Well, it is Friday. And on Friday, we do lightweight, fun types of postings! (As opposed to the, um, lightweight and NOT FUN types of postings I have been doing all week while trying to write some incredibly complicated and pretentious essay on David Foster Wallace and depression and romanticizing non-neurotypical modes of operating, SORRY.) So, for today’s lightweight and fun posting, we will be covering: PORNOGRAPHY.
That’s right! I said PORNOGRAPHY! Prepare to fight! I have even dissed your Harry Potter erotic fan fiction, which should give you an easy starting point! PORNOGRAPHY: Is it good for the ladies? Bad for the ladies? A complicated topic which one hopes we can cover with a degree of nuance while respecting multiple viewpoints and being willing to learn from any or all of them? Or, more comment-section-inflamingly, is it a TOOL OF SATAN???
Well: Whatever the answer is, I am sure that Amanda Hess of The Sexist — who has been covering both kink conferences (Harry Potter erotica, ahoy!) and anti-porn conferences, always with the excellence that is her trademark — will help us to figure it out!
SADY: HI. THIS IS NOT A LATENESS THAT IS MY OWN FAULT. IT IS THAT OF MY COMPUTERIZED CHAT SYSTEM.
AMANDA: I’m just going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you were not too busy feeding your Internet pornography surfing addiction to join me here for this very important Internet pornography discussion.
SADY: It’s true! I was… not at all indulging in my shameful addiction to Internet pornography! Because if I were (indulging in my Internet pornography addiction) I would be rendered incapable of interacting with you, a woman! “Are you waiting for a pizza to be delivered?” I would ask. “Or, perhaps, for someone to fix your plumbing? That is the only reason I can conceive of for you not to be having titillating adventures at this moment!”
AMANDA: Well that’s too bad! For if you truly were suffering from an Internet porn surfing addiction, I could get you a great gig speaking to groups of conservative audiences about your Internet porn surfing addiction in glorious detail. My very favorite part of the “Porn Harms” briefing I attended last month was right after Shelley Lubben—ex-porn performer, current anti-porn activist—finished her spiel, and one of the old white men running the briefing stood up and informed everyone that he was addicted to porn for 25 years.
SADY: These two storylines connect, I am thinking! It is all very LOST!
AMANDA: Everyone clapped!
SADY: Awwwwww. I mean, I have no doubt — NONE NONE NONE — that there are women in the porn industry who are abused, for whom working in porn was sexually traumatic, for whom being an anti-porn activist seems like the best and most necessary course of action, given what they’ve been through. It’s that whole prayer-meeting aspect to it, though, that freaks me out. Like, a lot of these speakers are clearly people who have spent a LOT of time looking for porn, and specifically for the most transgressive porn they can find! And then they describe the porn, in porn-like terms! In order to demonstrate the evils of porn! Like, the “I once was lost but now have found gagfactory.com, AND AM WILLING TO REGISTER MY DISTASTE” aspect is a little weird. Like a ritual purification, rather than a discussion.
AMANDA: Yeah. I mean, one of the most frustrating parts of the debate around porn is how difficult it is to punch through the dichotomy of Porn v. Anti-Porn. It’s often framed as a fight between the “Keep Your Fascist Government Off My Boner” camp vs. the “Bring All the Poor Abused Women to Jesus” camp. And if you’re someone who is approaching this from a feminist perspective (and there are a LOT of feminist perspectives on porn, pro and anti and in-between) you’re sometimes forced to align with one or the other. Boners v. Jesus, if you will.
SADY: Right. And, I mean, I think it’s symptomatic of people seeing that institutions are troubled, and then assuming that the institutions THEMSELVES are the problem, which sort of bars off a more nuanced discourse. Or bars you off from encouraging yourself to take a more nuanced standpoint. But I like to think that we’re slowly getting past that. I mean, we’re maybe getting to a point where people can acknowledge that porn can express pretty vile attitudes toward The Ladies (and anyone else it sets its sights on) and that those vile attitudes can be expressed on set in ways that hurt people, without having to describe ourselves as “anti-all-porn-everywhere-ever.”
AMANDA: Right. And also that porn isn’t some big monolithic hate-fuck. It can be a lot of things. And as much as the strange explicit purging of the anti-porn activists freaks me out a bit, pro-porn people who aren’t interested in dissecting it at all scare me more.
SADY: Yeah, definitely. I mean, a commitment to not looking at the potential problems in porn is probably way worse, in the long run, than TIRELESSLY AND VIGILANTLY WATCHING A TON OF PORN so that you can point out the problems.
AMANDA: Yeah. And the reluctance to engage isn’t something I’ve seen in the more feminist pro-porn circles, but it’s definitely something I’ve seen in the Get-Your-Fascist-Government-Off-My-Boner circles. Any industry that provides boners can’t possibly be problematic!
SADY: Boners are our nation’s most valued resource! It’s just that it seems to me that the people most qualified to write or speak about porn’s effect on women are . . . women who’ve been in porn? Rather than women who’ve seen some of it, or read what someone else wrote about seeing it?
SADY: But I worry that, with the Defend the Boners league pressing for those stupid sluts to keep their mouths shut when they’re not giving blow-jobs, and the Burn the Tapes crew pressing for the elimination of any non-anti-porn discourse, sex workers who express complicated feelings about porn are being sort of shut out. Not that those folks aren’t having conversations and building communities of their own.
AMANDA: Right. And then you have Sasha Grey on Tyra talking about her job and life, as Tyra shakes her head slowly and announces on television that she refuses to believe that Sasha Grey is not a victim of childhood abuse.
SADY: Haha, yeah. Or the cases in which porn stars DO (like a lot of women) have incidences of being sexually abused or assaulted, and everyone is like, “don’t you SEEEE? Don’t you see that this has clearly driven you MAD? And any of your feelings about the job you do are now INVALID?????” Whereas no-one is saying that to the accountant who was sexually abused growing up. Clearly no-one is like, “the pain and shame of your assault warped you so that you had no other choice but to fall into a life of TAX FORMS!”
AMANDA: Yeah, I mean what sexual assault victims really need is for more people to take away their agency and reduce their options in life, and then to shame them based on their sexual expression, right?
SADY: EXACTLY! I mean, I think a lot of porn discourse—and people who are fervent watchers of porn, and would fight to the death your right to take away their cinema boners, are just as willing to say that people (particularly women) who do porn are sad and deluded and damaged—depends on the assumption that, if it looks gross and un-sexy to me, it must be gross and un-sexy. And anyone who does it has to be stopped or “saved.” See: BDSM, and the vast misunderstandings around that. Whereas, if I look at the kink conference you covered, well, I will be honest with you: There were a lot of videos you posted that I was just like, “nope! Not gonna open that one!” There were a lot of things that I consider gross and un-sexy going on there, such as: homemade Harry Potter erotica.
AMANDA: Haha. Right? But crusading to wipe it clean of this Earth, citing The Children, is another position entirely.
SADY: But who am I to come between you and the turgid purple manhood of Severus Snape?
SADY: You know? Like: I can say, “I will not jack off to this, and would prefer not to discuss the levels of arousal it produces in you,” without singlehandedly trying to ban it.
AMANDA: Yeah. Dan Savage gives some pretty good advice in his column this week to a guy who has been indulging his wife in her daddy fetish. The husband writes in wondering if the fetish is a sign that his wife was abused as a child, and Savage basically says: Maybe, and that’s something you should talk about, but it doesn’t mean that she now has to deny her safe exploration of that fetish because her sex life has been informed in the past by horrible experiences. It’s your sex life. And past abuse doesn’t make your safe and consensual adult sex life invalid.
SADY: Right. I mean, I guess the other side, the argument against mainstream porn is that (a) it influences expectations of what sex “should be like,” or what good sex is supposed to look like, and (b) it has to use real bodies in order to do so. Which, I feel like we’ve dealt with (b). Terrible things happen in porn, but that’s a reason to look at the terrible things, not ban porn. Terrible things happen in houses, but that’s a reason to look at the terrible things, not to ban houses. But (a) still does trouble me, I’ll admit. It is a fact that stuff that happens in porn—your anal sex, your spitting on crotches, your facial shots or bald vaginas, what have you—can be kind of uncomfortably enthused over by people who watch a lot of porn. And have picked up, can I tell you, just the WRONG MOVES for accomplishing it.
AMANDA: Right. Like, I’ve heard a lot written about how younger men and women absolutely expect hairless vaginas. But again, what are we supposed to do about that? (a) Ban porn; (b) talk about how expectations in porn do and don’t translate into real life; (c) make more diverse porn, maybe? Because (a), beyond being dumb, is also impossible. So we have to start thinking about how to accomplish (b) and (c).
SADY: Yeah. I mean, I think the option is actually to become a little more relaxed and less shameful about porn. Rather than, like, watching it on your own, and then expecting your sex life to match up to it, and then responding to efforts to talk about your porn feelings with “lalala, can’t hear you, it’s DIRTY!” There are a lot of people who are absolutely cool with sex for the 20 minutes they spend doing it, and then feel weirded out and shameful about it immediately after the fact. And I think porn takes a lot of the bullets, when it comes to those folks and their freaked-out feelings. But, if they’re talking AGAINST porn, they can be as graphic as they please! I think, is the message here. That all of us should express our desires to our sex partners in terms of lengthy, Old-Testament-style inveighing against sexual acts we were ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED BY when we saw them last.
AMANDA: I think if Ayn Rand taught us anything, it’s that absolutely no thought or discussion needs to go into our darkest dominant sexual fantasies. Just Do It!
SADY: And/or build an entire social order around it!
AMANDA: Right. Or people could just, like, talk about it. What porn needs is more dialogue!
SADY: Can you imagine how much easier porn would be to deal with if it actually included scenes of the date and well-adjusted people undergoing sexual negotiation with each other in a kind and realistic way? “I consent to this,” Miranda panted, erotically, “but not the other thing which you mentioned earlier this evening, which is never as much fun as you’d think.”
AMANDA: You are seriously crushing some dude’s boner right now. But possibly arousing some other dude! So: Even.
SADY: “Your consent gives me such a boner,” cried Hans, “which is made but firmer and more sexy by my respect for your stated boundaries!”