exploitative environment for all. This new, ethical porn would respect performer rights, celebrate sexual diversity and have safe working conditions. Seemingly, this unique porn (sans the guilty conscience) seems like the perfect solution. However, in order to access this, people need to pay up; this kind isn’t free to watch, unlike PornHub and other mainstream porn websites. With only 1 in 10 people paying for pornography and the taboo porn creates in mainstream society, making ethical porn the norm is easier said than done. However, as Dr David Ley notes, if consumers truly want porn that “is ‘good’, they should be willing to pay for it.” As with everything – from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat – the cheaper it is, the worse conditions it was presumably made under. Pornography being no exception.  

Therefore, the solution should arguably lie with governments and pornography sites own regulation. Similar to arguments presented in climate change debates, the individual can only do so much. As the sites such as PornHub continue to barely analyse and restrict the 6.83 million videos uploaded per year, it is no wonder that harmful videos to slip through the net. Undoubtedly, governments also have a part to play. Up until October 2019, the United Kingdom was set to be the first country ever to implement over 18 age-verification for online pornography. With over 88% of UK parents agreeing there should be comprehensive age-verification controls introduced, the plans collapsed regarding various concerns with privacy and success. As it stands, several propositions to curb the pornification of society have fallen through. 

As a result, the quest for socially sustainable pornography viewing comes down to the individual. The most acceptable place to start this challenge would be by providing comprehensive sex education in schools. While everyone most probably remembers an elderly geography teacher explaining how to wrap a condom round a banana, its vital that parents and educators come face-to-face with the realities of growing up in a digital age. As opposed to learning potentially damaging practices from pornography, inclusive sex education can provide an open and honest depiction of how to explore one’s sexuality. The benefits of comprehensive sex education on curriculums are wide-spread, with studies suggesting it is linked to lower levels of sexually transmitted infections, enhanced reproductive and sexual health and a reduced teen pregnancy rate. Younger generations also seem to agree in harnessing the power of education. With over 74 per cent of 11-18 year olds saying porn should be discussed in sex education, it is now a matter of when, and not if, the porn conversation begins. Indisputably, young people developing healthy notions surrounding sex will allow them to see pornography for what it really is – a fantasy that should be viewed with caution.  

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

2 comments

  1. A really innovative application for concept of social sustainability here, and exceptionally pertinent for the Warwick University community given events of the last years, as well as wider audiences. I’d add to the important call for education reflection outlined above: in that these subjects deserve more attention by academics in the mainstream Higher Education curriculum, not least as part of a liberation approach for those identifying in ways for which sexual vulnerabilities are significant. For GSD students interested, the 3rd Year Sustainable Cities module (GD319) has engaged students on the subject of “Sex, Violence, Ecology et al: What do we want Urban Political Economy to be?” (1). And I’ll be linking the above article from a forthcoming week, as additional reading from a recommended article
    “Indecent Detroit: Regulating Race, Sex, and Adult Entertainment, 1950-1975”.

    1) https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/schoolforcross-facultystudies/gsd/currentstudents/modules/sustainablecities

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I agree with Alastair what a very original contribution! It me thinking from the headline alone. But even before I got to sex, I thought, even eating an avocado on toast is not straight forward. See here how the hyper-demand for avos is resulting in further exploitation of labour and violence in South Africa and Mexico: https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2021-01-03-watch-its-a-full-on-war-sas-avocado-farms-targeted-by-crime-syndicates
    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/dec/30/are-mexican-avocados-the-worlds-new-conflict-commodity

    Secondly, perhaps there can be such a commodity as feminist porn; but for me that leaves at least two major problems; 1) it means we keep accepting the commodification (something sold for profit) of sex, sexuality and intimacy as normal. Perhaps thats fine if we want to keep living in a world in which everything (and everyone) is reduced to a commodity like a sheep or a Iphone. So that buying a car is the same as buying porn (even if its feminist porn).
    2) In all relations of commodification there is a very strong and still relatively novel argument/theory that labour (people) is being exploited in all working relations i.e the work they do produces more in profit for the people who employ them than the people doing the work (labour/workers/employees…). For mroe on this see this fantastic new, and very accessable, book https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1481-a-people-s-guide-to-capitalism

    Thanks once again, for an excellent article.

    Liked by 1 person

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