Prostitution and pornography: Scholars and anti-porn advocates say they're the 'same thing'

Published: Tuesday, July 9 2013 11:30 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: The following story deals with sexually-themed subject matter that will not be appropriate for some readers. Discretion is advised.

LAS VEGAS — The man knocks on the hotel room door and is told to come in.

The woman sits on the bed, waiting for her first glimpse of the man she's been sold to for the night.

He comes in and begins unbuckling his belt as he explains what he wants.

Twenty minutes later he gets up and dresses quickly, tossing a wadded pile of bills toward the bed where the woman is still huddled under the sheets.

A few miles down the street, another man tells his wife he needs to finish some work. She goes to bed, and he locks himself in the study, where he turns on his computer and masturbates to pornography for the next three hours.

While society has kept the two behaviors separate, there's really no difference between pornography and prostitution, feminist scholars and anti-porn advocates argue.

"You can't even pull them apart, so I coined the word … pornstitution," says Sam Berg, a feminist author and activist in Portland who started the website, JohnStompers.com. "I got tired of trying to explain that they're the same thing."

Pornography and prostitution, as well as every other sex industry activity, share the same three factors: a seller (pimp/producer/manager), a person being sold (prostitute/porn actress/stripper) and a buyer (john/porn viewer/club patron).

And each of these ventures — regardless of differences in legal status, public acceptability, or even the lack of money changing hands — thrives on the objectification of women.

"These are all ways that men buy and sell women's bodies for sexual pleasure," says Robert Jensen, a professor in the school of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, who has written extensively on pornography.

Yet, there's still a societal disconnect between prostitution, which is viewed as harmful, and pornography, which is seen as "normal, inevitable and harmless," says Rebecca Whisnant, professor of philosophy and director of women's and gender studies at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

"Pornography producers benefit enormously from not being seen as pimps. I think we need to think about whose interest that serves."

But pimps are exactly what they are, says Donny Pauling, a former pornography producer in California who recruited more than 500 women over nine years.

He'd start his recruits at $500 for a few hours of filming, then turn around and use that clip to make more than $3,500.

Pauling said he remembers one fellow producer who set up a scene for a girl he recruited, but Pauling knew she wasn't ready for that type of sex act.

"I stopped him, so she liked us even more because of that," said Pauling. "Just a few weeks later she was doing that same scene and more for us. If this isn't human trafficking, I don't know what it is. This is the same thing that pimps do, but when we do it, it's legal."

Pauling left the industry in 2006 and now travels the country sharing his experiences.

"I just talk about what happens to the people in the business, then point out that the law of supply and demand demonstrates you don't have to be picking up a camera to be ruining lives. You just have to be looking," he said. "That's been effective."

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