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Common misconceptions

By Antonella Gambotto-Burke - posted Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Subsidised by the Howard Government’s Australia Research Council, “senior academic researchers” Katherine Albury, Alan McKee and Catharine Lumby embarked on the “Understanding Pornography in Australia” research project, and The Porn Book is the result of their findings.

“The authors of this book believe that we need to have an informed debate about [pornography’s] role in society,” the authors write. “We had all formed the view that [its] consumption and production … was more complex than current debates allowed, and that the idea that all porn is evil … was simplistic.”

To this end, they announce that every man has the right to argue his case regarding pornography, but “in order to have a meaningful say, we all need to work from the facts”. Above all, they seek “rational” and “informed” public debate about the harms allegedly done. “Would you like to see some numbers?” they ask. “We’ve got numbers.”


The “numbers” they supply are so inconsequential as to be bizarre. Is the amount of dialogue women speak in pornographic films in any way relevant to a trafficking victim whose life will be extinguished once she is past her sexual prime? Does a prostituted victim of child abuse, multiple bashings and/or rapes - I was assured by the former spokesperson of the NSW Parlour Industry Association that “every woman in this business has been raped” - benefit from the knowledge that 58 per cent of the women in Australia’s bestselling pornographic DVDs do not have large breasts?

Are any of these facts useful to Dianne Brimble’s family, to the six-year-old Melbourne girl raped by a pornography-saturated 10-year-old boy, or to the Melbourne teenager recently filmed “for a laugh” as she performed oral sex on two boys, was spat at, urinated upon, and whose hair was set on fire by the schoolboys who then sold copies of the DVD under the title The Victim?

In her outstanding anthology of essays Are Women Human?, Professor Catharine MacKinnon - whose name the authors misspell - notes that to postmodernists, such “factish things” are indeterminate, contingent, and, importantly, a matter of interpretation.

Outrageously limited in its research, The Porn Report does not, as promised, debunk current misconceptions about pornography; the misconceptions it debunks were entertained decades ago (pornography users are sad old men, all pornography is violent, etc.). The most significant current debates are ignored in favour of an interminable, antiquated and irrelevant focus on the issue of obscenity, which is wholly unrelated to the actual harms caused in the making, distribution, and assimilation of pornography. Ironically, the most common current misconception - that pornography is, for the most part, harmless - is endorsed.

There is no mention of the fact that pornography was authorised as a tool of genocide during the Balkan Crisis, or that it was shown to both British troops destined for the Falklands and American soldiers in an effort to prime them for Gulf War bombing raids.

There is no discussion of the 13 million human beings currently trafficked for sexual purposes (prostitution, pornography) around the world. And nor do the authors address rocketing rates of cyberporn and sex addiction, the increase in divorces citing pornography addiction as a key issue, the impact of pornography on rape, the global commodification of women’s bodies, the social and legal ramifications of commercialising sexuality, or the grotesque social problems caused by pornography in Aboriginal communities.


Albury, McKee and Lumby ignore these concerns in favour of pushing their flaccid 1970s agenda (beware the “nanny state”, reclaiming the sisterhood’s sexual pleasure, clitoral orgasms, and the avant-garde concept of religious zealots as hypocrites).

At times, their abstraction invites incredulity. “It’s worth saying that despite extensive efforts,” they announce, “we didn’t manage to find any photographs of real rapes on pornographic sites on the internet”.

When the quote “rape porn” is typed into Google, the very first entry out of a mere 5,320,000 (“The Most Brutal Rape Sites Directory Ever Seen on the Net!”) features footage of people performing sex acts with guns held to their heads and depictions of incestuous rape.

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About the Author

Antonella Gambotto-Burke is a regular contributor to Arena, Harper's Bazaar, The Weekend Australian, and numerous other international newspapers and magazines. The most recent of her four books, The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, has been published in four languages and led to her being featured on the cover of the national paper’s review section. She can be contacted through

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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