Porny Issues

I’m not all that interested in the porn debate. I know, I’m a bad feminist. It’s just not a subject that really elicits much emotion from me. It probably should, but I can’t bring myself to get that riled up about it, or to write about it very often. But, someone asked me about my views on porn, and I like to oblige reader requests, so, here we go. A post about porn.

Here’s my stance on porn: It’s not bad. Porn, itself, as a concept, is not inherently harmful. In fact, I think that pornographic materials (videos, images, stories, etc) can be hugely empowering and beneficial. I’m a sex positive feminist, so I think this should hardly come as a surprise.

But. The majority of mainstream porn is incredibly harmful, for both men and women. The amount of woman-positive porn, let alone good porn, that’s getting produced is alarmingly small. I’m glad to see more directors and companies producing awesome female-positive porn, but, let’s face it, they are an incredibly small market. They are poorly publicized. When people think of “porn,” they are definitely thinking of mainstream porn, which is primarily het, primarily totally degrading, and primarily utterly foul.

Mainstream porn is derogatory, debasing, and disgusting. It perpetuates ideas about body size and appearance which I find deeply troubling (all hot women are thin, all hot women have big breasts, women don’t have body hair, etc). And it also promotes behavior which I find troubling; behavior depicted in mainstream porn is often highly submissive, for example, but it lacks the nuanced negotiations about boundaries which is present in the BDSM community. Mainstream porn perpetuates the idea that women like to make out with each other for their boyfriends or for the benefit of a crowd’s sexual titillation. It promotes the idea that women like to be forced, that women enjoy degrading sexual acts even when they say they don’t. That all women and men have sex in the same way and are turned on in the same way.

But, some women protest, I enjoy facials! Or quasi-forced anal sex! Or being gang-banged by my boyfriend’s buddies! This is, in fact, a defensive argument used by a lot of feminists; I enjoy it, I like doing it, it’s totally my choice, therefore it’s not bad. But, here’s the thing: we don’t make choices out of thin air. We are acculturated to make certain choices. We are acculturated to think that we should enjoy certain activities in a certain way, and that if we don’t do them, our partners have grounds for leaving us.

That’s what we like to call a “false choice.” Because, you know, it’s false?

As a member of the BDSM community, I don’t have a problem with degrading activities. With violent sexuality. With intense sexuality. But, you know what? I have a huge problem with sexuality without consent and discussion, without boundaries which are negotiated with care. One of the best parts of a BDSM scene, for me, is coming down afterwards, and processing it together, and being cared for or providing nurturing care. There’s a deep connection there which gets ignored in the mainstream media and in mainstream porn; there’s a huge amount of control on both sides, a huge amount of autonomy, a huge amount of empowerment.

It’s intriguing to see the kinky community marginalized as disgusting and perverted and weird even as vaguely kinky acts are mainstreamed in the porn industry; I call it BDSM-light, since it is presented without nuance and complexity. In fact, BDSM challenges a lot of mainstream porn by being a system which requires negotiation and consent, with rigid and clear boundaries in which everyone in a scene is empowered. This is a system which is boring to purveyors of mainstream porn, because it suggests that submissives should have power and authority, the ability to play an active role in decisionmaking.

For most women, if all you know of sexuality is from porn, you’re going to end up with some decidedly strange and troubling ideas about sexuality and your own level of autonomy. You have to work hard to seek out alternative porn which is empowering and honest and powerful. You have to work hard to seek out female-positive porn. And you have to work hard to assert your own sexuality and make a conscious choice about how you express your sexuality, rather than just doing what is socially expected and what you have been programmed to do.

There’s an important distinction to be drawn between acculturated choices and real ones. You can like a wide variety of sex acts without being a mindless drone who has been indoctrinated by the mainstream porn industry, but you don’t have full autonomy if you’re participating in sex acts because you think your partner likes them. Because you think your partner expects you to, or wants you to, and that if you don’t do them, you will be dumped. If you feel uncomfortable and uneasy while doing these things that you so stridently claim to “love” doing, you’re another victim of acculturation, and you aren’t empowered at all.

Mainstream porn is not empowering. It’s just another part of a larger culture which promotes the idea of woman as consumable object, woman as property, woman as object. Alt porn? Depends on the company.