There was a conference about porn in Reykjavík yesterday, and as a result there were quite a few discussions online last night. As usual, some people are demanding censorship of the Internet, and as usual I disagree.
I watched an interview with an anti-porn crusader who made the claim that the first thing young men will find if they type porn into Google is violent abuse.
So I typed "porn" into Google, and clicked the first link and clicked on the first video. Nope, not abusive. The woman was a bit bossy, making "use" of a burly window washer. It was not particularly realistic (I have neve seen a window washer built like that, nor do I know many housewives that go around wearing skimpy dresses and no underwear), but hey, it's just a fantasy. Most of us don't look like Ryan Gosling either.
I decided to take the crusader a bit less literally and went looking for nastier stuff.
Back at Google, I clicked on the 3rd link and navigated to a "rough" category, looking for something that would match her description. And sure enough, I found and watched something that was really not my cup of tea: a "game" where a young woman had to "escape" with her virtue intact from a room with 5 big men. She failed in pretty much every way you can imagine, and I was rather disgusted by the whole thing. I couldn't watch it all and skipped to the end. Ick.
However. It was also, very obviously staged. When the woman was slapped, it was the kind of slap you'd use to admonish a toddler. When she pretended to try to escape, she was genuinely laughing. On the other hand, when she claimed to have enjoyed herself at the end of the video, her acting wasn't quite up to scratch - I didn't believe her. This video was not my cup of tea, but it looked consensual, which means I can't really judge it.
I just never, ever want to watch it again.
And I kinda need a hug.
- de·grad·ing /diˈgrādiNG/
Adjective: Causing a loss of self-respect; humiliating.
The central theme of feminist anti-porn rhetoric is that all porn is degrading to women, that it reduces them to mere sexual objects and reinforces unhealthy stereotypes. Some go further and claim that porn causes sexual violence and deviant behavior.
I agree with the bit about stereotypes - you have to look really hard to find fat middle aged women having missionary orgasms and cuddles with their chubby hubbies. In porn, everyone is porntastic and everyone enjoys extreme acts that are easy to photograph. That's obviously not reality, it's a tragically one dimensional fantasy. Hiding under the covers and searching for the g-spot, or whispering dirty words into someone's ear just doesn't make for good "television". Porn is crude and limited when compared to all the fun things folks get up to in bed.
So obviously, this kind of imagery is terrible sexual education for young men and women who may lack the maturity to tell the difference between fiction and reality.
But I was not damaged by watching these clips. I do not feel the urge to go out and hit women or abuse children. All they did was remind me of a few of the things I do and don't like in bed.
I also don't agree they were degrading to women. If they were, they were also degrading to the men who were reduced to unfeeling cocks attached to grunting meatbags. But what does it even mean to say porn is degrading? How can women everywhere be humiliated and lose their self respect because some strangers consensually fornicated on film?
Don't get me wrong - there is some porn that is specifically about degrading situations and depicts them. But this is because some people enjoy that kind of sex, or enjoy fantasizing about it. Portraying such fantasies or watching them, is no more degrading than depicting nazis in a WWII film is evil.
It's a story, a fantasy. A safe way for us viewers to explore ideas and feelings we may never, ever [want to] experience in real life.
People who claim porn is inherently degrading are trying to impose their morality of shame and sexual repression on the rest of us. They want you to feel ashamed because of what other people do. Because they don't like what they see, we aren't allowed to either.
I strongly disagree with that.
Is porn a problem?
I think porn is a symptom of a problem: the problem that a lot of people are sexually confused and repressed and unsatisfied. Violent porn is a symptom of the problem that there is still way too much violence in how the genders relate to one another.
Porn itself, pictures and films and shades of grey, is only a problem if people treat it as a substitute for sexual education or as a playbook of "things to do to other people".
The former is something society should address with more and better sexual education. Ironically, providing healthy sexual role models and good explicit educational material will become very difficult if the people advocating centralized censorship and top-down morality get their way.
The latter is a much deeper and more disturbing problem: the problem of sexual violence which predates mainstream porn by hundreds or thousands of years. The violent abusers will come up with ways to violently abuse, whether you give them pornographic inspiration or not. We desperately need to figure that one out, but telling people their bodies are shameful and their fantasies are degrading and wrong... is probably not the right way to do it.
It certainly hasn't worked very well in the Middle East.