Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This post talks about my personal sex life, including a few details you may not want to know about. If you don’t want to read that stuff, please don’t read this post.
This post was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer. I’ve performed in porn. I’ve produced porn. I’ve sold porn. I’ve written porn. I’ve reviewed porn. And I’ve read and looked at porn, many many times, purely for my own libidinous pleasure. And whenever I read someone reflexively attacking porn, railing about how horrible it is and how it’s degrading and ruinous to all that is good and wonderful about sex, I get very cranky and argumentative.
But here’s the kicker. When I read people reflexively defending porn, raving about how wonderful and uplifting it is and how all criticisms of it are absurd and unfair, I get cranky and argumentative as well.
You might conclude from this behavior that I am a cranky, argumentative person.
You might be right.
But there’s more to it than that. (She said, crankily and argumentatively.)
The core problem, I think, is this. Critics of porn often focus exclusively on the specifics of how porn commonly plays out in contemporary culture. They see the body fascism, the rigidly narrow and male-oriented vision of sexuality, the sexism (and yes, there is sexism in porn, just like there’s sexism in every other part of popular culture). And they conclude that the particular is the same as the general. They conclude that because that’s how porn commonly plays out in contemporary culture, therefore that’s what porn is always like, de facto and by its very definition.
(They also focus on video porn to the exclusion of all other forms. Not entirely unfairly, as that is the lion’s share of the porn market… but somewhat narrow-mindedly as well. And there’s an unfortunate confirmation bias when feminist critiques of porn focus on video, since written fiction is a far more woman-driven form of erotica than video has ever been. Especially when you look at the vanishing line between the erotica and romance genres.)
By the same token, though, defenders of porn often focus exclusively on the ideal of what porn could be, while ignoring the ugly realities of what it very often is. And I’ll include myself in that critique. I’ve definitely been guilty of saying, “But what about Candida Royalle? What about Libido Productions? What about the dozens of other wonderful indie porn productions I could name?”… while ignoring the over 10,000 pieces of formula-driven, factory-made, tedious pieces of sex in a box that come out every single year, and that porn customers snap up like candy.
I’m not going to say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think the idea that the truth of two opposing extremes usually lies somewhere in the middle is total bullshit. I am, on the whole, very much pro-porn, if for no other reasons than (a) I think there’s no way to stop the fucked-up kinds of porn without stopping healthy sex information and expression, and (b) I like to get off on it.
And I think anti-porn writers have a very bad habit of ignoring Sturgeon’s Law. They fail to recognize that, yes, 90% of porn is crap… but 90% of everything is crap. And in a sexist society, 90% of everything is sexist crap. I’ve seen some very good arguments on how most porn is sexist and patriarchal with rigid and misleading images of women… but I’ve never seen a good argument for why, in a world of sexist TV and movies and pop music and video games, porn should be singled out for special condemnation — to the point of trying to eliminate the genre altogether.
But I also think that pro-porn advocates — myself included — need to stop pretending that there isn’t a problem. We need to recognize that the overwhelming majority of porn — or rather, the overwhelming majority of video porn, which is the overwhelming majority of porn — is sexist, is patriarchal, does perpetuate body fascism, does create unrealistic sexual expectations for both women and men, does depict sex in ways that are not only overwhelmingly focused on male pleasure, but are rigid and formulaic and mind-numbingly tedious to boot. And we need to be trying to do something about it.
What I think is often missing, from both sides of this debate, is nuance. I think anti-porn writers need to acknowledge that the crappy realities of average porn don’t automatically prove that all porn is evil by definition. And I think pro-porn advocates need to acknowledge… well, the crappy realities of average porn.
And goddamn it, this cranky and argumentative sex writer wants nuance. If I have to scream myself blue in the face to get it.