Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Being a Bookworm: Part Four - what do women think of porn?

Paul is an excellent writer. Although, I am slightly disappointed that Pornified is not as theory-heavy as I think the topic of porn demands. That is probably just the Philosophy major in me talking though.

With much enthusiasm, I started the chapter titled "Porn Stars, Lovers, and Wives: How Women See Pornography". I was disappointed, however, that Paul chose to focus more on how women thought of the men in their lives that used pornography rather than the effects of pornography on women that use it. I thought the chapter was too heteronormative and played up the "jealous girlfriend" routine to the point where the cliche began to wear thin. Some highlights of the chapter were:

A human sexuality professor at Stony Brook observes shifting norms:

"Twenty years ago, my female students would say, 'Ugh, that's disgusting,' when I brought up porn in class. The men would guiltily say, 'Yeah, I've used it.' Today, men are much more open about saying they use porn all the time and don't feel any guilt. The women now resemble the old male attitude: they'll sheepishly admit to using it themselves." ... He has mixed feelings about this change. On the positive side, he says, women's embrace of porn seems to reflect increased sexual agency on their part... yet the new attitude strikes him as disturbing. Female fantasies have changed over the years as a result of porn and what Kimmel calls the "masculinization of sex". Compared with ten years ago, women's fantasies are more likely today to include violence, rough sex, strangers, and descriptions of male physical attributes. "Personally, I think that for a woman to construct her sex life like that of a man is a rather impoverished view of liberation".

I wish the chapter also expanded upon the liberalization of porn. Paul claims that the adoption of porn as "hip" has blocked any serious critiques of it. The new version of "sex positivism" seems to view pornography as instrumentally positive and a vehicle of equal opportunity sexuality, even though real porn may be violent and produced by decreasing the agency of its performers. Also, framing the argument in such a way that pornography is equated with erotica makes it easier to pigeon-hole opponents as "anti-sex", although many pornography critics are careful to define erotica as something positive, and fundamentally different.

For instance, the classic feminist Gloria Steinem points out that erotica, based on the word eros (passionate love or yearning for someone else) is about "a mutually pleasurable, sexual expression between people who have enough power to be there by positive choice." The root word of pornography, however, refers to prostitution and is "violence, dominance, and conquest. It is sex being used to reinforce some inequality, or to create one, or to tell us that pain and humiliation are really the same as pleasure."

An oft discussed point in feminism is the ability to be the agent of your own objectification. Paul spends considerable time on the story of Valerie, a woman in her thirties that has used porn since she was twelve. She claims that she can easily tell if her sexual partners watch porn because they are obsessed with "fucking... bright lights on, staring at my body parts, going through the motions". One of her partners wanted sex at least once a day, but never showed an a speck of sensuality and romance. She hypothesizes that he was keeping her at an emotional distance, and using porn as an instrument to facilitate this behavior. What she first found sexy about him, his similarity to the porn stars in her movies, destroyed their relationship.

Paul is careful to never say that women who liken pornography to liberation are wrong. However, she does point out that although sex-positives may view their attitudes as empowering, "the kind of pornography their men are into is all about the men--about their needs and about what they want, not about their women, their relationships, or their families."

Women do internalize porn, according to the poll done for her book; 6 out of 10 women believe porn affects how men expect them to look and behave. Only 15% of women will assuredly say that pornography does not raise men's expectations of women.

Pornography is a "guy's thing". Men still hold the same double standard that sex-positivism was supposed to erase. 6 in 10 men, according to an MSNBC poll, would not like their partners to view pornography unless it was with them. This attitude was shown in one of the "Cosmo Confessions" featured monthly in Cosmopolitan magazine:

Once a month, my boyfriend has a guy's night out with his buddies. Normally, they shoot poll or go to a ball game. But last month, I overheard him making plans to go to a strip club. It really upset me that he didn't bother asking how I felt about his sticking dollar bills in other women's G-strings. Instead of confronting him, I did some investigating and found out that the night he was planning to go to the club happened to be amateur night, which meant that any girl could get on stage and dance. So I called a few girlfriends, and we headed to the club. After a few drinks, I surprised my guy as one of the novice strippers. He was so shocked that he just froze--until I started undressing. Then he jumped on the stage and begged me to come down, promising me he'd never go to a nudie bar again."

Although she never comes right out and states it plainly, pornography is the instrument of a woman's own objectification. The nature of porn is to arouse men with the objectification of women--to reduce the act of sex to an animalistic game of dominance void of emotion. If a piece pornography is not objectifying, chances are that it is erotica. I personally think that it is demonstrably important that we separate erotica from porn so as to tote the positive role of erotica, facilitating the agency of women and emotion in the sex act, and contrast it with the negativity of pornography.

Previous parts of this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

31 comments:

Amelia said...

I had never considered a difference between erotica and porn until I read this. Very interesting.

I guess pornography is a hard subject for me to tackle because I have never viewed any. But the distinction here is a very intriguing one.

Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

It's not up to you to differentiate "porn" and "erotica".

The way in which you add value, importance, and legitimacy to "sex with emotion", and then classify sex without it (i.e. casual sex/friend sex/sex for the sake of sex) as "animalistic", and paint is as a terrible, negative thing is against everything about the attitude of being sex-positive.

Having an opinion on what you personally use sex for is fine, but to act as though porn is bad, because it's sex used in a way YOU don't personally like isn't a good argument.

Many, many people have sex without emotion, simply for sex. Many of them are women. Sex can be used for whatever the user pleases, and they don't need someone telling them how wrong and bad they are for not having sex the way that person thinks they should.

That attitude reeks of conservatism.

Amelia said...

"Many, many people have sex without emotion, simply for sex. Many of them are women. Sex can be used for whatever the user pleases, and they don't need someone telling them how wrong and bad they are for not having sex the way that person thinks they should." (emphasis mine)

That reeks of possible rape-apology. Not saying that's what you meant, Anon, but such a frame-of-mind seems like it would be rather forgiving of, say, rape, because your focus was on a single "user" that could force someone else to have sex because that would be included in "whatever the user pleases."

See the problem there???

Anonymous said...
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Amelia said...
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Amelia said...

Aww, I had to delete my comment because you deleted Nony's, which I was responding to. haha.

Jen said...

I delete comments that are off topic. He said that there is no difference between erotica and porn, and provided no counter-argument to a point which I had already covered in depth in the original post.

Sorry Amelia.

Amelia said...

No problem. I was just going to throw a lot of sarcasm at them because of their lack of effort in commenting...which can be fun sometimes. :)

Anonymous said...

That reeks of possible rape-apology. Not saying that's what you meant, Anon, but such a frame-of-mind seems like it would be rather forgiving of, say, rape, because your focus was on a single "user" that could force someone else to have sex because that would be included in "whatever the user pleases."

Uh...what?

You ignore my entire post, and all the relevant points therein...

To get potentially angry at me for you seeing something that didn't exist in my statement?

Seriously?

I mean, no offense, but that's ridiculous.

"Sex can be used for whatever the user pleases".

In other words, if you wish to use sex for emotional closeness with your SO, fine. If you wish to use sex to get off with your SO, fine. If you wish to use sex because you're horny, and so is the person you found to have sex with, fine.

What I mean is simply, there is no "bad" reason for two people who want to have sex, to have sex.

The author had a terribly conservative attitude when she basically said that sex should be used for what she thinks it should be used for, and all other forms of it are somehow bad, less legitimate or wrong.

It seems the objection to porn comes from her objection to emotionless sex.

Like I said, it's perfectly alright to ONLY want sex with emotion, but that's not what everyone has sex for, and to try to shame people for not having sex "her way", just sounds terribly conservative.

Just, in the future, please, by all means, respond to my comments, state your opinions, but don't take something and run so far with it.

Also:

Erotica: (from the Greek Eros - "desire") or "curiosa," works of art, including literature, photography, film, sculpture and painting, that deal substantively with erotically stimulating or sexually arousing descriptions.

Pornography or porn is the explicit depiction of sexual subject matter, especially with the sole intention of sexually exciting the viewer.

Two words for two things, both with the intent of sexually arousing the consumer of said material.

Anonymous said...

I should amend that.


What I mean is simply, there is no "bad" reason for two people who want to have sex, to have sex.


To add: Except cheating on an SO.

I don't care how sex-positive someone is, or if they want to justify it by saying no one owns their sexuality...

Cheating is about the only "bad" reason for having sex that I'd ever agree with.

Jen said...

Nowhere did I say anything about how sex for pleasure is demonstrably bad. Nor do I imply that sex should only take place in a committed relationship. My analysis is based upon the first-person account I referenced, in which the porn user had sex with his girlfriend only in such a manner that was equitable to pornography, and in a manner that did not please her.

Do not misconstrue my argument for talking points. It is disrespectful.

Anonymous said...

Nowhere did I say anything about how sex for pleasure is demonstrably bad. Nor do I imply that sex should only take place in a committed relationship. My analysis is based upon the first-person account I referenced, in which the porn user had sex with his girlfriend only in such a manner that was equitable to pornography, and in a manner that did not please her.

Do not misconstrue my argument for talking points. It is disrespectful.


You, multiple times, associated emotionless sex with "negative", having emotion in sex as positive, and mentioned that porn makes sex negative because it is emotionless.

You drew a lot of parallels between porn and sex, lining things up as "porn = sex without emotion = bad".

Which to me, says you find emotionless sex a "bad" thing.

You make a lot of points in that direction. I'm sorry it bothers you to have it pointed out.

If it wasn't your intent, perhaps you should have worded your statements more clearly, so as to avoid that.

Faith said...

"You drew a lot of parallels between porn and sex, lining things up as "porn = sex without emotion = bad"."

I didn't get that Jen was saying sex without emotion = bad. What I thought she was saying is that the portrayal of women in porn as not having agency or any emotions whatsoever was dehumanizing and objectifying. Recognizing the reality that porn dehumanizes women and presents them as objects that exist for the sole purpose of beings sexually degraded and humiliated is not the same thing as saying that sex that does not involve love or emotional intimacy is bad.

Sex can not involve no emotion whatsoever. If nothing else, feeling pleasure is an emotion, even if it is a result of being stimulated physically.

Faith said...

"Cheating is about the only "bad" reason for having sex that I'd ever agree with."

I can't agree with that statement. I don't support prostitution, for starters. But also, if a person is having sex with another person with the intent of degrading, humiliating, or otherwise reducing them as humans - and/or views them as nothing other than an object - then that is a bad reason to have sex.

Anonymous said...

Recognizing the reality that porn dehumanizes women and presents them as objects that exist for the sole purpose of beings sexually degraded and humiliated is not the same thing as saying that sex that does not involve love or emotional intimacy is bad.

That's an opinion. Not a fact. Otherwise, one could assume that any sex act is only to "degrade" and "humiliate" women.

I can't agree with that statement. I don't support prostitution, for starters. But also, if a person is having sex with another person with the intent of degrading, humiliating, or otherwise reducing them as humans - and/or views them as nothing other than an object - then that is a bad reason to have sex.

See, this is my point. I don't think it's up to you, or anyone, to shame people for the reasons they choose to have sex.

It was like one article I read some time back on another feminist site, where they basically attacked BDSM, and ruthlessly so. Even a lot of their commenters called BS on it.

Just because someone has sex in a way you don't like, doesn't make it less legitimate.

If two people choose to have sex, and neither of them are you, I think it best that you stay out of their bedroom, and let them do as they please.

Faith said...

"That's an opinion. Not a fact. Otherwise, one could assume that any sex act is only to "degrade" and "humiliate" women."

No, it is not an opinion. It is a fact that women are degraded and humiliated in porn. In porn, women are pissed on, shit on, slapped in the face, called "worthless cum dumpsters", dirty filthy sluts and whores, and "sluts who exist to sexually serve men". I have seen each and every one of those things and more occur in pornography. I do not assume that all sex acts degrade and humiliate participants. Only the ones that actually do.

Again, I gave this link in another thread. This women is a gonzo porn star. Even she admits that porn is degrading to women even tho she fully supports it:

http://tinyurl.com/3xoegr

"If two people choose to have sex, and neither of them are you, I think it best that you stay out of their bedroom, and let them do as they please."

Except that the conversation at hand really involves sex that does not occur in a bedroom...but sex that occurs ON CAMERA and that is then WATCHED by people who aren't actually participating and people who aren't actually participating profit from it. This is not sex that occurs in private. This is sex that has the potential to have negative consequences even for people who aren't involved. As for what people do in their bedrooms in the privacy of their own homes, I will also voice my concern if I believe that the women is being potentially or definitely harmed.

Faith said...

Here's a link to Ren's second post on porn and misogyny. This is a short excerpt:

"Interesting discussion going on over at WitchyWoo’s place, sparked off by this post and the resulting commentary. After reading, participating, pondering and other such words, I’ve decided to explore a bit more on the “WHY” behind men’s interest in and viewing of particularly misogynistic, rough and degrading porn."

http://tinyurl.com/5kaoav

Remember: This women engages in some of the roughest, most violent porn in production entirely by choice.

Faith said...

sorry if this posts twice...blogger hates me...

This is a link to Ren's second post on porn and misogyny. This is a short excerpt:

"Interesting discussion going on over at WitchyWoo’s place, sparked off by this post and the resulting commentary. After reading, participating, pondering and other such words, I’ve decided to explore a bit more on the “WHY” behind men’s interest in and viewing of particularly misogynistic, rough and degrading porn."

http://tinyurl.com/5kaoav

Remember: This women performs in some of the roughest, most violent, degrading porn in production entirely by choice.

Faith said...

"It was like one article I read some time back on another feminist site, where they basically attacked BDSM, and ruthlessly so."

FYI, I had a 4 year relationship with a man as his submissive. Even though it did bring me massive pleasure, I know for a fact that my desire to be sexually submissive was a result of a being abused. I also know that it is in part a defense mechanism to living in a society which constantly tries to make me sexually subordinate to men. In other words , if I can convince myself that it gives me pleasure, it makes it a bit more easy to deal with being so savagely oppressed and abused.

Anonymous said...
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Faith said...
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Jen said...

Anonymous - personal attacks and playing therapist are not permitted in comments. The personal is political and it is extremely disrespectful to diminish the life lessons of another and encourage a culture of silence and shame.

Faith - I only deleted your last comment to preserve the flow of the thread in the absence of the offensive attack you were replying to.

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Ennui said...
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Amelia said...
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Amelia said...
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Amelia said...
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Jen said...

I am getting extremely sick of pruning the comments. If you have an issue with me personally, then this is not the place to hash it out. If you have an issue with the blog rules, email Amelia instead of waxing off topic poetry all over my threads.

I am not at all sorry that my interpretation of a book written by a much more knowledgeable woman than you and I offends you so that you are inspired to rebut my arguments with the same tired old misogyny and "you hate men!" bullshit.

If you want a forum to attack women, fuck off. I will not tolerate it here. If you have a point other than childish whining, and can back it up without resorting to logical fallacies, ad hominem, and the same fucking bullshit that every half-wit bigot thinks is the pinnacle of debate come back. Otherwise, I will continue to relish the simple act of deleting your posts and silencing your sexism.

I was a Philosophy major before I was a Feminist, and I can absolutely say that the level of "debate" that went on in anonymous comments was worth less than the paper I used to wipe my ass. The bloggers here slave over our computers to bring you information and facts from the outskirts of human knowledge. We labor without pay to disseminate knowledge to you. If you are not prepared to come here with a modicum of respect and debate etiquette then leave.

I will not miss you at all.