The University Times: Trouble in Porn Paradise: The Demise of Adult Entertainment

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from www.universitytimes.ie – If prostitution, as the cliché goes, is the oldest profession then pornography and its closest cousin, masturbation, must surely be the oldest pass times.

Indeed, for thousands of years all sorts of human beings have been getting-off on all sorts of erotica – cavemen had their wall paintings, Greeks had their phallic statues of Priapus, Roman children even had pornographic pictures on the bottom of their dinner plates to encourage them to finish meals.

But since these early incarnations pornography has changed drastically. Primarily viewership of pornography has inexorably grown. It is staggering to think, for example, that adult men spend 77% of their time online watching erotica and that over half of all transactions online relate to spending on pornography. The demographics of porn consumption, too, have shifted greatly. Where in the past it may have been the preserve of unfulfilled, middle-aged men; porn is now greedily ingested by all ages and genders – a recent study showed 42% of teenagers had been exposed to porn by the age of 15.

The reasons for porn’s meteoric rise are well known. Firstly, thanks to the internet, getting hold of erotic material has never been easier. In the past people had to shadily shuffle around the newsagent waiting for the old woman to leave before making a covert magazine purchase; now streaming hardcore pornography takes just three innocuous clicks of the mouse.

Secondly, the consumption of porn is self reinforcing –the more porn you watch, the more normal it becomes, the more you watch. Thanks to this positive feedback pornography has become society’s sexual white bread offering bland (but quick) erotic nutrition for the time and socially starved masses. On average it takes just fifteen minutes from logging-on to getting-off leaving people free to get on with their busy lives.

Given this status it is perhaps unsurprising that many of those flogging filth have become filthy rich. Indeed, in an industry worth an estimate $12.55 billion, top porn stars can earn upwards of $5 million a year not including the further millions from syndication and royalty revenues. But all this, according to some fairly big fish in the porn pond, could be about to change. It’s not that consumers are falling out of love with porn; but rather that the industry which produces it is on the brink of collapse.

Broadly speaking the adult entertainment industry is fighting on three fronts. In the first instance, like all media, porn is battling against online piracy and so called ‘tube sites’. These sites, of which there are thousands, offer pirated or independently made adult content free of charge and survive on the vast advertising revenues that their vast viewership commands.

When faced with the choice of paying for higher quality porn or accepting adverts in order to have it free, many, especially since the recession has started to bite, have opted for the latter. The result has been that adult studios, which in the late nineties enjoyed greater profits than ABC, CBS and NBC combined, have been dropping like pornstars’ flies: quickly.

“This is the perfect storm”, says Steve Javors of Adult Video News, “for decades we just assumed porn was recession proof…but taking the economic climate and online piracy into account…this could be an industry on the edge”.

Piracy and the economy aside, the porn industry is also under fire as a result of recent revelations regarding HIV transmission. In particular the news last year that on performer, known only as ‘Patient X’, may have contracted and transmitted HIV to twenty others has shocked and shaken the industry.

In the short term the fallout from Patient X caused two leading studios, Wicked Pictures and Vivid Entertainment, to suspend production indefinitely. In the longer term it ushered in new legislation, known colloquially as Measure B, which calls for mandatory use of condoms in adult films.

Measure B is due to be voted on by the people of California (the hub of the industry) on November 6th and unsurprising has stirred-up a great deal of debate. Those in favour of the bill, including HIV and health groups, have sought to paint the issue as one of public safety. “No one else has to work without safety equipment”, says one of their snappy TV ads, “Why should performers in adult films?”.

In the opposing camp, as you may expect, lines-up the combined might of the porn industry who argue that mandatory condom use would be catastrophic for sales. “People don’t buy porn that features condoms”, says their spokesmen James Lee.

As a result of lower sales, they argue publically, many non-performing jobs in the industry (make-up artists, camera men etc) will face unemployment. In private, though, another argument is being sounded namely that Measure B will unfairly target the large studios on regulators’ radars – it would be nearly impossible to regulate the small-scale, independent adult content produced outside the big studios for the aforementioned ‘tube sites’.

Whilst the introduction of Measure B would undoubtedly be a victory for health groups and the safety of performers; it could be highly worrying for the traditional industry. As one ex-pornstar said recently, “We are in a state of panic…there’s plenty of alarm around”.

For many people the decline of the traditional porn industry is undoubtedly a good thing. In the first instance, the collapse in studios’ profits represents a triumph in moral terms. No longer, the argument goes, will unfortunate men and women be forced to sell their bodies to line the pockets of studio executives. Moreover, the implosion of the pay-per-view porn could be seen as a coup for the consumer who can now get porn for free.

However, as long as human beings continue to demand quick and easy sexual gratification, both such views are misguided. Unless some huge shift in societal attitudes and approaches to sexuality can be engineered, unregulated and free porn will simply fill the vacuum left by the big studios’ implosion. The traditional industry may collapse; but pornography itself is here to stay.

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