Duke freshman’s work in porn cheapens female sexuality

 By ABIGAIL STINSON ’17 

Contributing Writer

by Alexa J. Williams '14 Arts Editor

by Alexa J. Williams ’14
Arts Editor

For the last few weeks, the Internet has been buzzing with the revelation that a Duke University freshman is paying for college by working as a porn star. The woman, who goes by the pseudonym “Lauren,” promptly published a response to her exposure on the popular website xojane.com in which she defended her choice. She stated her reasons for continuing to work in the porn industry—namely, that she “couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition” and that her experience so far has been “supportive, exciting, thrilling and empowering.” The article culminated in her calling out her classmates for harassing her through “slut-shaming,” saying that such insults perpetuate the predominantly negative view that modern society has of female sexuality. Her impassioned defense of the porn industry has troubled more than a few readers—including me.

I respect Lauren’s right to make her own decisions about her work. I applaud her choice to challenge her attackers with reason and an attempt to “start a dialogue…about the abuses we inflict on our sex workers.” Nobody should be bullied, threatened or stripped of their privacy the way that she has been. Nonetheless, I find the crux of her argument very disturbing. Disturbing, because in a world where women are often marginalized and denied the right to speak freely about their sexuality, one of them has come to believe that the answer is to expose her sexual self in such a way that the world will never look at her as a whole person.

Sexuality is an essential component of human identity, and it is precious. We choose to share it with others at our discretion, because we know that doing so makes us vulnerable. Lauren defines the sexual degradation of women as “[robbing] them of their choice and of their autonomy….A woman who transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body…ostensibly poses a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society.” Pornography does not allow women to take ownership of their bodies. Rather, it cheapens the sexual act by turning it from a choice between consenting partners into a mass-produced commodity. Sex is no longer a function of human identity but a currency with a set value that is more or less arbitrarily determined.

The consumers who purchase the media are just as subject to influence by societal norms and taboos. Inside the industry, certain types of porn are still widely ruled to be off-limits by the middle-aged white men who control the business—for example, white women having sex with black men. Pornography is not an answer to the fetters that bind female sexuality; it is a contributing factor.

Lauren pleads with her readers, “I want people to acknowledge [the] humanity [of sex workers]. I want people to listen to our unique narratives and dialogues.” Her request is heartbreakingly at odds with her occupation. Pornography cheats participants of their humanity by turning them from individuals with lives, stories, hopes and dreams into mere vehicles for others’ vicarious sexual pleasure. The union of our sexual identities with our fuller selves is what separates human congress from the meaner gratification of animals. As long as the porn industry exists, it will continue to artificially separate the satisfaction of lust from the satisfaction of the soul.

I am glad that Lauren is using her experience to start a conversation because this topic is one that raises a lot of important issues: college costs, sensitivity to the narratives of others and most pertinently, what it means to be a sexual being in a broken world. As we continue to consider these things, I hope that we will look upon Lauren and all other sex workers with compassion—a compassion that speaks the truth and one that will not stand for the degradation of any human being.

Click here to read the counterpoint on this issue.

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