Ask any feminist in an abortion debate whether a woman should have the right to control her own body, and make her own decisions about how she uses it, and 98% of the time the answer would be a resounding yes. Why then, will many feminists not also apply this argument to a debate on pornography? Why should the feminist campaign group have any more right than the Church or the State to tell a woman what she should be allowed to do with her own body?
Some would argue that pornography leads to violence against women. Pornography in itself cannot cause violence against women – only violent men (and sometimes other women) can cause violence against women. Anti-pornography feminists often argue that there is a direct correlation between consumption of pornography and propensity to commit sexual violence, but a study last year showed that “the consumption of pornography may actually reduce the desire to rape by offering a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires.”
Then there is the argument that those working in the porn industry are there because they have been coerced. That may be true for some, but certainly not all. Katie Price has a Q&A section on her website, where girls desperate to pursue a career in glamour modelling can seek advice, and there are the thousands agencies out there – often unscrupulously – making money out of girls whose burning desire is to be on Page 3, the very existence of which pays testament to the fact that many women working in the porn industry are there not because they are forced to be, but because they want to be. And I don’t buy into the argument of false consciousness – that women don’t actually want to take their clothes off for money, but only do so because our patriarchal society makes women think that this is what they want. Give them some credit, please.
Anti-sex feminists would argue that pornography teaches men to objectify women, but this need not necessarily be the case. Many men can still successfully make the distinction between objectified porn stars and the multidimensional women in their lives. They manage to see their wives, lovers, and girlfriends as sex objects when they are having sex with them, but they also realise that this is not what all women are about all of the time.
There are problems with the sex industry in the UK. That is an irrefutable fact: much pornography gives the consumer unrealistic expectations of women and of sexual intercourse, and propagates the myth that heterosexual sex is for the enjoyment of men only. That needs to change. Those earning big money at the top of the sex industry are for the most part men, whilst – as in so many professions – those paid the least, and those who are most often exploited, are women. That also needs to change.
Thus, instead of campaigning to ban pornography outright, feminists should be campaigning for better sex and relationship education in schools, better rights for those working in the sex industry, more realistic pornography – made for the enjoyment of women as well as men, and for improving women’s options in life so that those working in the sex industry are there because they want to be, not because they have to be.
In a society where women are treated as equals, pornography presents a realistic view of sex, and schools teach boys – and girls – how to enjoy healthy sexual relationships from a young age, enjoying pornography and respecting women need not be mutually exclusive.