Posted inOpinion

Our Views on the Union Debate

“This House Welcomes the New Era of Porn.”

Image Credit: Niamh Jones

Co-authored by Pin Yi Chen (Proposition) and Nidhi Bhaskar (Opposition)

The Oxford Union’s pornography debate caused a stir last week, with a sensational lineup of speakers and pertinent subject matter. As usual, we’ve looked back at the motion to share our own opinions… so read on to decide whether the new era of porn is liberating and empowering for performers, or whether its capacity for easy-access long-term damage outweighs these positives.

In favour of the proposition

The new era of porn (a shift from traditional large-scale productions to subscriber-based videos made by individuals) is a welcome change that brings a host of benefits. Online pornography used to be almost entirely controlled by MindGeek, a company which had a chokehold on the industry. In essence, MindGeek had a monopoly on most porn sites that allowed it to control how the world watched and created porn, stifling creativity and encouraging exploitative practices where performers feared to anger the all-powerful directors who control their income.

Nowadays, however, porn proliferates on sites such as OnlyFans, where the performers themselves create videos for their subscribers. This has shifted creative and monetary control from the companies to performers, empowering them to freely express themselves and determine their own futures. It is far easier to push back against individual subscribers, of which they often have millions, than to do so against big-name producers. Furthermore, there is no middleman in play with the new era of porn – performers retain control over the content that they create, allowing them to profit directly from their own work and reducing the issues of copyright and piracy.

The emphasis on amateur and at-home videos also humanises porn performers, allowing them to establish more personal bonds with their subscribers, without the danger of being controlled by them. Before, models, especially women, were often stalked and pressured by employers, who wanted to push them past their limits. Performers felt that it was difficult to stand up for themselves because it was their entire livelihood, a livelihood in which they felt vulnerable due to the rampant stigma surrounding it. Sites like OnlyFans and MakeLoveNotPorn, however, provide performers with a space where they can feel proud of themselves, sexually liberated with their subscribers’ encouragement.

Moreover, without the endless scripting and editing that used to be commonplace in the porn industry, the content that is produced today is much more representative of what sex is like in reality. Like it or not, pornography has often become a replacement for sex education for young people, and as such, it is essential that porn videos give an accurate portrayal of sex done safely and respectfully. The new range of real, human performers creating their own content many therefore help to advance diversity and gender equality, as well as make a step towards the eradication of toxic sexual stereotypes and rape culture.

I admit that the new era of porn is not perfect. Having only come into existence in recent times, there are still large swathes of the industry that are yet to be regulated, especially since pornography is a seemingly ‘forbidden’ topic that make politicians and lawmakers uncomfortable to discuss. But even so, this shift is ultimately for the better, emancipating performers from the exploitative restraints imposed on them by companies such as MindGeek and allowing for the creation of porn that is much more true-to-life and respectful of women.

Summary of Union Speakers

Liberty Osborne

Beginning with an anecdote about Mindgeek and its monopoly over pornography sites, Liberty argued for the industry to move to a more local level. She spoke against the coercive and stifling nature of large pornography studios and advocated for the creation of smaller spaces which can empower performers and portray sex in a more realistic way.

Cindy Gallop

As the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, Cindy spoke about her own experiences and advocated for the need to normalise the porn industry. She argued that existing sites tend to have poor curation and expansion to platforms such as OnlyFans is essential to subvert homogenising corporations such as Mindgeek. She also discussed the extensive limitations placed on pornography performers and the detriments of pushing them into the societal shadows.

Megan Barton-Hanson

As someone involved in the pornography industry, Megan discussed how large corporations make it difficult for female performers to have autonomy or call out poor treatment. Meanwhile, she views OnlyFans and digital sex work as essential  for cultivating images of healthier sexual representations. She also stated that the new era of porn requires legislation to both protect adult content and educate adults about sexual pleasure and the consensual treatment of women, while also dispelling stigma and stereotypes.

In favour of the opposition

The new era of porn, largely spearheaded by the rise of subscription-based platforms such as OnlyFans, comes with numerous shifts and challenges. When considering whether to welcome it, it is therefore crucial to contemplate which improvements this new era brings and if the challenges that arise are actually superseding the progress being made. While OnlyFans has made an important step in divesting from large pornography corporations and allowing creators to own the content they create, it does bring with it some new concerns of its own.   

One of OnlyFans’s main draws is the fact that individuals can choose to follow certain creators and monetarily subscribe to these creators and their content. However, a danger of this personalised attribute of OnlyFans is the culture of para-social relationships that such exchanges can facilitate. While existing porn sites are egalitarian in that everyone has access to similar content, OnlyFans places a price on customised sexual acts and makes the way for exchanges that create a semblance of bi-directionality and perversely parallel patterns of exchange in relationships.  While this exchange may be chimeric, the leverage that viewers’ monetary support provides can leave very real impacts on behaviour, motivating creators to push their boundaries and create content that they are uncomfortable with for fear of withdrawal of support. Furthermore, the involvement and influence of a fanbase will disproportionately affect content-makers with small fanbases, as each subscriber is likely to carry more weight for the creator.

Furthermore, OnlyFans lowers the threshold and “initial effort” needed for young people to become involved in the pornography industry. Existing pornography performers often enter the industry at least somewhat aware of the repercussions they might face. Beyond that, they are able to be briefed on the process of creating pornography on film or in a studio setting. However, with the rise of amateur pornography, almost anyone with a smartphone—even those who are underage— can get involved in creating porn and, in many cases, young creators may not realise the future tolls that a brush with pornography may have on their personal and professional lives. With the advent of the digital age, content released on the internet tends to linger despite efforts to remove it, causing aspiring creators who change their minds have a much more difficult time erasing their content should they wish to do so.

As a relatively new addition to the digital scape, OnlyFans and similar subscription-based sites have allowed creators to film and monetise amateur pornography creations. It is undeniable that such changes have done wonders for bringing the pornography industry above ground, enabling creators to assert more agency over their content and bringing viewers more accurate depictions of sex. However, despite the improvements that have been made, it is undeniable that this period comes with its own set of growing pains which still must be considered. It is possible to recognise the benefits that such platforms bring, but until sufficient improvements are made, we cannot truly glorify or welcome the new era of pornography.  

Summary of Union Speakers

Matthew Dick

Matthew argued that OnlyFans has a monopoly over subscription pornography services which still makes the process fundamentally exploitative. He cited examples of children being groomed to enter the industry, discussing the easy with which OnlyFans exerts monetary control over individuals, allowing the advancement of pornography to negatively affect the most vulnerable.

Louise Perry

Louise spoke about the dangers of the pornography industry and argued that, despite attempts to redefine it, the lack of global interest in feminist porn demonstrates how exploitative content will always continue to be circulated. She went on to discuss the culture of abuse that occurs in the pornography industry, saying that it is difficult to identify and ensure consent when there is pressure being placed on female participants. She denounced the pornography industry as a capitalist enterprise that trains individuals to treat sex as a “spectator sport” on one hand and systematically protects abusers on the other.

Sharon Chau:

Sharon argued that, while OnlyFans portrays a façade of consent and female empowerment, the harsh reality is that content creators are often coerced by the monetary support of their audience. Furthermore, she argued that the marketing of OnlyFans as “realistic” is even more damaging, as the aspects of curation and coercion provide a warped perception of sexual relationships.