Trigger warning for mentions of rape. Moderation Note: In this thread, please refer to the ideas of “Jensen” or “sex-negative feminists,” not the ideas of “feminists” or “the feminist movement.” Sex-positive feminism has been a major force in the feminist movement for several decades now and it’s a bit silly to erase us.
I have recently read Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, partially because a reader sent it to me (thank you, Denny, you are the best) and partially because at a certain point one gets tired of making fun of Twisty Faster and wants to engage with an extremist radical feminist with some real intellectual content.
The premise of Getting Off, for those who haven’t read it, is that pornography is oppressive to women: it encourages men to objectify, degrade and even be violent against women, corrupting male sexuality away from intimacy and towards a, well, “pornified” sexuality. This part will address male sexuality as degrading in the book, part two will address the critique of pornography and part three will consider what Jensen got right.
The meat of Getting Off, as a book, is a long description of all the kinds of degrading porn that exist out there. Double penetration! Verbal humiliation! Spanking! Throatfucking! Interracial porn! Gangbangs! Anal to mouth! Pissplay! A veritable storm of sex acts most people do not want to participate in.
The problem with this analysis, I think, is most cogently shown when Jensen describes a porn star’s responses as “difficult to interpret… as anything other than expressions of pain.” He then quotes the DVD commentary of the video, which features the cameraman saying “you see the expression on her face, like, you know what, ‘I’m really, I’m really enjoying this.’”
The point is that it is impossible to ascribe a single meaning to a particular sex act and, in particular, it is impossible to consider a particular sex act inherently degrading and unpleasurable.
Consider missionary-position heterosexual sexual intercourse. It can be a beautiful expression of love and connection. It can be an expression of contempt and hatred. It can be a fun way to spend an afternoon, no more meaningful than a roller-coaster ride. It can be a rape, a violation of a person’s inmost self. It can be a way of affirming life. It can be a rite of passage, gone through with eagerness or far too soon. It can be a way of cementing a relationship. If “regular” sex can be anything from a moment of purest joy to something sad and desperate and kind of pathetic, how could anything else be true of “kinky” sex?
If there’s a chick out there who thinks double penetration is hot because anal stimulation is hot and vaginal stimulation is hot and together they are double-hot, and a gentleman out there who thinks double penetration is hot because he likes the idea of giving her double pleasure, then in what sense are their double-penetration adventures degrading? Fun, mutually pleasurable, mutually happy sex is not degrading if you want the term to continue to have any meaning whatsoever.
I mean, fuck, it is weird to read a dude describing this horrible, degrading, objectifying, abusive sex that no woman would freely consent to and expresses the hatred the viewers have for women and be like… “huh. That was Friday night.”
Given that Jensen would have found this out if he, um, asked anyone who enjoyed participating in comeshots (seriously, comeshots are fun!), it makes me wonder about the source of Jensen’s preconceptions about sexuality. Presumably some of it is the natural human tendency to decide that sex acts the human in question doesn’t like are gross and no one should participate in them ever. (See also: homophobia.) However, I do think some of it has to do with people viewing male sexuality as inherently degrading.
The view of male sexuality as degrading is endemic in our sex-negative culture. Just look at abstinence-only education: women are considered to be precious flowers until the application of a penis, at which point they become lollipops everyone had sucked on or tape ripped off a lot of people’s arms or whatever disgusting and nonsensical analogy the teacher thought up this week. One of the most common forms of slut-shaming is calling a woman ”dirty” or “filthy,” presumably because once a woman has had sex with a man she is ruined forever. Women are considered “pure” until they have sex with too many men, at which point they become “impure.” A “gentleman” doesn’t ask a woman to have sex too early on.
Jensen, and the Dworkinite strain of radical feminism he derives from, do the exact same thing. Why is a gangbang, freely and enthusiastically consented to, degrading? Well, because, uh, penises! More than one penis! In a vagina! And lots of men are getting off on it! And the woman is apparently enjoying it, says she is enjoying it, but we know she isn’t because, um, penises! In a vagina!
Porn shows a bunch of women who really, really enjoy sex. They crave and need cock. They call themselves “sluts” because they’re so full of sexual desire. Their enthusiastic consent could not get any more enthusiastic. And Jensen says it’s rapey because it creates the notion that all women are really like that deep down.
First of all, dude, it’s porn. They kind of have to show sex, it’s their job. However ethical it is, a man respecting a woman’s “no” to sex is not very good pornography. As long as they’re showing it, defaulting to showing women who are enthusiastic about sex is way less rapey than the other option.
Also, Jensen is not stupid. I’m sure he knows that most people are fully capable of telling apart reality and porn. Much as the average slash fan doesn’t think every man in real life is gay, and the average consumer of female dominiant porn is fully aware that women are not actually superior to the worthless worms that are men, the average vanilla porn consumer doesn’t think that all women are secretly gagging for his cock. That makes me wonder why he thinks that showing women who are enthusiastic about sex with men is so terrible.
Is it possibly because he thinks that women can’t really desire sex with men? Is it because he views male sexuality as degrading, and so the desire for male sexuality as more degrading still? Could the radical feminist possibly have some unexamined patriarchial narratives going on?