Excellent article regarding Porn, originally printed by the Good Men Project, taken from The Daily Dot.
BY MEREDITH LOKEN
As a woman, and a person who talks a lot about sex, there are two things I’ve heard repeatedly about porn: women don’t watch it, and feminists want to destroy it. These statements are both semi-correct and completely ludicrous, and as such are symptomatic of a larger problem: the whole porn conversation is ineffective and misleading. I’ll explain.
When we talk about porn, we usually fail to adequately address agency and the complexity of human sexuality. In doing so, we prevent any real progress or sexual liberation across the gendered spectrum. The way we think about porn is wrong, and assigning blame to either men as a group or the porn industry as a whole will foster neither critical conversation nor durable solutions to issues of sexual repression, violence against women and men, or exploitation. It is imperative that we start changing our conversation, beginning with the way we talk to young people, especially boys, about sex.
A large proportion of anti-pornography rhetoric from activists, feminists, and the average anti-porn human centers around the idea porn is a qualitatively male endeavor that caters specifically to the twisted sexual desires of men at the expense of women’s agency and sexuality. It is this idea that has led to a burgeoning humor industry of “porn for women,” including pictures of half-dressed men doing domestic activities. It’s funny because, obviously, women can’t possibly be aroused by or interested in consuming sexual materials in the same ways that men can.
Here’s the thing about “porn for women”: it already exists. It’s called porn—and it’s on the Internet. For some reason, no one wants to talk about the fact that women watch porn, too—and a lot of the time, it is the same porn men are watching. Though there are a whole host of politicians, religious leaders, and parents who want to convince you otherwise, women are humans and, therefore, are sexual beings. As such, many women need and want sexual outlets in the same ways that many men do. Even more importantly, many of these women and men are curious about sexual exploration and are turning to porn to find answers.
One of the greatest constraints to acknowledgement of this fact is that we as a collective society make every attempt to desexualize young people of all genders at the expense of both comprehensive sex education and validation of natural sexual feelings. Our rhetoric around youth and sex is dangerously misguided: sex is introduced as a solely reproductive act along with a myriad of strategies used to prevent you from doing it. STDs. Depression. Religious and familial ostracism. Damaged reputation. Pregnancy and teenage fatherhood. Destruction of marriage potential.
The general shaming of sexuality of young people runs concurrent to a world oversaturated in commercial sexuality, and yet we keep our friends, our families, and ourselves as non-sexual as possible despite clear biological sexual imperatives and cultural motivations. We raise our children to call their genitals by “cute” and unrelated names. We police clothing at school to keep boys from the uncontrollable sexual temptation of possibly seeing a shoulder. We instill early in girls a sinister and pervasive message: you are only worth as much as your sexuality, and thus, you should keep it “pure,” and private.
From the time we are born until we are old enough to independently consume sexual materials, we are discouraged from all sexual outlets or inquisitions. Masturbation is shameful, sexual thoughts are impure, natural sexual interest should be suppressed. The result of this process is the mass consumption of a free and secret sexual outlet: porn.
I am not arguing the semantics of at what age one is old enough to watch porn, nor am I advocating that we should oversaturate youth with porn or encourage anyone to have sex before they are ready. However, I do think that our approach to youth and sexuality is in part responsible for the problems in our porn culture that expose us to unrealistic and harmful ideals about our bodies and our sex lives. Porn perhaps reflects these problems, but I would argue that it certainly doesn’t cause them.
When we seek to completely restrict access to realistic approaches to sexuality, we force both the earliest sex education and sexual expression into a clandestine sphere controlled by mass media. Of course, porn provides young men and women with unrealistic, harmful expectations, and a lot of the time it is simulated sex, but the problem is that no one has ever told them any differently.
By restricting access to sexuality, I don’t mean suddenly telling eleven-year-olds that they should go have sex. I mean the cultural refusal to acknowledge the fact that at some point, a large proportion of young humans develop sexual urges and that our response to this thus far has been complete and total repression. We don’t talk to our kids about sex, unless it’s the “when two people love each other” conversation. We don’t talk about the fact that bodies are weird and do weird things. We don’t talk about consent, we don’t talk about the vast scope of sexual possibility in both desire and act, we don’t engage in conservation about real bodies, real needs, and real consequences.
We don’t talk about sexual violence (against all sexes) or what to do if you and a partner have divergent sexual interests, or the fact that most people’s breasts and testicles are actually different sizes, that everyone enjoys different sexual things, or that on average, hard penises aren’t actually nine-inches long. Instead, we leave those we are responsible for educating to a world devoured by dressed-up, photoshopped, and scripted sex in an attempt to protect them from…from what? From the truth?
As Candice Holdorf writes in the Good Men Project, “I feel that porn limits us when we view it as the ultimate authority on sexuality. For those whose only sex education is pornography, sex must equal a penis entering a vagina, a big-busted women screaming as if she’s in the midst of an apoplectic attack, an impossibly endowed men pounding her like a jackhammer and both of them cumming (hard) at the same time, preferably with jiz everywhere (especially on her face).”
Why are we relying on the capitalist media enterprise to falsely educate us about sexuality and then blaming the industry when they do just that? This is a great disservice, and our shifting of blame entirely onto pornography reads as little more than a self-diversion from our own failings.
Many (but not all) of the problems with porn culture can be understood as the consequence of a perfect storm. When our failure to have real conversations about sex and the permeation of violence, classism, racism, and sexism into the sex industry combine, the result is a culture with the potential to distort sex, misinform sexual consumers, and endanger men and women.
But here’s the thing about “the porn issue”: the porn issue isn’t really about porn. The issues of dehumanization, violence, racism, classism, and sexism in the sex industry are devastating and require impassioned opposition. The goal should be the destruction of power asymmetries, and as such advocacy should strive towards a sex industry that engages only willing and voluntary agents into non-coerced sexual activity.
But advocacy should also celebrate liberated, consensual sexuality. Many of the inequality problems within porn are resonating elsewhere as well, as they are symptoms of a larger exploitative socioeconomic, gendered, and race-based structure. The contention that consenting adults performing in filmed sexual acts that are available for public consumption is somehow immoral is itself anti-feminist, as it deprives the actors of agency over their bodies as well as perpetuates a highly anti-feminist view that a woman’s value is inherently degraded by mass consumption of their sexuality.
Turning our lens of blame to pornography for its universal and incontestable “exploitation of women” infantilizes the myriad of women who want to be in the sex industry (see: Wendy McElroy’s work) and those who consume porn—and weren’t forced by men to do either. Pornography itself isn’t the problem; the problem is that these dangerous elements are not being combated within the sex industry. Clearly, the solution is not prohibition.
Read more: http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/everything-we-think-about-porn-is-wrong/
Meredith Loken is a Seattle-based Ph.D student, sexual violence researcher, sex-positive feminist, and cat enthusiast. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was originally featured on the Good Men Project and republished with permission.
Photo via Crysco Photography/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)