Boycott porn! It’s a sweatshop.

Last week, the ABC’s youth station, Triple J, declared it “Porn Week” and broadcast a series of stories about our use of porn and the ways to use it to enhance your relationships.

They had previously surveyed more than 15,000 people aged 18-29 about their use of online pornography. Here’s the infographic with their findings:

And in case the fineprint was too fine, here are my takeaways from their survey:

  • Just about every man surveyed watches porn, and just over half of women
  • In general, guys watch porn a lot more often than women
  • Almost no-one pays for porn
  • About half of men worry they watch too much porn
  • Despite the above, relatively few are worried that porn has negatively affected their relationship
  • In fact, a larger proportion say porn has been good for their relationship

And in case it’s not already good for you and your partner, the ABC published a handful of articles about how porn can enhance your love life, like this one, “How porn can be a positive influence in your relationship.”

The assumptions behind the week-long campaign seems to be (1) porn is here to stay so we’d better get used to it, (2) watching it is nothing to be ashamed of, and (3) you might as well be open about it with your partner.

But before we give in to the mantra that it’s all just a bit of harmless fun, let’s take a look at the cost your pornographic entertainment is exacting from its performers.

Last year, I told the tragic story of Mercedes Grabowski, the popular adult film performer who hanged herself after starring in more than 280 adult films under the name August Ames.

Grabowski has been sexually assaulted as a kid and suffered from depression so debilitating that at times she had to cancel film shoots and stay in bed. Still no one, including her porn-director husband, seemed to question whether she should have been in that line of work.

Now this week, it was reported that another adult performer, Stephanie Saddora, who was once one of the world’s most successful porn stars, is homeless and living in a nightmarish network of pitch-black tunnels beneath the glamorous Las Vegas Strip.

Known by the screen name, Jenni Lee, Saddora appears in a Dutch documentary about the underground life of the estimated 300 people — many of whom suffer from drug addictions — who squat in the 300-kilometre-long labyrinth running beneath the city.

In her interview for the documentary, the 36-year-old claims to be happy and safe. But the tunnels have no electricity and no running water.

And in case you thought adult film stars are well compensated for their performances, a short-lived life in porn doesn’t just leave you suicidal and homeless. The pay stinks.

In a recent tweet and subsequent interviews, former porn performer Mia Khalifa said that despite being one of the most popular porn performers on the internet, she earned only $12,000 during her career.

As an “industry,” pornography ruins the lives of its workers. In a recent Reddit discussion, adult film performers were invited to share the secrets of what life in porn is really like. The AskReddit thread that resulted was stomach-churning, with many people revealing how common it was to experience rape, abuse and exploitation. Many victims feel trapped in the business.

We get rightly outraged about the working conditions and wages of Bangladeshi women working in the fast fashion industry, or Apple factory workers in China, or miners in Columbia.

How can we be okay about blithely promoting an industry that leaves its workers drug-addled, homeless, suicidal and broke?

We participate in campaigns to end the abuses to workers in the fast fashion industry, shaming those companies that sell the super-cheap garments made in sweatshops in Bangladesh. Why don’t we also run campaigns insisting that users stop clicking on free porn sites?

Every time you visit a porn website, you contribute to their business plan. Those websites get paid for the number of ads they’ve shown, and they attract advertisers by the number of clicks they get. And the more they prosper, the more their performers are under-paid, uncared for, and then rejected and recycled with fresh performers.

Let’s boycott porn to end the suffering.

Let’s boycott porn like we boycott fur coats or meat or tuna (when it endangers dolphins).

I know there have been calls for porn boycotts before. They are usually made by pastors concerned about the morality of the users. And they usually elicit responses like this one from Lindy West at the feminist website, Jezebel, who was reacting to Jay Dennis’ 2013 call for a million-man boycott of pornography:

“Jesus Christ, Christians. You know this whole ban-everything-that-makes-my-penis-confused thing is not going to pan out for you in the long run, right? I mean, respectfully, you can keep marching around and making YouTube videos about carnal wickedness, but the sticking point you’re always going to hit is that people are, like, really into carnal wickedness. Like really really into it. Like a lot. So your attempts to shut down pornography are a pretty colossal waste of time – time that you could be using to, I don’t know, feed homeless babies? Be nice to prostitutes? Other stuff on that to-do list Jesus left for you?”

Ouch. But my call for a pornography boycott isn’t to protect the morality of its (mainly) male users.

While some might think it’s quaint to emphasize the personal morality of remaining chaste and not viewing pornography, I’m pretty sure they’d agree that sweatshops and worker exploitation is immoral.

Remember, there’s a former pornstar currently living in a darkened tunnel under the Las Vegas Strip. Her life is a shipwreck. Meanwhile, porn users by the thousands are happily clicking on her scenes, feeding the machine that ate her up and spat her out, and pleasuring themselves at her expense.

It’s definitely not harmless fun.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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10 thoughts on “Boycott porn! It’s a sweatshop.

  1. This is a very helpful angle to approach this issue from. We need more personal stories like the ones mentioned above. Because then it really becomes a question about ignorance: are we okay with remaining willfully ignorant about the larger effects on individuals who are suffering because of this industry? However, one major issue is that porn thrives on creating a hyperreal fantasy that asks you to block out the real world and any effects the act of using porn might have on anyone other than you, really. The lure to escape real world issues and environments is what fuels people to watch porn.

  2. Well said, Mike. The real issue, I agree, is the terrible toll the porn industry takes on its workers. I would really like, though, to hear and see more former porn actors, male and female, blowing the lid on what really happens. That might get more attention.

    1. You should read the book ‘The Truth Behind the Fantasy of Porn’ written by Former Pornstar ‘Shelly Lubben’.
      You will cry your eyes out after reading about the realities of the Porn Industry.

  3. Mike, while I totally agree with your sentiments about the harm to individuals exploited by the porn industry, porn’s direct link to human sex and labor trafficking (including the commercial sexual exploitation of children) and the harm to individuals who consume porn both belong in any discussion of Christ-followers’ (or anyone’s for that matter) response. As an attorney and leader of a Tampa, Florida Underground microchurch (Justice Restoration Center) that provides free legal services to hundreds of human trafficking victims, we see this theme running throughout our clients’ stories. Most adult pornography involves force, fraud, or coercion and all “child porn” involves images of child rape/sexual abuse; all forms of it fuel the demand for the puchase of women, men, and children for sex. All of these features of online pornography are inextricably linked and devastating for adults and children, whether consumers or victims. it’s time the Church did more than boycott – She must take a bold stand against all exploitation and injustice. This is, indeed, a question of morality, not simply men watching bad stuff on the internet but in all aspects of the deep harms resulting from pornography.

    1. I was aware of the link with human trafficking, but decided to limit my comments to what I said, given that I try to keep posts to around 1000 words. But thank you for raising that other, insidious dimension to the pornography industry. And thank you for the work you’re doing in that area, and your challenge for the church to stand against injustice.

      1. PS. I love Tampa Underground!

  4. I’m not so sure about these arguments. Yes, porn actors get ripped off, treated badly, humiliated, get physically hurt, and there are sections of the industry that involve trafficking. All good reasons to say this is a bad industry.

    But these arguments can also apply to many other industries. In different parts of the world there is child labour in the recyclables industry (rubbish dump fossicking), underpayment and long hours in electronic factories, verbal humiliation in the Australian building industry, physical and mental hurt at FIFO mine site areas

    But we would not necessarily call for these industries to close for these reasons. Rather, we would ask for reform.

    But not for the porn industry.

    Your arguments are questioning how sex, and the right use and care of our sexual and sexualised bodies, whether on a film set, watching in front of a screen, or in the privacy of the bedroom (so to speak), should be conducted.

    This is a moral argument being cloaked in issues to do with labour and psychology. Maybe they are linked, maybe not, but either way, it’s morality that’s underlying the arguments here and the writer should say so, I think. Otherwise, it borders on sleight of hand.

    1. Respectfully, I don’t see any cloaking going on. The values reflected in the post are all rooted in some kind of moral argument as are objections to child labor, underpayment and long hours, and verbal humiliation in the workplace. The real problem is comparing legitimate businesses that involve exploitative practices that should be changed with the sex industry, an inherently exploitative business that will not become less so no matter the working conditions.

      1. I should clarify that I don’t have a problem with the post but with the comment implying that the pornography industry is just another business.

        1. Why not treat it as an industry, with proper labour laws? Many sex workers do, or at least try to, and they ask the rest of us to treat them as workers, not (im)moral agents.

          Again, I think your extension of Mike’s argument is really about being unsettled about the morals of pornography. I hear you about exploitation but why is one kind of exploitation easier to live with, than a sexual one?

          Imagine the porn industry tidying it’s act up and actors being treated as human beings rather than fodder for humiliation. Imagine there being ‘ethical’ pornography where all of the elements were right. Would it be ok for pornography to be made?

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