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Pornography: The
Mass Production
of Sexual Violence
Amber L. Morczek*

Editor’s Note. Amber Morczek offers an eye-opening discussion
about the stark dangers that accompany the mass availability of pornography in the internet age. Once viewed as a shameful secret, the
consumption of pornography has become nearly normative, with its
popularity growing wildly among men, and even among some women.
Yet, as the author points out, violence against women is inextricably
woven into the pornographic narrative, which emphasizes the coercion, degradation, and objectification of women whose sole purpose,
in the eyes of the pornographer, is to deliver sexual pleasure to men.

INTRODUCTION
From rape on college campuses to the accumulating allegations of sexual
assault against the once beloved Bill Cosby, sexual violence is virtually impossible to ignore. However, despite the recent federal mandates aimed at
decreasing the problem and the corresponding media attention, one of the
chief purveyors of sexual content and congruently, sexual violence, is generally absent from most conversations about the issue. This is unfortunate, as I
would argue that examining the sexual violence epidemic without mentioning
the proliferation of pornography is like having a conversation about the obesity epidemic without mentioning the proliferation of fast food; it may not be
the only explanation, but it is likely situated squarely on the list.
Accordingly, it is important to make a few points clear early on. First,
violence in modern pornography, especially toward women, is neither an
*Amber L. Morczek is a Ph.D candidate at Washington State University in the Department of
Criminal Justice and Criminology. Her research interests include violence toward women, rape
culture, sex offending, pornography, and institutional corrections. She currently works at Washington State University Violence Prevention Programs educating students, faculty, and staff about
gender-based violence and the importance of bystander intervention. She can be reached at amber.
morczek@gmail.com.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Sexual Assault Report, May/June 2015.

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anomaly sought out solely by deviant outliers nor hidden in industry extremes; rather, it is a systemic feature of the mainstream, multi-billion dollar
pornography industry, an industry whose largest consumer base is men. Second, despite my criticisms, I neither wish to alienate those who have diverse
sexual interests nor pathologize any sexual subcultures, but rather seek to
acknowledge the connections between contemporary pornography and sexual
violence as well as contribute to a much needed dialogue on the issue.

PORNOGRAPHY: INDUSTRIALIZED AND ASSIMILATED
Although pornography has existed for centuries in varying forms, it has not
always been a fertile industry. Playboy magazine, the brainchild of Hugh Hefner in the 1950s, was arguably the beginning of the highly profitable pornography industry we know today (Dines, 2010). Of course, other pornographic
materials followed Playboy’s success, but it was the Internet that truly revolutionized modern pornography production, marketing, and use. Pornography
content and consumption methodologies have changed drastically over the
last several decades. Hardcore pornographic content is now widely available
and users, unrestrained due to anonymity, flood the Internet in droves seeking
highly accessible and affordable pornographic content in its varying forms
(Paul, 2005, p. 8).
Thus what was once considered shameful, seedy, and relegated to traditionally dodgy public spaces is now mainstreamed, normalized, and
seamlessly integrated into popular culture (DeKeseredy, 2014; DeKeseredy &
Olsson, 2011). Peppering pop culture are hyper-sexualized actresses and musicians readily featured on the cover of non-pornographic men’s magazines
and scantily clad in commercials, music videos, and primetime television,
much of the imagery aesthetically analogous to that seen in pornography.
Porn is so integrated into our culture that participation in it can now heighten
one’s celebrity status rather than tarnish it (Levy, 2005) and movies based
on books with overt pornographic plotlines (e.g., 50 Shades of Grey) are box
office titans featured in movie theaters across the country. The term “porn” is
even commonly used to describe flagrantly decadent, albeit non-sexual, images (e.g., “foodporn”). Some denote the aforementioned mass consumption
of pornography as “sexual obesity” in which modern consumers are quite literally bingeing on pornographic imagery whether they actually purposefully
consume it or not (Hamilton, 2011, p. 22). Thus, if yesterday’s porn is today’s
pop culture, then what constitutes contemporary mainstream pornography?

EXAMINING PORNOGRAPHIC CONTENT
Internet Pornography
Although a wealth of pornographic images, videos, and websites exist on the
Internet, websites offering users free, easily accessible, and negotiable content are incredibly popular, especially with heterosexual men. In fact, there is

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119

substantial evidence suggesting that it is unusual for men in contemporary society not to use porn, given the ease of access to pornographic content (DeKeseredy, 2014). Some of the most popular free pornographic websites include
Pornhub.com, Porntube.com, RedTube.com, XHamster.com, YouPorn.com,
and XVideos.com (Makin and Morczek, 2015b), with Pornhub.com attracting more than 10 million visitors each day (Ogas & Gaddam, 2011, p. 18).
Although there are many types of Internet pornography on the market today,
“gonzo” pornography is perhaps most prevalent as it highlights continuous,
hardcore sex as opposed to
sex within a defined story line
Another disturbing feature in main(Dines, 2010). It is important
to distinguish pornography in stream porn predicated on power ineqits many forms from erotica, as uity is the frequency with which men
erotica depicts adults engaged are shown coercing seemingly vulnerin mutually pleasurable sexual able women into acquiescing to sexual
interactions, which are dis- relations because the women are drunk,
tinctly egalitarian and neither
hypnotized, and/or otherwise “tricked”
degrading nor violent (DeKeseredy, 2014; DeKeseredy & into sexual relations with eager men.
Schwartz, 2013; Seto, Maric &
Barbaree, 2001). Unlike erotica, power divisions are often quite pronounced
in heterosexual adult pornography; men largely retain control over the progression and intensity of sexual interactions and women exemplify a sexually
subservient female archetype (Paul, 2005, p. 33).
Accordingly, pornography depicting the aforementioned gender inequity
is widely available online (Ogas & Gaddam, 2011, p. 202). For example, one
of the most popular genres of mainstream porn is “teen” (Ogas & Gaddam,
2011), which is purposefully predicated on childish sexual naivete and vulnerability. In teen porn, or as Dines (2010) refers to it, “pseudo-child pornography” (p. 143), women are aesthetically analogous to children and wear
traditionally youthful attire (e.g., parochial school uniforms, cheerleading
costumes, etc.) with their hair in pigtails or in otherwise youthful styles, and
purposefully alter their voices to sound distinctively childlike (DeKeseredy,
2014). The significant age and maturity gap between men and women in teen
porn is often the focal point of the imagery, with men depicted as “fathers,
teachers, employers, coaches, and just plain old anonymous child molesters”
(Dines, 2010, p. 143). Despite the rather unsettling popularity of the genre,
however, teen porn is perceived as largely unproblematic, as it is vindicated
by the fact that the actresses are indeed of (barely) legal age, thereby making
it a legal substitute for illegal child pornography (Dines, 2010). Another disturbing feature in mainstream porn predicated on power inequity is the frequency with which men are shown coercing seemingly vulnerable women
into acquiescing to sexual relations because the women are drunk, hypnotized, and/or otherwise “tricked” into sexual relations with eager men (Ogas

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& Gaddam, 2011, p. 202). These examples are especially poignant given the
frequency of sexual assaults in the United States that involve coercive tactics and/or alcohol as well as the significant problem of child sexual abuse.
More alarming are websites and videos dedicated to rape pornography or
pornography depicting the brutal rape of women by men (Ogas & Gaddam,
2011). According to a content analysis of rape porn websites performed by
Gossett and Byrne (2002), male perpetrators in rape porn are largely ambiguous to the viewer, seemingly to allow any viewer regardless of age, race, and/
or social class to experience the rape through the eyes of the perpetrator.
Victims, however, are readily identifiable by gender, age, and/or racial
composition to (re)affirm their subordinate social positions. The pain victims
experience is highlighted “in unflinching detail” to market content on rape
porn websites, often by utilizing images of victims’ pained expressions and/
or meticulous descriptions of how pain is to be experienced by the victim
(Gossett & Byrne, 2009, p. 703). While no one except for the performers
themselves can precisely comment on the experience of filming porn simulating rape, it is evident that there is a very purposeful and realistic depiction of
fear, violence, pain, suffering, and humiliation for viewers to consume (and
presumably enjoy).
Likewise, recent research using Google Trends data (i.e., data highlighting how specific Google search queries have changed over time) from
2004-2012 suggests that a definitive interest in rape-oriented pornography
exists and that said interest has become more popular as time has progressed
(Makin & Morczek, 2015a). These trends, coupled with previous research
on the ever-increasing violence contained in mainstream porn, suggest that
users may be actively seeking out increasingly violent porn to satiate their
needs, and outside of snuff films, what is more violent and exploitative than
rape porn? Consumers don’t actually have to search for porn using the word
“rape” to find porn depicting nonconsensual sex, as “forced sex” remains a
searchable tag on many popular porn sites seemingly as a way to sanitize
language while nonetheless neatly categorizing videos involving nonconsensual sexual activity. Although rape porn is a comparably small segment in the
porn industry, there is still a disturbingly “huge” consumer base that enjoys
watching men exploit, brutalize, and inflict pain upon non-consenting women
(DeKeseredy, 2014).
An Imbalance of Power
Although many genres of porn exist, troubling themes routinely present themselves in heterosexual porn. Porn women are insatiable, constantly desiring
sex from men regardless of how “painful, humiliating, or harmful the act is”
(Dines, 2010, p. xxiii). This theme is perhaps best exemplified by the proliferation of pornographic websites and videos depicting extreme anal sex,
double penetration (i.e., penetration in one or multiple female orifices at the
same time), and “ass-to-mouth” (i.e., after heterosexual anal sex, “a woman
is expected to put a penis in her mouth that has just been in her, or in another

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woman’s, anus”) (Dines, 2010, p. 68; Jensen, 2007; Paul, 2005). “The word
‘no’ is glaringly absent from porn women’s vocabulary” (Dines, 2010, p. xxiii)
and women submit to just about anything demanded of them by men because
“what pleases women [in porn] is the use of their bodies to satisfy male desires”
(Russell, 1998, p. 5). Porn routinely constructs women as sexually submissive
objects that men are entitled to dominate and masturbate into and normalizes
aggression within the context of sexual activity. Indeed, if sexual violence had
a publicist, it would be pornography.
Still, many state that critics of pornography are specifically selecting only
the most violent and degrading material to substantiate their grievances; however, empirical evidence of the most popular pornographic videos available
indicates otherwise. For example, Bridges, Wosnitzer, Scharrer, Sun, and Liberman (2010) All three studies found that targets
found that of the over 300 of aggression were overwhelmingly
videos in their analysis, 88% women; women were depicted as eager
contained physical aggres- to participate in almost any sexual act
sion (e.g., spanking, gagging,
and seemingly enjoyed (or responded
and slapping) and nearly 50%
contained verbal aggression neutrally to) the violence inflicted upon
(e.g., name-calling). Gorman, them. Overall it is clear that in porn,
Monk-Turner & Fish (2010) power imbalances skewed in favor of
found similar results in their men are portrayed as par for the course
content analysis with 55% of in sexual activity, and women truly enjoy
all videos analyzed possess- assuming the lesser role.
ing a theme of domination or
exploitation wherein the male
actor was in control and women were sexually submissive. Sun, Bridges,
Wosnitzer, Scharrer and Liberman (2008) also found evidence of verbal or
physical aggression (including name calling, hair pulling, choking, slapping,
and penile gagging) in over 75% of the videos in their sample. All three studies found that targets of aggression were overwhelmingly women; women
were depicted as eager to participate in almost any sexual act and seemingly
enjoyed (or responded neutrally to) the violence inflicted upon them (Bridges
et al., 2010; Gorman et al., 2010; Sun et al., 2008). Overall it is clear that in
porn, power imbalances skewed in favor of men are portrayed as par for the
course in sexual activity, and women truly enjoy assuming the lesser role.
Yet it is not only scholars who have substantiated how brutal the industry
is toward women, as the industry itself readily admits to the violence. According to Boyle (2011), ”it is striking that porn industry insiders appear to have
little hesitation in acknowledging the abuses of women” therein (p. 593), but
still insist “physical damage and lack of meaningful consent should not interfere with consumption” (p. 600). In short, “mainstream exposure of female
porn performers as emotionally conflicted, [and] abused ... can be a winning
combination for the porn industry” (p. 598). In other words, the industry is

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able to adeptly peddle real-world stories of human suffering, degradation, and
abuse to sell even more abusive content to droves of users prepared to swiftly
consume it (DeKeseredy, 2014). Given the industry’s own capitalization on
violence toward women, it should come as no surprise that there are realworld implications of how sexuality is depicted in porn.

PORNOGRAPHY: THE IMPACT ON ATTITUDES
AND BEHAVIORS
Though most would agree that sexual violence is certainly “a conscious choice
perpetrators make and criminal responsibility should be levied as such,”
many scholars agree that it is paramount to deconstruct the cultural mechanisms which normalize it because even though pornography, much like rape
culture, “isn’t the primary perpetrator of sexual violence, it is metaphorically
driving the perpetrator to and away from the scene of the crime” (Morczek,
2015, p. 59). Although little evidence exists to substantiate a direct causal
link between pornography use and sexual violence (Seto et al., 2001) and not
all men who consume porn are violent, there is evidence that porn, coupled
with other factors, can contribute to a culture that condones violence toward
women (DeKeseredy, 2014). After all, this is akin to “arguing that because
some cigarette smokers don’t die of lung disease, there cannot be a causal
relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Only members of the tobacco
industry and some seriously addicted smokers consider this a valid argument
today” (Russell, 1998, p. 150). Just as smoking is not the only cause of lung
cancer, pornography is not the only cause of rape (Russell, 1998, p. 118).
Attitudes
“Pornography is a powerful delivery service that sends messages to the brain
via the genitals” (Dines, 2005, p. 114) and researchers have consistently
found that pornography consumption is positively linked to attitudes supporting violence toward women. The effects of porn consumption on attitudes
are especially impactful for those who consume it frequently and are already
at high risk for sexually aggressive behaviors (Malamuth, Hald & Koss,
2011). Accordingly, previous research on men who consume porn reveals
that consumption is linked to staunch adherence to traditional gender roles
and rape myths, less empathy for rape victims, victim blaming, and the appeal for more lenient sentences for rapists (Bridges & Jensen, 2011; Flood &
Pease, 2009; Mancini, Reckdenwald & Beauregard, 2012). Women who view
pornography also experience similar attitudinal effects such as adherence to
rape myths and the reduced likelihood of bystander intervention in a situation
involving gender-based violence (Brosi, Foubert, Bannon & Yandell, 2011).
Other scholars have even asserted that the act of searching for violent pornography on search engines such as Google represents gender micro-aggression
or actions that encourage, reinforce, and/or otherwise contribute to violence
toward women (Makin & Morczek, 2015b).

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The fact that pornography is largely consumed in private where there is
less fear of detection or social judgment has led researchers to suggest that
anonymity may impact users’ responses and consumption patterns. In other
words, “ordinary folks can sit at their keyboards, liberated from any need
for modesty, and express precisely what they would like to pop up on their
computer screen” (Ogas & Gaddam, 2011, p. 13). Accordingly, anonymity
has been correlated to motivations for more extreme pornography, sexist attitudes toward women, and hostile sexism (Shim & Paul, 2014). The ability to
directly interact with Internet-based pornographic content and thereby other
consumers who share similar
interests online, “engender[s] a
sense of community” wherein Thus, online interactivity has resulted
consumers can bond in “nonhiin “the emergence of pro-abuse
erarchical and noninstitutional
spaces” (Mowlabocus, 2010, cyberspace male peer support groups”
p. 71) that enables them to that legitimize abusive sexuality
become “virtually assaultive” and further reinforce elements of rape
(DeKeseredy & Olsson, 2011). culture by repeatedly “presenting
In other words, consumers can women as objects to be conquered
substantiate, encourage, and
and consumed” while at the same time
condone other users’ interest
in Internet-based pornographic making it difficult for users to “sepamaterials laden with violence rate sexual fantasy from reality”.
against women via views,
likes, and comments (Mowlabocus, 2010). Thus, online interactivity has resulted in “the emergence of proabuse cyberspace male peer support groups” that legitimize abusive sexuality
(DeKeseredy & Olsson, 2011, p. 40) and further reinforce elements of rape
culture by repeatedly “presenting women as objects to be conquered and consumed” while at the same time making it difficult for users to “separate sexual
fantasy from reality” (DeKeseredy & Olsson, 2011, p. 40). This means of
online bonding ensures that “the [pornographic] video is not experienced on
its own, but is imbedded within community that consumes it” (Mowlabocus,
2010, p. 72).
Behavior
Pornography consumption is also affecting behavior in a variety of ways.
Research consistently states that heterosexual couples are engaging in more
anal sex than in the past, coinciding with the popularity of the practice in
mainstream pornography, and that women find the practice painful and engage in the behavior, not for mutual sexual satisfaction, but rather largely
due to pressure from their male partners (Fahs & Gonzalez, 2014; Marston
& Lewis, 2014). In fact, dialogue about mutuality, consent, and women’s
pleasure is routinely absent from the narratives of those surveyed about the
practice (Fahs & Gonzalez, 2014). “Many men do not express concern about

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the possible pain for women, viewing it as inevitable” and researchers posit
that “coercion could emerge as a dominant script for anal intercourse,” as
“women being badgered for anal sex appears to be normal” (Marston & Lewis, 2014, p. 5). It is clear that pornography, at least in this context, is certainly
helping to create “new norms regarding sexual behavior” including, but not
limited to the normalization of pain experienced by women during anal sex
(Fahs & Gonzalez, 2014, p. 512).
Furthermore, others have found an increase in sexually aggressive
behaviors following pornography exposure (Flood & Pease, 2009). After
consuming porn, participants
expressed higher levels of inPrevious research has also found that
terest or engagement in spankmen who perpetrate domestic violence
ing, hair-pulling, role-played
forced sex, tying a partner
may use pornography as a “training
up, dominating a partner, famanual” for abuse.
cial ejaculation, double-penetration, ass-to-mouth, penile
gagging, and name-calling (Wright, Sun, Steffen & Tokunaga, 2014). Men
who frequently use “hardcore, violent, or rape pornography” are significantly
more likely than nonusers to state that they “would rape or sexually assault
a woman if they knew they could get away with it” (Flood & Pease, 2009,
p. 135). Principles of operant conditioning suggest that watching porn and
subsequently masturbating to orgasm reinforces a sexualized response to depicted content. Thus, with increased exposure to pornographic images and
their damaging themes “we become desensitized to visual depictions of violence, no matter how brutal or sexualized that violence is” (Dines, 2010, p.
63). Consumers can be conditioned to develop arousal responses to depictions
of violence toward women, as the connection between sexual gratification and sexual violence is reinforced. Otherwise known as “masturbatory
conditioning” the pleasurable experience of an orgasm is an “exceptionally
potent reinforcer” (Russell, 1998, p. 123).
Research has also indicated that behavioral changes post-pornography
consumption are not limited to adult men. In fact, pornography use among
women is also found to be a significant predictor of sexual aggression. In a
recent study by Kernsmith and Kernsmith (2009), women who consumed
pornography were more likely to use sexually coercive behaviors (i.e., behaviors used to convince or pressure an unwilling partner into acquiescing to sex)
compared to women who did not report consuming pornography (p. 590).
Previous research has also found that men who perpetrate domestic violence may use pornography as a “training manual” for abuse (Bergen &
Bogle, 2000, p. 231, DeKeseredy & Olsson, 2011). In other words, women
with violent domestic partners reported that they were (a) forced to enact
pornographic behaviors, (b) forced to appear in pornographic content, and/
or (c) the perpetrator viewed porn before or during domestic sexual abuse

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(Bergen & Bogle, 2000). There are “numerous links between sex trafficking
and pornography” (Hatch, 2012, p. 14), as perpetrators may record instances
of sexual violence perpetrated against sex trafficking victims for profit and
distribution and/or use pornography to “train women and children” about
how to perform sexually while they are being trafficked (p. 15).
Although historically most of the literature on the impact of pornography
has been limited to adult samples, recent literature has focused on the impact
of pornography on children and teens. Research suggests that when children
are exposed to media violence in varying forms they are more likely to act
out violently during their youth as well as into adulthood (Flood & Pease,
2009). Longitudinal research on adolescents exposed to pornography specifically suggests that exposure was a significant predictor of future problematic
behavior including sexual violence (Mancini et al., 2012). This is particularly
troubling, as porn is typically “the first place boys learn about sex and gain an
understanding of their own sexuality.” This de facto sex education, traditionally supplemented by parents, peers, education, and/or firsthand experience is
now largely superseded by easily accessible hardcore pornography (Jensen,
2007; Paul, 2005, p. 16). The porn industry is presenting consumers with “a
false impression of how sex is performed and experienced” (Harma & Stolpe,
2010, p. 113), and as a result of the normalization of violence toward women,
new generations of consumers may begin to associate violence with sex and
sex with violence.

CONCLUSION
Previous research suggests that pornography consumption impacts both attitudes and behaviors resulting in a disproportionately negative impact on
women and children. Therefore scholars, practitioners, and laypeople alike
must have more thoughtful conversations about pornography and its impact
on our collective sexuality. We need to take our observations and grievances
to the mainstream where pornography flourishes unimpeded because despite evidence to the contrary, many still contend that pornography is just
a harmless fantasy (and there is certainly endless profit to be made by perpetuating that untruth). Although critiquing such an immensely lucrative industry that has shrewdly situated itself in our cultural milieu is teeming with
obstacles, it is paramount that we seriously consider the effects of porn on
those who consume it and motivate others to do the same.
References
Bergen, R.K. & Bogle, K.A. (2000). Exploring the connection between pornography and sexual violence. Violence and Victims, 15(3), 227-234.
Boyle, K. (2011). Producing abuse: Selling the harms of pornography. Women’s Studies International Forum, 34(6), 593-602.
Bridges, A.J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and
sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update. Violence
Against Women, 16(10), 1065-1085.


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