Thank you. Good morning.
I am a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston, as well as founder and president of Culture Reframed. We are the first health-based non-profit to develop public and professional capacity to build resilience and resistance in children to the porn culture.
I have been researching, writing, and speaking about the porn industry for over 30 years. I am the author of numerous articles and books on the porn industry, including Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, which has now been translated into four languages. I have served as an expert witness for the U.S. Department of Justice in a case against the porn industry. My research and activism are rooted in multidisciplinary scholarship and reflect multicultural and feminist perspectives.
The committee has heard from experts about the debates in the scholarly community regarding the harms of pornography. Let me be very clear. Over 40 years of empirical research from psychology, sociology, communications, and the health sciences demonstrates unequivocally that consuming pornography impacts men's and boys' attitudes, behaviours, sexual templates, sexual tastes, norms, values, and gender and sexual identity.
To suggest that porn has no impact is to ignore the weight of the evidence, and importantly, to ignore the voices of women and girls. I travel the world giving presentations on this topic and have heard thousands of stories from women and girls about the often life-long impact of sexual abuse and harassment, and the role of porn in that abuse. This is a critical human rights and justice issue, one that every government should be committed to if they are committed to girls' and women's equality.
In addition to the direct impacts of pornography on sexual violence and abuse, we must acknowledge the large body of scholarship that explores the more subtle ways that porn undermines the collective well-being of women, men, and children, and erodes the cultural fabric of our society.
We know from research that porn destroys the capacity for intimacy, connection, and empathy, the three key human skills that sustain a society worth living in.
The earlier boys access pornography—and today the average age is 11—the more they watch, and the more violent the material they consume, the less likely they are as adults to develop connected relationships with partners, to parent their children, or to be active and engaged citizens. They are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction, isolation, depression, and anxiety.
Porn has a cascading impact on the entire society. That is why it is a public health issue, not a moral one. It is not about the one porn user masturbating alone in the bedroom, bathroom, or boardroom, but about the way porn impacts the wider culture, gender relations, and the workplace. It is the same reason we view drinking and driving as a public health concern. It expands beyond that one inebriated individual and has broader social causes and impacts, causing large-scale loss of life and physical and emotional injuries. It drains the health care system, and it hurts the economy. It requires systemic intervention to address the problem.
That is exactly the same truth for pornography, which undermines the well-being of boys and men and causes a cascading effect on the culture. It puts girls and women at risk of sexual harm, both physical and emotional. It undermines their rights to full equality in the home, the workplace, and society at large, by reducing girls and women to sex objects. Porn normalizes sexual harassment, makes women more vulnerable to sexual abuse in public and private spaces, legitimizes sex acts that debase and degrade women, grooms girls into seeing themselves as nothing more than masturbation facilitators for men, and robs them of their sexual agency.
The well-oiled public relations machine of the porn industry has developed multiple ways to distract us from these effects, which have been documented in the research. One key distraction is to ask, what type of porn are men and boys watching, good porn or bad porn, soft core or hard core, violent or non-violent? This is a distraction because it falsely points to a significant segment of the porn industry as “benign”. To understand porn, it is crucial to study how the porn industry works and to understand the content and genres, and how access to porn is structured within a highly sophisticated web-based commercial environment.
The advent of the Internet ushered in a multi-billion dollar a year industry that reshaped not only how men and boys access porn, but also the content and business model. The Internet made porn affordable, accessible, and anonymous, three key factors that drive demand. With 24-7 access to porn, boys and men quickly became desensitized and needed more extreme porn in order to maintain their interest and arousal.
In 2003, hard-core porn director Jules Jordan told Adult Video News, a porn industry journal, that “One of the things about today's porn and the extreme market, the gonzo market, is so many fans want to see so much more.”
That was 2003. Today, hard-core porn, termed “gonzo” by the industry, is no longer extreme but mainstream. It is no surprise, then, that a 2010 study by Ana Bridges and her team found that the majority of scenes from 50 of the top most-watched movies and films have physical and violent abuse against women in 90% of the scenes.
That was 2010, just as the porn industry was being revolutionized by a company originally called Manwin, later renamed MindGeek following the arrest of its founder, Fabian Thylmann, for tax evasion in 2012. The key to MindGeek's business plan was to build free porn sites, much like YouTube, and then monetize the traffic through ads for penis enlargers and erectile dysfunction medications and links driving consumers to paid porn sites and webcam porn.
MindGeek has been described as similar to Amazon in books; it's the dominant force. Thanks to MindGeek, the porn industry is now a mature, highly sophisticated, and corporatized industry. MindGeek controls eight of the top ten most travelled free porn sites in the world, controlling most of the distribution side of the value chain. Its top three free porn sites attract close to 100 million visitors and over 488 million page views a day.
This free porn model delivers porn to boys on a scale never seen before. Because you don't need a credit card, or proof of age, it is the perfect way to deliver hard-core porn to boys at the very stage in their development when they are sexually curious and their brains are wired for novelty and risk-taking. Absent robust sex education programs, porn has now become the major form of sex education in the world across the globe. This means that violent hard-core porn is shaping boys on a level we've never seen before.
Although MindGeek is headquartered in Luxembourg, with offices across the USA and Europe, 800 of its more than 1,000 employees work from their Montreal office. It is indeed ironic that the country that has produced the boldest statement about porn as a public health issue is home to the largest distributor of porn on the planet.
With this level of concentration on the distribution side, it is not difficult to discover the popular types of porn content. MindGeek's websites don't contain soft-core or “good” porn. Instead, they catapult you into a world of violent and degrading images of women. Porn is an industrial product, not a haphazard collection of images or creative art. This means it is generic and formulaic across most porn sites.
This business model mirrors the business model of other major industries. When you enter a McDonald's anywhere in the world, the menu will be more or less the same because the product is designed for a mass market. You can have a Big Mac with or without cheese, with or without mustard, but you can't order steak au poivre followed by cheese soufflé for dessert. The product on offer has been structured by sophisticated marketing professionals at McDonald's HQ with an eye to revenues, profits, costs, and market segmentation.
It is the same with MindGeek. Whatever site you land on, you see a similar list of genres and acts, and I'm going to give you the most predominate acts that you will see on all MindGeek sites: women being gagged with a penis till they are choking; pounding oral, anal, and vaginal sex, designed to stretch women's orifices and cause pain and injury; women being penetrated in all orifices, often by three men at the same time while being hit on the face with hands, penises, spat upon, and called vile misogynist names.
While this is not your father's Playboy, at a profound level it is the same old patriarchal, reactionary, and sexist ideology. It delivers the message to men's brains, via the penis, that women exist for sexual use and abuse. In porn, women don't need good child care, equal pay, or the right to live a life of dignity. All they need is a good pounding to make them happy. The idea that porn is somehow about female liberation, creative sexuality, or sexual agency is testimony to the power of the porn industry's PR machine. Ironically, the ideology and messages are as old as patriarchy itself.
This is why we need to act now. As well as developing and delivering holistic sex education in schools, we need to develop policies similar to those in the United Kingdom that severely limit access to pornography via filters at the ISP level and age verification measures.
We also need to define pornography as a violation of women's civil rights and ask what matters more: the right of a group of predatory capitalists to profit from violence against women and children, or the rights of women and girls to live as equal and free citizens? You can't have it both ways. A choice has to be made: porn or gender equality?