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Adult entertainment actors Eva Angelina and Johnny Sins in Brazzers' "Doctor Adventures"
When I was in college, a woman I knew told me about about a job working as a clerk at a video store—except the job was from midnight to 8 AM at an adult video store attached to a strip club. I'm an insomniac, night owl by nature and thought I could work at night and go straight to class after my shift. I went in to meet the manager and others working there, and they were really kind, and even told me they were cool with me bringing my stuff and studying when things were slow. But it was one of those places that had booths where people would come to watch porn, and the janitor had a mop bucket, wore really thick industrial rubber gloves and a hazmat suit like he was going in to clean up a Superfund site. I remember my mother asking me whether I wanted to have a strip club with "jizz booths" on my résumé when I applied for other jobs, post-graduate schools or (God forbid) wanted to run for political office in the future. Little did she know that I could have thrown on a diaper and waded into one of those booths, and still have a shot of being the senator, or possibly the governor, of Louisiana.

The intersection of pornography with social norms, technological innovation and economics makes for an interesting topic. I did a review of Showtime's Masters of Sex a few weeks back, exploring the same conflict of social conservative value judgments, ideals of the way things should be, concerns of objectification and exploitation versus openness to exploring the ins and outs of sexual gratification among consenting adults—the main themes of the series and real issues that still exist in society. But there are many who've argued that aspects of porn have gone mainstream over the past 30 years. Minus the sight of nipples or genitals, TV shows, music videos, daytime TV, commercials, news and entertainment websites, etc., are full of depictions of borderline soft-core porn not too far from what would play on Cinemax after dark in the times of yore. And those arguments dovetail into concerns about the effect on children, body image and the societal perception of women as well as expectations of sex. At the same time, the series of tubes that's helped to spread porn far and wide across the planet has also created a situation where the same economic pressures that have decimated the music industry are affecting a porn industry that contributes billions to the American economy, since a lot of the material can be had for free with a few clicks.

Since the themes of this series have touched on American culture, pop culture, media, entertainment, etc., I thought I would make this week's column about adult entertainment. Is it turning pop culture in to a "porn culture?" Is that a bad thing?

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"He shall lie all night between my breasts ... His left hand under my head, and his right doth embrace me ... The young breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies ... Come, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. My beloved put his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. Thy stature is like a palm tree, and thy breasts are like a cluster of grapes. I will go up the palm tree, and grasp the boughs. I am a wall, and my breasts are as towers."
-The Bible, Song of Songs
At its basest, pornography is the use of sexual imagery and subject matter to arouse an audience that could conceivably involve any and all sorts of fetishes. Rule 34 is as universal as the law of conservation of energy, and porn runs the gamut between material for mass audiences to stuff that most would find sickening. It's most times not only based in giving the audience attractive images and ideas, which may or may not be based in societal concepts of beauty, but also scenarios and fantasies that range from unlikely to never gonna happen. Some of the scenarios do seem to have some basis in reality. There are news stories about some teacher having sex with a student every now and again, and apparently random sexual encounters do happen with uniformed government officials from time to time. But I highly doubt there are many pizza delivery boys getting that much action. And contrary to what porn and soap operas may have you believe, doctors are not involved in massive orgies with hot nurses and candy stripers ... well, not on a regular basis.

Same thing is true of the actual sex depicted in porn. Ever try any of those more contortionist positions? Many of them look good for the scene, but are probably the most uncomfortable thing you could experience while performing something that's supposed to be an enjoyable act. That's because the actors are pros giving their audience an unrealistic fantasy. But hey, in its own way, The Notebook is an unrealistic sex fantasy too.

And just like how some people see the influence of romantic comedies in people believing in improbable relationship fairy-tales, this has also led to a lot of debate over whether as porn has become more commonplace in pop culture, has it acted as an Overton window that's shifted expectations of sex? Have we created a society where men expect women to be shaved, toned, flip around like a gymnast and perform oral and anal sex?

"The Internet is for porn ... The Internet is for porn ... Me up all night honking me horn to porn, porn, porn"
-Trekkie Monster, from Avenue Q
There's been a lot written over the years about how porn has helped home video products flourish. Video and communication technologies over the past century have been driven in no small part by demand to watch sex. I remember that VHS tapes used to be sold in huge cardboard boxes that were probably the most non-inconspicuous thing you could have if you didn't your significant other or mom to see it!

In the age of the internet, the reach and breadth of porn has expanded from the early days of chatroom "cybersex" to the present where video-sharing websites like Xvideos, RedTube and YouPorn are believed to be factors in declines within the porn industry. In 2012, Xvideos was getting 4.4 billion page views and 350 million unique visits per month.

The stats on the prevalence of porn on the internet are not firm or reliable. Anywhere between 12 percent to 37 percent of the internet is estimated to be made up of pornographic material, and a third of internet downloads are thought to be connected to porn.

From Katie Rife at the A.V. Club: Let this VHS relic explain how to have cybersex on the Internet (as opposed to other places):
Procured from a thrift store in Minnesota, How To Have Cybersex On The Internet features a fresh-faced, sweater-clad female host who exposes viewers to the thrilling world of cybersex before exposing her (censored) topless self. However, while her chenille sweater comes off, her mom jeans stay on, which is the exact opposite of what most people do alone in front of the computer. But who are we to judge what constituted good cybersex for the very horny people of 1997?
Critics of porn's acceptance as another aspect of pop culture claim it leads to hypersexualization and objectification of women and young girls. That what's seen in porn ultimately filters down into movies, TV shows, commercials, etc., and leads to a world in which women dress up their daughters like Barbie dolls for pageants, girls feel the need to achieve a body image that causes anorexia and bulimia, and young teens will feel pressure to emulate the sex in porn. Moreover, this same line of criticism sees pornography as devaluing women and contributing to a culture of rape and misogyny.

When adult film star and Duke University student Miriam Weeks, who goes by the pornstar name Belle Knox, became a mainstream news story this year, Weeks argued that being in porn was empowering for her and the people who disagreed with her choice and denigrated her for it were "slut shaming."

"We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy. A woman who transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body — because that's exactly what porn is, no matter how rough the sex is — ostensibly poses a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society."
However, Ruth Marcus writing at the Washington Post called Weeks a "troubled young woman" whom people should "worry about," and the story of a young woman doing adult films was indicative of a "troubled culture."

So is the prevalence of sex, and violence connected with sex, in popular TV shows like Game of Thrones and the popular appeal of something like Fifty Shades of Grey an example of how sex sells and it's becoming a more dominant part of media as presentations of sex in culture have become more tolerable? Or is that an overreaction, and it's no different than the popularity of novels by D.H. Lawrence, Danielle Steel or any other sexualized material that's titillated audiences throughout recorded history?

While there are definitely studies that suggest the negative impact of imagery and media on identity and body image, the scientific research on this subject is largely inconclusive as to porn's overall affect on childhood development. And the recommendation of most experts is NOT a society that embraces censorship, but one where we're honest with each other about the differences between reality and make-believe.

From David Segal at the New York Times: Does Porn Hurt Children?

“One of our recommendations is that children should be taught about relationships and sex at a young age,” Professor [Miranda] Horvath continued. “If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us. They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.”

At a minimum, researchers believe a parent-teenager conversation about sexuality and pornography is a good idea, as unnerving to both sides as that may sound. The alternative is worse, according to Professor [Rory] Reid. Putting a computer in a kid’s room without any limits on what can be viewed, he said, is a bit like tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying: “Go learn how to drive. Have fun.”

The idea that we'll ever go back to a pseudo-1950s world when women were expected to cover up and dress like "ladies" and sexuality is something to be hidden and ashamed of, is as much a social conservative, Republican sex fantasy as anything. And while there are definitely gender issues to work through about body image and sex, the view that sees ANY depiction of female sexuality as objectification seems sexist, too. The fact that people find the human form attractive is a function of our biology. The fact that some men may not treat women the way they should be treated or that people feel unhappy in their own bodies is a function of our society. The answer to that problem is not by banning the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue or telling people to cover up, but being honest about and dealing with the underlying social attitudes that cause the problem.
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