Academic Click ‘Bate: The War On Porn Continues

The latest academic anti-porn study is full of holes, misinformation, scaremongering and supposition – don’t be fooled.

Is faux incest sexual violence? It might seem an odd question, but according to a new academic study, it is. All those ‘stepbrother/sister etc’ video clips you might see on the adult video sites are “sexually violent material” according to the new study Sexual Violence as a Sexual Script in Mainstream Online Pornography, which absolutely sounds like an unbiased look at the porn industry. Published in the British Journal of Criminology and carried out by Clare McGlynn, Fiona Vera-Gray, Ibad Kureshi and Kate Butterby – the two lead researchers both having a track record in feminist anti-porn sexual politics – the study makes big claims that were inevitably picked up and repeated uncritically by media outlets like the BBC. But even a cursory glance at the evidence and the conclusions might make a more open-minded person raise their eyebrows. If ever there was a study that set out in search of evidence to back up a belief already held, this is it.

According to the report, one in eight videos featured on the leading porn tube sites – PornHub, XHamster and XVideos – promote violent sexual content, using the World Health Organisation’s definition of sexual violence, to first time users. How do they do this, and how do we know? Well, the researchers looked at the titles of 131,738 clips that appeared on the launch pages of each site – and so straight away, we might take a pause for breath. If you’ve visited a porn tube site – and you have, let’s be fair – then you probably know that descriptions and titles are often only loosely related to the actual content. The same is true on YouTube, to be honest – people will try to pull you in with clickbait titles that try to stand out by being as salacious, depraved and attention-grabbing as possible. If we are only judging the content by the title, then we can probably find all manner of outrageous content on these sites. But equally, we can often find the same clip with many different titles – the couple identified as brother and sister in one version will be total strangers in another. It’s all fiction, and you don’t even have to look very hard to see that.

It might, of course, offend some people that clips are promoted with language that implies non-consensual and abusive sex – but words are not actions, and porn is, traditionally, an inherently offensive and outrageous medium, trading in the rarely-fulfilled promise of shock and sensation with ever-more crass titles – it’s something that goes back to the VHS days. For people who object to porn on principle to be offended by mere descriptions used for video clips is surely neither here nor there. Unless you actually watch the clips and see clear evidence of illegal and non-consensual material – and by clear evidence, I mean content that is obviously not staged by actors – then it is hard to see how you can claim that these sites are doing anything wrong. Of course, some will argue that merely seeing staged content with salacious and tasteless titles will trigger otherwise harmless people to copy what they see on screen, but that’s a very slippery slope to head down – it’s the same ‘monkey see, monkey do’ argument used about video nasties and we all know how fallacious and dangerous that was.

The biggest percentage of clips listed as ‘sexually violent’ is the decidedly odd ‘fauxcest’ genre – films supposedly featuring stepsisters, brothers, fathers and mothers that clearly play into a kinky fantasy for some people. Is this violence? Bad taste, yes, but perhaps not exactly what the WHO had in mind when drawing up their list of ‘sexual violence’.  I’ll concede that the fascination for make-believe step-siblings is a weird and incomprehensible one – but it’s hard to imagine that anyone looking at these clips, almost all professionally shot with performers who pop up time and time again, could actually think that these people really were genuinely related. At 6.4% of the content found on the front pages of the sites, it hardly seems overwhelming anyway.

The next highest group, at 4.1%, are clips that have titles referring to ‘physical aggression’ or ‘forced activity’, which I must say is a touch vague – even though the researchers have removed clearly consensual BDSM from their lists, we might ask how many of these clips are simply ‘rough sex’ – controversial in itself, but something that is usually a consenting act. You might disapprove of choking, slapping, spitting and other forms of aggressive fucking, but others – men and women – rather like such acts. Again, let’s remember that this study is based solely on the titles of clips, not the content – these are most likely to be consensual sub-dom clips, or, more likely, not remotely as brutal as the title suggests. We should remember that BDSM is about fantasy and that fantasy often involves a lack of control. The names of these clips are likely to be buying into that – and even the researchers have reluctantly conceded that these clips do not actually feature violence or abuse. Why, then, include them at all?

Going on… the next two categories sound dodgier – hidden cams and upskirting (at 2.2%) and ‘coercion and exploitation’ (1.7%). But again, we have to take artistic licence into consideration. ‘Coercion’ could well include Ben Dover-style fake persuasion of shy amateur performers; ‘upskirt’ videos are often public exhibitionist clips. I don’t for a moment doubt that upskirting is a real-life unpleasantness that needs to be dealt with – but I’m not sure that much of that criminal material is going onto sites like these. At the very least, without separating the fictional and the exhibitionist from the criminal, it’s impossible to make any conclusions from these statistics.

Ben Dover did not really pick up his performers on the street. It’s called fiction.

The thing is, this study is very disingenuous in the way it conflates consensual sex, fantasy and criminal behaviour. They make a point of how many videos (7.7%) feature the word ‘teen’, as though this was inherently illegal, and at one point state that – although outside their ‘sexual violence’ remit – they found a clip titled so horny she fucked a horse”, concluding that “the extent of unlawful material, therefore, is likely higher than reported here.” Well, I think we can be pretty certain that these sites do not feature actual bestiality clips – and the inference that all the other content that they have previously identified is ‘illegal’ is a fascinating jump – how do they know, based solely on the titles?

I’m not sure that anyone even takes that much notice of what the clips on these sites are called anyway – surely they are primarily looking at the images, and taking the titles with a pinch of salt if they notice them at all? Even if viewers were specifically attracted by and believing in the titles, it’s pretty certain that they would quickly be disappointed by the content.

As PornHub themselves have said: “Remember, a kink that looks degrading or humiliating is not the same thing as an illegal, abusive, or non-consensual act. What goes on between consenting adults is exactly that: consensual. Non-consent must be distinguished from consent to relinquish control.”

Essentially, these researchers have done what we might scoff at others for – they’ve fallen for the hype. They believe that clickbait (or, in these instances, ‘clip ‘bate’) titles, designed to make this post stand out from the millions of others on the site, are genuine descriptions of what is being shown; that sexual fantasy represents reality; and that words can only have one meaning, and that said meaning (of, say, ‘talked into’ or ‘fucked brutally’) must be the worst thing imaginable. But more than that, they have conflated consensual sex with abuse, legal fantasy with illegal action and kink with crime. This may be down to ignorance, or it may be done with knowing intent, in order to give the already-beleaguered tube sites a further kicking, hoping that their flimsy (and that’s being kind) evidence will be used to further support legislation and restrictions on the porn industry. Without even looking at what the actual video footage contains, the whole exercise is meaningless, except to generate shock-horror headlines from media sources who are too lazy or too biased to actually pay attention to the methodology and to give politicians and pressure groups another bit of fake ‘evidence’ to wave around when demanding more controls on the sex industry.  It’s cynical, sloppy and manipulative – much like the keyword-driven clickbait titles of the clips themselves. Don’t be taken in.

DAVID FLINT

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One comment

  1. Has anyone ever compiled a comprehensive list of ‘evidence’/accusations/anti-porn stances, maybe to see how broad the spectrum of attack is – from (pseudo?) scientific to religiously moral and whether any of the approaches contradict each other?
    But yeah, judging solely on titles and not content seems particularly dangerous and misleading, especially when it’s being judged as criminal activity or encouraging such.
    It is reminiscent of the video nasty era, when many films were judged solely on the basis of their bad taste cover art. But whereas that could be amusing at times (mistaking Sam Fuller’s ‘The Big Red One’ for a sex film, or is that an urban legend?), there’s nothing remotely funny about the current situation.
    I almost miss Mary Whitehouse and her obvious, religiously-motivated disgust and moral superiority.
    Almost.

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