Porn has been proven to release more dopamine in our brains than heroin. While billions are spent on winning the war on terror and drugs, who is fighting for the mental wellbeing of our children?

Technology-enabled porn is also teaching violence against women and girls. Dr. Gail Dines explores the online business that gets more hits each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

Rather than looking at how corporate-owned media affect the way in which girls and women construct gender and sexual identities that produce and reproduce hegemonic gender relations, some scholars are arguing that we need to take a more positive approach to media targeted at women. Starting from the premise that media texts are polysemic (open to multiple meanings), feminist media scholars – often sounding more like fans than researchers – have begun to argue, often without any research to back up their claims, that women and girls may actually be empowered by hypersexualized images that objectify women because they offer a kind of pleasure that comes with being noticed and desired by men.

88% of scenes in top-rented and selling porn have been found to contain physical aggression.

35% of all internet downloads are pornographic. 93% of boys between 12 and 17 go online. A third of them have unmonitored computer access. 88% of scenes in top-rented and selling porn have been found to contain physical aggression. Females are far more likely than males to be sexualized in the media. Pornography has become a primary source of information about sex among children and adolescents.

Why do so many scholars ignore the socio-economic dynamic within which porn is produced, distributed, and consumed that shapes the very products that circulate within the mainstream market? My major concern is how the “wider political and economic conditions” shape the way in which porn is produced and distributed. This involves taking a critical look at  how porn as an industry works within the global economic system.

In 2011, at a plenary session of a conference in London called “Pornified? Complicating Debates about the Sexualization of Culture,” pro-porn scholars Feona Attwood, Clarissa Smith, and Martin Barker argued that there is no such thing as “it.” The “it” they were referring to was the porn industry, and their reasoning was that because there are so many sub-genres of porn circulating on the Internet, there couldn’t possibly be a cohesive industry. While this is a rather strange argument given the way management scholars analyze industries – nobody would argue, for example, that there is no such thing as a car industry because there are lots of different types of cars on the road – it also speaks to the ways in which much of what passes for scholarship today in the world of pro-porn studies is little more than simplistic musings rather than rigorous research.

Ironically, the porn industry would be the first group to disagree with the argument that a porn industry does not exist. In a 2000 interview, Andrew Edmond, president and CEO of Flying Crocodile, a USD20-million pornography Internet business, discussed how surprising it is that so few people understand the scale and scope of the industry. Edmond’s explanation for this was that “a lot of people (outside adult entertainment) get distracted from the business model by (the sex). It is just as sophisticated and multilayered as any other market place. We operate just like any Fortune 500 company.”

In the absence of thorough and robust sex education programs in schools, porn fills the knowledge gap for children and youth and thus becomes an important player in the development of adolescent sexual templates. This is especially worrisome given the findings of a comprehensive content analysis of contemporary porn that found that the majority of scenes from 50 of the top-rented porn movies contained both physical and verbal abuse targeted at the female performers. An industry of this magnitude and reach that so blatantly produces images of violence against women is a worthy area of investigation because it plays a role in constructing notions of gender and gender relations.

An obvious starting point in developing a map of the porn industry is an analysis of how porn is a key driver of technological innovations and pioneers new business models that subsequently permeate the wider economy. A key factor driving the growth of the porn market has been the development of technologies that allow users to buy and consume porn in private on almost any device with a screen, without embarrassing trips to seedy stores or video rental shops. Porn does not just benefit from these technologies, however; it has helped create the technologies that expand its own market.

The porn industry has also been a pioneer of new business models that help to make commercial video profitable, opening the way for the commercial viability of video-sharing websites such as YouTube and television series downloads to cellphones and iPods. The porn industry has been able to exploit the unregulated, freewheeling nature of business on the web, which has made it very easy for small companies to enter new markets with very little capital. It has also allowed them to pursue international strategies, since the jurisdictional ambiguity of Internet geography facilitates the avoidance of taxation and regulation.

“Porn is becoming a mainstream, everyday business.”

Porn has led the way in obtaining free content from users, repackaging and then reselling it. The porn industry has also developed marketing devices that have been adopted by other Internet sectors, such as free “supersites” that build traffic and cross-link to numerous providers, generating advertising and pay-per-click revenues. There is even an investment firm that deals specifically with the porn industry.

While these activities are in themselves unremarkable business operations, they signal that porn is becoming a mainstream, everyday business – a legitimate enterprise being taken more seriously by Wall Street, the media, and the political establishment.

According to an article on the website therichest.com, MindGeek is the number one distributor of porn in the world that ranks among the top three bandwidth consumption companies on earth.

The porn industry, despite its efforts to portray itself as progressive and sexually liberating, is especially aggressive in organizing against regulation so that it can continue to grow in market size and mainstream acceptability. The industry seeks to operate in an almost regulation-free zone and has attempted to shred existing and proposed protections for porn performers against injury, the transmission of STDs, and the exploitation of minors.

Pornography operates as an industry , and this means that we need to examine how it uses its corporate dollars to establish legitimacy and lobby for political and legal change. Lobbying is a central part of the porn industry’s business plan, because any legal restrictions on content, production, and distribution could reduce profits. Ultimately, pornographers don’t tell the truth about men, but I know as the mother of a son, he is worth better than this. Our children are worth more, our culture is worth more, our boys are worth more and our girls are worth more.

This is an abridged version from Dines’ academic paper: “There is no such thing as IT”:  Toward a Critical Understanding of the Porn Industry.”

Gail Dines – Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts.