Violence & Pleasure

Arshya Wadhwa

Often women making choices involving their bodies in a sexual context is condemned by many ideologies. Unfortunately sexual autonomy has dealt with stifling amount of criticism. Along with these criticisms on women’s choices with regards to their body, there remains a silent outlook toward the kinds of sexual activities which have been normalized and internalized. How often is female pleasure and consent ignored especially by men who have inert desires to assert power everywhere? In this ambit of gender disparity, it becomes inherently necessary to consider the position of sex workers and porn actors. Often there lies a discourse on violent sexual actions being invoked in sex work and porn. Having said that, what is more important to know is whether sex work and porn causes violence or does violence inherently penetrates wherever women’s rights stand even at a slight risk? The power dynamics in gender plays a huge role in determining the root cause of gendered violence.

Sex work and pornography faces a massive amount of backlash coupled with hate and filth, ironically by some feminists too. This paper aims to acknowledge the issues mentioned above in a moving, connected, and passionate manner.


Before diving into the legal certainties, we must divulge into the social aspects and roots attached to violence and sex. To engage in this aspect better, the examples of pornography and sex work would be taken as tools to elucidate a nexus between violence and sex. Pornography has unfortunately been deemed as a shameful act and a deplorable profession. Women in porn become more unworthy as their openly sexual acts are obscene for many. However, a plethora of unethical porn also uses women and young girls into unwanted and forceful sexual acts. But is it fair, especially for men to associate violence with pornography when statistically their source of enjoyment is that itself? The problem with pornography exists in a magnitude. Nevertheless, the grim realities of porn do play a factor in the impressionable minds of many when it comes to the perception of sex. But the important question is whether banning or eradicating porn should be an option or increasing more knowledge on sex, sex education and even through teaching pornography is too ideal? The issues that exist within pornography stem from deeper concerns which are built against pleasurable sex itself. In my opinion, stereotypes against pornography come from the “lewd” interpretations made by men who have had access to such content in the first place. Porn can be more than what it is, what it is presumed to be and what we have been told to always absorb. Taking some captivating concepts from Constance Penley, a feminist scholar who teaches media and included pornography as a course in it, the ‘abhorrent’ shape given to porn can be dismantled of sorts. Penley creates a rationale along with vehement arguments on how porn can be observed and understood rather than the pretense it tends to hold.

Penley’s newly adapted course on pornographic films as a part of history, feminist theory, culture studies, arts, and science etc., was disrelished by unimaginable ‘experts’. Harsh words were chosen by Reverend Pat Robertson calling this practice a new low in humanist existence. Not only was this course disdained by religious people but also by fellow feminists, journalists, university’s chancellor (who threatened to fire professor Penley) and many others. Professor Penley’s intention of including porn in the syllabus was to indulge in broader perspective while studying humanities as a conglomeration of arts and aesthetics as were historically present. A case filed against her also went to the supreme court but rather ended up being in her favor because the prosecutor was unable to establish the ‘obscenity’ aspect. The areas of concerns revolved around how a feminist professor in the first place could support pornography let alone taking it up as a serious topic in the ambit of humanities. This baffled the anti-porn activists who called themselves feminists and religiously moved individuals. Their characterization on porn was limited to barely to a naught of an understanding, they believed that porn could not be studied, or it is too dangerous to study because in its essential cultural form it is too low. Nonetheless rising from these critiques, Constance explains the alternate views that can be attached to porn in a more pragmatic, scientific, and secular humanist sense. Constance briefly mentions about the taste people hold in porn, it is not just “dirty movies” rather there is an abundance of cultural value attached to it. This leads us to the next argument she presents on how porn is a Victorian invention. Relics of explicit erotic imagery have been discovered in the ruins of Pompeii. But very conveniently, male scholars decided to lock these relics away in a secret museum. Porn is not about a single framework of distinguished intercourse shown in a variety of ‘vulgar’ ways rather it contains informative documentaries, artistic and cultural films. Introducing these concepts may bring out a cultural, moral, and epistemological shock for many since the large social construction behind porn erodes under a single ahistorical value attached to it. Thirdly, porn became a very important contributor in in challenging church doctrines and absolutist political authorities. This was because it involves a wealth of examples linked to free thinking, revolutionary art, populist struggles, heresy science and queer relations as well. Pornography also contains interconnections with popular culture, business and labour, sex education and depiction of queer sex which is dauntingly ignored and lastly, a pedagogical tool.

Pornography whether we plan it, believe it, or engage with or not plays a crucial role in the industry. Its essence cannot be ignored. Keeping in mind its presumed perception of being violent, abhorrent, and uninformatively unnecessary to indulge in- one must look at it from an uncustomary angle. From my standpoint, improving the legal structures around erotic studies, porn, or sex education must begin from a shift in our personal glances toward the sociological ingredients accompanied with it. Involving something in the legal arena is always backed by a wealth of historical foundation along with societal impacts, considering porn is a sensitive dimension- its revelations must be embarked upon accordingly. Violent activities contain a denotation that can be eradicated if the roots of porn along with the interwoven epistemology is not digressed. Porn actors do not deserve to be treated violently for the jobs they are doing; they deserve an equal pay and equal respect too. however, our society easily ignores their rights because it us nonetheless convenient due to the stigmas attached to it foremostly which is utterly ironical considering the viewership porn involves.


The segment of sex work vs. sex trafficking is another intriguing sphere in the discourse of violence and sex. Herein, the interview responses of my fellow audience will be studied along with an analysis of how international conventions have borderline evolved with the distinction between sex work and sex trafficking. Alongside these discussions is the infamous abolitionist language model adopted by GAATW. There was a divided response among people when asked if sex work promotes violence against women. However, interestingly this question was posed after having asked the difference between sex work and trafficking.

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Unfortunately, there lies a slight disbalance and desynchronization of the former response to the latter. Why is it that the distinction between both is only clear in paper but not practically? Scrutinizing the former though, on paper also the abolitionist strategy formed a dialogue which ran against prostitution entirely. Feminists in the late 80s adopted a generalized view for all sex workers, and victimized each who was merely migrating like thousands of other people. Feminists of that time had deep contentions with sex work. Oppression of a woman’s body caught sight, but they failed to encapsulate the aspect of control of women’s bodies that lies in the latter’s hand solely. The question of whether sex work qualifies as a legitimate profession has been debated on ideological lines making woman’s body as politically contested on sexuality and desire. Although there is a strict difference between voluntary and forced sex, (the latter being classified as rape only), modern abolitionists have shamed on the trafficking convention which created a difference between forced and voluntary sex work. Abolitionists’ definition for sex workers was fixated on being victim based. The language adopted in international conventions is extremely important. For example, article 6 of CEDAW (Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women) used the words prostitution and trafficking interchangeably. This article was rejected by many nations and was rephrased in the favor of women’s rights and recognized sex workers’ rights. There was an apparent shift from the abolitionist view at the least. The convention acknowledged the fact that some women are pushed into this profession due to issues like poverty and unemployment. But that does not mean that they will be succumbed to the injustices just because their work is not up to the acclaimed standards of ‘feminists’ disguised a neo-abolitionist. One of the most convincing evidence against the abolitionist view has been Radhika Coomaraswamy’s distinction of voluntary and forced prostitution.

This dichotomy created between forced and voluntary sex work has created a false narrative. These conventions have failed to encompass what is relevant for ensuring safety of women. Rather than having a focus on ensuring equal rights, basic safety measures, precautions, legal remedies, legal provisions etc, these so called activists and feminists have created a Dichotomy and binary that hardly distinguishes between trafficking and sex work in practice. Instead, it reinforces the ideal notions on how a woman’s body is supposed to be perceived according to heteronormative structures. It derails the sexual rights and transgresses women to a position wherein she ‘should’ be punished for engaging in something sexual as a job. This dissection is a threat to women’s human rights. language inaccuracies in official conventions plays a nasty role in deciphering how human rights are to be achieved in reality. As observed in the interview results as well, knowing the difference between trafficking and prostitution, many considered violence in sex work to be true. However there lies a difference between those women who are forced as victims to unwillingly enter into sex work and those who choose to enter but are subjected to violence due to the nature of their employment. A plausible fight for violence against women comes from agendas that acknowledge the travesties and give solutions for them too. The conventions only wrapped their head around the forced aspect of sex work but failed to even raise a passive voice against those who willingly enter sex work so what happens to their rights? This not only regresses women to a position of vulnerability but classifies them as victims in every narrative. The failure of even considering sex work a profession and the violence possible in that scenario has been unencountered. Reinforcing this notion of an innocent (sexually pure) women renders the entire active narration around women empowerment redundant. A woman’s body is no political territory to consolidate and no individual sitting on convention tables without knowing basic differences between trafficking and sex work has the right to pass whimsical laws.


To conclude, an analysis on pornography and sex work helps us gain insight into what causes violence as opposed to pleasure and consensual sex. In my viewpoint, it is the invisible public eye toward what sex in its actual essence even is. The lack of healthy discourse around this topic and higher propensity given to old interpretations of definitions mostly given by privileged men has disoriented the vision of sex on professional forums (sex work and pornography). Legal systems resist on making considerable changes due to the oppressive singularity attached to concepts and the failure to grasp multitude of other elucidations and subject matter on existing practices. Therefore, there exist structural imbalances within the very foundations of how violence and sex have been perceived. This perception is alterable with an active, rather than a passive voice which covers human rights of women without discriminating them for the choices they make in the professional ambit. Abstinence should never be a solution as it is counterproductive and provides no scope for a better legal system instead it acts as an impediment. Sex for women is about pleasure as well and violence in no way can be normalized as a substitute for that. Hence, with constant feminist revolutionary changes being made every day, the international attention toward fundamental women’s rights shall also update and never doom in ignorance.

Photo Source: Kelsey Acosta, 10th Grade | Frank Sinatra School of the Arts


Penley C, The Feminist Porn Book (The Feminist Press 2013)

Doezema J, ‘Forced To Choose: Beyond The Voluntary V. Forced Prostitution Dichotomy’

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1 Comment

  1. Amazing read!

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