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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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The sex industry, pornography, violence

The normalization of sex work through the sex positivity movement borders on dangerous, both in the lies it tells young women and the glamorization of the working conditions it spreads.

With the rise of sex positivity, both culturally and educationally, America’s collective attitude towards sex has experienced rampant progression post-20th century. While negative connotations toward sex still prevail — specifically within religious communities — shame and sex have become increasingly disentangled.

The staunch support of sex workers and a push for female sexual liberation has accompanied this shift. Sex work is an umbrella term for an adult who receives money or goods in exchange for sexual services. This does not include pornography sites or apps like OnlyFans which are executed through online services. 

Sex work is currently illegal in the United States, except for a few counties in Nevada. The call to decriminalize sex work is borne from unfavorable working conditions which do not grant workers access to healthcare and create constraints in reporting violence and assaults. In spite of these circumstances, as of 2018, sex workers comprised one in five emergency room sexual assault reports.

The 2002 legalization of prostitution in Germany — cited as “The German Model” —  created an increase in the market demand, and subsequently, an increase in trafficking. Another approach to ending sex work is the “Nordic Model,” which targets third parties and clients instead of the workers. Executed in France in 2016, this resulted in a slew of other issues such as decreased payment but most notably an increase in the killings of sex workers. 

Sex work can create dangerous circumstances, regardless of the form and regardless of criminalization status. This danger increases for already vulnerable communities. In 2015, 11% of transgender Americans had participated in sex work. 

Advocates for empowering those within the sex industry and normalizing it as a line of work tend to omit a crucial detail: most people in the sex industry do not want to be in the sex industry. 

The internet’s effect on the sex industry

While pornography is not included under U.S. law as sex work, the long-term psychological and physical effects traditional workers suffer from are extended to those within the porn industry. These include PTSD, increased exposure to rape and STDs.

Most Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 have watched pornography within the last six months. Because of its commonality, the media form is generally subject to less public scrutiny than prostitution. However, the effects of watching pornography ultimately perpetuate the kind of violence and distorted views of women which make safe sex work an insurmountable goal. 

Aside from the personal accounts and overwhelming statistics regarding child rape, nonconsensual behavior and illegal recordings distributed on pornography sites like PornHub, the permanency of these videos — regardless of delayed site action — is a testimony to both the irreversibility of the internet and inherent nature of the sex industry. 

Nevertheless, the porn industry has been granted the same opportunities for exploitation as prostitution while still maintaining a legal, and vastly unregulated, status under the First Amendment. 

Pornography and sexual violence

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Whether porn usage causes violence — or exposure to one naturally precedes the other — is still debated. However, men who have a history of sexual aggression towards women tend to also abuse porn

In the last decade, porn usage has steadily increased while sexual activity among both men and women is at a documented low. This means that now more than ever young Americans are learning about sex through pornography. Their understanding of normal sexual behavior is orchestrated by a multi-billion dollar industry that is unconcerned with its aftermath. 

This is particularly alarming considering that within the scope of a porn video, violence, degradation and humiliation directed at women are — more often than not — used as a vehicle for male pleasure. A 2019 study found that of the 50 most popular porn videos, 88% contained physical violence, 49% verbal abuse and 15% nonconsensual behavior. 

There are numerous, often contradicting reports on how pornography affects the psyche of young men — and how that correlates to our current gender violence problem. Regardless, it is not unreasonable to assume that continuous viewing of unrealistic, violent sex can set the groundwork for a culture that conflates sexual exploration with exploitation.  

Liberation doesn’t start in the bedroom

The original intent of sex-positive feminism was to grant women the freedom to explore and express their sexuality. Like many labels broad enough for open interpretation, modern sex positivity has become corrupted to the point of negating its original purpose. 

However, anti-sex-positivity rhetoric is not new. In the 1980s when the movement first gained traction, radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin said sex-positivity was detractive in its objectification of women — specifically through its encouragement of sex work and pornography.  

Despite the current sexlessness of our generation, finding liberation in sex has become a common goal among young women. The thought process is that this liberation is derived from the accumulation of consensual sexual partners: that female agency is found through the act of consensual sex — regardless of pleasure or genuine control.

The hypersexualization of young women in the name of empowerment is an epidemic, one that puts girls at an increased risk of violence, eating disorders and depression. It enforces the belief that if one sexualizes oneself, all harmful effects tied to hypersexualization are absolved — that if you decide when, how and where to sexualize yourself, you have obtained agency. 

Telling young women that reclaiming sexuality is powerful is synonymous with telling a bull that charging into his cage makes him bold. It evades the root of the problem — that there’s a cage at all. 

Additionally, it ignores the current gender role landscape which dictates the disparity between men and women within sexual relationships. Compared to heterosexual men, heterosexual women are more likely to feel regret after a sexual situation if there is no established relationship with said partner.  

The future of sex work

Decriminalizing sex work in America could create a safer, more sustainable lifestyle for sex workers. Most importantly, the protection of sex workers should be the focal priority in any discourse regarding sex work. However, this does not change the exploitative nature of the business, nor does it mitigate the link between sex and violence in American culture and media. 

As for pornography, the internet’s expediting properties have eradicated any hope of ending the creation, uploading and reuploading of both illegal content and content which promotes sexual violence. Nevertheless, considering consumption — in terms of unethical business practices as well as the effects on our generation’s relationship with sex — will help guide future comprehensive sex education. 

The normalization of sex work through the sex positivity movement approaches the subject from the standpoint of women’s autonomy — of claiming power over one’s body. This is a framework so idealistic it borders on dangerous, both in the lies it tells young women and the glamorization of the working conditions it spreads.

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