a response to the anti-porn folks

The other day, Kuono posted about the latest round of anti-porn efforts (link broken). I’ve seen these sorts of things come and go, but for the first time in a long time, I sat down and watched their promo video.

I agree with Kuono that it’s ironic that the anti-porn people are using porn to make their point. And that they’re not ensuring that everyone who attends one of their events is over 18. I think that’s completely irresponsible, not to mention unfair and illegal.

I also want to acknowledge that there is a grain of truth to what they have to say. There is a lot of porn (mostly on the internet) that is all about humiliating women. And there is a lot of porn that reinforces some very limited and limiting models of what beauty means for women. There is a lot of porn that fetishizes racism, sexism and homophobia. There’s a lot of porn that shows unrealistic sex- most of us aren’t that flexible and it would be nice to see some lube every now and then, too. I do think that it’s worth looking at porn with a critical eye because there are a lot of ways in which it’s problematic.

At the same time, the people at Stop Porn Culture present porn in some incredibly biased ways, almost as if they think that if they showed you a more balanced view of porn, you might not agree with them. <gasp!>

For example: they conveniently ignore the existence of gay porn, queer porn, and dyke porn. They focus entirely on heterosexual porn, while talking about it as if what they have to say applies to every genre. I think it’s worth asking what makes some porn different from other porn- it would offer us more insight into the issues. Instead, they present a hegemonic view of the industry, and they do it in such a way that it’s difficult to recognize it unless you already know a lot about it.

My guess is that they present porn as one dimensional because it makes it easier to argue that porn is bad. After all, if we admit that some porn is problematic and other porn isn’t, then we have a much more complex issue and that doesn’t fit into a sound bite.

Another example: some of the things that they identify as porn’s problems have similarities to larger trends, which they seem to not think about. As I mentioned above, there is some porn that seems to be partially or largely about humiliation. But so are some reality TV shows. After all, how many people watched American Idol in order to see someone make a fool of themselves or to be humiliated by Simon Cowell? Getting off on someone else’s humiliation may be one of the less endearing traits that some people have, but porn isn’t the only place it happens. I think it’s a good thing to question how it shows up in porn, but let’s not pretend that it’s because of porn.

Yet another example: they talk about the ways that porn trains men to objectify women. As a sex educator, I’ve spoken with quite a few men (especially younger men) who have relationship challenges because of the unrealistic expectations that they learned from porn. So yes, there’s some truth there. At the same time, there are plenty of other ways that men experience porn. In fact, the book Watching Sex is all about that. Rather than projecting his experiences onto men, the author actually interviewed men about how they think and feel about porn. And it’s a lot more complex than the anti-porn folks would have you believe.

Of course, if they showed a wider range of men’s experiences, that would make it harder to blame porn. I also notice that the anti-porn folks never ask about the experience of the men in porn. Let me ask you to name five men in heterosexual porn? Can you do it? I’m willing to bet that most of you can name more women in the industry. So if we’re going to talk about objectification, let’s look at all of the ways that people are objectified. Or shall we admit that we’re fitting our discussion into an ideology?

I also find that the anti-porn folks disregard the range of sexual desire. Some women actually do enjoy the sex acts that they portray in porn. I’ve spoken with thousands of women about their sexual experiences and I can promise you that some of them enjoy double penetration, deep throating (even to the point of gagging), having their faces slapped, facial cum shots, spitting, golden showers, name calling, and anything else you may see in porn. It may not be the preferences of many women, but certainly, some women find these things fun.

I 100% acknowledge that many of the people in porn don’t always enjoy what they’re doing. At the same time, it’s simply not helpful to assume that any specific sexual act is inherently degrading. It would be more useful to ask what factors influence someone to do something that she doesn’t want to do, and explore what the industry would be like if nobody ever did anything that they didn’t enjoy. And it’s really important to remember that any and every sexual act that makes you uncomfortable is someone else’s turn on, and not just a man’s turn on.

As I said, I think that looking at porn with a critical eye is important. But if you’re going to do it, I think you have a responsibility to know as much as you can about sexuality and the actual scope of the industry. Either that, or you need to acknowledge that there are issues outside the scope of your argument and stop using sweeping, inaccurate statements. It would also be more responsible to stop cherry picking the examples that support your ideology and actually look at the real situation.

I don’t expect that the folks at Stop Porn Culture are likely to do any of those things, and I still invite them to. If any of them are interested in learning more about sex, they’re welcome to get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help them out.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. T says:

    Wow. I so agree with your thoughts and perspective about this. I think many of the people who are anti-porn tend to see the women as not only objectified but as victims. I agree with you… I’ve heard about the awful beginnings of some of my fave porn stars but they’re now taking their careers into their own hands and doing quite well. Personally, I don’t see porn stars or strippers as victims. They have a choice to do something else… just as we all do.

    Maybe its fear that drives people to jump right on the anti-porn bandwagon. And this country uses sex to sell everything without even thinking of what that does to young men/boys and women/girls. I don’t know. I think people need to know what they’re talking about before they take a stand against it. I applaud you for taking this on.

  2. Emerald says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. I myself very much enjoyed my work as an amateur porn performer and have not appreciated it when others speak for my experience via arguably ignorant generalizations. I quite appreciate this careful, thoughtful view. I particularly like the line:

    “As I said, I think that looking at porn with a critical eye is important. But if you’re going to do it, I think you have a responsibility to know as much as you can about sexuality and the actual scope of the industry.”

    It seems to me this has so often not been the case, and as I think you alluded to in this article, porn has often been blamed for things it is quite dubious to claim it is/has been responsible for — actually, I think sexuality in general has frequently been prey to this unfair phenomenon.

    Thanks again.

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