Many studies show that porn users are more likely to be verbally, physically and sexually aggressive, which makes sense because most porn is literally images of men being sexually violent. Tying violence to sexual pleasure propagandizes the ludicrous idea that women should enjoy rather than object to abuse, and that men should abuse women because it will give them orgasms. Of course, these ideas are contrary to all that we know about how healthy human beings function and survive in the world.
It doesn’t matter that a small number of people might sincerely enjoy suffering or causing harm to others. Some people like using heroin and driving drunk. We don’t indulge them or change the law to make their habits legal. Laws are supposed to protect people from harm.
Not all porn is violent, but 90% of it is, and it doesn’t only hurt women. Men who use porn regularly report higher rates of erectile dysfunction, worsening relationships and emotional detachment from partners. Children suffer, too. Boys as young as eight are accessing porn online and learning at a very young age — while their brains are still being formed — that violence against women will give them one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Anything that glorifies widespread harm to human beings should be banned.
We banned minstrel shows because they hurt black people by portraying them as simple-minded fools who liked being mocked and mistreated. The shows celebrated the idea that black people were less than fully human, so they were banned even though many blacks appeared in them and enjoyed watching them.
Porn is similar. It hurts women by portraying them as people who enjoy being sexually abused. Porn portrays women as less than fully human by promoting the idea that women should enjoy being violently penetrated – often by multiple penises at the same time — while being strangled, slapped, suffocated or worse. Most women last only a few months in the business before they have to quit because they acquire deadly diseases of the genitals and throat, and their recutms become irreparably torn or prolapsed. Porn has nothing to do with sex. It is a violence against women industry.
There would not be such an industry if women had equal rights in America, but they don’t. Women were excluded from equal protection of the law in 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. To fix this core constitutional defect, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was proposed by Congress in 1972 and finally ratified by the requisite number of states in 2020. This should have made it our Twenty-Eighth Amendment, but it has yet to be validated. A lawsuit I filed earlier this year in Massachusetts federal court to establish the ERA as part of our constitution is pending.
With equal rights for women, courts would be compelled to ban violent porn as a form of torture, a common definition of which is “the infliction of severe pain, physical or mental, or great bodily injury…” Manufacturers would have no defense because people cannot legally consent to torture, which means it would be illegal to make and sell. Without fully equal protection of law women cannot fight violent porn in court because a judge could rule that even torture porn is legal so long as the victim is female. Put simply, all laws, including laws against torture, are not enforced equally on behalf of women so long as women remain second-class citizens subject to second-class legal protections.
Between now and when women finally achieve equality, we have to listen to the whiners insist that we should respect a woman’s right to “choose” to appear in porn, as if being brutalized is a form of liberty. It isn’t. There can be no free choice when a woman decides to appear in porn because her only other option is homelessness. There can be no free will when a woman decides to appear in porn while incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. And there can be no voluntary decision-making when a woman who appears in porn does so because she is barely eighteen years-old, was sexually abused as a child, and has been raised to see violent sexual abuse as normal. Individual freedom is a bedrock American principle, but coerced destruction of a woman’s mind and body is not freedom.
The porn industry is highly profitable and very influential in all branches of government and all spheres of society, but violent porn should be banned because industries that profit off the decimation of human beings are inhumane, and humanity is more important than profit.
Wendy Murphy is an impact litigator, professor of sexual violence law and Director of the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project at New England Law|Boston. @wmurphylaw