Why hasn’t the #MeToo movement protested the close connection between the pornography industry and IVF clinics? Most clinics provide pornography so that men can quickly provide a sperm sample. It is an essential, if grubby, part of the clinic’s services.
Not a lot has been written about this issue, understandably perhaps. A tell-all feature in the Daily Mail Australia, however, reported that “A computer will play a range of pornographic videos and what men choose is monitored to keep the list up to date. 'Midget porn is strangely one of the most popular styles, along with secretaries,' [a] staff member said.”
Golly gosh, you learn something new every day about the IVF industry. And you thought it was just about gurgling, picture-perfect infants.
IVF porn is one of those sordid things that everyone knows about but no one has the stomach to talk about. Last year’s “Private Life”, a highly-praised Netflix film about a middle-aged couple going through IVF, is typical. Equipped with a cup, the exasperated husband enters a cubicle where a wall-mounted screen is playing hard-core porn. It’s part of the fertility furniture.
It’s an issue that surfaces occasionally – not that anyone has done anything.
Back in 2010, a British health think tank, 2020Health published a brief report, Who Said Pornography was Acceptable in the Workplace? It found that one-third of government-run IVF clinics supplied pornography to male clients. The report’s author, Julia Manning, complained that this material fostered an “adultery of the mind”. She wrote:
Pornography strips women of full human status and reduces them to sex objects. It gives permission to its consumers to treat women as they are treated in porn. And the reality of porn today is that it increasingly uses younger girls and is more violent and extreme. … Added to this, the surgically enhanced women often portrayed in porn media no longer resemble the normal female form, and the gap between the reality of a woman’s body and the fantasy portrayed leaves men and women less able to connect.
The most people do is complain about the expense, she said. But what about the really serious issues?
No reference has been made to the humiliation for the staff, the implied sanctioning of pornography in the workplace, the fostering of unhealthy attitudes towards the opposite sex, the encouragement of ‘adultery of the mind’, and the impact of the addictive nature of porn. Isn’t the public sector being inconsistent in its ‘values’ in not challenging this?
Furthermore, it is demeaning for the employees of the clinics:
“Seventy-seven per cent of the NHS workforce is female and they should never have to work in an environment that endorses pornography.
Unsurprisingly, Dr Alan Thornhill, a well-known IVF specialist, ridiculed Ms Manning’s “disturbing” ignorance and dismissed her concerns about the effects on employees. Pornography, along with other embarrassing subjects, “comes with the territory”, he sneered in BioNews.
It’s a topic which seems in need of constant justification. In 2016 bioethicist Timothy F. Murphy, of the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, penned a strong defence of the use of pornography in IVF clinics. This involves defending it in a clinical context, but also defending certain kinds or erotica and masturbation as a legitimate expression of sexuality. He concludes:
The broader debate about the morality of pornography will not … be resolvable by reference to its role in the fertility clinic alone, but so long as pornography is defensible as a matter of expression, relationships and commerce generally, it is hard to see that any particular moral significance should be attached to its use in fertility clinics.
If access to pornography in clinics requires a moral justification over and above its immediate pleasure, helping people conceive children seems about as persuasive a justification as is necessary, barring any argument that the overall effects of pornography are so harmful that no one should ordinarily produce it or have access to it.
Murphy’s article was published in December 2016 – only a few months before the #MeToo exploded after the Weinstein affair. Awareness of the degrading power of pornography is much keener now.
It’s odd that feminists have not complained about the objectifying and commodifying role that pornography plays in IVF. After all IVF is basically an industry created around enabling women’s fertility. It seems inconsistent to provide male partners with a cave where they can leer at women being treated as objects.
An exposé of the types of pornography which the clinics make available might produce some serious embarrassment. Midget porn? Secretary porn? What else do fertility clinics have in their library of porn?
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge