This week, on Ozy Is Annoyed At A Radical Feminist…
Critique of Porn, ur doin it rong.
It’s a common idea that sex-positives think porn should be exempt from gender egalitarian critique. Of course it shouldn’t be, any more than commercials or action movies or romantic comedies or any other area of popular culture should be exempt from gender egalitarian critique. All forms of media have sinned and fallen short of the glory of Social Justice, and it is our job to call them out on it when necessary.
However, it’s important to distinguish between critiquing the popular culture and critiquing the person. Action movies are not exactly what one would call excessively masculist; however, that won’t stop me from sitting down in front of Captain America with a big bowl of popcorn, ready to inform the world that everyone in the movie is secretly having gay sex. The distinction is especially important to make for issues of sexuality, which can be a very private and important part of a person’s life.
It is not wrong to get off on fantasies of non-consent. How could it be? The imaginary people in your head have no meaningful ability to revoke consent, and they’re hardly going to be traumatized for life. The only consequence is your orgasm. As long as you don’t actually want to rape people in real life, fantasies of non-consent are not wrong and can even be enacted with a consenting partner (and a safeword!). Sexual fantasies are almost impossible to remove. Shaming someone for getting off on non-consent (or humiliation, or degradation, or kink, or whatever) has only the effect of making them feel like shit for something they can’t help.
Which is not to say that it is wrong to critique porn. There are lots of very problematic aspects of mainstream porn. It presents a single body type as the most desirable. It shows sex acts that look good on screen more than sex acts that people actually enjoy. It presents unrealistic and exaggerated expectations of men’s sexual attainment. It left at least one boy of my friend’s acquaintance with the idea that women were naturally hairless.
Porn often reflects the sexism of the society that it’s a part of. Since society often views male sexuality as degrading, porn too often depicts value-neutral sex acts like double penetration as degrading. Since society shames sluts, porn too often depicts sluts as awful and worthy of shaming (hello, BangBus, how are you doing?). The objectification of women as tits and ass and vaginas and mouths and men as giant ever-erect penises is a concern. That’s not even getting into porn’s awful racial, queer and trans politics.
In addition, the industry itself has often had abuses. All you have to do is read the life story of Linda Lovelace to realize that, all too often, the porn industry has not adequately valued consent. Many amateur porn videos are leaked by one partner without the consent of the other partner, perhaps after a bad breakup. The straight porn industry almost never uses condoms, leading to several STI scares.
However, it is possible to critique these abuses without critiquing the concept of pornography itself. People are always going to be interested in watching other people fuck. It has been going on for several thousand years at this point– just look at ancient Greek vases! It is possible to develop a sex-positive porn ethos that values consent, safety and mutual enjoyment. Much critique of porn seems extremely sex-negative. After all, action movies are at least as sexist as porn, yet no one suggests that gender egalitarians should stop watching action movies.
One of the primary problems with pornography is that, all too often, given the woeful state of even comprehensive sex education, porn is treated as sex ed. Porn is a fantasy; learning about sex from porn is like learning about guns from action movies. (No, I will not stop with this analogy ever.) But the problem is not with the fantasy, the problem is with the lack of education.
I’m not suggesting people teach how to have anal sex in schools. However, I am suggesting that educational websites such as Scarleteen, sex ed books like the Whole Lesbian Sex Guide (fondly recalled from my middle-school tiny-confused-queer days) and sex-positive blogs that show how sex actually works need to become more prevalent. That way, porn can keep its true purpose– wank material– without interfering in people’s ideas of how sex actually works.