A few responses to common objections to my position on porn

18 Jul
  • But I don’t really see how porn is a feminist issue!

Porn is a pressing feminist issue because it is anti-woman propaganda, pure and simple. It reduces women to a set of holes and completely erases their humanity and their sexuality (porn is about men’s sexuality, not women’s). Mainstream porn has always degraded and objectified women and taught men that women are to be used as objects, but now it carries the added message that women are vile trash. (See the name-calling, ejaculating onto faces, and choking that are ever more common in mainstream porn.) I fail to see how that is not a feminist issue, how it is not a feminist issue that a huge proportion of men are tying orgasm to seeing women humiliated and dehumanized.

  • Porn is pro-sex! What, are you anti-sex?

The argument that porn is pro-sex is faulty. The equation of women with temptation and sex and thus evil has led to a lot of the misogyny in our culture, but porn is an expression of that, not a rebuttal to it. In porn, women lose the power they supposedly have over men, the power to decide whether they will allow sex to occur. The women in porn are punished for the “prudishness” of other women. They are used, abused, and denigrated. There is no affection, no care, no respect. There’s not even any sense that the performers are attracted to each other.

Sex in porn is a commodity, something that the ones with means buy from the people who have to sell it to survive (whether survival consists of having enough money to live — almost all porn actresses are relatively poor, so don’t bring up the three that have made some money — or making an ill-advised attempt to get desperately needed attention and ephemeral power by allowing oneself to be objectified and exploited).

Porn, instead of being pro-sex, is pro-sex-as-a-tool-of-power. If you can find me a single example of mainstream porn in which an obvious power differential is absent, I’ll give you $1000. It doesn’t exist. Mainstream porn has NOTHING to do with women’s sexuality. Women in mainstream porn are fuck objects, and their sexuality is presented as consisting solely of serving male sexuality (and a fairly cheap and shallow representation of male sexuality, at that).

Sex in porn is honestly pretty lame. No matter what the people are wearing, no matter what they are saying, no matter what they are doing, they are acting out the same scenario over and over: female humanity being subordinated to male desire. That may very well be one way to conceive of and “do” sex, but it’s certainly not the only, and definitely not the most desirable or interesting, way. But that’s all we see. So I would not say that porn is “pro-sex.” I’d say it’s anti-sex. It’s anti-sex in that it severely constricts the ways in which sexuality can be expressed.

Unless you define sex as a commodified exchange of power, sex doesn’t exist in porn.

  • You’re demonizing sex workers! Most women in porn choose to participate in it. By saying they’re all being coerced, you’re diminishing the importance of real rapes!

The greatest obstacles to limiting coercion in the porn industry are the lack of regulation in the industry (I know that regulations exist, but are they enforced? When was the last time “the feds” showed up on a porn set to enforce regulations?) and the lack of ethics on the part of the consumer.  If men cared about women’s human rights, they would not use porn. The fact is, no one can be sure that the porn they are watching is not footage of a rape, and it is therefore unethical to consume pornography.

As to the issue of choice, I’m not all that concerned with blurring the distinction between voluntary and involuntary participation in sex work, because there really isn’t such a thing as voluntary participation. If women’s choices weren’t so limited by how far we have left to go in the struggle for equality, they wouldn’t need to turn to allowing their bodies to be exploited for money. I know that there are plenty of women who have bought into the idea that objectifying themselves is a source of pride and power, but the fact that they fail to see just how limited women’s sources of power and prestige are in our society doesn’t mean that the reality isn’t there. I do not wish to stigmatize sex workers, but nor do I believe that we ought to be looking up to them as seems to be the trend these days. I’ve never once exaggerated how sex workers are different from other people, nor have I claimed that they can’t be raped. They are raped, constantly, and if we actually cared about that fact, we wouldn’t support the industry that does it to them. The fact is, it is impossible for a woman who has been abused on a porn set to prove that she did not consent to what was done, and that means that women in porn have no recourse in the event that they are forced to perform acts they are not comfortable with.

  • Using porn is like eating meat or wearing clothes made in a sweatshop. I know I shouldn’t, but my decision to use porn or not to use it doesn’t really have much of an impact, and it’s easy to justify, just like it’s easy to justify eating meat or wearing clothes made in a sweatshop.

While I understand the arguments porn users make analogizing porn use to eating meat or buying products made in sweatshops, they’re not really good ones. When you buy clothes from a sweatshop, you are not looking at a picture of the person who made your jeans suffering. When you eat a cheeseburger, you are not looking at a photo of a cow being slaughtered. When you look at porn, however, you are looking directly at a human being who is being exploited. If you have the capacity to turn off your sense of empathy long enough to have a wank, congratulations. I don’t, and I wish men weren’t so selfish, didn’t feel so entitled to the use of women’s bodies, that they could do so. Our culture is absolutely saturated with images of women’s bodies being used for various purposes, so I understand where a lot of that entitlement comes from, but I still argue that men, if they really want to be able to claim to be thoughtful human beings, ought to feel pity, not titillation, when they see a woman being degraded.

  • I read a study once that said porn does not increase the incidence of rape.

The fact that one study (and is it even reliable one, or was it put out by MRAs?) says that porn use doesn’t increase sexual violence among “most men” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do so among the most dangerous of men, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lessen the sense of empathy in most men. It doesn’t address the fact that porn changes men’s attitudes toward women, whether they realize it or not, as many other studies tell us. Even if the fact that porn causes sexual aggression may still be up for debate in the minds of a few holdouts (just as Rush Limbaugh and 3 other assholes don’t believe in climate change), the fact that it changes men’s attitudes toward women and their status as human beings is not. When porn causes men to disbelieve women’s claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, how can anyone argue that it has no net effect on women’s right to not be sexually assaulted?


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8 Responses to “A few responses to common objections to my position on porn”

  1. Maggie Hays July 19, 2008 at 1:23 AM #

    Excellent responses, Nine! :)

    Porn apologists never understand why we are angry & why we fight against pornography, do they?

    They are soooo reactionary!

    the same scenario over and over: female humanity being subordinated to male desire. That may very well be one way to conceive of and “do” sex, but it’s certainly not the only, and definitely not the most desirable or interesting, way. But that’s all we see. So I would not say that porn is “pro-sex.” I’d say it’s anti-sex. It’s anti-sex in that it severely constricts the ways in which sexuality can be expressed.

    Unless you define sex as a commodified exchange of power, sex doesn’t exist in porn.

    Wow, that point was so right on, Nine!

    Pornography is not sex; it is sexualized hierarchical violence. And it prevents healthy sexual imagination that doesn’t rely on male supremacy.

    I’m glad to have my sex life 100% private and uncontrolled by this capitalist & patriarchal sexist media. I wouldn’t even want to have it influenced by so-called “art” (i.e. ‘feminist porn’, which is inherently an oxymoron).

    The fact is, it is impossible for a woman who has been abused on a porn set to prove that she did not consent to what was done, and that means that women in porn have no recourse in the event that they are forced to perform acts they are not comfortable with.

    So, so true, Nine. Lack of choice and experience of abuse, that’s all it is… So cruel…

  2. Jen July 19, 2008 at 5:52 AM #

    When dealing with the “OMG, but teh womenz choose to be in porn” crowd, I ask anyone if there ever was a time that they would really like being wrenched into uncomfortable positions, demeaned, objectified, and placed at a huge risk of abuse so someone else could toss off. If they say yes, then I figure they really like having acrobatic painful “sex” while everyone watches, dick in hand, to their objectification. And if that objectification suddenly turns into rape, or you’re really poor and don’t have any other marketable skills, and everyone only hoots louder as you cry, that’s okay, because you’re a woman.

    And women like that kind of stuff, right? If a man, or anyone, seriously suggests that they like their “asshole wrecked” I think we all have permission to think of them as totally ape-shit insane.

    I mean, how fucking stupid do you have to be to believe that women who place themselves in a position with no legal recourse, have painful degrading sex on camera, which, if found, destroys any chance of them getting a non-porn job, and make little to no money like it?

    The million dollar answer to that is that you have to be someone that thinks that human suffering is excellent wank fodder. And that makes you a sick sick person.

  3. Nine Deuce July 19, 2008 at 6:43 AM #

    Pretty much.

  4. Aaron Boyden July 19, 2008 at 6:06 PM #

    Cool, I like it better when you’re not apologizing for your hyperbole. I’m also glad that you are consistent enough to condemn capitalism generally (in some of your other posts), since the claim that all sex workers are coerced is only plausible if most workers generally are coerced (not that the latter claim is absurd, and I presume that’s in fact what you’d say). Of course, I continue to insist that your interpretation of the meaning of porn is implausible, but my main complaint is about your last point. It’s not only one study, and the studies weren’t by MRAs, and you know both of those things perfectly well. That one was a cheap shot.

  5. Nine Deuce July 19, 2008 at 8:15 PM #

    It wasn’t a cheap shot. I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that porn doesn’t cause sexual assaults to increase, and my last sentence holds. When men who watch porn see a diminished capacity for empathy with rape victims, there is a problem.

  6. Jen July 19, 2008 at 8:40 PM #

    Hey 9-2, are you talking about those studies done by Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant? When I read about those, and thought about how much of a porn addict I used to be, I was scared shitless.

  7. Nine Deuce July 19, 2008 at 9:34 PM #

    I am, among other things. I realize that last point in this post is vague as fuck. I get bored to death writing about stats, but I think I may just have to do a post soon on studies on the effects of porn.

  8. Gowan October 18, 2014 at 11:26 AM #

    “The fact that one study (and is it even reliable one, or was it put out by MRAs?) says that porn use doesn’t increase sexual violence among “most men” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do so among the most dangerous of men, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t lessen the sense of empathy in most men.”

    Reminds me of that study where they “proved” that chocolate doesn’t make acne worse. The test subjects were just given a chocolate bar a day or so, but didn’t have dietary restrictions otherwise. So, the control group was just people who didn’t eat chocolate, or (I don’t remember that very clearly) even just hadn’t their chocolate intake artificially increased.
    So, what was really found out was that cocoa as it grows on trees doesn’t worsen acne. However, many people have experienced that eating no sugar at all can improve the skin a lot. Chocolate contains sugar, but lots of other things also contain sugar.

    In a culture that’s full of misogyny anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if the impact of porn seemed not so severe in a study – in order to see the real impact, you’d have to be able to eliminate all other influences.

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