Never Merry Christmas for Some Girls

The Ongoing Damage of the Big Porn Grinch

In some welcome news this week, a New York Times expose on porn-distribution giant Pornhub is causing some serious backlash.

WORLD reports, “New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in a Sunday report detailed multiple allegations of assault, including child sexual abuse, associated with Pornhub. Following publication, two major credit card companies—Visa and MasterCard—cut financial ties with the website . . .” MasterCard later confirmed that Pornhub had “violated its policy against unlawful content,” and VISA was still conducting its own investigation. Pornhub responded on Tuesday of this week, promising “it would block downloads, only allow verified users to upload content, and expand its moderation process”—but critics say this is too little, too late, and that the public should have no reason to expect either truth or compliance from the company.

What lies at the base of the New York Times story—and other media coverage—is that some porn is OK, and some isn’t. Some videos/images/etc., are “consensual,” featuring actors above the age of 18, whose “No” list (the acts they specifically refuse to perform) is honored. Porn, goes this line of reasoning, is one perfectly legitimate form of entertainment, porn actors are members of a professional community with its own rules and boundaries, and porn consumers are no different than average movie-watchers. Cosmopolitan even ran a story headlined “9 Ways to Know You’re Watching Ethical Porn”—which featured the advice that you should pay for your porn to make sure it’s ethical. (If that doesn’t scream of sponsored journalism, I don’t know what does.)

The problem is that it is impossible to produce, distribute, or consume porn without hurting someone. As the non-religious, apolitical anti-porn nonprofit Fight the New Drug points out, the porn industry is intimately connected with the sexual trafficking industry. According to one survey, over 60% of trafficking victims reported that they had been advertised or sold online. Much of this advertising is actually porn, with the victims demonstrating what “acts” they can or will perform. In another survey, half of women trafficked in 9 different countries reported that videos were made of them while they were trafficked. Why? Advertising, again, but also because the trafficker can make a huge profit over a single instance of trafficking by then loading that video on the Internet and charging for views. And this is big money we’re talking about—one group estimates that a single woman in sexual servitude can earn a return on investment of up to 1,000% in profit. “Professional” porn-makers are no better. Story after story after story reveal the rampant deception, sexual abuse, exploitation, and violence that exists within the adult-entertainment “industry.”

The victims of sexual trafficking aren’t the only ones hurt, however. The average age of first viewing porn is now between 8 and 11 years old, and most young people report accidentally stumbling upon it. Porn distributors are infamously and deliberately sneaky in their use of things like misspelled versions of common URLS, or “broken” legitimate links that now lead to porn. (The average age of first getting a smartphone, by the way, is now 10 years old. Coincidence? Unlikely.) Another study showed that of the boys exposed to porn, half considered what they had seen to be realistic depictions of sex, and a third wanted to try out what they had seen. There is a huge body of research demonstrating the ill-effects of porn—including damaging real relationships, hampering sex drive, addiction, violence, and loneliness.

That Pornhub is finally facing at least some pushback for its abuses is a good thing, but it’s not enough. There is no clear line between “consensual” and “nonconsensual” or “ethical” and “unethical” porn. It is possible to consent to exploitation, as millions of girls hoodwinked into porn or prostitution have discovered. It is even more possible to exploit a young child who accidentally views such “consenting” adult actions, and whose view of sex is forever damaged because of it.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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