The “choice” to do porn

This is the third post that talks about the information presented in the documentary Hot Girls Wanted. The first one, about how pornography celebrates pedophilia, is here. The second one, about how women are brought into the porn industry, is here. This is not exactly a film review; I have added information from other sources as well. This third post is about the nature and context of the choice to enter the porn industry.

In Hot Girls Wanted, several young women are interviewed over the course of a few months while they are working in the porn industry. There is a lot of focus on two of them in particular, Tressa and Rachel. We meet Tressa and Rachel at the beginning of their porn careers when they are excited and enthusiastic. Over the course of time through more interviews we see their enthusiasm fade as they slowly realize the industry they have entered is not what they thought it would be.

Tressa, Rachel, and the others are living together in the home of their “talent manager,” Riley, and their porn careers begin with some sexy photo shoots and some “teen porn” films that are the gentler kind—no extreme acts or physical abuse just yet. They are out of their parents’ homes for the first time and living on their own with other young adults. They drink and do drugs and generally feel like life is a party.

Rachel: “We’re free right now. The word is in our hands.”

Tressa: “We practically do whatever we wanna do.”

Rachel: “Ever since I came here it’s been all about me. Do I wanna be in my parents’ shoes when I’m their age? No!”

She continues to talk about not wanting to follow the usual route of college, marriage and kids. She wants a more exciting life. She says she’s done SO MUCH SHIT HERE. For example, she’s “chilled in penthouses, been in Lamborghinis, rode on street bikes.”

Both girls say they’re trying to be famous. They think that glamour, fame and money are in their reach. They believe they will stay in the porn industry for many years.

When we get to know Tressa better, we find out that she was desperate to get out of her parents’ house and find excitement and money. She saw an ad on Craigslist for hot girls wanted and she impulsively took off right away. She did not take the time to think about how doing porn would affect her life. She did not consider what would happen when her parents found out. She did not consider that her life in porn would be short and that she would have to return to the conventional, boring workplace afterwards. She did not go on birth control pills. When her mother describes her daughter leaving the house, she snaps her fingers and says “just like that.” Tressa was in the normal developmental stage of life when the young adult is ready to leave home but is still impulsive and unable to think about the long term. As I’ve talked about before, she was also socialized in a porn culture and had learned to accept porn as normal and acceptable.

We see a conversation between Tressa and her mother when she goes back home to visit. Her mother asks her questions about pregnancy and STIs. Tressa says that she’s not on birth control and that it’s okay because the male performers “don’t come inside you.” Even basic sex education teaches that it’s possible to get pregnant even if he “pulls out” due to pre-ejaculate. Another thing to note here is that Tressa is having unprotected sex because that is what sells, and she is not in control over this. If she did not agree to unprotected sex then she wouldn’t get work. This is abuse toward her and she doesn’t see it, her eyes are still just seeing dollar signs, glamour and male approval.

While we’re on the subject of birth control, later in the film another woman, Michelle, says that the male performer came inside her, (from what I can tell, not with her permission), and so she got a Plan B pill to prevent pregnancy. Then she says “Plan B always works I guess. I don’t know.” She doesn’t even know! These girls are not at all prepared for what they’ve gotten into.

All the girls interviewed are eager for male approval. They glow with pride when men tell them they’re hot and they believe it when someone calls them their “favourite porn star.” They are high on this validation, as well as being high on leaving home and making money.

After they have done nude photo shoots and porn scenes featuring standard sex acts, studios have no interest in booking them anymore. The studios are on to the next fresh batch of 18 year olds. In order to keep working, the girls start taking jobs that are more “niche” jobs. In pornography “niche” translates to “abusive.” Rachel does the “Virgin Manipulations” scene which I described here. Tressa does a bondage scene which she describes as follows: “I was strapped together and I was on a bed and it was the same thing— force fucked and hardcore blowjob. No vomit. No vomiting today though. I didn’t eat breakfast so nothing really came out.”

Rachel goes to a job that she is told ahead of time is a blow job but when she gets there it’s a forced blow job—where the girl is choked so that she vomits. Rachel: “I was in California and I had, like, a blow job scene and I was like, for sure, $300 for a blow job scene. That’s nothing. You go there, you don’t even have sex, cool. I go there and he’s like, “It’s a forced blow job” and I’m like “what?” Just one guy. One little camera on a tripod. I don’t…. fuck! I was scared. I was terrified, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I could tell him no. Or the fact that we already recorded 15 minutes of it if I could just fucking leave. Like, then what? Then I understand it, like, that’s how rape victims feel. Like, they feel bad about themselves. But then, that’s where it all comes in like, “Did I really want money that bad?”

This is the point in their “careers” (of only a few months) where they realize that porn is abuse and they are being abused. They learn that they might show up at a job and it turns out it’s much more abusive than they were told ahead of time. They can expect to vomit while they are on the set. They do not feel like they are able to stop or say no if something hurts. They are almost able to see themselves as rape victims but not quite yet. Tressa’s new boyfriend, who actually cares about her as a person, voices his concern about her well-being and makes her realize that porn and prostitution are pretty much the same thing. He gently encourages her to quit.

When Rachel says that she “knows how rape victims feel” what is happening is that she is starting to realize that she has been raped but is not ready to articulate it yet. This is normal for a woman who is being paid for sexual abuse. (Actually, it’s normal for any abused women even if she is not being paid.) Rachel Moran explains this concept in her book Paid For. The section is too long for me to quote here, but from page 106 to 115, in the chapter called Prostitution’s Shame, Violation and Abuse, she describes how hard it is for a woman to name her abuse when she is being paid for it. The money is supposed to make the abuse okay or make the act not abusive. However, as Moran explains, the abuse is still felt and still experienced as abuse even if the woman cannot articulate that it’s abuse. The pain still hurts, the shame is still felt, even if she is holding on to the idea that she is in control. The woman who is having sex acts forced on her and who is made to do things that hurt and that make her vomit is being abused, whether she is paid or not. Money doesn’t make the pain stop hurting.

Tressa gets injured. She gets a Bartholin gland cyst, which is a painful cyst near the vagina caused by the clogging of the gland that makes fluid that wets the genitals during sex. Symptoms of an infected cyst include pain that gets worse and makes it hard to walk, sit, or move around. She has to go to the ER and have it drained by a doctor and she complains of severe pain. The question of money is not mentioned in the film but since she is in the U.S. I assume she would have had to pay out of her own money for the hospital stay. There isn’t any indication she had medical benefits—she was being paid a flat fee for each shoot. There go her earnings.

When Tressa is starting to think about quitting, she says the things making her hesitate to quit are the money and getting to travel.

There is a huge difference between what the girls believe being a porn star is like at the beginning of the film and what they know near the end. At the beginning they have no idea what it’s like to be subject to abusive acts that they cannot control. They have no idea that it will hurt and they will be afraid to say no. They have no idea what it feels like to have to act out an incest/molestation fantasy or a bondage scene. They don’t know what it feels like to have a producer determine what sex acts they will engage in with a complete stranger. They don’t know what the physical injuries are going to feel like. They don’t know they will be forced to vomit on a regular basis. In short, they enter the porn industry having no idea at all what they are getting themselves into. This is absolutely not informed consent.

What the girls are really hoping for when they enter porn is a way out of their parents’ homes and a way to get money, glamour, excitement, validation, and fame. That’s what they’re looking for. They are not looking for abuse. This is not in any way consent to abuse.

They are impulsive and they have been groomed into thinking porn is fun and they have an unrealistic idea of what it is like. To imply that everything is okay because they chose to be there is to completely ignore most of the real situation.

The real situation is that the people making money are the owners of the companies, not the women, and the women are taken advantage of, used and abused and discarded. The women are not in control of what happens to them on the porn set or what happens to the videos and images afterwards. For the rest of their lives, images and video of their sexual abuse will be available for men to jerk off to.

To claim that porn is acceptable because the women agree to do it is to ignore that they did not actually know what they were “agreeing” to ahead of time. It removes male violence and misogyny from the discussion and tells women that they are responsible for their own rapes. It is victim blaming and it is a strategy to minimize the damage that the pornography industry does for the benefit of male consumers and profiteers.

How women are brought into the porn industry

This is the second post that talks about the information presented in the documentary Hot Girls Wanted. This is not exactly a film review; I have added information from other sources as well. The first post was about how pornography largely presents pedophilia and this post is about how women are groomed and recruited into the porn industry. Information for this post is also taken from Female Sexual Slavery by Kathleen Barry, an excellent book that I recommend reading.

In her book Female Sexual Slavery, one of the things Kathleen Barry describes is the strategies of procuring and pimping, two distinct but closely related activities that bring women into the prostitution industry and keep them there.

“Together, pimping and procuring are perhaps the most ruthless displays of male power and sexual dominance. As practices they go far beyond the merchandising of women’s bodies for the market that demands them. Pimping and procuring are the crystallization of misogyny; they rank among the most complete expressions of male hatred for femaleness. Procuring is a strategy, a tactic for acquiring women and turning them into prostitution; pimping keeps them there.” Barry, p.73.

As she describes in her book, the methods of procuring are the following:

  1. Befriending or love: Procurers find teenage girls who are naïve and seeking love and attention from men and they act as a boyfriend toward these girls. They particularly use this method on girls who are runaways or who are bored and looking for excitement. They make the girl feel like she is in a romantic relationship even though it is really just a business strategy for him.
  2. Actions of gangs, syndicates, and organized crime: these organizations will often procure girls and women into prostitution as a part of their gang activities.
  3. Recruiting women under false pretenses by offering them a job such as dancing or modelling, or by offering them marriage, and turning them to prostitution when they arrive.
  4. Purchasing women and girls from other male “owners”
  5. Outright kidnapping

In the film Hot Girls Wanted, a procurer for the porn industry is interviewed. His name is given as “Riley” and at the time of the filming he is only 23 years old. He is living in a five bedroom house in Miami Beach. His job is to place ads on Craigslist enticing young women to join the porn industry and the women who answer his ads come to live in his house and pay him rent. In addition to providing living accommodations, he drives them to their shoots. He calls himself a “talent manager” and calls the women living in his house “my girls.” His method of procurement falls into the category of recruiting women by offering them modelling jobs, which is number three above. Unlike in the past, he is not pretending that the jobs he offers are straight up modelling. He is fairly honest that this is for pornography. He can be honest about this since all girls are groomed to accept porn and so there is less trickery to be done than there used to be. However there is still some trickery involved, because he presents these “modelling” jobs as if they are glamorous and lucrative and fails to mention that the work the young women will have to perform will involve physical abuse such as “forced blow jobs” and that they will not come out of this with much money.

Riley is shown creating an ad on Craigslist advertising for young, hot women and offering them free flights to Miami. He explains that it’s very easy to recruit girls because new girls are turning 18 all the time and lots of them want to do porn. He simply creates the ad and “Voilà,” he says, “that’s all you gotta do. I should have like 5 responses within 12 hours.”

Modern procurers for the porn industry don’t have much work to do. That is because girls are socialized to accept pornography as normal during their entire lives. Once they’ve turned 18 they have likely been watching porn for several years already. Porn star Belle Knox watched porn since age 12. That means during a large portion of her formative years she was taught to sexualize her own degradation and accept physical and sexual abuse as normal.

To review a bit about female socialization, which I have discussed in previous blog posts (check the “female socialization” tags and categories) girls are taught certain lessons right from early childhood as a part of their journey to become women. They are taught that their worth is based on being pretty and pleasing to men, that they can evaluate their self-worth based on how much boys and men like them, and that their ultimate failure as a woman is being unattractive or “unfuckable.” Entire industries–beauty, makeup, fashion and dieting—encourage girls to see themselves as ugly in an attempt to sell them products to “fix” their perceived ugliness. All this advertising reinforces the idea that women’s worth is based on their appearance. Toys for little girls teach them femininity. Dolls have makeup on their faces and sometimes appear downright pornified. Characters in movies for kids present feminine girls often wearing sexy outfits; magazine covers that they see at the supermarket present airbrushed, “perfect-looking” women who are often scantily-clad and being presented for the evaluation of their appearance. These magazines are becoming increasingly pornified. The social media sites that teens use contain soft-core pornography on a regular basis—Twitter and Tumblr are full of porn, and even Facebook allows images of “sexy” women as long as there is no explicit nudity. The films and sitcoms that preteens and teens watch often have characters in them that take a casual view of pornography, mentioning it as something people do, and sometimes characters actually make pornography of their own as a part of the storyline. Porn stars are starting to be featured in non-porn TV shows and are interviewed on the news. Unless a child is raised in a religious tradition that stays completely away from modern civilization, he or she is aware of pornography as a preteen or younger, and is groomed to accept it as normal for many years before the age of 18.

The procurer from Hot Girls Wanted, Riley, has lots of help in doing his job. All he has to do is post an ad on Craigslist because a lot of other work has been done for him by our culture in general. Our pornified culture serves as a large grooming session to prepare girls for sexual abuse so that actual abusers don’t have to work very hard to get a girl to comply.

When the girls living in Riley’s house get interviewed, it’s really obvious how they have been groomed. They talk about inadequate sex education in schools and the bizarre, nonsensical things teachers have said about sex. They view porn as better, more accurate sex education. One young woman, Karly, says “…there’s all these people in porn having sex and nothing’s going wrong and everybody’s happy.” She has watched porn before and believed that what is happening is consensual sex. She has believed the lie. She’s never heard of the pain and damage to women’s bodies, the STIs, the PTSD, the discomfort and the feeling of dehumanization. Those things are carefully concealed by the industry. She doesn’t have the media literacy skills or the knowledge of women’s oppression that would allow her to see what’s really going on. There should be comprehensive sex education and women’s studies courses taught in high schools for the sake of our safety.

After a photo shoot, a young woman named Michelle says “Today boosted my confidence more than anything. When he says you look hot I’m like damn!” Another young woman, Tressa, continues: “Some guy is going to see that picture, guys jack off to you!” Michelle again: “Even when I’m making my weird ugly faces and I just look weird guys are like ‘you’re so sexy I just wanna fuck you.’ And that’s, like, it’s a boost of confidence to know that you’re wanted, like, that much you know.” These young women have come to believe that their worth is based on whether men want to fuck them and they are feeling exhilarated because their sexiness has been validated.

The Latina woman, Jade, talks about doing the “Latina abuse” scenes, in which she is physically tortured and called racist and sexist names. She has found a way to believe this is acceptable even though it is painful and dehumanizing for her. She says, “I don’t look at this stuff like that really black and white, good and bad. Good and bad is what your opinion is at the moment. Because X amount of time ago, I thought certain things were bad that I don’t think are bad now.” She has learned to accept what is happening to her by modifying her own values and morality to fit what the sadistic men want to do to her.

When you hear all the things these women say, it becomes clear that they have believed for a long time that pornography is normal and that they have allowed it to affect what they think sex is and what they think is acceptable behavior.

The procurer, Riley, is aware that the average time a new girl will stay in the porn industry is only about three months. He knows that she will be discarded after that and that the only way to keep getting work will be to do more abusive acts. He does not warn girls of this even when they come to him excited and believing they will get rich and famous and be in porn for many years. He takes their money to use to pay his mortgage and when they quit porn he recruits new girls. If he cared even a little bit about these young women he would give them a realistic idea of what they are getting into before they start and correct their misconceptions. But he does not care about them as people, he cares about using them to fund his own lifestyle. Many years down the road he will pay off his mortgage and be a homeowner while hundreds of girls will be hurt, discarded, and trying to rebuild their lives after abuse, without any equity of their own. Porn star Tressa earned $25,000 in four months but after she got out of porn she had $2,000 left since there are so many expenses when you are a woman in porn (rent, makeup, travel, clothes, drugs). It is not a lucrative money-making strategy for women—the people who earn the real money are male profiteers such as procurers, pimps, and pornographers.

Riley can tell himself that his behavior is acceptable because the young women are choosing this out of their own free will. One of his privileges as a man is to be able to ignore the grooming system that is bringing girls to him and just sit back and benefit from it without analyzing it or challenging it. This brings us to the next topic, the idea of the women’s choice to enter the porn industry and the nature and context of that choice. Stay tuned!

Pornography celebrates pedophilia

Warning: this post contains upsetting content regarding the porn industry.

The most popular theme in pornography is “teen.” The teen genre features 18 year old girls who are supposedly virgins and being deflowered by older, more experienced men, and pseudo-child pornography where the 18 year old is made to appear younger and has to act out an incest or molestation theme.

In Gail Dines’ book Pornland, she has a chapter called Children–the Final Taboo where she describes the connection between the sexualization of underage girls in popular culture, the pseudo-child porn genre and actual child porn. Dines begins by describing several fashion and magazine images that appeared in the last few decades that sexualize teenage girls and pose them as if for a porn shoot.

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus, age 16, Elle magazine

French Vogue

French Vogue magazine 2011

French Vogue Magazine

“As pop culture begins to look more and more pornographic, the actual porn industry has had to become more hard-core as a way to distinguish its products from those images found on MTV, in Cosmopolitan, and on billboards. The problem for pornographers is that they are quickly running out of new ways to keep users interested. So one of the big questions they have to grapple with today is how to keep maximizing their profits in an already glutted market where consumers are becoming increasingly desensitized to their products. The solutions for them are the same as for all capitalists: find innovative ways to expand both market shares and revenues in existing markets, bring in new customers, and find new market segments and distribution channels. Thus the major task for the porn industry is to keep looking for new niche markets and consumer bases to open up and exploit while staying within the law, or alternatively, working to change the law—an option that the now-mainstream pornography industry increasingly employs.” Gail Dines, Pornland, p.142.

Dines describes how the pornography industry got a law changed on child pornography so that although it was still illegal to feature anyone under 18 in porn, it is legal to make an 18 year old appear to be under 18. So this means that as pornographers look for innovative new ways to catch viewers’ attention, they create more and more abusive types of scenes having to do with teen girls.

“If, as researchers argue, real child pornography is used by some men to prepare them for actual assault on a child by both arousing them and desensitizing them to the harm done to children, while at the same time offering a blueprint of how to commit the crime, then is it not possible that PCP sites could play a similar role?” Gail Dines, Pornland, p.144.

In PCP, [pseudo-child pornography], teen girls are often dressed in school uniforms and have props near them that signify childhood such as lollipops and teddy bears. They are marketed with words such as “cute,” “sweet,”, “small,” and “tight” to signify childhood and virginity. Dines provides an excellent analysis of the way the girls are made to appear to enjoy being initiated by an older man and how actual child abusers see this as a sign that young girls do consent to their abuse.

In the documentary Hot Girls Wanted, they interview Rachel, a teen girl who is working in the amateur porn industry. They follow her to the set of a site called Virgin Manipulations.

On the set, Rachel and an older, adult male performer are on a bed listening to instructions from the producer. The male porn star explains: “The story is, the girl is going away to college and she’s still a virgin. And I am the real good friend of the family that is looking to take advantage of that.” He even jokes, “You know I feel all predatory and shit.” The producer says “Tony, my main line for you is ‘I’ve known you since you were little,’ and her main line is ‘Well no I’ve never looked at you that way because I consider you like my uncle.’” The producer continues explaining to the man, Tony. “And you kind of, without even getting a yes, start to kind of keep going with it… and eventually you can just tell her you can kind of just move over and just start taking ‘em off you know what I mean?” Rachel is visibly uncomfortable while listening to these instructions. She sits with her body closed in, arms and legs pressed together, tense, looking away from the male performer. She nervously plays with her fingers. The producer says, “And here’s the key point: You’re never fully engaged into it.” You can hear someone else saying “this is kinda weird” in the background.

After the scene, Rachel says, “That last part I fucking hated! There is absolutely nothing sexually arousing about that at all. And, I mean, a lot of porn is like that, and you’re like, this is so just work right now. In the amateur porn world, you’re just processed meat.”

The film shows the marketing for this Virgin Manipulations film she’s just made. The cover says “Because morality is always negotiable” and “Her first penetration was the WRONG ONE.”

Then it shows some other links to porn in this genre: “A small town girl,” “An innocent face to cum on,” “Stranded babe picked up and… (text cut off),” “She needs the money,” “Daddy’s girl gets filled,” “Doe eyed teen gets wrecked,” and “How could I say no?”

Rachel talks about the porn shoots where you’re a Dumb-Girl-Who-Needs-Money. “Everything is the same shoot. Like, it’s always your first time, and you’re just like well I’m dumb as hell and I need $500, and I’m just gonna get this random dude that I would never have sex with in real life and have sex with him and say things that I’d never say and do things that I’d never do. And it’s all about the guy getting off. Like the girl’s just there to help. As long as you have boobs and a vagina and an ass that’s all that really matters, they don’t care about who you really are.”

They also interview Michelle, another young woman doing amateur porn. Her first shoot is for Exploited Teens. She says “It was just like him one-on-one like pretty much I’m a fucking creeper and I’m gonna mack on you little teenage girl.” Her friend Tressa answers her: “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Cut to the actual film and you hear the voice of the male performer saying “We just met and here I am already got my old man hands on your young teen ass.” Michelle dutifully giggles for the camera.

She continues to describe the scene, saying that it was “kinda gross,” that he hurt her, and that it was not the type of thing she really wanted. According to the documentary, there are over 700 girls on Exploited Teens.

I’m going to restate that “teen” is the most popular genre of porn. That means the main theme of porn is the abuse of a teenage girl by an older man. Sometimes the girl has to pretend to enjoy the abuse and sometimes she is marketed specifically as being exploited. These girls in this documentary entered the porn industry on their own, but many others are there because they are being trafficked. Even those girls who entered the industry on their own report that they do not like the molestation theme.

Several things are notable here. One of the issues that stands out is that these girls, even though they enter the porn industry willingly, have no control over what happens on the set. It is the producer or owner of the porn site who decides. This is not a consensual situation at all. If she has no control over the script and has to put up with acts she finds repugnant then it is NOT consensual sex. Sex without consent is rape.

Another important issue is that the overall theme of porn is exploitation of the innocent—older men using their power to molest young girls. There is barely any difference between teen porn and child porn. The only difference is that the teen has reached the age of 18—an age where suddenly the theme of older man initiates girl into sex becomes acceptable.

When you put these two issues together, you realize what the situation is here. Real teen girls are being raped by older, adult men on camera, and the videos are being marketed exactly as such—they are marketed as exploited teens and manipulated virgins. This is the most popular genre in porn. This is male supremacy, it’s the celebration of pedophilia, and it’s violence against women and girls. This only happens in a society that is controlled by capitalists with no ethics and where men are in power and women and girls are hated.