Pornography: Ethics and the Industry – Part 2

As described in Part 1, up until this summer, I had always been critical of porn without ever viewing its contents, watching the “Price of Pleasure” which included scenes from porn films as well as outtakes showing the aftermath of filming. My next foray into the world of porn came when I posted a pair of rather nice shoes on Facebook, and someone commented that they were “real-life Furry Porn”.  Hmmm….furry porn, I thought, whats that? …but Google is my friend and I soon discovered.

Real life Furry Porn?

And in doing so, inadvertently also discovered that porn was a much more diverse arena than I had ever believed possible. Leading me to wonder (again) whether ethical porn may be found in one of sub-genres that could be unharmful to the viewer, unexploitative of the creators, and with appropriate controls over the images. Beyond the realms of what I will refer to as “classic” porn – images of people paid to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of selling these images for the arousal of others, there is a remarkably wide range of “non-classic” explicit imagery.

Amateur Porn

Starting with probably that which is closest to classic porn – amateur porn.  The genre took off with the advent of the Polaroid camera, which allowed explicit pictures to be taken and developed instantly without recourse to commercial development studios, where they were liable to be subject to obsenity laws.  Couples would take pictures for later viewing primarily by themselves or known others.  The rise of cheap technology has fueled a boom in amateur porn production.  With digital cameral and video cameras now commonplace, the means to record sex acts has never been more available. On the face of it, removal of the commercial aspect would appear to make this type of porn more ethical and some amateur sites actively promote this material as an ethical alternative to mainstream porn – Suicide Girls for example, states that its intention is to allow the models control over how they are portrayed, and has an aesthetic styles which contrasts sharply with that of mainstream porn. Other sites  explict link their content with the politics of sexual liberation. Freedom Porn (a host site for amateur porn) for example states:

Freedom Porn stands for freedom, and aims to attract radical and revolutionary thought through the liberating expression of sexuality and to engage anarchists and activists in the process of breaking down the chains of puritanical thinking.

While Fuck for Forest (an “eco-activist” porn site) states

Sex is often shown to attract us to buy all kind of bullshit products and ideas, so why not for a good cause? We think it is important to show a more liberal relationship to our bodies, as a contrast to the suppressed world we live in. In FFF we make photos and videos of ourselves or with friends, having sex or being naked.

However there are in addition numerous sites allowing sharing of images and video  created and distributed without seeking or expecting payment.   Moreover peer-to-peer sharing, either facilitated by such sites, or through private email addresses, or increasingly through “sexting”. The removal of the money motive would appear to make the material more ethical, however looking deeper this is still considerably problematic.  In any image production the gaze of viewer is always present, shaping the creation of the image.

While material produced for private, personal consumption may combine current and future pleasure in a way agreed by the participants, anything intended for a wider audience will always have the unseen gaze of the viewer permeating the activity.  Again on the production, while money may not be a motive for participation, hidden power and control structures come into play. The production of amateur porn may not bring in money for the distributor, but may bring kudos or access to other material – in such circumstances, manipulation, coercion and even violence can mean that one or more of the performers are not particpating with genuine consent.

Control over distribution is no less problematic in amateur porn than in commercial porn.  While images may only be shared with a limited audience, there is no guarantee that this audience will respect these boundaries.  There is a substantial body of child porn for example which has been created by young teenage girls destined for their boyfriends, who have then distributed them widely, and the publishing of intimate pictures and video tapes in the event of a break-up has become a major fear.

Animated Porn

Animated porn has a long history, dating from antiquity.   From the start of the twentieth century, tijuana bibles were produced.  These booklets, produced up until the late 50s, were generally 8 pages long -although longer better quality 16 page ones were produced.  Based on popular comic book characters at the time (such as Flash Gordon and Popeye) these “comics” extended into “adult” themes.  The 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvinile Delinquency and a series of Obsenity Trials, all but killed  but killed the genre off.

It was revived in the atmosphere of the 1960s counter-culture with the creation of “Snatch” and “Zap” in 1968 – generally designed to appeal to men and male sexuality. An interesting diversion from the scene came along with “Tits and Clits” – a pornographic comic aimed at women reputedly from a feminist perspective as a counter to the misogyny found in the underground porn comics of the time.  With 7 issues produced between 1972 and 1987, the development of feminist thought in the period can be seen in its pages.  It is hard to imagine that the “well, oh dear, these things happen” attitude to rape and the lighthearted inclusion of child porn in the first issue would have made it in to the later editions, which have much better developed feminist politics.

Towards the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, with an increased interest and respect in comics, adult themes have again made a reappearance, primarily led from Japan.  Manga developed in late 50s Japan, influenced by the US occupation, with the relaxation of censorship in Japan in the 90s, the sexual content of manga increased at the same time a sub-genre of Manga – Dōjinshi – appeared, using pre-existing characters in primarily sexual situations, coming full circle to the Tijuana Bibles of the early part of the century Beyond animated comic books, animated pornographic videos have become more and more common.

Initially imported from Japan as an extension of Manga comic books, Hentai (NSFW) - animated pornography- has become a major porn film genre. As well as animated Dojinshi, much of the material features young, or very young girls, with indeed an entire sub-genre – Lolicon depicting pre-pubescent characters.  Fetishistic themes including improbably large breasts and characters with ambiguious gender feature heavily.  Another major feature of hentai is “tentacle sex” – a very specific form of bestiality, this is attributed to be a development from a classic piece of (very explicit) piece of Japanese Art (NSFW), depicting (frequently non-consensual) sexual acts between women and tentacled monsters.

Furry Chart

Quasi-beastiality, albeit in a rather unsettlingly cute way, also features in Furry Porn. Anthropomorphic creatures with exaggerated and explicit sexual characteristics (think anatomically correct Jessica Rabbit) are depicted in a variety of sexual acts. Furry porn blurs the lines between human and animal, attributing human sexual motives to sexualised animal motifs. Beyond Hentai and furry porn, a new genre of fantasy porn is emerging, frequently in 3D with primarily sci-fi and/or otherkin themes, human/robot; human/alien; human/otherkin couplings are depicted as well as couplings which are exclusively non-human.

Looking at the development of animated porn from the viewpoint of the the harm caused to the creators, animated porn would seem considerably more ethical than its real life counterpart.  Although in some cases there may be models, there is no need for them to engage in the actual sex acts depicted for production of the material, consequently the actual physical sexual abuse involved in production is eradicated.  The creators then become animators rather than performers.

Control over image distribution however is more nuanced.  Should a model agree to pose to create a character to be used in animated porn, s/he has very little control over the boundaries of that character’s behaviour.  While the character created is manifestly not the model, nevertheless the similarity of depiction and connection to the development the animated counterpart is likely to lead to a level of identification.  Once created, the character’s behaviour is out of the model’s hands, and any unpalatable actions unchallengable.

Similarly within Dojinshi where existing animated characters are appropriated and sexualised, while their original creator may bear no likeness to the character, their involvement in the character’s creation is likely to lead to a level of emotional connection. It is in the arena of the effects on the viewer that animated porn is at its most dangerous.  While actual humans may disguise disgust or fear or pain to some extent, there are physical and emotional boundaries and limitations.  Animated characters totally at the mercy of their creators have no such boundaries.  Highly sexualised children, as featured in Lolicon, extreme and violent sex acts, as featured in fantasy porn, and bestiality as featured in some versions of furry porn can all be produced without recourse or allusion to the actual suffering which would be entailed through such acts were they to be recreated.

Photo-Realistic Computer Generated Pornography

While computer animation is still not at the stage where it can be considered photo-realistic, such a time is not too far in the future.  Already with mainstream animations such as Beowulf and Avatar, human representation is already at a stage where the can be a sufficient suspension of disbelief for the characters on the screen to be considered “real”. Moreover 3D is coming and indeed the availability of such porn is considered by some in the industry to be consider to be a major driver of the uptake of 3D technology, as indeed the industry has driven the uptake of many other technologies. Such pornography, bridges the gap between “traditional” and animated porn – allowing porn proporting to be a depiction of actual real-life events to be created without the need for actual performers.

As with animation, it eliminates the real-life sexual abuse of the industry, but enhances the dangers of the above.  While a hentai model may bear a similarity to their animated counterpart, it is manifestly not them; in a photo-generated simulation, it is their own image which is on-screen; while an animated character may be emotionally connected to its creator but is manifestly not them, it is not inconceivable that photo-generated porn may be based on celebrities.  The effect on the viewer also becomes more pernicious.  In an animated sequence, while the characters do not react as real-life humans would, the animated format provides a level of distance between the characters and their behaviour on screen to the real world.  That boundary is eradicated in photo-realistic generation. Pornography may be about to get a whole lot more dangerous, yet at the same time change is possible.

Feminist thinking on porn has primarily concentrated on the actual abuse of women in the industry and the effects of viewing such abuse.  While it is certainly possible that technological developments may limit or even eradicate such real-life abuse, technology is always a double edged sword.  Photo-realistic depictions of severe and extreme sexual abuse set within a context of being desired by the participants is possible in a way that could not be created in a real-life manner.  More nuanced thinking on porn, its narratives and contexts are required within feminist theory.

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3 comments
Vicky Hyde
Vicky Hyde

The imaginative variety of options listed as available in fantasy porn reminded me of the probably apocryphal tale of American shrinks who decided to discontinue the practice of offering "group therapy" to those seeking help for multiple personality disorders. The problems being that not only were the clients becoming increasingly competitive about the number of alternative personalities they had, but that people also were stating that they had animal as well as human "other selves", and the final straw was someone claiming a dragon amongst their alternative personalities.

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