The Great Porn Debate

Pornography: one of the great dividing points in the feminist movement. Is it good? Is it bad? Do anti-porn feminists feel uncomfortable getting in bed with the Religious Right? Do sex-positive pro-porn (or “erotica”) feminists get a funny feeling about objectification?

Clarisse Thorn has an article raising this issue on Alternet: “Why I Sympathize With Anti-Porn Feminists — And Love Porn Anyway.” On the one hand, many women just get an icky feeling when it comes to porn. On the other hand, this can be attributed to the fact that the pornography industry caters to men (and often the macho, misogynistic male side at that): it’s the type that’s the problem, not the whole concept. (This is about where I fall.) If porn is seen as degrading to women, is that because of the hyper-focus on cum-shots, rather than an inherent degradation involved in watching somebody having sex? Porn is rarely so attacked as degrading to men, after all.

And there are plenty of women out there — like Thorn herself — who both enjoy porn and think it’s beneficial to society. Why should they be denied their sexuality or the right to appreciate porn just as men do? It reinforces the purity myth that surrounds women. In Thorn’s article, she basically tells anti-porn feminists: I get it. I used to be like you, too. But I have learned, and what I have learned is: porn is good. Yet there’s other evidence that porn, or the type most common today, can normalize sexual harassment and violence for boys. There’s also the separate problem of exploitation and even trafficking in the porn industry, but then again, we don’t advocate banning the production of T-shirts because many of them come from sweatshops — we just push for better regulation and labor standards.

Some of the comments I ran into when I recently decided to write about Eminem and Rihanna’s song about domestic violence made it clear that many people don’t understand the difference between non-consensual violence and consensual BDSM. This kind of knowledge gaps can only be addressed by bringing sex more into the public view. How can you expose people to an eyeful of what range of sexual behaviors exists without resorting to porn? Can you call it something else if it’s educational? Viewing the diversity of porn lets people know that their own desires aren’t so out-of-the-ordinary, that there is room for exploration and creativity, as long as it all stays within the bounds of consent.

Is there something inherently bad about depicting humans engaging in sexual acts? Even a Hollywood romantic film draws viewers in with make out and sex scenes, and while they aren’t as explicit as porn, most movie-goers are disappointed if they leave out the scene where the main characters get hot and heavy. So where is the line that makes something pornographic or not? Do you just know it when you see it? No doubt what is seen as porn is subjective and changes over time; ankles aren’t exactly the sinful things they used to be.

There is power in pornography, if nothing else is certain. Our culture isn’t exactly sex-positive, and even most comprehensive sex education classes stick to the vanilla (and often heteronormative) stuff, so porn teaches youth what they don’t get elsewhere, to positive or negative effect. So where do you weigh in on the great porn debate?

Photo credit: Adrian Wallet

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