Crackdown on America’s favourite form of entertainment: Is porn endangered in the Trump era?

Earlier this year, the Republican Party declared internet pornography a “public health crisis.” The term “public menace” also made its way into the party principles document.

Photo credit: WoodRocket.

Photo credit: WoodRocket.

Now that Trump is president-elect, it’s unclear how many GOP mandates he’ll actually enforce, but he’s served up a lot of promises in the past few months, and apparently, porn is also on the table.

Pornography, or America’s favourite masturbatory aid, is generally protected under the First Amendment, but there are two exceptions: child pornography and obscenity. The first is pretty straightforward: any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor is prohibited under federal jurisdiction. Obscene content, on the other hand, is much muddier. Back in 1964, the best definition Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart could offer was, “I know it when I see it.”

Fast-forward to August 2016, when Trump signed a pledge drafted by the anti-porn organisation Enough Is Enough to “aggressively enforce” federal obscenity laws. He also said he’d likely appoint an attorney general who would make “the prosecution of such laws a top priority.” Now that conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions has been offered the job, members of the porn industry are starting to wonder what happens if Washington makes good on that promise.

“This should create concern for the adult industry,” First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza told Xbiz, an adult entertainment news site. Industry attorney Karen Tynan went even further, saying “Jeff Sessions is a redneck in the traditional sense, and I can use that term as I am a Southerner.”

“He’s got some extreme far-right views on everything from fiscal spending to obscenity,” she added. “We need to watch him carefully these next few months … I’m concerned for my clients.”

Corey Silverstein, another industry attorney, reminded readers that in 2013, Sessions suggested the availability of internet porn on military bases was to blame for “sexual attacks on service members,” according to Think Progress.

“It’s impossible to accurately predict how this will affect the adult entertainment industry but there is certainly reason to be concerned,” he said. Others interviewed by the publication suspect a rush of obscenity prosecutions could take place over the next four years.

There are three questions, known as the Miller Test, which judges are encouraged to ask when deciding whether or not to label something obscene. They include, “whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

In 2008, under the Bush administration, Washington D.C.’s U.S. District Court saw its first obscenity charge in over 20 years when John Stagliano was indicted by the government on multiple charges of obscenity. The two films that landed him there were titled “Jay Sin’s Milk Nymphos” and “Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice.” Stagliano faced up to 32 years in prison and $7 million in fines for his connection to the content, which brought to life the art of milk enemas and female ejaculation.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Bonnie Hannan said the material in question “exceeds the bounds of decency.” But apparently, milky butt play and squirt scenes seemed to fit with the “prurient interests” of enough people. After just a four-day trial, the charges against Stagliano were tossed on account of insufficient evidence. According to the Pornhub analytics blog, “squirt” scenes tend to be a popular pick among men and women based in the United States. As for the milky stuff, well, there’s a market for that too.

Eric Paul Leue, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association for the porn industry, recently delivered a statement to the adult community on what they might expect from a Trump presidency. “There are reasons for the industry to be concerned … and be vigilant,” he wrote.

Leue noted that domestic policy for the Trump transition team is being led by Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow for the Family Research Council, an organization that has called pornography “a threat to marriages, the family and society at large.” FRC maintains that viewing pornography leads to a loss of interest in “good family relations” (apparently, married men are the most susceptible to this side effect).

Also on Trump’s transition team is former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the same guy who led a crackdown on pornography during the Reagan years.

“While some may hope that Trump is a secret social moderate who will not pursue obscenity, the above actions point in the exact opposite direction,” wrote Leue.

Trump has also promised to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which has helped a number of performers secure healthcare and access HIV/AIDS and STI prevention services.

That’s not the only reason Trump’s victory is causing an upset among some performers. In an interview with the Daily Beast, porn star Sydney Leathers said, “It disgusts me that someone who clearly has no respect for women is now in such a powerful position. It’s even scarier that Pence will be vice president.” Pence’s right-wing Christian views about women’s reproductive health and homosexuality place him to the right of Trump. “To think that we have to continue fighting for our reproductive rights is disheartening,” Leathers said.

Porn legend Nina Hartley referred to the election results as a “disaster” during her interview with the publication.

There’s also a growing fear that Trump’s threats to go after marginalised groups will hinder the development of queer porn, a fast-growing porn genre. Venus Lux told the Daily Beast, “As a sex worker, as a woman of color, as a transgender, I don’t have as many options as another person.” She added, “There’s so much misogyny already when it comes to women but it’s double for trans women. Can I survive as a transgender woman of colour who is also a sex worker, and how much harder is it going to be now?”

One of the names on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees once suggested gay men be jailed for having anal sex, even in the privacy of their own homes.

Members of the LGBTQ community are already at risk for violence and discrimination. Outing oneself as a porn performer carries its own hazards. Mesh the two together and we might be looking at a future where sexual minorities opt out (or are cast out) of the profession all together. It would be a disappointing turn of events for those who have come to enjoy different bodies and genders cast in their erotic entertainment.

But some see a faint silver lining through it all. Most anti-porn activists go after internet porn. Free clips on streaming sites, otherwise known as the Tubes, have hit the industry particularly hard. Most of the content that appears on the sites is pirated, which means there’s less money floating around to compensate those who worked to put the films together, and those looking to arrange future projects. If the Trump administration were to go after the Tubes, some individuals affiliated with the industry might not be too displeased.

For the millions more who don’t want to see their masturbation material fall into the grip of conservative extremists, there’s reason to worry. If Trump and his team have no problem telling people what kind of sex they should be having, odds are they aren’t going to have a problem telling people what kind of sex they should be watching. Depending on the means they take to enforce that agenda, the porn industry could be looking at a rough four years.

Written by CARRIE WEISMAN for Salon / ALTERNET