The Business of Patriarchal Passion: How the Porn Industry has Let Womxn Down.

Womxn and the pornography industry have always had a tumultuous relationship as both consumers and active participants in the creation of videos. It is no secret that womxn masturbated, but society treats it like the biggest secret since the illuminati. As sexually active people, those who identify as womxn seem to face stigma at every turn. Whether it is the act of masturbation or having sexual partners, these issues leave womxn both on the edges and at the epicentre of the sexual market and nowhere is this more evident than in the pornography industry.

Pornography is an old boys club, starting from magazines like Playboy and evolving into the multi-million pound business of online, 24/7 porn vidoes and cam sites that span across much of the world. Womxn are the stars of the show with names like Mia Khalifa being internationally renown, yet womxn still don’t seem to get the same satisfaction as mxn do from watching porn. Unfortunately, the porn industry is the love-child of the male gaze and the exploitation of women. Femxle stars tend to be objectified to horrific levels to appeal to a mxle audience and certainly don’t get much of a look in when it comes to profits unless you’re a big name star. Almost all genres of porn are made for the mxle appetite, even lesbian porn is created with the mxn behind the screen in mind rather than womxn in the real world.

The problems with womxn and the porn industry are far more nuanced than simply the patriarchal business of porn. Womxn and their needs are not thought of by the big porn companies because womxn themselves shy away from the topic of porn and what they want from it simply because it isn’t talked about. We all do it, and we all know we do it but masturbation and porn habits is not something most womxn feel comfortable talking about among friends or with family. An overwhelming amount of shame, embarrassment and uncertainty keep people quiet about what they want from the porn industry, after all, womxn are at the centre of porn production so surely it would work for us too?

Other than being an androcentric industry as a whole, porn producers only tend to cater from the cardboard cut out figure of ‘what men want’, the stereotypical petite, big-boobed, submissive womxn who does what she’s told and looks pretty while doing it. These types of womxn are extremely rare in real life, sex is subjective and each person will have a slightly different body type, preference and emotional connection to sex. This extremely large and unpredictable set of variables could never be realistically produced by the porn industry, so they stick to what they know and, most importantly, what makes them the most cash. And for the target audience, this works just fine, but for womxn it has a lot of negative impacts on how we are viewed in society.

The fetishisation of hoards of womxn based on sexuality, gender identity, body type, ethnicity and age are all huge factors in why the porn industry is failing those who identify as womxn. This fetishisation spills over into society and the non-sexualised domain of relationships, friendships and work place interactions. This hypersexualisation of womxn on such a mass scale leads to not only the stigma surrounding masturbation but also unrealistic expections with our chosen partners. The power imbalance between the submissive femxle and the dominant mxle in a large amount of porn often leads to womxn either being slut-shamed for embracing their sexual nature or in some circumstances being met with a level of domination they are not comfortable with. BDSM-esque sexual acts are frequent in pornography, with some element of light BDSM being seen in most porn videos, but not everyone is into it when it comes to having sex with their partner. The porn industry tends to take the loving element out of porn all together (unless it is deliberatly fetishised) but for those engaging in sexual acts in real life, attraction and compassion play a huge part. The clear disparity between how sex looks in porn and how sex is in real life creates a startling huge rift for those whose first encounter with sex has been through online porn.

Clearly, something big needs to change in society and in the porn industry for womxn to feel able to be part of the conversation, or even start the conversation amongst ourselves. But where can we start when there is an ocean of issues that need addressing? Before we can try and reform the pornography industry to be a more inclusive space, first we must open up the conversation about masturbation to all gender identities. Masturbation is a natural aspect of life and being a sexually active person, we all know this but we just need to talk about it. While there has been some improvement for the topic of masturbation with big brands like BeautyBay being more open about ‘sexual wellness’, but these ad campaigns tend to be limited to the Valentines season. Why should womxn’s sexual wellness become a by-product of not having a partner? Well, the simple answer is, it shouldn’t.

The porn industry itself has a lot of legwork to do when it comes to making their content more inclusive. When talking to womxn in my life, they said they wanted the womxn to be the centre of the industry in all senses. In terms of content, the more realistic the better: different body types, less dramatisation and more obvious consent would be a step in the right direction for a more inclusive pornographic industry. Behind the scenes a more diverse range of directors and producing companies appear to be the best way forward for the industry as a whole. But before the porn industry can be evolved for a wider audience, the societal roots must be planted. The silence and stigma around masturbation and porn usage is the beating heart of so much of issues of gender equailty but it can be fought even on the smallest of levels. And at the end of the day, if they can do it, why can’t we?

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Aimee Fisher

I’m Aimee, an English Literature Undergraduate at the University of Exeter, writer and poet.