Porn is increasingly becoming a part of modern, popular culture. In 2013 alone, users visited Pornhub.com 14.7 billion times. However popular the medium may be though, pornography remains a divisive issue.
“Porn, Prostitution, and Censorship: The Politics of Empowerment,” hosted today in Moore 100, is a panel that will discuss the different ways porn has been portrayed academically as both empowering and demeaning. The event will feature UCLA professors as well as members of the adult film industry, including adult actress and seventh-year gender studies student Rachel Swimmer, who performs under the name Tasha Reign.
The panel is part of the events organized by the Social Awareness Network for Activism through Art leading up to its performance of “The Vagina Monologues” during the month of February.
Third-year art history and gender studies student Alec Moore, a member of SANAA and producer of “The Vagina Monologues,” said he created the panel as a way to use UCLA’s academic resources to discuss issues related to “The Vagina Monologues,” like sex work.
Moore said he conceived the panel to foster a dialogue between members of the sex industry and the academics who study it.
“I wanted to get their viewpoints on if (sex work) is empowering or disenfranchising,” Moore said. “(What is) the female agency involved in an industry that is based on objectification?”
One of the people Moore contacted to discuss the sex work industry was Rachel Swimmer.
Swimmer said she is uncomfortable with the negative way porn has been presented in some of her classes. One of her classes classified porn as violence against women, which she said is very far from the positive experiences she has had in the years she has worked in the industry.
“I’ve taken quite a few classes at UCLA on women and pornography, and I think porn is not only misunderstood, but discriminated against and degraded,” Swimmer said.
She said she often feels personally offended by the lack of understanding and education about porn, what it stands for and what part women play in it. Swimmer said she hopes that in bringing her personal perspective to the panel, attendees will have a more complex and positive view of the adult film industry.
UCLA English professor Christopher Mott as well as cinema and media studies graduate student Jennifer Moorman are two panelists representing the academic side of pornography. Mott teaches a seminar entitled “Pornography and the Politics of Sexual Representation” at UCLA. He said that there is no consensus among intellectuals about the effects of pornography.
“There’s a spectrum from people who are in the academy. Some see this as a very empowering cultural medium,” Mott said. “The other end of the spectrum believes that these representations are extremely harmful and are a danger to women’s lives.”
Mott said that he studies porn in his seminar because it is controversial. He said that he is most excited not to give his own opinion during the panel, but to listen to the opinions of the other panelists who are directly involved in the sex industry.
One of those panelists involved in the sex industry is Adella Curry. Curry, the owner of Fine Ass Marketing, a public relations firm that specializes in representing clients in the adult film industry, said she believes that porn can be empowering for women.
“I’m (on the panel) in support of women being empowered and making choices from an empowered place that can include their sexuality or sex work,” Curry said. “I’m very committed to de-shaming sex in our culture.”
Similarly, panelist Jessica Drake said she tries to teach people about sex from a place of pleasure as opposed to a place of fear. Drake is both an adult actress and a sex educator who regularly speaks at universities. She said that while she has come across academics that both malign and support pornography, she thinks her inclusion at the event will encourage open-mindedness.
“Whenever you address something as sensationalized as the adult film industry, and the media does tend to sensationalize the industry and only focus on the bad, put a real person there,” Drake said. “When people see a real person with a face and feelings, people really think about things differently.”