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Is it possible that pornography is actually contributing to sexual assault and rape?

(Houston) – One of the leading headlines currently in the news is the number of sexual assaults committed by men wielding power. Victims have come out in masses, detailing their personal stories. The forms of assault accounted for vary from inappropriate groping to blatant rape.

Though the majority of our society demonizes these violations, these acts are also common scenarios that play out in pornographic films. While it could be damaging to state that pornography is to blame for sexual assault – as the actors do consent to sexual activity – it doesn’t take away from the fact that some people who watch porn have begun to fetishize sexual assault. In fact when the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence wrote an article investigating the correlation between pornography and rape, the conclusion was that porn did not contribute to rape. The ways in which porn shapes the values of human sexuality is something important to note in how it incorporates into our lives. Pornography has the ability to give viewers sexual representation of the desires and fetishes they may not be able to obtain. Unfortunately, those fantasies can be inclusive of sexual assault.

During this recent revolution of bringing sex abuse in Hollywood to light, one of the first high-powered celebrity men to be held accountable by victims was Bill Cosby (though there were many before him). At that time, many were under the impression that sexual assault was a rare incident, and Bill Cosby left many of his fans shocked and in disbelief. Few people suspected this comedian and supposed-family man of such atrocities. Even when Donald Trump was recorded talking about sexual assault with Billy Bush, this subject matter was referred to as “locker room talk” by many. Though Trump attempted to brush off the scandal, many were then and remain outraged. In October of this year, the story broke that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein – who assaulted more than 50 women – opening the flood doors for victims of other assaults to come forward, many of which going back decades. There had been many speculations of Harvey Weinstein being a sexual assailant, with even Courtney Love and Rose McGowan speaking out against him in the past. However, most were afraid to speak out due to fear of losing out on career opportunities. Still, it took time for these accusations to be reported on by the media, which brought public intrigue into this aerated secret.

It appears the number of incidents being reported increases with each passing day with new perpetrators named almost as frequently. With the accusations, of course, come the PR statements. Kevin Spacey took his allegation as a time to reveal his sexual identity in the most inappropriate fashion. Louis CK, a once-beloved comedian by many, had been well known for his actions, but was only held accountable as of late. The list goes on from Roy Moore, to Al Franken, to Jeremy Piven, to Charlie Rose, and far beyond.

The sexual assault scandal has affected many outside the entertainment industry, with people on Facebook sparking the #MeToo movement. This movement, though new to many, was revived with the help of celebrities such as Alyssa Milano nearly a decade after being initiated by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of sexual abuse and to give victims from all walks of life a voice. Though some are facing this much worse than others – specifically women and people of color – no demographic has been spared this hardship, including the LGBTQIA community. 

While sexual assault has been vilified by most, it remains a sexual fantasy many have fetishized, including in gay porn. Sexual assault in gay pornography can include scenes simulating coercion of “twinks” and men who identify as straight, as well as college hazing rituals that often involved forced acts of oral and penetrative anal sex. It is a genre that is often viewed and enjoyed by people from all parts of the sexual orientation spectrum, not just gay men. Despite coming out as gay following allegations of sexual assault against Anthony Rapp,  Kevin Spacey’s true sexuality identity is up for question. Spacey’s coming out is viewed by many as an opportunistic approach to draw attention away from the fact that he not only sexually assaulted someone, but that the person in question was, at the time, a minor. Moreover, there should be made a distinction between being gay and having sexual desires towards men without emotional attachment. Men are open to being objectified just as women are, even if the frequency is less. An example of this being the aforementioned incident of Anthony Rapp being victimized. So, the question arises: how does gay porn that depicts forms of sexual assault differentiate from reality? Is this really an outlet for gay culture? Or could this form of fantasy be simulating existing thoughts of sexual abuse to potential assailants that may serve as a springboard for action?

Gay adult film star, Flip [surname eliminated for privacy], shed some light on this topic. When asked about sexual assault portrayed in gay porn, Flip said, “You have to realize everything that you’re seeing is not real. No matter how graphic or crazy these adult films get, it’s all consensual. You need to separate reality and fantasy.” With the argument that pornography does provide a safe outlet for living taboo fantasies, Flip added that the benefits of porn can have in society. “[Porn] is a good outlet to see the fantasies play out. Just like with movies, there are people who enjoy violent movies, but they are just everyday people. I think the same thing goes with porn. Some people enjoy violent, graphic porn, but [the actors] are very normal people.” Flip’s opinion has actually been backed by data that shows porn has decreased the statistics on sexual misconduct. Michael Castleman, a sexuality journalist had noted that the cases of sexual misbehaviors has dropped since the 1990s with the introduction of internet pornography. While both points are certainly valid, it does not eliminate the correlation of rape porn to real life sexual assault and rape. In fact, it seemed so evident that, following the case of Brock Turner (the Stanford University student who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and one count of intent to rape), porn site xHamster established the Brock Turner Rule. Under this rule, xHamster began a ban on all porn videos depicting rape or sexual assault from their website. It certainly begs the real question: why are there people fantasizing about sexual assault? What about it is sexy?

The content of pornography has long been seen as sexually violent toward women, and has been proven to be so statistically. Interviews with sexual assault victims and survivors have reported that the simulation of most pornography (whether simulating rape or not) is congruent with real world sexual assault, including the language used in the pornography. Similar language associated with men against women (“slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” cunt”) in non-homosexual porn pervades gay porn, as well (“cum dumpster,” “cum slut,” “bitch,” “cocksucker”). Therefore, it perpetuates a similar belief about sexually submissive men or “bottoms.” Ana Bridges, an Arkansas psychologist, believes that men try to incorporate what they are observing in porn into their own sexual practices. A study she conducted with 487 college-age males (their sexual orientations were not disclosed) revealed that, “… the more men used pornography, the more likely they were to try to act out the same scenes and rely on pornography-inspired fantasies to engage in sex,” according to the Washington Times. Though merely conjecture at this point, it isn’t improbable to conclude that of those men who incorporate what they see in porn into their own sexual escapades, some of them have probably viewed porn depicting rape and sexual assault.

A common theme in sexual assaults, regardless of the industry it involves, is the advantage taken of an individual by someone who feels they are free to assault. In fact, in the study Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, fraternity college students were questioned about their sexual habits, as well as potential rape. The study found that 83% had viewed mainstream porn within the last 12 months. That same study found that 51% of those men would likely rape a person if they could be assured that they would neither be caught nor punished. Finally, the report showed that those who watched sadomasochist porn reported a higher score of committing sexual assault.

Even if gay porn were to stop producing scenes depicting sexual assault and rape, sexual assault and rape would still exist. It should be noted that pornography does not define human sexuality, but rather is a mirror of the desires and fantasies of the individual. Still, sexual assaults carried out by persons of power are a result of their own will, whether or not they have been influenced by pornographic material or a sexual addiction. The problem of sexual misconduct is an issue that rests solely on society, and porn can act as a red herring to the real issue of what constitutes proper sexual conduct and objectification of men and women. The fact that these issues are hitting the national spotlight is an indicator that society no longer brushes off these violations as “boys being boys.” The evolution of how we perceive human sexuality, and what is appropriate conduct continue to change as society evolves its moral compass. What were once expected norms in the Hollywood industry have now impacted society as a giant problem, as well as bringing to light sexual assault that happens in every facet of society. Perhaps the fetishization of sexual assault in pornography will change as the tastes and morals of viewers change with the times. That in mind, if society wishes to put an end to sexual assault in the real world, it may be time to begin regulating the content of pornography to eliminate the predilection of porn depicting rape and sexual assault. After all, isn’t the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do”? It is possible that this could be applied to the idea of pornography and rape culture.


Anthony Ramirez contributed to this article. 

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