Commenting on an article regarding pornography (I won’t link it here), I was asked, rather defensively, by a 23 yr old straight male porn aficionado what my objection is to the mainstream pornography industry. After all, it “taught him everything he knows about having sex and what women want.” And, why was I such a fucking prude?
Oh, the irony. But, I opted for the high road, so instead of just running with it, I offered super porn fan some form of a mildly condescending teachable moment, suggesting that he had just articulated quite clearly what my objections happen to be.
Because for me, it’s a simple question. Though as I realized, the motivations people ascribe to one who professes to be anti porn, yet decidedly sex positive are nowhere near close to our actual motivations. First, some definitions are essential. Let me define what I mean when I say “mainstream porn”. That is, pornography made by men, for men, with the sole purpose being to arouse and stimulate male heterosexual desire through depictions of female domination and sexual control.
For the record, I am not talking about erotica, nor am I talking about gay porn. I am not talking of “niche” porn, such as BDSM films made by those into the sub culture (who often have very layered and ethically based consent frameworks), and I am not talking about sex positive feminist porn — porn made with an intent of showcasing sexuality from a pro female perspective with sex being a realistic approximation of what the women in, and making the film, find and understand to be representative of female sexuality. I’m talking about hardcore porn that treats women like objects to be exploited, co-modified, abused, and raped. And let me be clear, no, I am not advocating banning porn. I am talking about the desire and hope for a society that says we can do better, and in turn doesn’t support that industry. In other words, making a decision not to finance that type of material.
My central objection to mainstream porn has always been around what I have termed “magical consent”. Which is to describe a form of non-consent, anything from obvious rape through to a consent that is unrealistically implied, stemming from a scenario that is problematically removed from reality. This lack of consent is always one sided, and, not surprisingly, occurs on the female side of the equation. Add to the lack of consent inherent in the plot narratives, and you have the very real issues of addiction, poverty, sexual abuse and coercion that statistically apply to most of the women in mainstream heterosexual porn, and consent becomes a problem not only in the film, but throughout the entire industry.
In critiquing the lack of consent in the actual films, four themes are prevalent and run through literally every mainstream porn film made today.
- All women want sex from all men, all the time.
- Women naturally desire the kind of sex that men desire, which is frequently meant to imply anal sex, double penetration, degradation, humiliation, and sex that is commonly set up to be degrading.
- Any woman who does not at first realize her full interest and desire for this type of sex, can easily be converted with a minimal amount of persuasion, ie physical force. Or, similarly, quickly discover their “true” sexual nature — the nymphomaniac; a false narrative.
- Consent, when it does occur, is usually negotiated through economic or situational blackmail, such as the “I really need this job, what am I going to do without it”, vibe. Some may call that consent, but really, how much personal agency is behind that type of consent when it is based on a survival drive?
If we consider the sobering statistic that one in four women will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, my objection should be clear and well founded. Because, is a lack of consent, murky, or magical consent, or implied but not articulated consent, what we want our young boys and men to base their developing sexual attitudes and activity on?
One need only look at a recent study that examined the attitudes around sex and rape by college age men. While a high majority (over 85%) viewed rape as “always wrong”, just over 56% viewed forcing, pressuring, or coercing women to have sex against their will, as only “occasionally wrong.” Why the disparity? Opinions are many, but a good place to start is what our culture teaches young men about sex. And where do they get a large amount of that information?
So, as I stated in the beginning, yes, it is quite possible to both anti mainstream porn, which is really a pro-feminist, pro consent, anti rape, and anti degradation stand, and sex positive. The latter being an ideology that believes sex is normal, natural, sees all varieties as healthy provided it is what the person, couple, or group desire for themselves, and not something to be ashamed over, provided it is entered into by two or more adults who have a reasonable ability to exercise free agency over their sexual choices.