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Reinventing pornography for real sex, not fake sex

July 2, 2010

Author’s note: While this post doesn’t have any explicit pictures, it may not be safe for work (NSFW). This article refers to mainstream, heterosexual pornography and heterosexual relationships in terms of desires.

I find porn* fascinating. I’ve always identified with the feminist camp that was pro-porn but sometimes I get a notch in my stomach after watching it. It’s a similar thing when I’m watching the TV show Entourage and feel fully entertained by Vince, “E,” Turtle, and Drama, but disgusted by the sexism and commodification of women. Why does porn make me feel so excited and yet so gross at the same time?

After reading the chapter about beauty and porn in Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, I’m starting to understand why I get the icky feeling in my stomach. Part of it is because of the degradation of women (i.e. money shots). The other part of it, which I never could articulate until now, lowers my own self-esteem. Maybe I’m just now having my “aha!” moment about pornography and feminism, but Wolf gives voice to my thoughts exactly: pornography does not hurt women because of nakedness and explicitness. In fact, Wolf states that:

Sexual “explicitness” is not the issue. We could use a lot more of that, if explicit meant honest and revealing; if there was a full spectrum of erotic images of uncoerced real women and real men in contexts of sexual trust, beauty pornography could theoretically hurt no one.

There was my “aha!” moment! On the subconscious level I knew that the sex in porn wasn’t “real” per se, but on the unconscious level always thought that was how sex “should be.” But, as Wolf eloquently describes, the sex in porn is not the sex most people have in the bedroom.

There is a laundry list of why porn is degrading to women, which I won’t get in to (for more info about that, click here). I want to discuss how porn affects our sexual desires.

I’m all for sexual expression and freedom. I know that there are those who defend porn on the basis of free speech, and I support free speech and expression, but porn has such an effect on women, men, and our relationships with each other, that it tells us what our sexual desires should be and what our sexual desires shouldn’t be in sexual acts. In a recent article by Naomi Wolf in New York Magazine, she explains how pornography turns off men’s sexual desires for the real thing:

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

If men only see through the lens of porn women as skinny, big boobs, tan, and bleached blonde hair who always orgasm, what are they to expect of us in real life? Maybe that’s why 72 percent of women have faked at least one orgasm in their current or most recent relationship.

A friend of mine subscribes to Playboy for the “great articles.” To each his/her own, but whenever I open up that magazine, I get that weird exciting/nauseous feeling: I get excited when I see the “sexy women” (or what I’m told is “sexy”) in compromising positions thinking, “Oh, can I do that?” At the same time, though, I get nauseous when I see myself through those women in the magazines, and cannot even compare to what they look like [I won’t even get started with women’s magazines]. And as I will reiterate my colleague Katherine Forrest’s article about the effects culture has on individual body image–no wonder why women are so damn self-conscious and men have impossible physical beauty standards for us.

Let me also state that there is feminist porn out there. I’ve seen it–when I was an undergrad at NYU, the Center for Gender and Sexuality had events on fat porn and feminist porn where I learned that people have different sexual desires and shouldn’t be confined to what mainstream pornography tells us what those desires should be.

So let’s support the feminist porn and the sexual explicit porn that Naomi Wolf describes: honest and revealing sex. Now that’s porn that would turn me on without getting that nauseous feeling inside.

For more info about porn and feminism, check out the articles below:

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
by Naomi Wolf
Powells.com

Also, check out Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth as it goes into how the concept of “beauty” came to be and how it affects women, men, and our relationships with each other.

4 Comments
  1. July 2, 2010 7:15 am

    Interesting and timely post. I just recently read and am working on my review of XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography by Wendy McElroy. I have no problem with porn, and what I like about it is that there is such a range of things available. And not everything turns me on, but then I wouldn’t expect it to. Some things that I find degrading, other women might really enjoy, and what I enjoy, others might find degrading. I don’t think that it is just free speech I think that it is about giving each woman (and man) their say. Obviously real violence is not acceptable, but nor is it in any industry.

    Porn is a way for all of us to play out our fantasies safely and without fear of consequences, which is especially important for women. That is why I think that nothing is inherently degrading. I would much rather watch a few ‘money shot scenes and decide no, that isn’t for me, then have to do it in real life to make that call. It’s like BDSM – sometimes the woman is dominant, sometimes the man. I don’t understand it at all, but I wouldn’t say it degrades either, it is just what they like. If we say that women can and should have legal rights and make their own choices, we have to understand that not everyone will make the same choices as us, and we have to give them the right to choose. If that makes sense at all!

    To me it is the same as any kind of film. I wouldn’t want to shoot someone, it isn’t for me, but I will watch it on a movie occasionally.

    I think what gets shot and shown in porn is what sells. If more women and men started watching and buying feminist porn, more people would make it.

    Oh, and I highly recommend McElroy’s book, XXX 🙂 I am off to add this book to my wishlist as it sounds interesting! (Sorry for the crazy long comment!)

  2. May permalink
    July 7, 2010 2:13 am

    I think that in considering whether or not porn is degrading to women, it could be interesting to survey the opinions of porn actresses themselves: what it’s like on the set, the shooting, before/after, etc. I don’t know if there’s been a large-scale study on their experiences, but I do remember reading a testimonial by French porn star Karen Bach, who committed suicide in 2005. She was the main actress in the film ‘Baise moi’ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0249380/
    (actually, as I link this, I’m shocked to see that the film title is translated as “rape me” while “baise moi” actually means “fuck me”) by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Thrin Thi.
    Speaking openly and harshly about her experiences on set, Karen once said- “double penetration by 5 degrees Celsius, followed by an ejaculation. Covered in sperm, soaking wet, freezing cold, and no one hands you a towel. Once your scene is shot, you’re worth nothing”.
    (from Liberation newspaper http://www.liberation.fr/culture/0101517378-le-geste-ultime-de-karen-bach)

    • July 7, 2010 10:49 am

      That is really interesting and a good point, May.

      I’d also be interested as to why the translation of the title from French to English is soo different. Thanks for the incite.

      • July 7, 2010 10:54 am

        Butting back in again to say that I completely agree with May as well! Very good point.

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