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The Past, Present and Future of Porn...

Kate Charlton looks into the debate over taking down PornHub and the #TraffickingHub and how OnlyFans could be used as a more ethical means of sex work.


Artwork by Rachel Watkins

Past


Growing up as a young girl, porn was a dirty word that I was taught not to discuss. In sex education in  school, boys were taught about masturbation and porn whilst girls were taught about pregnancy and periods - the pleasure/practicality divide between boys and girls cemented from a young age. 

Like with me, for many women porn was a taboo subject. It has been ingrained into girls from a young age that sex is about reproduction, not pleasure. This stems from the harmful gender binary of women as innocent and domestic vs. men as powerful and virile. For women, the fact that porn and masturbation isn’t discussed with us at a young age reinforces the idea that for us, sex isn’t about pleasure because if we learn to enjoy sex then we might get pregnant. Boys don’t have this same issue and therefore, can be freely taught about shameless masturbation. This was why I saw women watching porn as liberating for their sexual prowess, charging a field dominated by men to reclaim sexual pleasure as their own. 


This was why I saw women watching porn as liberating for their sexual prowess, charging a field dominated by men to reclaim sexual pleasure as their own. 

Present


However, people cannot claim to be feminists and enjoy the sex industry without taking active measures to respect and support its workers. It has always been known that PornHub is exploitative of its workers, and it has recently come to the forefront of news again with the #TraffickingHub campaign. The campaign, founded by Laila Mickelwait, aims to take down PornHub, and for the company to be held accountable for profiting off of the trafficking and abuse of women and children. They use the example of a 15 year old girl who went missing and was only found a year later after 58 films of her abuse emerged on the site (1) . Another 14 year old girl was kidnapped at knifepoint and her r*pe was filmed and posted on the site, and only when she posed as a lawyer after months of asking for them to take it down, did the site finally do so to avoid legal action (note: not for ethicality or compassion). PornHub has no systems in place to regulate such videos being uploaded in regards to age nor consent and only an email address is required. Subsequently through ad revenue on these videos, PornHub profits millions upon millions. 

“Tell your bff that sex workers are not the enemies of progress, that they are in fact exploiting the system built to oppress them, and that this alone is iconic as fuck” - Florence Given, 2020

The concept behind OnlyFans is a stepping stone for female sex workers to gain bodily and monetary autonomy over their work outside of male pimps and porn directors. Women finally have the chance and the platform to be their own boss from the safety of their homes and outside of the corruption of the present sex industry. Physical harm that plagues street work (work necessary for some women as a means to survive) and also film set work isn’t an issue as women can control what they uploaded and when, essentially the freelancers of the sex industry. In spite of the promising model, OnlyFans doesn’t come without its issues.  Hacks and underage workers (for example in BBC documentary Nudes4Sale (2)) plague the site.  With technology as advanced as it is today, subscription content can be illegally downloaded and  uploaded onto PornHub for free without reprimand from the website (a perfect example of why PornHub is corrupt). OnlyFans does require age verification but this is easy to cheat; the law doesn’t require these sites to ask for ID and so it is clear why there is a lack of incentivisation in these industries to be thorough. With influencers being open about OnlyFans and the rewards they reap, it is easy for underage and impressionable people to see how much money they are earning and want to do it themselves, but like with PornHub this can lead to exploitation. If age verification checks were vigilant, however, and there was no risk of underage users, then OnlyFans does have the potential to be a trailblazer in the revolutionising of sex work.


The response to OnlyFans has been an eye opener for me. Debate on Twitter consists predominantly of men shaming women for 'not respecting themselves' for building up their own profile on the website, versus the defence consisting mostly of women who stood up for the positivity in women's bodily autonomy. Why is it that these men are deluded into thinking their opinion matters on the topic of the female body? They happily partake in watching PornHub, where notoriously women are abused and mistreated in the name of good content for their pleasure (as I will explore below). Are men scared now that women have risen up the ranks and have control over their content? How can it be that men can guiltlessly enjoy content on PornHub but shame the very people that they use for their pleasure? 


Why shouldn't women be able to take control and capitalise on the sexualisation of their bodies that are a product of hundreds of years of patriarchal society?

There is a lot of stigma around the field of sex work, some criticism deserved in terms of how the industry treats its workers and the safety of the job. However, people must respect sex workers like the humans they are. The work they do is necessary for their livelihood and they just want to survive like you and me. Furthermore with the rise of OnlyFans, sex work can potentially be safely regulated to protect its workers. OnlyFans requires age consent in the form of picture ID taken alongside the picture of the account holder so users must be verifiably over the age of 18. If this verification process is airtight then the website could be the new normal of safe and ethical sex work. Although as I have previously stated there are many shortcuts around this, PornHub doesn’t require users to do this at all which is indicative of their ethics regarding the exploitation of underage people.

Future


The future of porn relies on safety and ethicality for its workers. In the era of #MeToo, it is our responsibility as a society to support and protect sex workers and create an environment for them to work where they won't come into harm. In my opinion, if you watch porn but don't support the autonomy of (legal) female sex workers on OnlyFans, then you are being a hypocrite. OnlyFans does have vast progress to be made with it's model and the practical application, in that verification checks must be even tighter and underage girls protected, but the concept behind the website is paving the way for exploitation-free and abuse-free sex work. 

For the future of porn to be ethical, PornHub must be taken down. I implore you to abstain from using the site in the meantime to prevent the website traffic that funds them. That being said, womxn remember it is perfectly normal to enjoy (ethical) porn and masturbation and it isn’t just something men are allowed to do! 


To be active in bringing down PornHub sign the petition (which already has over 1 million signatories) on the TraffickingHub website: https://traffickinghub.com


(1) Traffickinghub - Shut Down Pornhub and Hold Its Executives Accountable for Aiding Trafficking [Internet]. Traffickinghub.com. 2020 [cited 4 July 2020]. Available from: https://traffickinghub.com/

(2)  BBC Three - Nudes4Sale [Internet]. BBC. 2020 [cited 4 July 2020]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p087m1nh


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