Billie Eilish should be commended for speaking out against the abusive porn industry

Grammy-award winning artist Billie Eilish recently revealed that the impact of porn use in her younger years left her feeling as if it had “destroyed her brain”. On The Howard Stern Show – a show, it must be said, that has contributed to the culture of misogyny in which porn use and normalisation thrives – Eilish went on to say:

“I started watching porn when I was like 11. I was an advocate and I thought I was one of the guys and would talk about it and think I was really cool for not having a problem with it and not seeing why it was ‘bad,’ you know?”

Sadly, Eilish’s experiences are not unique when it comes to the impact of porn use on our understanding of sex and wider culture. As Gail Dines states in her essential book Pornland:

Today, a girl or young woman looking for an alternative to the Britney, Paris, Lindsay look will soon come to the grim realisation that the only alternative to looking fuckable is to be invisible.

Whilst Pornland was written 10 years ago, the message still rings as true today as it did then. The impact porn use has on women’s expectations of themselves, what they are “expected” to do, and what men “expect” to see is undeniable. Studies show that porn use normalises attitudes sympathetic to, and supportive of, violence against women and girls. Because women and girls are painted as “prudes” or “vanilla” if they don’t watch the same material, they feel compelled to acquiesce to the treatment to avoid the status of “invisible”, as Dines puts it in Pornland.

As a direct result of porn use, young men and boys are being socialised into viewing their peers as objects to be dehumanised and violated. This also impacts their own mental health. Now conditions such as depression, anxiety and even erectile dysfunction are increasingly prevalent amongst young children. This ultimately leads to abusive, aggressive or hostile behaviour towards girls (and eventually, women). And this is to say nothing of the impact on the women and girls themselves. As Eilish states:

“As a woman, I think porn is a disgrace, and I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest. I think it really destroyed my brain, and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn. I think that I had sleep paralysis and almost night terrors and nightmares because of it. I think that’s how they started because I would watch abusive BDSM and that’s what I thought was attractive. It got to a point where I couldn’t watch anything else—unless it was violent, I didn’t think it was attractive.”

Again, this escalation into finding increasingly abusive and violent material attractive is not an unusual consequence of porn use. The consumer-driven nature of the porn industry dictates that performers are consistently pressurised into engaging in increasingly degrading and abusive acts, which are in turn normalised and – the key point here – less stimulating and enticing for viewers. Only material that is even more violent and debasing will satisfy users.

How do we get to grips with such an enormous, unregulated, and violent industry? One concrete step that the Government can take — particularly considering their renewed commitment to tackling male violence against women and girls — is simply to recognise the sheer enormity of the problem that faces them, and to tackle this with new legislative safeguards. Thankfully, the Report of the Online Safety Bill’s pre-legislative scrutiny committee published earlier this week recommends exactly this.

First and foremost, the fact that the Committee have recognised the dangers posed by porn use and the porn industry is a positive step when compared to the dearth of references to the same in the original draft of the OSB. After taking on board the numerous submissions from stakeholders and interested parties – including our submission at CEASE – it is promising that the OSB would be extended to cover sites that do not – or no longer, as is the case with Pornhub – host “user-generated content”. Without putting into place safeguards against this type of website and content, the Bill would run the risk of allowing loopholes leaving smaller, high-risk websites outside its remit.

We applaud the Committee for urging Ofcom to place development of a robust Code of Practice relating to age assurance at the top of its current to do list. This cannot wait until the Bill becomes an Act. Time is not on our side when it comes to the problem of porn that faces all of us.

This can also spur a cultural shift, where we begin to hold discussions around exactly why we view the commercial sex industry as a major driver of misogyny and violence against women and girls. Only when we have these conversations, will the tide begin to turn. And thanks to Billie Eilish, another small step has been taken in the fight against this exploitative cultural and commercial behemoth.