Porn Laid Bare: 6 Young People Go Behind The Scenes Of The Porn Industry

Photo: Courtesy of BBC
Pornography is cited time and again as a cause of body insecurity among women – 72% of women said they compare their vagina or vulva to those they see in porn, according to Refinery29's recent vagina survey.
Freely available porn is often deemed aggressively sexist, demeaning of minorities, and exploitative and homogenous in the range of bodies used on screen. Some women told us their labia were "larger" than those they had seen in porn, while one respondent said her vagina was "not a bright, vibrant pink that is often depicted in Caucasian porn".
We also know young people are watching porn (a lot), but rarely do we get a glimpse into what they really think about porn and what it means. A new three-part BBC Three documentary, Porn Laid Bare, sees six young British people with very different attitudes to porn travel to Spain to grapple with the ethics of the country's booming sex industry.
In the first episode alone, which is available now on iPlayer, they visit the porn set of Cumlouder(!) studios, meet a French porn producer, visit a porn performer's home, debate its impact on real-life relationships with an academic, and more, all the while reflecting on what they're seeing.
The group includes three women in their early 20s: one who never watches porn for ethical reasons (the self-described feminist), one woman who previously experienced physical addiction symptoms from her overconsumption of porn, and one who is considering a career as a porn actor. There's many a toe-curling moment – having your reaction filmed while watching people having sex in front of you doesn't happen every day– but there's a reassuring amount of hearty conversation, too.
The group's outspoken feminist, 22-year-old Anna, a social science student from Birmingham, describes herself as strictly anti-porn and says she stopped watching it over a year ago after realising it contradicted her feminist values, citing what she sees as an increase in violent sex coinciding with the increased consumption of extreme porn. Overall, Anna believes the porn industry is exploitative and promotes violence towards women. "Porn has encouraged men to treat women in the bedroom as if they're porn stars themselves. The sex is very male-centric and about the man's experience as opposed to the woman's."
Of the group, Anna is one of the most eager to meet Dr Sam Carr, a senior lecturer at the University of Bath who researches the impact of porn on empathy, and believes that: "If people's diet of sex is abnormal sex [like most porn], over and over again, eventually, [as] some psychologists are arguing, the brain will rewire itself, and when you go back to normal sex, it's not really arousing anymore."
Advertisement

I got used to the idea that my skin colour and heritage was a drop-down menu in porn.

Neelam, 24, a former heavy porn watcher
Then there's 24-year-old Neelam from Manchester, who watched porn almost daily between the ages of 11 and 16 but stopped when she realised she couldn't become aroused with sexual partners as a result. She's critical of the stereotypes and representation of minority ethnic groups in porn: "As a woman of colour, I feel like I've been fetishised in the porn industry," she says. "I got used to the idea that my skin colour and heritage was a drop-down menu in porn, it was a category, a kink, that people were either into or not into."
Nariece, 24, a model from London, describes Pornhub as her "best friend". The bisexual, full-time single mum to a young daughter, began the experience identifying as an aspiring porn actor, but was turned off the idea during the filming process. "I used to watch it every other day. I particularly like watching homemade porn including private videos I’ve made myself, but failing that I would turn to Pornhub," she told Refinery29. "I was contemplating a career in porn because I love sex and I assumed it would be really good pay, particularly because I’m a single mum. I thought it could be a good option for me and I was inspired that other mums are also porn stars. It's also really glamorous."

My eyes have really been opened now. I don't use mainstream porn anymore.

Nariece, 24, model and former aspiring porn actor
Nariece was initially drawn to the industry because she considered the porn she enjoyed watching "empowering". She says: "Growing up I had bad experiences with men that made me think my role in sex was to simply please them, but watching and learning from porn made me feel more empowered in my own sexuality. It gave me the confidence to experiment and to be more vocal in asking for the kind of sex I wanted, rather than just being there to please other people."
Advertisement
But Nariece's experience on the show made her appreciate that the personal benefits she'd experienced from her habit didn't extend across the board. "While porn empowered me personally and gave me back my voice after years of feeling subservient to men, it had damaged many people working in the industry who had experienced abuse, exploitation and drugging," she explained. "I also realised I wouldn't want to just be known as a porn star as I'm good at so many other things, and being in porn would define me and close off other career opportunities."
"My eyes have really been opened now. I don't use mainstream porn anymore, the only thing I watch now is my own private homemade porn which I know is more ethical."
To coincide with the first episode, the channel also surveyed 1,014 18-25-year-olds, resulting in some eye-opening findings. Almost a quarter (23%) of people aged 18-25 who watch porn think they might be addicted – 14% of women and 31% of men – the survey found, while over half (55%) of men said porn was their main source of sex education compared to one third of women (34%).
Almost a quarter (24%) said they had felt pressured to do things that a partner has seen in porn, with close to a fifth (19%) claiming they'd tried things they'd seen in porn and regretted it. Over a third (35%) said they'd had riskier sex due to porn. Like Refinery29's vagina survey, BBC Three also found that many young people feel porn creates unrealistic and misogynistic expectations about sex and the human body: over half (54%) said it creates impossible standards for beauty and bodies, while over a quarter (26%) said it had negatively impacted their body confidence. A fifth admitted porn had made them seriously consider plastic surgery.
'Porn Laid Bare' is available on BBC Three from Thursday 14th March.
Advertisement

More from Global News