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Friday, August 31, 2007

Porn Problem



On Feministe, the perennial porn v. feminism debate is being revisited. I haven't chimed in, because I honestly don't know where I stand. Porn is one of those issues I constantly flip-flop on. I have no theoretical objection to the portrayal of sex or sexuality, but the reality of porn has some very troubling undertones I have a hard time reconciling myself to.

First, my personal story. Growing up, I had almost no experience with porn. I thought Playboy was about as graphic as it got, and had only seen tiny bits and pieces of porn here and there. It honestly wasn't something I even thought much about. I was always very comfortable with the idea of having sex, I just never really thought much about media portrayals of it. When I went off to college, I very quickly and happily became sexually active, and at the same time had my first real exposure to porn. My boyfriend/husband-to-be/now ex-husband had a little stash of magazines, and they really blew my mind. I never even knew there was "hard core" versus "soft core" porn. The novelty factor was high, and though I didn't find the porn particularly titillating, I did find it a bit humorous. The totally unrealistic portrayals of women and sex rang untrue even to a novice like me. He soon "got rid" of his porn, and I never saw it again, and took him at his word that it was gone. It had made me feel vaguely uneasy, but I had never asked him to get rid of it. Years passed, and he nor I ever really brought up porn. Then, at the end of our marriage, I stumbled across some magazines hidden in the basement. They were of the "Barely Legal" variety, and due to the fact that the problems we were having in our marriage stemmed from his inappropriate relationship with a minor, they really freaked me out. The depictions of the young women were creepy, and the whole idea of fantasizing about young girls was upsetting. Of course, the hidden nature of his porn consumption was also quite distressing.

I am now with another man who was pretty heavy into internet porn and video porn when we first met. Again, I was intrigued by the images, and the levels on which they were trying appeal to their demographic, but this time around I was carrying a lot more baggage related to porn. Older, more feminist, and less trusting of men, I began looking at porn much more critically. Frankly, I didn't like most of what I was seeing. It still wasn't titillating, and the violent, objectifying, and oppressive themes were hard to ignore.

I also didn't like what the porn seemed to be doing to my partner. It seemed like a borderline addiction, and it put strain on our relationship. I began to realize that every experience I had with porn and a significant other seemed to have strong undertones of deception woven into the consumption of the porn. I had always assumed porn was something used in lieu of actual partnered sex, but it really seemed to function on a very different level. Though I had always tried to be open and tolerant about porn, my partners who used it always seemed very reticent about openly sharing it, using it, or sharing details of its use. The enjoyment seemed to come from the covert, exclusionary nature of its viewing. I came to see porn, and internet porn especially (the ease of its use, the potential for interactivity, and the extreme nature of much of it was particularly unnerving), as a threat to the trust in our relationship, and asked my partner to significantly decrease his consumption of all porn, and eliminate his use of internet porn all together.

My experiences with porn make me believe it is more about control than sexual stimulation per se. The ability to control the women depicted, and use them for any sexual purpose desired without their consent seems to be a primary draw. I also think some of the pleasure from its use (in the cases I witnessed) came from the porn user actively excluding his real-life partner from that aspect of his sexuality. Instead of the porn use being an additional enhancement to partner sex, or something thrown in occasionally for variety, or in lieu of partner sex when it was unavailable, it seemed to function as an entirely discrete, separate form of sexuality.

So, that is my personal take on porn. I have a hard time reconciling that with my steadfast belief in freedom of speech, my disdain for legislating morality, and my sincere desire to see sex work decriminalized so that sex workers may be treated as full citizens with full protection. I also have a real appreciation for sex and sexuality, and genuinely would like to find depictions of sex that are titillating for me, without upsetting my feminist sensibilities. I also respect each person's full right to express themselves sexually in any way they choose, so long as they don't hurt others in the process.

So haw do I deal with the disconnect? I'm not sure. In some ways, I feel like I am a microcosm for what is going on in the feminist community at the moment. On one hand, it is very much my inclination to be sex positive, and embrace sexuality as a valuable part of the human experience in all of its forms, and on the other hand, I fully understand how people can be upset by the demeaning images in porn, and the very negative impact it can have on real people. I want people to be free to express themselves, I want to be free to express myself, but at the same time, I am tired of always getting the short end of the porn stick.

1 comments:

Christina said...

Kinda my take on it. I don't have your experiences with it, but...

Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel.