First Person: Let's reclaim the erotic from pornographers

Posted by ap507 at Oct 21, 2015 10:15 AM |
Changes at Playboy are analysed by Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans

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Playboy magazine was first published in the 1960s but reached its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s at the height of the "sexual revolution". Hugh Hefner, its proprietor, transformed himself into a multi-millionaire.

By innovating a magazine in which serious articles and interviews combined with pornographic images, Hefner was instrumental in shaping the following ideas: first that pornography consumers were not "sad losers who couldn't get a real girlfriend" but everyday men who should feel no guilt in using pornography; secondly, that women performers are glamorous "stars" who are handsomely paid in their chosen career; and thirdly, that pornography contributes to a feminist revolution which finally permits women sexual expression without shame.

In sanitising pornography and de-shaming men's consumption of it, Playboy opened up a cultural space in which all our sexual lives – men, women and children – have subsequently been shaped.

The Playboy bunny logo is one of the most recognised in the world; and a generation of young women nowadays turn to it for careers advice, imagining that the airbrushed reality of life as a porn "star" is a lucrative career choice and involves not much more than taking up suggestive poses on social media.

Scratch the glossy surface of Hefner's mirage and you will discover that the pornography industry is one of the most exploitative, particularly in the digital age.

Young women have no idea what being a porn performer is like. In exchange for payment they will be compelled to fake orgasm, however repulsive or repellent they find any particular act; the sex is a one-sided male perspective with little emphasis on female pleasure; after about six months their shelf-life will be out of date and they will have to accept the more extreme jobs; and images of them naked and having sex will be on cyberspace for ever.

Playboy has been so successful it is now the author of its own demise, at least in its current format, since it has made the policy decision no longer to publish nude photographs of women – the inevitable conclusion to print pornography in a digital age?

Why go to the lengths of buying a magazine in public when you can privately find any image you want, including far more sexually explicit images, online?

History demonstrates that Hefner's normalisation of pornography doesn't liberate women but liberates ordinary guys who, from the safety and privacy of their on-line bedroom activity, exploit girls and women.

What do I think we should do? Let's reclaim the erotic and the sensual from the pornographers who make money out of colonising our heads and bodies.

Not only will this bring about a cultural shift in gender equality but it will help liberate men whose pornography consumption is making it increasingly difficult to realise intimacy and achieve sexual pleasure in real-life relationships.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, is Research Associate in the University of Leicester's Centre for Medical Humanities.

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