Revisiting the Porn Debate

Chyng Sun attends the annual Las Vegas Adult Entertainment Expo for AlterNet:

Pornography encourages people to disregard others’ pain for one’s own pleasure. Many people I interviewed acknowledged that, based on their own experience and knowledge of the human body, certain sex acts they’ve watched in films likely would have been painful for the female performers. However, they argued that since the performers were paid, it was not the viewers’ concern, and they acknowledged that they get aroused watching it. That mentality helps create a world in which a producer can brag about having originated a popular video series that shows women gagging during forceful oral sex.

Although pornography is often rationalized as a celebration of women’s sexuality and liberation, some gonzo pornographers were direct about their anger and contempt (or their imagined customers’) for women. When asked why he used certain brutal sex acts in his films, one producer replied that when a man gets angry at his wife, he can imagine she is the one being violated.

Pornography has been primarily made by men and used by men. Men watch these videos for their own sexual stimulation. Men also told me that they tried acts they learned from pornography with – or on – their sexual partners. However, as pornography becomes increasingly mainstream, it is not surprising that women’s use of pornography is rising. Pornographers are eager to explore the female market, with some claiming to make women-centered pornography. However, looking at the repetitive content, whether male-centered or female-centered, the essential message is the same: All women want sex all the time, in whatever fashion men want them.

There isn’t much differentiating this article from previous criticisms of the porn indistry except for a couple of points. The first is that “Alberto Gonzales told senators he intended to make obscenity prosecutions a focus of his tenure as the nation’s chief prosecutor,” perhaps opening the doors for another round of the porn wars, a la former Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

The second is this, an observation that is largely missing from previous debates that I have read and participated in:

We should be afraid of government forces interested in repressing sexual expression. But we also should be afraid of the influence of misogynist pornography. These two fears are not mutually exclusive and can co-exist. Our fear of the former shouldn’t stop us from critiquing the latter.

I personally don’t want to revive the porn debate unless it is to ask why this is more socially acceptable than this. Most Americans would be disturbed, if not made indignant, by the most obvious of answers.

8 comments for “Revisiting the Porn Debate

  1. January 28, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Lauren makes a good point; there is really no substantive difference between a strip club and Hooters if you are discussing the relative effects of female exhibitionism as “entertainment” (or Playboy vs. Hot Buns and Busts for that matter).

    I find it hysterical that issues like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is perennially the best selling issue by an exponential number each year. The reason I find it chuckle worthy is because what that means is, each year people, presumably men, have to make a special effort to buy that issue who ordinarily would never buy it. To do that they have to go to a magazine rack, walk past Playboy and Penthouse, past Hustler and Oui, past a dizzying array of titles such as Screw and “Biggins” to buy the magazine filled with pretty girls in swimsuits so they can take it home and whack away to their hearts content. Moreover, they do this all with the naive satisfaction that somehow they are different then the guys buying those other titles.

    Having said all of that I think the “danger” of pornography is not so mush that it is consumed, but more the idea that was mentioned in the excerpt. Many men get the idea that the sex drive of women is an exact mirror image of their own (they lack nuance, probably republicans  ) and they develop a notion of female sexuality that is two dimensional and cartoonish. For those of us who understand the difference between fantasy and reality, I don’t really see the problem. But many men never seem to get out of the adolescent masturbatory fantasies that fuel their nocturnal auto-eroticism, and worse some think that those fantasies have some basis in reality but for some reason understand intuitively that the guys in the movies who squeeze off 12 rounds with a six chamber revolver is “just fantasy”.

  2. Linnaeus
    January 28, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Here’s a counter-intuitive argument: Sex is less acceptable than violence because sex is something that we don’t separate from ourselves as easily as we do violence. I think we’ve convinced ourselves that when we see violent acts, it’s just fantasy because we can rationalize that we would never really do those things.

    But with sex, because it’s pleasureable (well, violence can be too for some, I guess, but you know what I mean), when we see sexual imagery, we can’t so easily say that we wouldn’t do that. And that’s scary.

  3. January 28, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    I have mixed feelings about a renewed war on porn. I hate the industry with a passion, but know that keeping it legal is one of the few ways to ensure basic health and safety standards for its largely female workforce. Sigh.

  4. January 28, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    This argument is really its own foil. Yes, gonzo porn especially has gotten to a ridiculous point where the subjugation & humilation of the girl is important above all, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the phenomenon is tending violent and rape-like. Only in a few pornos will you not find the woman pretending to love every minute of her drilling, so to speak. Do they really? Doubtfully, but the portrayal of lusty nymphs as opposed to hesitant virgins is proof positive that while modern pornography is certainly aggressive, and no doubt chauvinist, it’s not so much blatantly misogynistic.

  5. mythago
    January 29, 2005 at 3:14 am

    I’m not getting why it’s so horrible to show women liking sex and plenty of it. And the myth of porn is that EVERYBODY wants sex all the time. Uh, isn’t that kind of the point? It’s like complaining that Bon Appetit and Cook’s won’t shut up about food.

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  7. February 1, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    I read the article too. I have to fall on the side of free speech on this one. Also, Gonzales, through the long route gave us Lyndee England, talk about sadism…

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