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Porn – Harmless Fun or Negative Culture Shaper?

Tue, Jul 27, 2010

Confessions, Poll

We’ve always been torn by porn. We’re not fans ourselves, but we’re not comfortable dictating where to draw the line for other people’s fantasies either. So it was with great interest that we read this Guardian interview with Gail Dines, author of the new book “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality,” along with the critical Publisher’s Weekly review of it:

As pornography has become both more extreme and more commercial, antiporn activist Dines argues, it has dehumanized our sexual relationships. The radical objectification and often brutal denigration of women in porn, she holds, leaks into other aspects of our lives. Dines’s argument rests on a compelling, close reading of the imagery and narrative content of magazines, videos, and marketing materials; what is missing, however, is a similarly compelling body of research on how these images are used by viewers, aside from Dines’s own anecdotal evidence. The author’s appropriation of addiction terminology‚ÄĒviewers are called users, habitual viewing is an addiction, and pornography featuring teenagers is called Pseudo-Child Pornography or PCP‚ÄĒis distracting and suggests that rhetorical tricks are needed because solid argumentation is lacking. Likewise, Dines’s opponents are unlikely to be swayed by her speculation tying porn viewing to rape and child molestation, nor by the selective sources she draws on to support her point (convicted sex offenders). The book does raise important questions about the commoditization of sexual desires and the extent to which pornography has become part of our economy (with hotel chains and cable and satellite companies among the largest distributors). (July)

We know the majority of readers of EMandLO.com are probably pro-porn, but figured many of you also have reservations about a lot of it. How it both positively and negatively affects our desires, our expectations and our relationships. Rarely is any issue just black and white, and porn’s no exception (despite this post’s title). So we wanted to hear from you about the gray areas. Let’s us know all your thoughts on porn — the good, the bad, the ugly — in the comments below.

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18 Responses to “Porn – Harmless Fun or Negative Culture Shaper?”

  1. Oroboros Says:

    As a single male who is happy being single, I enjoy porn because it provides me with a release that would be less enjoyable otherwise. I don’t have the time or energy to devote to a relationship and if I got into one, I’d be doing my partner a disservice.

    Of course my porn interests are not mainstream. I enjoy sites like Abby Winters that are owned and run by women. I enjoy the sight of the naked female body and need very little else, so most of the porn I watch is very mild and mostly soft-core.

  2. Johnny Says:

    On the one hand, I love what porn’s done to break down people’s sexual inhibitions. Waxed nether-regions, facials, anal, deep throat, strap-ons… many women and men do all that stuff now. People are pervier than ever before, and that’s fun.

    On the other hand, I’m one of the people who’s gone too far with porn. I won’t say I’m an addict, because, well, that’s silly. Not every bad habit is an addiction. But I’ve gone too far with it, and become sexually desensitized. Once upon a time I could whack off to a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Now the most shocking shit in the world barely makes it twitch.

    About a month ago I decided enough was enough. My sexual imagination was crippled, and I wanted it back. So I stopped consuming porn altogether. I’m now horny all day, I’ve regained my sense of the erotic (as opposed to the explicitly sexual), my boners are harder, my orgasms stronger… I’m functioning the way a healthy man is supposed to.

    So yeah, just take it easy with the porn. If you can.

  3. k. Says:

    I occasionally watch porn, sometimes by myself but more often with a partner. I enjoy the voyeuristic aspect of it, as well as being able to explore a fantasy without actually partaking in it. Watching porn as foreplay can be great fun as well.

    That being said, there are also a great deal about porn that I am finding increasingly problematic. In particular, the extreme seems to quickly become the norm. I find “gaping” to be horrifying and a definite mood-killer and just can’t stop cringing at ass-to-mouth, but in recent years, those things have become as de rigueur as platform heels and fishnets in most pornos. I find choking and slapping to be very upsetting, but that too is creeping into mainstream porn. I realize that there will always be people who want to see the most extreme thing possible, but I can’t help but be troubled by it.

    I think a lot of the problem is the rise in free porn. It seems as though the rationale is that “If people are going to pay to watch this, it has to be more extreme than what they can see for free.” I keep hoping that the porn industry will go through a revolution similar to the changes in the sex toy industry – female friendly, aesthetically-oriented (I’m not talking plastic surgery, more like “no more hairy male butt crack shots”), well crafted, and fun – but these days, that’s hard to find.

  4. Tim Says:

    The challenge, I think, is that like any money-making enterprise, porn needs to continually seek out new market segments so that it can to expand its profitability (“porn” of course is not a monolithic entity and I use it here to describe the medium in general). As a consequence, it seeks out areas that are disturbing to some…perhaps to many…and that previously were off limits. The question then is whether the availability of material that might not have been “mainstream” before inspires real-life behavior that might previously have been avoided because it was considered unacceptable. I’m inclined to think that it does. While we could then debate whether the mainstream is too constricting, I think Gail Dines makes some valid points with respect to that segment of the porn market that could inspire behavior that is harmful to others.
    Just my 2 cents.

  5. KS Says:

    I use porn to get new ideas, something along the lines of research. Like, “wow I didn’t know the human body could do that, I wonder if I can?” And I search and find porn that doesn’t gross me out. I’m adult enough to understand that what doesn’t gross me out, may gross out someone else and vice versa. There is enough out there that people can find what they like and avoid what they don’t. But at least it is out there and you can discover new things.

  6. Epiphany Says:

    The biggest issue I have with porn is that it commodifies human sexuality. Something really nuanced, diverse, and unique is turned into just another product and sold back to us.

  7. Siren Says:

    I’m a young healthy woman and I admit that I used to love porn. I watched it several times a week, and felt no shame in it. It was a nice fuel to many desires I carried and helped create some fantastically orgasmic masturbation sessions. I also loved the sexual liberation and creativity it inspired.

    After a stint as a sex worker though, I slowly started to watch porn with a different and affected eye. While women in the films seemed empowered, they were also overwhelmingly objectified and increasingly physically generic. I started to wonder if most men affected by porn thought this was what sex was, cum shots and squirting, and what women were supposed to be, bordering legal age and big boobed and big assed. I even started to see this in my sexual interactions with partners, clients and not.

    In a recent relationship with an ex, I once was home with him cuddling on the sofa watching tv, frisky with touches. He eventually walks away into our room. I remain sitting on sofa. I soon go into the room only to catch him watching porn on the computer about to jerk off.

    I was furious and extremely hurt. I felt unwanted and my self esteem plummeted in that moment. I was right there and he would rather go jerk off to the images of other women on screen. Virtual won over the flesh. And what about my needs, as a physical woman?

    I feel like porn is slowly becoming an unhealthy infusion in our sex lives. It is becoming harder to control and even harder to keep from exceeding disgusting obscene and even illegal.

    I don’t know, let’s just say I don’t really watch porn anymore.

  8. Jenn Says:

    Why does porn always have to be one or the other? It’s like saying art is good or art is bad. There are thousands of types and millions of examples. Some/most porn is degrading and some porn is fair to all those involved. I feel like we need to understand what is IN the porn rather than the fact that something IS porn.

  9. PK Says:

    I agree with Jenn. We’re using the term “porn” as if it’s homogenous or monolithic. Is Erika Lust’s work the same as all other porn?

  10. Black Iris Says:

    Lots of thoughtful comments here. I think the problem is that the Internet has changed porn. Most porn was never especially pro-female, but the average man didn’t see that much of it. Now that it’s everywhere all the time, people need more extreme stimulation and it is going too far. We need to start talking about whether Internet porn is good or bad. Too much of the theorizing seems to me to be 10 years in the past.

  11. Black Iris Says:

    Another issue to throw into the discussion – making porn is dangerous for the actors unless they use condoms. I think it might make sense for viewers to insist on porn that is made in a moral way, just as we shouldn’t buy diamonds that might have cost someone’s life.

  12. Black Iris Says:

    @Johnny – The other side to porn helping people learn about non-traditional sex and feel free to try it, is possible pressure for everyone to do everything.

    Is a young woman free to say I don’t want to pour wax on my genitals, I don’t like anal sex, deep throating makes me gag, I don’t want you to squirt semen on my face in a dominating way, etc.?

  13. Johnny Says:

    A young woman is free to choose whatever she wants, at least in my boudeoire, Black Iris. I want to do all those things with a woman who likes them.

    But the longer her list of sexual no-nos and vetos, the less likely it is that she’d make it back for round two. I couldn’t help but compare her to all the women who WILL do that stuff.

    I would basically have to weigh the following: what she will/won’t do vs. how much I like her vs. how badly I want a woman who does the things she won’t.

    No woman I’ve been with has been into ALL my kinks. But a woman who isn’t into any of them won’t last long.

  14. Black Iris Says:

    @Johnny – I didn’t mean to imply that you would push a woman to do anything. I was thinking more about the effect on the overall culture when so many people watch so much male-oriented porn.

    My concern is that after a while people assume that if you don’t want to do things, you’re not cool. What makes it especially worrisome is that porn is so male-oriented. So I’m worried that guys will expect that girls will shave, have anal sex, etc. and will go for another girlfriend if they don’t But do girls have the power to drop guys who laugh at their vibrator or don’t want to use it during sex? Are girls being empowered to feel more comfortable with their unique clitoris and labia? Is porn making men spend more time on foreplay and do their Kegels so they can last longer during intercourse?

  15. johnny Says:

    I hear ya. But I’ve observed that for the most part women love to do all that male-oriented stuff.

    I think that many women publicly put up a feminist “ew-that’s-degrading” front, because that’s what’s expected of them in this day and age. But the opporutunity to enter a state of abject submission and degredation in private is wildly erotic to them, based on what I’ve seen. They go crazy for it, sometimes wanting me to do such seemingly mean things to them that I’m not immediately comfortable with it.

    And that’s been the majority of my sexual partners in recent years – not a couple isolated incidents. These women are bright, professional, strong… yet just dying to be dominated like in male-oriented hardcore porn.

    I understand that that’s not everyone. Believe it or not, not all men are into that stuff either. But I see it as so prevalent that I can’t help but be thankful to porn for opening those floodgates.

    Men who put sexual pressure on women are assholes. Women who put sexual pressure on themselves… well, hey. Don’t blame porn. At the end of the day we’re all responsible for our own choices.

  16. Diz Says:

    Some really interesting points coming up here. Yesterday my boyfriend and I had some quite heavy conflict regarding his porn or internet sex habits. He told me when we first started going out that he’d had a disciplinary at work as a result of them finding out he’d been spending 5 hours a day having sex chat with women on his work computer (pretty dumb if you ask me)… He also used to meet up with women he met on online sex dating websites, some of whom still contact him as they are now friends.

    All this stuff is behind us, or behind him, and since we’ve been a couple I have only got a little bit annoyed at times when these ladies have been getting in touch with him, but I see his response and he doesn’t hide it from me so I’ve felt assured that I can trust him and that our relationship is secure.

    However, yesterday I did a bad thing. I looked at his computer history. I kinda wish I hadn’t now as it brought up an uncomfortable subject that we had to talk through, rather… um.. uncomfortably. I found lots of porn sites, very normal for him, but I really stopped in my tracks when I saw one of these dating sites. He had entered ‘man’ seeking ‘woman’ in ‘London’, and there followed a series of porn profiles of dirty women in London, gagging for it with their amateur porn videos for his viewing pleasure, of which he viewed some and surely found pleasure. I called him immediately (he was at work), didn’t totally freak out but quite directly asked him what the hell this is all about? Have you been sex chatting etc. He came home that evening and we talked it through.

    After going round and round in circles, my end feeling is that this is actually a very sad and strange issue for me now. I have watched porn a lot, and do every now and again, but his mentality is so different from mine. He gets really into the individuals. He follows certain pornstars and likes their style. He views this sex dating website and all the ladies profiles as another pornsite and is adamant he is just looking at videos and ‘needs’ a profile so he can get the best video reccomendations… ‘just like youtube’. I don’t want to argue with him, I can’t bear the thought of being a controlling girlfriend and to be honest I never thought I had a problem with porn until now. Shit. I kinda see now how porn in a relationship can actually be a problem. I suggested to him that he might have a problem, or a rather extreme habit (seeing as our sex life is fucking fantastic!)… He kinda mulled that over and retorted that it’s $40billion industry, just like acting or films… Justified? I think not, seeing as sex trafficking and child prostitution are also pretty big industries! I reminded him that porn was not intially my beef with him, it’s because he’s looking up sexy single girls in London, a bit too close to home, and this for me has highlighted that his hobby might be crossing some very important lines if he cares about our relationship. This morning things seemed a bit frosty. Oo-er. Don’t know if we’ve seen the end of this one.

  17. Johnny Says:

    ^ Ooooooo, you shouldn’t have snooped, or harangued him while he’s at work.

    But that’s not actually why I’m replying. I’d like to give you a dude pass here.

    Your BF is one of those “gone-too-far” guys. If a man were reprimanded at work for being drunk in the middle of the day, you might be justified in fearing an alcohol problem, right? Especially if he were drunk lots of other times too? Same thing. He should not be whacking off at work. Which he has, even if he swears he hasn’t.

    See in my mind, problems are defined by… well, the problems they cause. Whacking off to porn in the privacy of your bedroom once in a while? No problem. Using the majority of your sex drive on porn, to one’s GF’s dismay? Bigger problem. Nearly fired for jerking off at work? Very big problem.

    Your bad-feeling about being a nagging controlling girlfriend is admirable given the stimulus. Kudos to you for making an effort to be chill about this. But I gotta say, I see where you’re coming from. His porn habit is way out of control.

  18. CINDY Says:

    LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!


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