The Rise of Porn in the Developing World

The Rise of Porn in the Developing World

A staff member of the Criminal Investigation Bureau checks screen captures of child pornography websites after a press conference in Taipei on August 29, 2013. Dozens of local suspects will face prosecution for their alleged role in a nortorious international child pornography ring, in the island's biggest ever police crackdown on such crime, police said on August 29.

SourceMandy Cheng/Getty

Why you should care

Because porn is culture too.

Gerald Langiri is having an odd problem at work. He’s a casting director in bustling Nairobi, Kenya, and he certainly looks the part with his well-cut suit, chic glasses and clean-shaven head. He long ago got used to young actors approaching him for jobs, but these days, “it is getting pretty annoying,” complains Langiri, who prides himself on quality work.

The would-be actors are not asking about landing a role in a movie or a commercial. They want to get into porn. Langiri is bordering on indignant — to him, that industry is a lame Western import.

You’re probably thinking, “Does the world really need more porn?” Developing countries seem to think so. From student flats in Nairobi to the back alleys of Islamabad, local porn production is spiking, much to the dismay of local authorities and censors who are struggling to catch up with this obscenely lucrative (or lucratively obscene) trade. Yet they shouldn’t be surprised. According to Google, the top six most-porn-watching countries are all low-income ones: Pakistan, Egypt, Vietnam, Iran, Morocco and India. “We are definitely witnessing an increase in ‘locally grown’ porn,” says Colin Rowntree, co-founder of Boodigo, a porn search engine.

It’s soft-core by the West’s standards. (We did check for you. You’re welcome.)

Prudishness aside, this may actually be good news. Say goodbye to the type of sexual neocolonialism that made it impossible for some people to masturbate while watching actors who look like them! After all, white cheerleaders aren’t for everyone. Proximity porn could be seen as a form of cultural empowerment similar to that of local musicians appropriating foreign genres. Adult content “liberates people to explore their sexuality in a safe and positive way,” argues Rowntree.

Take Nigeria, where the national film industry, dubbed “Nollywood,” has already stepped into the porn game — granted, it’s soft-core by the West’s standards. (We did check for you. You’re welcome.) In Kenya, the flourishing adult-film industry is also catering to local tastes. In the back alleys of Nairobi, you can find porn in different local dialects for only 50 cents. And don’t expect tacky “Western” scenarios featuring schoolgirls or baby sitters either — Kenya’s movies are mostly home videos with little plot and lots of … action.

Rising porn production might also be a sign of economies doing better — porn isn’t usually a priority when you can’t feed yourself. But it could even be its own economic engine. As you’ve probably guessed, adult entertainment is big business — $97 billion globally, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University. In a survey by TV station News 24 of more than 4,400 men in South Africa, 67 percent reported watching porn. In the U.S., only 25 percent of men admit they watch adult videos, with only 8 percent of women saying they do, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Developing countries could soon take on a much larger piece of that naughty, multibillion-dollar pie.

To be sure, there are many things standing in the way of this growing industry. Porn being lucrative doesn’t mean the societies, many of them quite conservative, are going to let the floodgates open without some resistance. In fact, the backlash is already here. China recently announced it would remove all amateur sex videos from the Internet after a sex video filmed in the changing room of a Beijing clothing store went viral. And last year, India banned hundreds of porn sites, but changed its mind a couple of days later, after widespread public outcry. The proponent of the law, lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani, says “porn cuts away at the fiber of India’s societal values,” by degrading and victimizing women and children. Indeed, given that most porn actors in developing countries operate outside the rule of law, the risk of abuse, from human trafficking to STDs, is very real. Last year in Pakistan, for example, a child pornography ring that had abused more than 280 children was busted, exposing the darkest side of this profitable but dangerous industry.

Still, if demand doesn’t go away (which is unlikely) developing countries will have no choice but to better regulate pornography, something likely to prove difficult given there is often no specific legal definition of what constitutes pornography. In India, for example, the Supreme Court says pornography is an “aggravated form of obscenity,” a definition that leaves so much room for interpretation, “any attempt at banning porn will invariably lead to overblocking of perfectly legitimate and constitutionally protected content,” says Sarvjeet Singh, research fellow at the National Law University of Delhi.

Even if the legal definitions were crystal clear, given the size of the World Wide Web, banning porn is virtually impossible. While Nollywood pornos should theoretically be censored, the authorities can’t chase them down fast enough in the Wild West of the Internet. And even in the world’s capital of Internet censorship, China, “banning porn is a fool’s errand, as anyone who truly wants to view it can do so with a virtual private network,” says Richard Burger, journalist and author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China.

The advance of emerging-world porn is unlikely to decelerate. And who knows, our good old Western-centric view of sex might get a healthy jostle.

Comment

Topics:

OZYFast Forward

New trends and breakthrough thinking in politics, science, technology, business and culture. It’s futurism at its best.