Exploring The Porn Factor

Ahead of Collective Shout’s screening of her latest documentary, we spoke with Melbourne director Maree Crabbe about why porn needs its time in the spotlight.

When you boil right down to it, the porn industry is a staggering collection of numbers. It makes in excess of 25 billion dollars each year and accounts for 30% of all Internet traffic globally. A content analysis of the 50 most popular videos found 88% of scenes contain physical aggression with 94% of this directed at women. Pornography has become more mainstream and readily accessible than ever before, greatly influencing the sex lives of young people. So, why aren’t we talking about it?

The Porn Factor, co-directed and co-produced by Maree Crabbe, is a documentary that seeks to bring the realities of porn into the spotlight. Crabbe herself conducted interviews with the industry’s directors and performers, leading academics, and young people to understand the nature of contemporary porn and explore the influence it has on viewers.

This is Crabbe’s second cinematic foray into the world of pornography; the first was for her film titled ‘Love & Sex in an Age of Pornography’. According to Crabbe, industry stakeholders were happy to talk about their work – and some of what they shared was quite confronting.

‘It’s amazing how candid the pornography industry is about the aggressive nature of the material they create. They are very open about the fact that the best-selling material contains aggression towards women’, Crabbe told Local Eyes.

Pornography producers told Crabbe during filming that what they create is, essentially ‘what the customers want’ and that they enjoy pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in pornography. Crabbe’s frank interviews also revealed the range of reasons performers enter the industry. ‘One of the performers talked about porn being “recession-proof”, there is a market for pornography regardless of the economic climate,’ says Crabbe.

The Porn Factor also sheds light on forceful sexual practices commonly depicted in porn that may look appealing to some but, in reality, can be harmful. Like all movies, there’s a certain illusion to what is on the screen, with the stars very aware of the fantasy world they’re creating.

‘The performers often talk about it as being almost like an extreme sport’, explains Crabbe, ‘they know what they are doing is not “reality”; they describe themselves as ‘sexual athletes’. On the one hand, they know that it is extreme, but on the other hand, some performers are proud of the material they have created. And some people in the industry talk about it as a form of “sexual education” for adults.’

‘Performers talked about porn being “recession-proof”, there is a market for pornography regardless of the economic climate’ – Maree Crabbe.

Research indicates that pornography is having a profound effect on young people, impacting both their understandings and expectations of sex and also their sexual experiences.

‘For young people who are exposed to pornography – most of whom are seeing it before they’ve had sex or maybe even touched the skin of a partner – porn can play a really powerful role in shaping sexual understanding,’ says Crabbe. The result is detrimental to respectful and mutually pleasurable sex, entrenching sexist and disrespectful attitudes to women.

‘We want any sexual experiences young people engage in now and in the future to feel great for them, but if they are learning about sex from porn then it’s unlikely this will support them in that direction.’

The industry openly admits its films are feeding a public demand for sexually aggressive content, which is why Crabbe is skeptical of a porn industry led revolution. To shape audience demands, we need to first change society’s attitudes. Crabbe suggests we need to work with young people to help them become more critical of the messages delivered in mainstream porn and to aspire to respectful relationships and sex. A key challenge that Crabbe argues needs to be addressed through sexuality education.

The Porn Factor forms part of this educational agenda, fitting into Crabbe’s broader community education violence prevention project: Reality And Risk: Pornography, Young People & Sexuality. Part of the project’s strategy includes encouraging parents and teachers to have these difficult, but important, conversations with young people. ‘Although it’s a sensitive and difficult topic, it’s one we can’t afford to ignore.’

The Porn Factor will be screened by Collective Shout on June 22 from 6:30 PM at Cinema Nova (380 Lygon Street, Carlton, 3053). You can view more of Crabbe’s work and access valuable resources by visiting It’s Time We Talked.

Please note quotations have been edited for length and clarity.

Words by Elizabeth Kuiper. Edited by Justin Meneguzzi.

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