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Onjali Rauf Headshot

Porn On the Brain... Whether You Like It or Not

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A few weeks ago, I joined the London Feminist Network in the leafy haven of Bloomsbury for one single purpose: to form a line of women, clad in white body suits and pollution masks, outside the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Why?

Because unknown to many, this arm of the internationally 'chic' hotel chain, nestling so innocently around the corner from the British Museum on a tree-lined street buzzing with bookshops and cafes, was daring to host Xbiz EU - a three-day convention where the 'topcats' of the adult contents industry were getting together to discuss how to make porn yet more accessible than it already is (because apparently, being a 97-billion dollar industry is just not enough).

The theme of our protest was simple: porn is toxic. Poisonous. A modern-day parasite that grips the brain, the genitals and anything else it can find, and won't let go until the body it has consumed finds the willpower to not only recognise it has been infected, but (without the aid of any antibiotics) fight the thing off. Be it school kids who stumble across links on FaceBook or share videos as a joke but then find they can't live without them, grown-ups who find porn more sexually fulfilling than actually having sex, to credit card companies who (must) clap their hands with glee every time yet another porn video hits the millionth user, porn breeds in the most unlikeliest places, at a rate we have not yet been able to measure, and more worryingly perhaps, seems utterly capable of making itself not only comfortable but accepted in previously hostile environments. One only has to look at the music (Mile Cyrus, Rihanna, Madonna, 50Cent anyone?), publishing (lad's mags, The Sun, women's magazines), advertising (list is too long!) and film (ditto) industries to see how 'soft' porn (which interestingly enough, has become a defunct term in the porn industry thanks to its success) has infiltrated into our daily lives - to such a point that one wonders whether the Advertising Standards Authority and other such regulatory bodies have any purpose at all.

So why am I bringing this up today - two weeks after the event?

For two reasons.

Firstly, thanks to Martin Daubney's gratingly honest documentary "Porn on the Brain" which aired last night on Channel 4, the impact of porn on the lives of ALL of us (whether you care to admit it or not) is once again at the forefront of our minds. It was, contrary to expectations, a frank, open (and very brave) testimony to the growing body of evidence that porn is not only founded on the premise of "male domination and female humiliation", but a self-perpetuated and agonising addiction that entraps the consumer of porn him/herself. As the former Editor of Loaded magazine and a clear long-term consumer of porn (i.e. not a "typical feminist" / banshee / irate woman who's not "good enough to be in a porno" - such are the highly intellectualised insults often thrown out to those of us who take part in anti-porn demos), his quest to uncover how the increasingly violent / depraved nature of porn is impacting younger generations of consumers is a refreshing signifier that hey, something is DEFINITELY wrong here. After all, if a former lads' mag editor is saying it, believing it, and is worried about the fact that a generation of "sexually traumatised boys" are getting their first lessons and cues from men who are not just sexually violent, but who are in fact, "sexual psychopaths" (as succinctly put by Gail Dines, author of Pornland), then things really have reached a crossroads, right?

Daubney also posed a particular question that in itself, brings me to my second reason for writing about the often taboo topic of porn today: and that is, "Does watching violent porn lead to violence against women?"

Today is, as most of you probably won't know, the first day of Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness Month - and sexual violence is a daily aspect of DV that is often secondary to the instantaneous mental image of bruised bodies and the yellow tape of murder investigation lines that arises (there will be four such lines drawn up across the country today). Yet rape, sexually aggressive threats, and sexual abuse are all forms of DV that impact hundreds of thousands of women a year. 85,000 (that's right, 85 THOUSAND!) women are raped and 400,000 women sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year, whilst 1 in every 5 women (aged 16 - 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (figures from Rape Crisis).

That means you and I each know at least one woman who has been through hell and back again.

Whilst, as Daubner was careful to point out, there is no clear scientifically proven correlation between porn as a primary cause to the growing cases of violence against women and girls (as well as boys), no-one it seems, is denying the addictive nature of porn - especially not when four out of five 16-year-old boys and girls confess to regularly accessing porn on the internet and children as young as 12 confess to being exposed to porn. Common sense of course, dictates that if a boy or girl's first "experience" of sex, be it accidental or otherwise, is the gratification of male desire through violent / abusive acts carried out upon or aimed at women and girls, then it will follow that a warped ideal of sex and what it means will follow.

Which is why, before we can even begin calling upon our governments, our schools, Facebook or internet providers to take action, or demanding that credit card companies, hotel chains and other industries profiting from porn be held to account, we have to accept that there is no sure-fire cure to rid our computer screens and minds of porn - there is no one magic "parental control" button (David Cameron's wishful answer) that will instantly solve the problem. Nor will a good talking to by parents to their kids always work (Daubney's answer - based on the theory that all kids have (both) parents around with the time, energy, or presence to take action in this war against porn). Yes, those 'solutions' may help, but this parasite has to be attacked from all sides by trained, supported armies - and it already has a 97 billion-dollar head start.

So as we catapult to yet another International Day of the Girl (October 11th), the very least we can start to do is talk openly about porn and its impact upon the everyday lives of not just women and girls but men and boys too. To not be afraid of uttering its name as though it was the Voldermort of the internet world, nor bury our heads in the sand and try to push the issue onto someone else's shoulders. Because only by being brave enough to confront its existence in all our lives, can we even hope to bring it down. For many young teens, it may already be too late - they can't go 'back' to a time when pleasure and being liked wasn't linked to some form of sexual domination or violence towards women. But the truth is, they can still be helped - and our future generations safeguarded - if the rest of step up, get talking, and start pushing for the greater-powers-that-be to take a stand.