“Porn Wars” covered The Monthly in September. Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray just released Big Porn Inc., a compilation of anti-porn essays. Serendipitously, when I decided I would write this article over the weekend, controversial sex writer Bettina Arndt wrote about the porn debacle in The Sunday Age.
“The suggestion that porn changes men’s attitudes to sex is really questionable. While there’s a body of psychology research suggesting exposure to porn has that effect, Professor Catherine Lumby and colleagues in The Porn Report, published in 2008, found this laboratory-based research to be contradictory and unlikely to reflect real-life situations. ‘The entire tradition of social science research into pornography has started with the assumption that porn is a major cause of negative attitudes towards women and has set out to prove this,’ conclude these Australian academics.”
She goes on to write:
“… Arguably porn has nothing to do with the insensitivity causing men to behave in that way [with negative perceptions of women and sex], which stems from their cultural and social backgrounds.”
When society encourages the viewpoint of women as second-class citizens there for the appropriation of men’s desires and the male gaze, which—granted—porn does replicate in a lot of instances, I just don’t get what the big deal is surrounding it. While Tankard Reist and others go on about the “pornification of society”, shouldn’t we be looking at the society which spawned porn, not the other way around? Shouldn’t we be looking to, as Arndt suggests, porn consumers’ (of both sexes) backgrounds to determine their use and the effects of the medium?
Caitlin Moran says in her memoir, How to Be a Woman (which, keen-eyed readers, has been referenced here a hell of a lot in the past week or so!), that “the idea that pornography is intrinsically exploitative and sexist is bizarre; pornography is just ‘some fucking’, after all. The act of having sex isn’t sexist, so there’s no way pornography can be, in itself, inherently misogynist.”
She raises an interesting, left-of-centre notion that is not often discussed in (extremist?) feminist critique: if consensual sex isn’t sexist, how is consensual sex—that just happens to be filmed—in porn sexist?
I will argue that there are plenty of representations—in fact, most—in porn that are sexist. The lack of female orgasms, or the ejaculation of the male partner(s) into the face of his female partner(s), which seems to be how so many porn videos “finish” these days, come to mind. But, as Fine writes in The Monthly, “is degradation in the eye of the beholder, or is it just in the eye?”
As “facials” are really the only problem I have with heterosexual, seemingly consensual, two-(sometimes-three-)partner porn, I’d have to agree that “degradation is in the eye of the beholder.” In that case, you don’t have to watch it.
Not only that, but porn might be seen to have some positive effects.
Firstly, as have always argued, the existence of fetish porn is an outlet for those with said fetishes, who might otherwise have gone elsewhere to have their sexual desires fulfilled.
“… Some researchers suggest exposure to pornography might make some people less likely to commit sexual crimes,” writes Melinda Wenner Moyer in The Scientific American.
So long as we can educate young people—with an emphasis on young boys—about consent, the fantasy that porn survives and thrives on and expression of your own sexuality, whether it conforms to sexual stereotypes or no, porn is not harmful, in my opinion.
As a recent article on MamaMia opined: “We need better porn.” If we have access to porn in which everybody gets off, which is a major flaw in the current porn industry, what’s the problem?
As is a major focus of Arndt’s article, as well as The Sunny Side of Smut, men prefer to view women engaging in “enthusiastic consent” to sex, as opposed to the oft-mentioned concern that porn “incite[s] violence against women.” According to Wenner Moyer, the opposite is true, in fact:
“Perhaps the most serious accusation against pornography is that it incites sexual aggression. But not only do rape statistics suggest otherwise, some experts believe the consumption of pornography may actually reduce the desire to rape by offering a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires.”
In countries such as Japan, China and Denmark, and in certain states in America, which have increased access to online porn, rape statistics have receded significantly.
It’s not just porn that is changing attitudes (or our changing attitudes to porn) to sex, but prostitution, also.
In a Newsweek article a few months ago, Leslie Bennetts, profiled the idea of making soliciting prostitution illegal, instead of charging the women involved in prostitution. In countries that have started to bring in this legislation, such as Sweden, South Korea, Norway, Iceland, Israel and Mexico, sex trafficking has been “dramatically reduced”, whereas in countries where prostitution is legal, such as Australia, trafficking in other kinds of sex trade has increased. Are we cutting off our nose to spite our face?
There has been a lot of debate over the sex trade in Australia. I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about when it comes to prostitution (for a more comprehensive look at this, see Feminaust), but I do know that it is still very much a grey area. Much greyer than porn, in my opinion. (Voice yours in the comments.)
And, back with porn, I do think it’s about education, in essence. Just as we educate young people about safe sex, we should be educating them about safe porn use, too. That the smorgasbord of sexual entrees (oral sex), main courses (vaginal intercourse) and just desserts (anal sex) on offer in porn can not always be expected of real life sexual relationships, and certainly not on the first date! (In porn, a first date amounts to come breast fondling and perhaps, in “feature” porn, a pizza delivery or plumbing [pardon the pun] fixed.)
Not to lessen the effect that porn can have on some users (again, harkening back to Arndt’s “cultural and social backgrounds” argument), but studies have shown that how a man responds to a woman in a porn clip is not how he’ll respond to her in a real-life sexual encounter. If anything, introducing porn into a sexual relationship can be the spice of life:
“… Variety in sexual experiences contributes to men’s sexual satisfaction—and other works support [Alan] McKee’s suggestion that pornography can help that along. But [Aleksandar] Stulhofer also found that intimacy is at least as, and probably more, important for sexual satisfaction and—contrary to stereotype—as much so for young men as women.” [The Monthly]
As is my understanding, if a porn consumer lets what they see on the computer screen (who uses DVDs these days? Although, I did hear a funny story from a friend about a porn DVD getting stuck in a DVD player. When I suggested throwing out the DVD player, the friend said it was part of the television. And that the DVD was borrowed from their partner’s Dad. A comedy of porn errors.) dictate their perception of sexual relationships, they’re probably not capable of real intimacy anyway.
So, what do you think? Is porn the hotbed of debauchery it’s made out to be? Or, like Moran suggests, is it “just some fucking”?
Related: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran Review.
Elsewhere: [Melinda Tankard Reist] Big Porn Inc.: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry.
[The Monthly] The Porn Ultimatum.
[Sydney Morning Herald] Porn is Not a Dirty Word.
[The Scientific American] The Sunny Side of Smut.
[MamaMia] Why We Need Better Porn.
[Newsweek] The Growing Demand for Prostitution.