Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 24, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Comment Was Billie Eilish right about porn?

Was Billie Eilish right about porn?

M Shelton delves into the issues of the porn industry and how it affects our relationship with sex.
5 mins read
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Was Billie Eilish right about porn?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

M Shelton delves into the issues of the porn industry and how it affects our relationship with sex.

TW: mentions rape, non-consent, and exploitation/abuse of children

Last month, Billie Eilish made the headlines when she spoke out about her unhealthy relationship with pornography. Having first encountered it at the age of 11, Eilish recalled how she “felt like one of the guys” after watching it, but ultimately fell into an addiction that gave her nightmares and skewed her perspective on healthy sex and relationships. She went on to say, “It really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much… I’m so angry that porn is so loved, and I’m so angry at myself for thinking that it was okay”.

As bold and controversial as her statement was, I don’t think she’s alone. I was younger than ten when I stumbled across porn for the first time, unbeknownst to my parents. I remember boys as young as 12 proudly discussing the porn they’d been watching during my secondary school classes. I later watched some of those same boys start to harass girls by asking them what kind of underwear they had on or making inappropriate outfit requests for non-uniform days. I can’t help but wonder whether porn contributed to their sexist attitudes and objectification of girls at such a young age.

Research on the impacts of porn is challenging, particularly when it comes to children, but some studies have collected useful findings. For example, one study found that 44 per cent of boys who watched porn reported that it gave them ideas about the kind of sex they wanted to try. A 2016 review of research on adolescent exposure to porn found that it was associated with stronger gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs, as well as higher rates of sexual aggression and harassment perpetrated by boys and experienced by girls.

There is rarely any depiction of contraception, consent or boundaries. Instead, rough, degrading, or violent acts are often shown to be normal

Given that porn sites often use terms such as “schoolgirl”, “destroy”, “slut” and “barely legal”, I can see how children and adults alike might be misled about what is and isn’t okay during sex. There is rarely any depiction of contraception, consent or boundaries. Instead, rough, degrading, or violent acts are often shown to be normal and erotic parts of sex that could happen at any time. Creating an expectation for women and girls to accept or enjoy this is nothing short of dangerous. In her interview, Eilish admitted that watching porn led to her “not saying no to things that were not good… because I thought that that was what I was supposed to be attracted to”. Rather than declaring that anything can be feminist if it is consensual, perhaps we should be questioning why people are making videos of women being overpowered and injured, and why other people find that arousing.

To make matters worse, it isn’t all acting, and it isn’t all consensual. Sites such as PornHub are still filled with images of children, exploited people, and even unconscious people. Ex-employees have stated that moderators are instructed to let as much material through as possible, no matter how horrifying the content. Victims of rape and trafficking struggle to get videos of them removed. Should anyone be consuming porn unless they can be sure that they won’t be watching footage of rape? Even when people consent to be in porn, we should ask how many of them are motivated by poverty or addiction, and how many of them sustain injuries from their work. Common ailments reportedly include tearing of the throat, vagina or anus, gonorrhoea, and chlamydia of the eye.

Nevertheless, Eilish’s comments have sparked backlash. Sex workers have spoken out against her claims, stating that her parents are to blame for the negative impacts that porn had on her as a child, due to their failure to supervise her internet activity. Some feel that Eilish is “demonizing the consenting adults who create this art of other adults” and “blaming an entire industry for her warped view of her own sexuality”. I empathise with sex workers who feel that their livelihood is being attacked. It is important to remember that although trafficking and exploitation are common in this industry, there are women who have freely chosen this line of work, and they don’t deserve to be shamed or infantilised. Fuelling the stigma around sex work also makes it difficult for anyone to leave the industry or find alternative work should they wish to do so. These conversations shouldn’t be about attacking individuals, but critically analysing an industry that is facilitating harm.

Perhaps we should be questioning why people are making videos of women being overpowered and injured, and why other people find that arousing

Whilst everyone acknowledges that children shouldn’t have access to porn, there is much disagreement about whose responsibility this is. Eilish’s comments have started an important conversation, and many experts are encouraging parents to talk openly and often with their children about sex and the adult content that they might see online. Comprehensive sex education in schools is also essential, and it must cover more than just reproduction and preventing pregnancy. When children aren’t taught about female pleasure, masturbation or queer sex, many are bound to end up learning from porn.

Additionally, for an industry that claims to care, porn distributors should be doing more to protect children. Mainstream sites often require no age verification at all, while “ethical” sites usually have a checkbox at most. If this content is truly only meant to be available to adults, why can’t proof-of-age be required? Thousands of other sites from banks to dog sitting agencies require you to upload ID, so why can’t porn sites do the same? Although children would inevitably still be able to find porn, at least it would be less material and less easily accessible. Plus, if requiring an account makes users more conscious of the content they consume, that can only be beneficial.   

We live in a misogynistic society, and neither porn nor sex are unaffected by this. The debate over whether porn is inherently harmful, or whether ethical porn can exist, is ongoing. Either way, the facts are that allowing children to access this content is indisputably damaging, and that the porn industry in its current state has a lot to answer for.

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