Between my WordPress site stats and Google’s webmaster tools, I get a pretty good idea of where most of the traffic to my blog comes from. Interestingly– sadly?– many people stumble onto my blog while they are searching for porn.
Recent search terms have included: “naked asian babes”, “video sex khmer 2012”, “cambodian whore”, “world of warcraft porn”, “girls licking boobs”, “khmer sexy”, and “sexy khmer”. And the poor sots ended up at my blog. Haha. (Those last two, by the way, were probably the same Khmer guy who forgot and then remembered that adjectives precede nouns in English.)
The sexual fetishization of women and thus porn seem universal. Cambodia is no exception, even though pornography is supposedly illegal here (or so they say, I have yet to find the laws on that). To the contrary, porn is so cheap and readily available here that between 40-60% of minors (under 18, average age 14) have seen hardcore pornography in video and/or picture form. This is true both of village children and urban children. It is also possible that the real number of children watching porn is much higher, since studies have indicated that a child is reluctant to admit that they, themselves, have watched porn, but will readily admit that they know many of their peers watch porn.
Supposedly it is fairly easy to access VCD porn even in villages, being sold by some local “entrepreneur” or distributed through village networks– all of which is done in partial or total secrecy because of the (at least perceived) illegal nature of pornography. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone in my neighborhood distributing/selling porn in any form, nor did I ever notice it in the villages (in Kampong Cham and Kampot), but I was not seeking it out. I asked some guys my age whether they’d ever gone “outside” to get pornography; one of them told me that he and his friends used to travel to the nearby provincial town to view pornography at coffee shops when they were about 16; they also said this particular coffee shop had closed down long ago.
About ten years ago, this would have been one of the only ways to access pornography: at local coffee or TV shops (which serve snacks and drinks) that have viewings of pornography “in secret” (you can’t tell me the police didn’t know this was happening– they were probably there, themselves…), wherein each viewer pays a small fee (about 25 cents/hour in some cases) to sit and watch porn with other viewers. Sort of like going to a small movie house…only it’s porn.
There is no need in today’s Cambodia to go to a large town or to seek out shops with porn viewings in order to access porn. Thanks to a serious lack of copyright laws, improved AV equipment, and the Internet, both homemade Cambodian porn and international porn can be easily acquired and are often free.
One source of new, free pornography which quite honestly shocked me is the wats (pagodas)– Buddhist religious complexes which are ubiquitous throughout the Kingdom. Because wats are a free place for boys and young (unmarried) men to stay when they are not at home (especially those coming to the city from the provinces), it perhaps is not so surprising that wats act as a hub for free pornography distribution. I was still surprised, naively I admit, to hear that monks watch and distribute porn, too.
The form of porn, itself, has also changed. Computers, smart phones, and other Internet-accessing or digital storage devices have made VCDs and books virtually obsolete. Downloading, distributing, and exchanging porn via ipods, cell phones, and computers has made accessing the most recent porn simple and free.
So what effect does this have on children? Is easy access to hardcore pornography (which frequently includes rape and sex with animals) partially responsible for Cambodia’s gang rape epidemic (balk) and rape of minors? How is pornography connected to regional issues of prostitution and human trafficking? And how does readily-accessible porn affect the overall status of women and girls in Cambodia?
The studies I reference above try to answer these questions, but the last question receives the least amount of attention. It’s a question that feminists worldwide have been struggling with for decades, and the debate rages on. Some have taken an oppositional stance (which resulted in their being labeled “sex-negative”), some have proposed that opposing porn is opposing free speech, and others have tried to say that porn can be designed in a feminist fashion (sometimes called the “pro-sex” feminists)– and therefore would be for consumption by any gender, rather than being centered on male pleasure.
I have gone back and forth on this issue, myself. But I find it deeply affecting that studies have correlated pornography to sexual violence and gang behaviors. It is a tired and tiring argument to say “not everyone who watches porn is going to rape someone”; instead I am seeking a deeper understanding of an individual’s personal motivations for watching porn, what determines the particular kinds of porn they seek out, how it affects their overall views of sex, how it modifies their experience of sexual pleasure (if at all), and how it affects or interferes with their intimate relationships. After speaking with a variety of people of different ages and backgrounds about their experience of pornography, it is obvious to me that pornography does not have a single, generic impact on humans. It is complicated and subjective… I guess I would like to know, is the overall impact and outcome more negative or positive?
Finally, it can’t be ignored that pornography is a totem of male privilege. Many men I have talked to about pornography, whether they watch it regularly, seldom, or not at all, all seem to feel that it is their right to access pornography if they so wish. I’ve rarely heard women talk about it in the same self-entitled fashion. Very “liberal” (whatever that means) men have told me, “Well I don’t really watch it, but I don’t see what’s wrong with it.” “Freedom of speech! Enough said.” “As long as it’s not rape porn, what’s the problem? It’s not real, anyway.” “A lot of porn is funny, you know.” “I don’t see how it degrades women. You know women get off on watching porn, too?” And so on. Whereas women, by comparison, seem averse to, even repulsed by porn, or they are confused, or they want to respect “freedom of speech” but seem wary of the deeper implications “freedom of porn” has…
Denial of the way porn shapes the human sexual consciousness is very simplistic, and overlooks the ways in which porn affects real intimate relationships. Those effects may be long-lasting or even permanent… They cannot be shut out or forgotten just by closing a magazine or web browser. I am scared to think that a reason why many young, liberal men are so dismissive of theories which question the creation and use of hardcore pornography is because they feel they are entitled to whatever gets them off. Even if it is superficial, even if it is degrading, even if it is harmful.
To quote Weezer, “say it ain’t so,” somebody.