Interviews

Sex Sociologist: Is Porn to Blame For Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Chauntelle Pic 2 Beau Hollands 2012

Like it or not, porn is a pretty big part of society. We might not talk about it openly (or ever), but odds are that if you don’t watch porn, you could be one of the weird ones. But it’s likely we’ll never know for sure — after all, it’s one of society’s best kept secrets.

What is clear though is that for many it’s either a (daily) fantasy, a business or even a lifestyle. There’s a larger picture of the world of porn that you’d never learn during a private “happy time” with yourself.

Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist who primarily studies sexuality, gender and the adult entertainment industry — she has watched A LOT of porn. Her research, both academic and entertaining, helps to demystify and appropriate porn and sexuality in our society — the right way. From individuals looking to explore sexual fantasies, women “contemplating about a five-guy gangbang” or even that motorbutting scene from “Girls,” Dr. Chauntelle shows society that there is a correct way for everyone to express their own individual sexuality without letting porn turn you into a kook.

We had the opportunity to ask Tibbals a few burning questions about the adult entertainment industry, why women watch porn and what kind of people pornstars really are.

chauntelle

What is the biggest misconception that our society in general has about porn?

“That it’s a magical gift that we all get to view for free! Just kidding – except that I’m not. As a society and in general, we seem to have come around to the idea that we need to pay for music and movies and the like, yet we seemed to have totally missed the pay-for-a-commercial-good boat when it comes to porn.

I get that wider social stigma about sex has contributed to a shame-centered aspect of watching porn for free. Society tells us certain forms of sexual expression are less desirable than others. Ironically, this includes being a porn consumer. Consequently, folks who may find themselves on the stigmatized end of sexual expression may not want to get “caught” paying for something… because nothing says “I like this!” more than paying for it.

But the fact remains that nothing in life is free. And for every instance of someone tentatively exploring their (possibly marginalized) sexuality, there are countless instances of people looking to get off pro-bono, often via a piracy-based tube site. The machinations behind these sites are both exploitative and problematic. For so many reasons, you need to pay for your porn.”

Do you feel American society should be more or less open sexually? To be more open, is there a right or appropriate way to go about it?

“Rather than being more or less open sexually, I feel that U.S. society (and societies in general) should stop being so preoccupied with what others are doing. Sexualities are vast and complex, and all forms of sexual expression are not for everyone – nor should they be. Everyone doesn’t have to like the same things; but as long as consent is involved, what others are doing sexually is really irrelevant.

Placing limits on sexual expression is not the way to improve society’s sexual health. Neither is expecting everyone be on the same kinky page. It’s about finding ways to engage your own wants and desires, authentically and in a way that works for you, and accepting others’ rights to do the same.”

Porn is a taboo topic for the vast majority of people, but the general assumption about porn mirrors that of the topic of masturbation — everyone does it. Even though there are no definitive surveys, what percentage of men and women would you say watch porn regularly?

“You are correct – there is no definitive data describing who’s watching porn, how frequently, what type, etc. Any time you see a number claiming to capture this, it’s probably an off-mark extrapolation culled from an off-mark collection of responses. And honestly, if I were to give you a guesstimate of gendered viewing percentages based on my own observations, I’d be contributing to the very same problem.

I can tell you though that all sorts of new genres have developed and many existing genres have refined/reemerged in recent years – authentic BDSM, kink of all sorts, “taboo relations” content (e.g. stepmother-type stuff), romance porn, cuckolding and pegging content, and content starring TS women performers. Studios and producers are putting out all sorts of really great material within these genres, in addition to everything else. So though we can’t necessarily get a gender breakdown from these patterns, we can say that lots of people watch porn; and given the diversification of content that’s occurring, it stands to reason that the consumer base is diversifying as well.”

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Do you believe porn has any application beyond entertainment/fantasy?

“Absolutely! Porn can provide people with access to sex they want but can’t easily have. This could be as obvious as a woman contemplating about a five-guy gangbang, but it can also be as overlooked as sexual access for individuals with varying physical, mental, and emotional abilities.

Porn can also function as a communication tool between partners – a proxy by which people can express desires they may have, but perhaps feel unable to articulate themselves. Further, though the vast majority of porn is NOT for sex-educational purposes, there are a number of explicit adult instructionals produced specifically for these ends. Titles from Wicked Pictures’ ‘Guide to Wicked Sex’ line, for example, engage all sorts of topics, from basic sex positions to female ejaculation and anal play for men.

Finally, there’s all sorts of content that dances around taboos (sex between step-relations and of-age teens and whatnot). Though this is a very difficult topic to engage, that fact remains that many people struggle with the actualization of taboo forms of sexual expression, and sometimes those taboos cross the line of legality. Porn – produced professionally and legally and featuring consenting, of-age performers – may serve to assuage desires along these lines, thus helping struggling individuals.”

Is there a worst kind of porn and a best kind of porn? Or porn that you think is more damaging and more beneficial to society?

“Honestly, no. There is most certainly porn that I personally like more or less than other content, but the fact remains that all porn reflects someone’s sexual expression – from the people who produce it and the performers that star in it to the people who consume it. Not all porn is for everyone, but all porn is worthwhile expression in the sense that reflects a piece of the human social condition.”

News about women and sexual harassment at work seems very commonplace these days, especially in new companies flush with cash and young CEOs. Do you think the misappropriation of porn as educational/real-life instances might advance the objectification of women in the workplace?

“Ha! This is a very complex issue, and we as a society are always looking for simple answers – if only things were that simple.

Women have been hassled in the pubic sphere, which includes the workplace, since the dawn of time; and workplace sexual harassment is just one manifestation of wider social and historical inequalities related to gender. The notion that even misappropriated porn use is to blame for this deep-seated social structural issue, however, is very off mark. Porn is an artifact of these unequal arrangements, not the architect. That said, synergistic relationships between an unequal social structure and the products of said structure do exist. There’s most certainly evidence of inequalities in adult content, and some individuals may perceive these as some sort of lifestyle advice tool.

There’s so much about society that varies in terms of gender, including inequalities and pressures levied against men and masculinities in addition to those related to women and femininities. Nothing within this context is as simple as ‘X(XX) is to blame for Y.’ “

Chauntelle Pic 1 Beau Hollands 2012

Many people might say that sex workers and porn actresses (and actors) are damaged, either through some trauma or past abuse, given their openness or willingness to the job. Can you shed some light on the mentality of workers in the sex industry? Are they really damaged people?

“Some are, some aren’t. And some university professors are damaged people, as are some physicians and auto mechanics and elementary school teachers. Others aren’t.

The idea that an entire population (e.g. all porn performers or all college professors) can be characterized as one thing or another is inherently dangerous, not to mention impossible. That said, some people get into porn out of duress, others to get back at someone. Some people get into porn and figure out pretty quickly that it’s not for them. Though I most certainly can’t speak for one or all performers in the adult industry, folks “getting in for the ‘wrong’ reasons” seem to be the minority.

In my observations, the real damage comes from wider society and what happens to people after they leave the industry. Most people change their careers three or four times throughout the course of their lives, but what happens when one of your former career choices was porn performer (even in the most minor of senses, for the briefest duration possible)?

What I observe so frequently is damage and discrimination happening after porn. To paraphrase one young woman’s recent reaction to losing a job because of her former job as porn performer: “Society didn’t approve of me doing porn, and now they won’t let me do anything else.” That’s what’s truly damaging. We, as wider society, are what’s truly damaging.”

It’s well known that men are visually and auditorily stimulated, so it’s no question of why porn draws in men, but what about porn attracts most women?

“Well, prior to researching the adult industry, I never really watched porn. But since then, through the course of my work over the past ten-plus years, I’ve watched more than I can begin to articulate. And though there’s some content I find more appealing than others in terms of aesthetics or acts, I don’t watch porn for personal or recreational purposes. This has more to do with work/life balance issues than anything else.

But in terms of what “most women” may get out of porn, I don’t think this is any different from what most anyone would get out of porn – fantasy. Fantasy actualization, fantasy visualization, fantasy generation, etc.

Though humans may think about different things, things that may vary by gender or age or whatever, all people think about sex-related things in some capacity. Women and men may fantasize about a quirky romance, or about being one player in a five-guy (or five-lady) gangbang. Whatever your fantasy, chances are there’s a porn rendition of it. If people are able to disconnect from whatever social pressures are telling them that watching porn is wrong or that their fantasy is bad, then I imagine women and men get the exact same things out of viewing adult content.”

In your experience and research, what would you say are the ugliest aspects of the porn industry? The best parts?

“I’d say that the ugliest and the best parts about porn are closely intertwined. The adult industry’s community is the best, and that same community’s tendency towards in-fighting is the absolute worst.

Sadly, even today in 2015, it still boils down to porn against the world. Banks don’t care what aspects of adult entertainment they discriminate against. Neither does PayPal, Amazon, or a litany of other entities, laws, or organizations. They just care that it’s porn, and they don’t want to be around it. As a consequence, the adult industry has had to unite as a community in many unique ways, ways that have advanced technology and enacted free speech protections that benefit everyone. This is amazing.

But not everyone gets along all of the time and deep social fracturing within the adult industry community, especially lately, presents all kinds of dangers, both for the workers and for the long-term sustainability of the business. It’s kind of sad sometimes to see members of the porn community fighting in such trivial ways or doing things that “prove” wider society’s (often misguided) opinions. One of the worst things about the adult industry, sadly, is its failure to see that it is still a marginalized class. Its inability to put industry-wide concerns in front of individual issues gets into dangerous territory. This is the absolute worst, and it’s bad both for porn and for the wider social world.”

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