Porn: Pleasure or Profit? Ms. Interviews Gail Dines, Part II

In Part I of my interview with Gail Dines, the self-described anti-porn feminist discussed sexual freedom, coercion, safety and harm. Part II continues the conversation. And this time, porn actors respond.

Shira Tarrant/Ms.: Your new book, PORNLAND: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press), is out this month. When readers pick up this book, what do you want them to know by the time they put it down?

Gail Dines: I want people to understand that porn is a business with considerable political clout and the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles and use public relations to influence public debate. Like the tobacco industry, this is not a simple matter of consumer choice; rather, the business is increasingly able to deploy a sophisticated and well-resourced marketing machine, not just to push its wares but also to cast the industry’s image in a positive light.

These are not fun, creative, playful images that feed our sexual imaginations but instead are industrial products that depict a type of sex that is formulaic, generic and plasticized.

Ms.: I know you’re concerned about harm to women. In Pornland you describe on-the-job injuries sustained by some porn actors–for example, HPV, genital bruising and HIV. All forms of work involve exploitation and risk, whether it’s dying on an oil rig, developing carpal tunnel syndrome or being exposed to asbestos–what makes risks in porn any worse than other workplace dangers?

GD: HPV or genital bruising are generally not listed as job hazards. Women who do porn talk about anal prolapse and surgery [for repair]. The injuries in porn leave long-lasting emotional impacts. The level of abuse and violence to women in porn stands out. There is the psychological trauma of having one’s body treated in this way. It is a very intimate form of abuse. Articles from the porn industry press reveal how difficult and demanding the job is and that women can’t last that long in the industry because of injury.

*****

I asked folks in the porn industry for their responses to Gail Dines’ claim that porn physically traumatizes women. Beth Brigham disagrees. (Brigham was formerly Dines’ research assistant and currently performs in porn.) She reports:

There’s no emotional trauma from a sex act that you’re prepared for. If you know in advance what you’re going to be doing, you are ready. If I have a day where I’m doing seven penetrations, I know what to do to insure that my body remains healthy. Sex acts don’t happen by accident in porn and you know how to deal with them in advance.

April Flores, a BBW adult actress, adds:

“There is no doubt porn is a very physical job. However, it is also a very individualized profession. Each performer is responsible for their own physical health. A performer always has the choice of not doing something they are not comfortable with. All of my peers are doing work they feel proud of and that enhances and expands on their own sexuality. Gail Dines thinks all performers are victims and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I also need to point out that many people outside the industry are having rough sex by choice. I’ve heard quite a few stories of people [in the general population] going a little too hard and hurting themselves.

Dines worries about increasing rates of anal sex caused by men who watch gonzo and convince women to bend over–never mind the missing data, non-het sex or women’s sexual agency. It’s unclear that porn is behind this alleged trend, and the tone implies there’s something wrong with human proclivity.

Then there’s the matter of spanking, teasing, topping or switching. Here’s what Dines says:

Pornographers are controlling sexuality. Sexuality is coming out of an industry not imagination. Porn contributes to more BDSM because [it] appeals to bored and desensitized porn users. This isn’t about sex but about corporatizating desire. It’s not an accident that there’s more BDSM activity now.

Again, there’s the question of evidence. And didn’t Dines say that private sex is a personal matter?

By phone, Dines tells me that what people do sexually is none of her business. “I’m not talking about constraining sexuality, but creating sexuality that is based on respect and equality. I’m not against sex,” Dines says. Her concern is about “the business of porn, not the practice of private pleasure.” But perhaps that line is blurry.

To be continued in Part III …

Above image: “Three Nudes and Reclining Man” (1934) by Ernst Kirchner, public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

  1. this "interview" is the reason why I will never purchase Ms. magazine again.

  2. As a male sex worker and sometimes porn video performer I find the anti-sex crusaders tend to avoid talking about the existence of people like myself, despite the fact that huge numbers of people in our profession *are* male. Because we kind of mess up their preposterous theory about how pornography and prostitution are all about the exploitation of women. It's beyond absurd to claim that an industry where women earn higher wages than men on average is oppressing women. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying I'm oppressed simply because I don't make as much money as I would if I were as conventionally attractive a female as I am a male. That simply reflects our biological heritage in which women have evolved not to want sex with "strangers" as much on average as men do. If you're going to claim that women are victimized by porn, then be consistent and talk about how men are victimized by sappy "together forever" love songs. It makes about as much sense.

  3. Starchild, just whom are you calling anti-sex crusaders? What exactly is that insult supposed to mean, and how do you suppose it fits those you are insulting?

    The men in prostitution and gay male pornography may also be exploited, but they are a small minority, and an exploited woman, no matter how much she is bribed to accept that, is still exploited. Your idea of symmetrical exploitation in this thoroughly sexist society makes about as much sense as the men's rights activists who claim as many men are battered by women as women are battered by men.

    • @Aletha

      So you claim society is sexist. You’re right.

      Why does primary and secondary education treat boyishness like a disease — with focus going on female students who consequently get higher grades? Or single-mother families who raise sons and daughters with no father figures meaning girls don’t have proper expectations of a man and boys themselves don’t have a role-model which cripples them socially later on in life which is especially hard considering females are more socially tuned than males and better able to think in ways which are valued in modern society.

      Women are less likely to actively complain to management and less likely to question and their focus and drive tends to be more intense.

      This means that rather than there actually be gender equality, males become uneducated and as their strength is no longer required — nor are their masculine qualities — males no longer have a position in society.

      This frustration has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? Older men already in seats of power have seen this happening and aren’t exactly going to hand the pedestal equally when they know it spells the end of their own gender equality, are they?

      They’re going to treat women unfairly because they’re frightened they’ll go extinct because society favors female development over male development. Worse still, this means ‘manly’ men favored by women (who let’s be honest prefer alpha males every time over ‘sweet caring sensitive guys’) are effectively going extinct. This is why there are ‘no good men’.

      I’m not blaming anyone but we should widen our scope of attention and genuinely enforce actual equality rather than over-compensate for one side and tip the balance in their favor, as we have. A guy cries rape? Noone listens. A girl cries rape? Proof or not, he risks going to prison and even if he doesn’t, it could ruin his career. Now that’s fucked up — and yes, women do rape men. It does happen.

      As for wages? All you have to do is pluck up the courage to ask. The number of males to females asking for raises is skewed toward males but the proportion who are accepted is actually about equal.

      Go be brave. Ask for a raise.

      Men are abused every day.

      In ways so subtle that you’d just expect them to compensate or react — but they can’t, because society has double standards of gender.

      The worst thing is when a girl expects you to pay for dinner and then never calls you back.

      What, you want equality and now you seriously expect me to continue filling the role of a provider? Get real.

      For the record, not all gay guys are fashion gurus designed to appease your sense of humour while seeming non-threatening like tiny squeaky toy-dogs of men as so many wish them to be. Its just another state of sexuality that excludes women.

  4. tinytelephones says:

    We’re all terribly, terribly wrong on this one guys. Please take the time to read ‘Delusions of Gender’ and ‘A Mind of Its Own’ by Cordelia Fine before you spout off a bunch of junk science/false justifications about hard-wired differences between the sexes, when these strongly encouraged “facts” fall like a house of cards once you delve deeper- I, for one, believe matters of this sort are far more complicated than the over-simplified comments show here.

  5. So Ms. Magazine, in one article you praise the young girl who challenges seventeen magazine for creating images of unattainable beauty and then question Gail Dines? You mean to say pornography does not focus on an unrealistic idea of beauty as well? Photoshop, Silicon, Dilated pupils, what have you along with a lot of sexual positions that hurt and are maybe unattainable? All you have touched upon is that pornography doesn’t mistreat performers, and there are many, many performers who say otherwise. Very shallow reporting.

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