Pornography in the Kingdom


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.

11 thoughts on “Pornography in the Kingdom

  1. Rape, and violence against women, sadly existed long before modern porn. And if porn disappeared tomorrow, I doubt current rates of rape/violence against women would drop much, if at all. That’s just an opinion, but I think your POV is as well.

    I guess I’m very simplistic, but I also doubt that porn shapes my sexual consciousness. Then again, I don’t believe that commercials and the media are influencing my consciousness. I believe people have a choice about the consumption of information. Which is to say that you can let a commercial make you feel like you are missing something in your life, or you can ignore it. I think that applies whether you are conscious of the ways marketing works or not. Same with porn, even if you don’t think about the ways in which it might be, or be considered, degrading, you can recognize right from wrong, appropriate ways to treat people, etc.

    Further, I think that consumption of porn doesn’t influence my sexual consciousness no more than watching Rambo, or playing violent video games is going to make me a violent person. That said, I’ll grant that some people are more easily influenced than others, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe violent video games are leading to shooting sprees and I don’t believe porn is leading to sexual violence–obviously excepting for porn that is directly exploiting a minor or someone who is not consenting to the filming or act. Violence has been around a lot longer than video games and cinema. In fact, the world is a less violent place with video porn than it was without. Of course that’s pure coincidence. But I think the same is true for correlation of porn and rape. World War II, which I would argue was the most destructive we’ve been as a race, happened without the benefit of video games. What was driving those Nazis, Italians and Japanese if not violent movies and video games? A staggering amount of rapes have happened in lawless war zones. Again, somehow without the benefit of porn.

    My partner with who I share a real intimate relationship, who I might add is a self-identified feminist, watches porn. I don’t have a problem with it. She doesn’t have a problem with my porn viewing habits either. Both of us consume to masturbate. And I don’t believe either of us are experience any adverse effects in our relationship as a result.

    If there wasn’t porn, people fantasize… and they fantasize about things and situations that they’d be watching if porn existed. Would that be a thought crime? The only difference I can see then, is that there are obviously real actors and actresses involved, but it seems that your argument is more than just the actresses/actors are being exploited.

    Again, just my opinion, but one that I think makes sense, we’re designed (by evolution in my opinion) to survive, to do that requires sex. Thus, we have a high sex drive, even when we’re not with someone, we still have that sex drive. Masturbation is a way to burn off some of that sexual energy, aside from the fact that it feels good. Porn, to me, is just another human invention that meets a need. Instead of fantasizing, the fantasy is presented to you. In the same way that if we want to be entertained or fantasize about the future or a far off place we don’t have to imagine a big long story, we can pick up a book, or watch a movie.

    There are a lot of things wrong with society. There are things that aren’t fair. I don’t believe that porn causes society’s ills though for the most part. It is just a tool people use to get off. Giving it much more credit than that most times is probably giving it too much credit.

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    • Interesting.

      I didn’t say porn causes societies ills, nor do I believe it is the root of all rape. It is pretty difficult to dismiss, however, the person that says they raped someone after the fashion of the rape porn they’d just gotten through watching (as described several times in the studies I link to). I certainly don’t believe that rape is going to disappear if porn does, but if violent, misogynist porn disappears, would that affect the conscious and subconscious minds of porn consumers? You seem to believe that you don’t have a subconsciousness, since you believe all consumption and reaction to external stimuli is by choice. So maybe that point is moot. But apart from children, there are certainly plenty of malleable persons whom porn might influence, in terms of their sexuality, their views on the individuals or groups portrayed in porn, etc.

      I have absolutely nothing against masturbation (slight tangent here, following your lead). I know lots of people who use porn as a “tool” to masturbate; can I say that they all commit rape? No. Do they buy into a patriarchal view of women? Yes. Is that solely because of porn? Definitely not. Is the porn contributing to that view? I’d have to say so.

      I also mention that plenty of feminists “believe” in porn and are porn consumers. I used to be, myself; my college friends had porn viewings which were more like comic sessions, and I have seen more porn than I care to remember in countless other instances, as well. The overriding theme of porn is not pleasure; it is male pleasure. Just as we are dominated by a media in which women are told they are deviant and/or ugly if they are too fat/thin, makeup-less, hairy, conservative or “too” sluttish, etc. etc. etc., porn is dominated by the theme that men need to get off and women should be getting them off. To be honest, the reason I stopped watching porn wasn’t really a feminist one; I stopped viewing it long before I decided it was a potential totem of the Patriarchy. I stopped watching it because it’s boring. I already know that story; I don’t want to watch it played out in sexual scenarios, many of which also depict violence. To what degree does “real life” reflect porn, and to what degree does porn reflect reality?

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  2. In my own experience, for what it might be worth, I have always discovered (in marriage counselling and confession) a relationship between one spouse’s interaction with pornography and a breakdown in the physical intimacy of the marriage. Now I cannot be sure if it is the chicken or the egg which comes first, but in a good number of conversations it has transpired that as the consumption of pornography increased the frequency of sexual intercourse decreased. This has always puzzled me. Make of this what you will.

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    • See, these are the things I hear about… But when I pose this question to people, they completely deny any connection between porn consumption and their sexuality. Part of me wonders if they are afraid they will be forced to “give up” porn if they have to admit it truly is adversely affecting their sexuality and sexual relationships. Another thing I notice is that people consider porn *as* a sexual relationship– that is, porn *is* sex. I also know a lot of people (women, mostly) who, once they discovered their significant other was partaking of porn, withdrew from the intimate and/or sexual aspects of their relationship. For me, personally, I know it places fears and doubts in my mind. My attitude towards pornography, from a normalizing one has transformed into more or less skepticism and doubt.

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      • People treat porn like a commodity, but they talk about it like sex. I think the disparity comes about because a lot of porn use is driven by something other than sexual desire. Some people use porn for emotional regulation (either to increase or decrease arousal) or for social reasons (especially male bonding). There’s also a strong element of consumerism about it, and most people’s virtual-consumer identities tend to be a lot more grandiose than their real life personas.

        I’m a little baffled that anyone is inspired to masturbate by watching porn. There’s nothing inherently interesting about watching people have sex, so I figure the appeal of porn is either the taboo nature of sex and/or the sociopolitical dimensions (class, gender, etc.).

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      • The male bonding aspect of social consumption of porn is definitely true here in Kampuchea, which certainly inspires something besides arousal.

        Although I agree that viewing porn is consumerism, I doubt many viewers see it that way. I certainly didn’t, for my part, those times I watched it. Among my friends who, at least in the past, would watch porn not for sexual stimulation but for “entertainment value”, that is arguable consumerism, I think they would yet deny that they view porn as part of a consumer identity.

        As for porn being interesting or not, I do think there is a learned response to it in which viewers understand that they are “supposed to” be aroused by what they are watching. Actually, I think this may be where problems begin to arise: as the learned response is absorbed, people become less able or less willing to explore their own sexuality. What really gets them off? What really makes them feel good? Such questions become irrelevant if one is told enough times, “this is what is supposed to get you off, this is what should make you feel good.” For men, in most porn, that means being domineering and in control. For women, that means being “on the bottom” and acting as a receptacle, a tool for male pleasure. The crazy thing is that porn may be taboo, but these learned responses are pop culture and universal.

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      • It is, I think, most disturbing that people consider pornography as a relationship. This insight underlines that as a form of sexual expression, which it unarguably is, is a counterfeit. As such it must be considered — from the moral standpoint — as infidelity. This said, the addictive quality of pornography must not be underestimated. Watching others of our own species engage in what is an intrinsically pleasurable activity (sexual intercourse in this case) does stimulate many of the same emotions and sensations in the voyeur. Here I would disagree with Miranda (above) when she asserts that “There’s nothing inherently interesting about watching people have sex.”

        On the contrary, watching others having sexual intercourse activates the evolutionary response of sympathetic mimesis; this empathetic arousal is much like the sympathetic reaction of flinching when one has witnessed another experience pain. We are, however, more than the sum of our evolutionary parts and must come to understand the moral distinction between an authentic and caring, and mutually emotionally and physically beneficial, intimate relationship between two adults and its counterfeit. This distinction we must see as psycho-sexual maturity.

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      • “this empathetic arousal”– whoa, hold up. Empathy? Firstly you use empathy and sympathy nigh interchangeably, which of course they’re not. But more importantly… Have you seen much porn? “Empathetic” is hardly the first word that comes to mind. In fact, a lot of porn is about getting off at someone else’s expense (their pain, their lack of mutual orgasm, their subjugation or humiliation, etc.).

        This is keenly illustrated by the fact that a lot of porn depicts women being fucked (pardon the language, but I’m speaking in the vernacular, as it were), yet the men fucking them are shown only from the chest or waist down. Male viewers can then easily imagine themselves “in the driver’s seat”– actually, porn and first-person shooters and driver video games have a lot in common. It puts the player not only directly in the action, but makes them the protagonist, the central character. Thus the viewer is not experiencing empathetic arousal, but can imagine the direction of their own arousal. Also, I may be wrong, but my impression is that porn makes (male) viewers feel empowered and “successful” not because the woman (or the person being fucked) feels pleasure or comes to orgasm, but because they made them feel that way. This points to power, control and authority… *gasp* How remarkably similar to the underlying psychological motivations of many rapists…

        I may be wrong again, but in my experience viewers are not feeling love and connection as they watch porn; I’ve heard a lot of reactions to/about porn, during/after viewings, but in none of them have my friends or other people expressed any loving sentiments/emotions.

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      • Take a moment please! It may be the limitations of textual communication to convey ‘friendly’ exchange, but I can’t help but get the impression that in your reply you are on the offencive; presuming some unintended hostility in my previous reply. Please believe me, that our thoughts on pornography are very much the same – maybe coming from different places, but very much the same negative take on the genre. To clear up my error and the resultant confusion – I had meant ‘sympathetic’ in both instances. My apologies.

        No I have not taken the time to ‘enjoy’ much porn. I do appreciate the temptation, but one must accept that the strongest creature of ones’ nature is the one we choose to feed. I let that beast go hungry. I would agree that it is not about love, and it is in this that I see it as the counterfeit of a real and loving relationship.

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      • No no, I didn’t feel that you were being hostile– but I am surely a hostile writer, myself… Sorry for that.

        You say you see the genre of pornography as negative– and by and large I agree. I have read, however, about people attempting to make “feminist porn”. I haven’t seen any, myself, as I only heard about this in the time that I’ve stopped consuming it (that really is the word for it, isn’t it?)– but, have you heard of it? If so, what do you think of that idea?

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    • Feminist porn? Yes I have heard of it. What I think of it comes, naturally from my own religious and moral formation. The answer, from where I stand, comes from an understanding of the natural dignity of the human personal, a theology of the body and sexuality. Jesus asks us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; in this regard ‘nakedness’ is understood as a poverty and a cause of shame and suffering. Frequently we hear the comment from people that they are ‘comfortable’ with their body and are then ‘liberated’ to share it in pornography and what have you. In so far as this might be considered art, the reflection has to be vague. Yet when it is the willful objectification of the human body (male or female) for the gratutious sexual consumption of others then it is a poverty and a source of suffering. We must strive to create a world where people do not feel that they have to ‘fuck’ to make money.

      Sex, by all accounts, is a fantastic experience; forming close bonds between loving partners, comforting people in their sense of alienation and satisfying those ‘needs’ all living things experience. It is an intimate moment and therefore one which must be afforded dignity and privacy. One does not wish for people to ‘enjoy’ my pain in bereavement, and yet this is another intimate human moment. My great fear is that when we allow the invasion of this privacy to be acceptable in society, then we remove something sacred from the human experience. Lust is a fine thing, so my thoughts would be that one partner should express that natural desire with another in a loving and supportive environment.

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