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Sunday, June 26, 2022

New era of porn not welcome, says Union

Estelle Atkinson and Meg Lintern report from inside the Union’s debating chamber.

CW: Sexual violence, rape

The Oxford Union voted against welcoming the new era of porn. The motion failed with 139 votes in favour and 171 votes against. 

The debate attracted a full house and a loud round of applause as the speakers entered the chamber, particularly for ex Love Island contestant Megan Barton-Hanson. 

The night’s proposition consisted of Liberty Osborne, a first year oriental studies student and guest liaison officer, Cindy Gallop, advertising consultant and the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and IfWeRanTheWorld, and Megan Barton-Hanson, a former contestant on the hit reality TV show Love Island and advocate for body positivity and the end of patriarchal double standards surrounding sex. 

The opposition consisted of Matthew Dick, a first year History Student and member of the secretary’s Committee, Louise Perry, a UK based writer and campaigner whose works deal extensively with the modern feminist movement and society’s outlook on sex, and Sharon Chau, a second year PPE student and Chair of Consultative Committee. 

The debate kicked off with Union President Molly Mantle welcoming the first speaker, University College’s Liberty Osborne, to the floor. 

Osborne opened the proposition by condemning companies like MindGeek:  “Forget about big pharma, big tech: big porn’s what you lot should worry about.” She explained that in a world where porn does exist, the creation of platforms like OnlyFans provides an opportunity for pornstars to be in control of their own content. Liberty argued that the porn produced by this new era has “empowered porn performers”, since in the old era they were “paid for the day, then sent away”. 

Above all, Liberty argued that the new era of porn is creating ‘better’ porn: porn which is “more intimate, more personal, less scripted, less edited – porn which is far more like people’s actual experience of sex”. In other words, the return of reality to porn could change how people understand sex – in a world where most sex education “sucks”, the presentation of realistic sex should allow people to understand the process of sex in real life. 

Matthew Dick, whose name sparked laughter from the chamber, then took the floor for the opposition, stating: “The proposition and opposition are not debating the merits or evils of the porn industry…. The opposition believes that the new form of porn is still fundamentally exploitative… we are opposing the new era of porn, not a new era of porn.”

As he introduced the opposition member Megan Barton Hanson, Matthew Dick described how making a cheap joke about Love Islanders exaggerating themselves on social media, pulling people for a chat to make alliances, and pretending to be friends with someone for personal gain, hit a bit too close to home as an elected member of the Union. 

“The simple fact is that OnlyFans like other platforms… cannot offer content creators financial protection.” The proposition claims that the new era of porn will benefit small creators financially, but Dick argues that this does not align with the reality of the situation.

In his closing statement, Dick argued that the problems with the old era of porn have not been eradicated as we enter the new: “This blurring of the real and the fantasy makes the new era of porn as likely if not more so to influence users’ own sexual relations in a way that is detrimental to themselves and their partner,” as in mainstream pornography. He highlighted the exploitative aspects of pornography surrounding the financial freedoms of creators and the sexual actions of minors as reasons to vote against the new era of porn.

Matthew was followed by Cindy Gallop, whom he introduced as having inspired him in an interview where she removed an item of clothing for every question she answered, all the while removing his own coat jacket. 

Cindy Gallop’s platform, MakeLoveNotPorn, attracted attention following her notorious TEDTalk, where she “became the only TED speaker to say the words ‘cum on my face’ on the TED stage, six times in succession.” 

Gallop immediately addressed the chamber: “You …  are directly responsible for the new era of porn. We all watch porn. We don’t talk about it. Porn therefore exists in a parallel universe, a shadowy underworld… the landscape of porn needs curation, navigation, and celebration.”

Gallop summarised the arguments of the proposition as “pro sex, pro porn, pro knowing the difference”. Her open and honest discussion of her own sex life, in the debate as in her career and personal life, enabled her to highlight the conflict between the porn world and the real world and the possibility of aligning them. She described her platform, MakeLoveNotPorn, as “what Facebook would be if it allowed people to sexually self-express”, and accredited ‘new era’ porn sites with making safe-consensual sex “aspirational”. 

Gallop repurposed a quote from Wayne LaPierre, leader of the National Rifle Association’s National School Shield Emergency Response Program, saying in her own words that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a business is a good guy with a better business.”

Cindy Gallop wrapped up by advocating for the students of Oxford to become MakeLoveNotPorn creators themselves: “Video yourself shagging on the steps of the Bodleian. Represent and show the world what Oxford is capable of.”

Next up, in opposition, Louise Perry warned: “most pornstars enter the porn industry in their late teens and leave it in their thirties. Suicide rates are incredibly high… in an industry that has a way of destroying the people that work for it.”

She argued that the proposition’s argument was fundamentally flawed, since “no one cares about feminist porn. No one watches feminist porn… the market has told us what it wants and it doesnt look very feminist at all.”

Perry spoke at length of the dangers and regrets porn performers experience, both during but especially after their career, highlighting the story of Linda Lovelace, one of the most famous pornstars of her age, and former proponent of the industry. Her most famous video was a movie called ‘Deep Throat’. Perry said, “It was only years later that she said she was coerced into the industry. Everyone who watched Deap Throat was watching her getting raped.” 

She also said that the idea of consent in porn is not good enough, and is only the bare legal requirement: “Not everyone is an adult, not everyone is consenting… taking a woman at her word when she says ‘of course I’m consenting’ is appealing because it’s easy.”

In stark contrast to Cindy Gallop’s closing statement, Louise Perry implored Oxford students to turn their backs on PornHub: “it is so much easier to give up porn than it is to give up factory farmed meat… not a single person in this room ever needs to watch porn ever again”. She likened porn to the McDonalds of sex, and asserted that we can all do without it: “We talk as if access to porn is a fundamental human right. 20 years ago there was no internet porn.”

Megan Barton-Hanson then took the floor amidst rampant applause. She joked that having been invited to join a room full of university students, “It’s refreshing to be here tonight and not have to take my clothes off,” but added, “if this speech doesn’t go well, I haven’t ruled it out.”

Megan spoke about her own experiences in the porn industry, and the benefits that the changing content can bring: “the biggest problem is how sex is viewed, with open disgust and shame… as a sex worker myself I always carried shame… I am an academic myself, but I chose to do it because I felt empowered as a woman.”

She said that watching porn made by women producing porn by themselves is a healthier way of viewing porn, and is a welcome change from the typical experience of teens trying to learn about sex by watching outdated porn. Now, with the media becoming more ‘open-minded’ on the topic of porn, Megan shared “Sex workers feel more in control and respected. We’re all becoming a bit more open.”

Megan concluded by announcing her goal to become a more “empowered, confident, safe sex worker” amidst the new era of porn. 

Megan was followed by Sharon Chau, who discussed the misconceptions about the autonomy and power that OnlyFans is perceived to provide and the reality of these sites. She shared her personal experience of the sexualisation and alienation of women caused by boys at her school who had grown up with access to porn: “using porn is harmful to women and everyone in the world.”

Chau said that the freedom to produce whatever content OnlyFans creators want is an illusion: “the harsh reality is they get sucked into this and they have to tailor themselves to people who ask for increasingly explicit things. This is crucially harmful because OnlyFans is a paid subscription service.” 

She asked the question, why would anyone pay so much for an OnlyFans subscription when porn is readily available for free? Answering, “because they can get content that is curated to their own taste… the buyer is always right, they have the right to demand anything they want from the creator… This is a far cry from the empowerment we’ve heard from the proposition.”

Chau argued that, in any world including porn, teenage kids who are interested in sex, and google it, first find “step sister stuck in washing machine.” Therefore, the risks of porn ending up on the dark web do not outweigh the benefits from removing porn from mainstream sites. 

On the topic raised by Megan on porn made by women for women, Chau made the point that “a lot of people who watch this porn are feminists themselves. You don’t get misogynistic men going onto specific porn sites that produce feminist porn. You still get them watching a lot of mainstream porn. So a lot of these problems are not ameliorated even with this new era.”

Image: Tom Morris/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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