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Book review: “Big Porn Inc”

Big Porn Inc by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray (eds) claims to offer “a cutting edge exposé of the hidden realities of a multi-billion dollar global industry that promotes itself as a fashionable lifestyle choice. Unmasking the lies behind the selling of porn as ‘just a bit of fun’, Big Porn Inc reveals the shocking truths of an industry that trades in violence and degradation, and calls for radical resistance.”

Many essays that oppose pornography, as well as those that promote it, tend to have a narrow focus. Porn is bad for families, porn is good for relationships, porn exploits women, porn empowers women, porn is morally evil, porn is freedom. One of the major strengths of Big Porn Inc is that its focus is broader. It looks at four main themes (Pornography Cultures, Pornography Industries, Harming Children, and Pornography & the State), with the final section dedicated to ways to oppose the pornography industry. In each section there are thoughtful and well-referenced essays by academics, researchers, health professionals and people who have been personally affected by pornography.

It is clear from reading this book that the porn industry reaches much further than the laptops and loungerooms of individuals looking for a thrill. Porn affects us all, and has had a major (and, I would argue, seriously detrimental) effect on our culture. Porn culture is the new norm – our casual acceptance of the sexualisation of childhood, sexting, rape culture, prostitution, pole dancing for children, sexualised marketing and raunch culture all fall under the long reach of the porn industry’s arms. We simply cannot ignore the culture shift that has happened in the wake of the massive growth of the porn industry. Big Porn Inc goes far beyond anti-sex wowserism (the accusation hurled at anyone who dares to oppose porn). It seeks to show that pornography is harmful not just to those who appear in porn and those who watch it. It is indirectly – and often directly – harmful to children, to women, to teenagers, to families, to couples. This indirect harm is perhaps the most insidious of all, because it is easy to deny and easy to ignore. If a young man thinks it’s okay to ogle a woman and make lewd suggestions, can that be directly linked to porn use? In most cases no, but that young man is living in a society educated by porn – he has been desensitised to the influence of the porn industry and, like many people, thinks it’s ‘just a bit of fun’ to demean and objectify women. He has no idea that his behaviour mimics a porn script, where women are treated as fair game for sexual objectification and abuse. Big Porn Inc seeks to make the link that many of us would prefer to ignore.

This is a book that everyone needs to read. If you’ve never thought about the general harms of the porn industry, if you know a bit but would like to know more, if you know more than you’d like but don’t know what to do about it, if you don’t believe that porn is harmful… whoever you are, this book is for you.

Trigger warning: for those who have struggled with porn addiction or compulsive porn use, or those who have experienced abuse or trauma, this book may not be for you. It is graphic, it names particular porn websites and it may trigger unhelpful memories. Use caution and stay safe.

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