Culture

Gwyneth Paltrow Suggests There’s Such A Thing As ‘Ethical Porn’

By Elizabeth Condra··  7 min read
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Gwyneth Paltrow Suggests There’s Such A Thing As ‘Ethical Porn’

“Wellness” and lifestyle brand Goop is the gift that keeps on giving, and that’s probably due to its founder, Gwyneth Paltrow. Most recently, she suggested there’s such a thing as “ethical porn.”

Paltrow is famous in wellness communities and pop-culture alike for such controversies as creating a $75 “vagina-scented” candle and not even knowing what her own brand does or the shadiness of the products it promotes. 

Goop is also known for its...creative approaches to sex, including Paltrow’s promotion of so-called “orgasm equality” during intimacy, and the drug-filled exploration of sexuality on the Netflix-sponsored series the goop lab. 

Apparently, porn now warrants inclusion in the canon of healthy behaviors we should all be engaging in, at least by Paltrow’s standards. But we’re not talking just any form of pornography. Paltrow recently suggested there’s such a thing as “ethical porn” which indirectly acknowledges that the majority of porn is seen as degrading and dangerous, yet also harmfully minimizes the damage the porn industry causes to both men and women, whether they produce it or consume it.

Gwyneth Paltrow Misses the Mark (Again)

It was only a matter of time before Paltrow (and Goop, more or less) crossed the thin line from “wearable stickers that promote healing” (yes, really) into the pitfalls of such a suggestion like “ethical porn.”

Paltrow wrote on her blog — for all her eight million Goop fans to see — the following: “The first time you watch porn that genuinely and deeply arouses you is akin to the moment you have sex with another person and experience an elation that makes you think, ‘Oh, so this is what sex can be.’ If you haven’t checked what’s available in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised.”

Watching porn is not the same thing as actually engaging in meaningful intimacy with another person. 

Paltrow actually received a fair amount of criticism for the statement, especially as she’s viewed as a champion of the #MeToo movement and was one of Harvey Weinstein’s most successful stars in the late ’90s and early 2000s. She won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love, a film produced by Weinstein’s company, but apparently, she was also integral in revealing the true extent of his misconduct to the media.

Let’s break down her statement because there’s a lot that needs to be addressed. First of all, as pretty much any emotionally intelligent person will tell you, watching porn, despite whatever feelings it may elicit, is not the same thing as actually engaging in meaningful intimacy with another person. Sex with a committed partner, someone you’re in love with and in a stable relationship that defies the damaging norms of hookup culture, is what enables us to experience quote, “what sex can be.” What sex can be, what actual emotional intimacy can be for that matter, is something that should last far beyond a video.

What’s Ethical about Degradation and Violence?

Secondly, there’s a general condescension about this statement that almost implies that if we’re not actively watching porn, whether we’re male, female, single or not, then we’re the ones missing out. Looking at the general state of the industry today, it’s plain to see that’s far from the truth. 

We know that porn is damaging, not just to ourselves but also to our relationships. But we might not know the extent of this damage and how quickly and easily it can erode the fabric of our relationships and the emotional health of our individual sexualities.

European think-tank Family and Media collected 20 years’ worth of research on the impact of porn, and the findings aren’t encouraging, especially when it comes to women and their treatment in sexual and romantic relationships.

One study showed that 88% of top porn videos included physical violence.

They analyzed some studies from Fight the New Drug, which examined 50 of the most popular pornographic videos in 2010. 88% of those videos included physical violence, and 9 out of 10 scenes included aggressive physical or verbal abuse. The most alarming part? In 95% of the most violent encounters, the female participants responded to that behavior positively and with approval. Looking at these statistics, Family and Media accurately concludes, “In short, these videos show violent men and women humiliated but happy, encouraging in the viewer’s mind the perverse idea that violence within an intimate relationship is normal or even positive.” 

The impact doesn’t stop there. Viewers of porn are 22% more likely to commit a sexual offense. Use of pornography in romantic relationships increases the likelihood of a woman being sexually or violently abused by her male partner. Another study found that viewing pornography led individuals to having less empathy with, belief, or acceptance of rape and sexual assault victims and their trauma. This looks at porn merely on the micro or individual level — to say nothing of its concrete connotations with the global, criminal world of human trafficking and prostitution.

Our Cultural Attitude Toward Sexuality Enables Porn

Read generally any kind of coverage about porn online or on social media, and you’ll see its use minimized or downplayed to a disturbing degree. Watching porn is more often than not referred to as a “habit,” as if it’s equal to walking your dog or going for a coffee run.

There’s a stark difference between an individual who may struggle with porn addiction or an unhealthy attitude or perspective towards sex, and an individual who consumes it passively as if there’s really nothing wrong with it and no real cultural impact, especially on women.

We normalize porn because we see it everywhere now. Music videos, Instagram influencer posts, and other content, while not outright pornographic, can verge on soft core with little to no disapproval, notice, or objection. 

Culturally, we minimize porn because we minimize sex and its consequences.

We minimize porn because we minimize sex. If it’s a habit like any other, one you can do with anyone anytime, then sex has no real meaning or consequence. And when we’re inevitably faced with its consequences, we shrug those off as well as if they mean nothing. 

What’s perhaps even more disturbing is that outright objection to porn or wanting to save or view sex as an act solely within the confines of marriage is now considered a fringe viewpoint. Objecting to porn on moral grounds is seen as the last stand of the fundamental or religious right. But when it targets our children, threatens our families, and degrades women and enables their victimization, it becomes clear that this isn’t an issue you should politicize or minimize by suggesting it’s an issue of wanting to control female bodies. Porn thrives on this kind of back-and-forth disagreement, and as law professor Claire McGlynn asserts in responding to Paltrow, no amount of so-called “ethical porn” will undo the damage that continues to be done by a multi-billion dollar porn industry. 

Closing Thoughts

Even if porn is directed or produced by females or seen through the so-called “female gaze,” there’s no such thing as ethical porn, despite what Paltrow and any Goop subscribers may think. 

Porn already thrives on the degradation, violence, coercion, and abuse of women and has for decades. It impacts our sons and our daughters, at a staggering rate and frighteningly young ages, and no amount of wealth, status, or supposed influence that a celebrity may have can erase that kind of lasting impact. 

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