On Porn I: Introduction and Disclaimers

Introduction

I’ve vaguely referenced porn before, but I’ve never really done a complex write-up about. I know that I’m opening a flood gate of critique, but I think it’s something worthwhile to discuss and reevaluate. One such write-up that I admire is Nine Deuce’s impressive Porn Series, which takes a highly critical stance to the modern porn industry.

What I don’t want to do is jump right in without making an important distinction. This post — and hopefully the posts that follow — are not about the idea of porn. They are about the reality of porn. First and foremost, I am not speaking about porn from a pulpit of righteousness. I have viewed a considerable amount of it ever since it became easily available on the internet. I have even gotten off to it, or used it as some sort of bizarre entertainment if it was not arousing. When I talk about porn, I’m talking about trends I have — firsthand — observed. I am also critiquing things that I have used or enjoyed, probably more than once, in the past. And since porn is so ubiquitous, they are also things I may view and enjoy in the future.

Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes, in a sense. But I think in a valuable sense. There’s something to be said about critiquing an institution from the inside, instead of the outside. Critically analyzing the implications of your own sexuality is a very worthwhile task. I feel that we take far too much about sex for granted, and just internalize toxic cultural messages as the “way things are.” I don’t feel that sex and sexuality needs to be shut into some sacred box, free from critique. Nor do I think that it should be thought of as inherently immoral, and something that we need to control rather than celebrate. But much like fireworks are beautiful, firing them into a crowd is deadly. And I think that a lot of our baggage around human sexuality, particularly when it comes to the porn industry, is not handled with enough care.

One distinction I learned in my years as a philosophy undergrad was that between ideal and non-ideal theory. Ideal theory is the stuff that constructs an ideal model of human behavior or takes a really idealistic view of the establishment of certain institutions. John Locke’s theories on the consent of the governed are an example of this. Even Rousseau, who saw the advent of human civilization as an abomination, deals in ideal theory. Ideal theory is useful when discussing things in the abstract. But it’s not very realistic. I’d compare it to trying to determine how much fuel a plane requires without accounting for air resistance and assuming you are flying it in a vacuum.

Non-ideal theory deals with the reality of things. Most of philosophy is done with ideals, but certain thinkers have been distinguished by describing how things are rather than how they ought to be. One such thinker is Karl Marx, who described the very real alienation of the proletariat from his or her production. Another thinker, unfortunately less well-known, was Franz Fanon, who’s seminal The Wretched of the Earth, which is probably the titular example of anti-colonial theory.

So when I talk about porn, I’m talking about the reality of it. I’m talking about the beautiful, bizarre, dangerous, exploitive, and abusive practices that have gained notoriety today. I’m also talking about the very real effect porn has had on my life — both on my views of myself and my sexuality, and how it has impacted and will continue to impact my relationships (and not only my intimate relationships).


On Sex-Positivity

I think the biggest mistake made by radical feminists in the late ’70s and early ’80s was to ally themselves with Republicans to shed light on the abuses of the sex industry (more info here). It had the nasty effect of forever aligning Radical Feminism, and its critiques of porn, with the Puritanical woman-hating bullshit that conservatives and their allies are so often fond of. From this unfortunate association sprung the lie that feminists (particularly Radical Feminists) were anti-sex. Liberal feminists, willing to sell their sisters out in order to realign themselves with the Democratic party, dreamed up the misnomer of “pro-sex” feminism.1

Pro-sex feminism is a misnomer precisely because there are no anti-sex feminists. I’ve read dictionaries worth of radical feminist theory (Dworkin’s Intercourse is probably the most famous text), and nothing in them is remotely opposed to the idea of sex. What they are all opposed to is the reality of sex — in particular, the predator/prey model that alienates women and girls from their agency and sexuality while normalizing violent masculinity, coercion, abuse, and rape. This is why I wanted to make a distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory before I jumped right into porn: I am not opposed to the consumption of erotic materials or sex between two (or more) consenting parties.

Aside from completely absurd religious demagogues that have people believe that you’ll go to hell if you masturbate or have sex without the express and immediate intent of conceiving a child, there’s not lot of people I would describe as “anti-sex.” Thus, that’s a conversation I’m not going to have in this series. I will not make excuses for my critiques, nor will I temper them with “there are exceptions” and “what about teh menz!?” rejoinders.

What I care about is less what consensual people do to get their rocks off, and more of what our culture tells us we ought to do, or what is acceptable to do, to get our rocks off. If you want to critique your own sexual practices, be my guest. I’ve done as much for myself, and it’s a very illuminating task. I am not interested in establishing that certain sexual acts are inherently shameful, dirty, or wrong. What I want to discuss is what those acts represent in the zeitgeist, and what their ubiquity means in porn.

Being sex-positive is not something I’m after. I’m not here to enshrine any sexual practice, nor am I here to demonize one. As I said before, putting what we do in the name of orgasm on some shelf and forgetting about it is a mistake — whether we think our sexuality is holy or sinful. Sexuality is just that: sexuality. It’s uniquely human and established in a toxic soup of really horrible cultural messages that often conceal and  distort healthy sexuality. It’s something worth talking about not because it is more important than any other human activity, but because we have established it as more important than any other human activity by the enormous trouble and expense we go to judge, critique, express, conceal, protect, criminalize, and define it.

In closing, I am not trying to be pro-sex, and I refuse to even discuss what entails being ‘anti-sex.’ I am not interested in porn in theory, but in porn in practice and reality. I do not think human sexuality is inherently all that interesting. It’s only really interesting, in a very public way, because we made it so (see: Foucault’s excellent The History of Sexuality for more discussion in this vein). Why, how, and to what ends we did so is what I will discuss.

Continued in On Porn II: Definitions


1Please note that I do not harshly judge them for doing so. They did so in order to reestablish women’s issues as central in the Democratic party, who was leery of anyone aligning themselves with Republicans. I, in fact, think that Radical Feminists made an even graver error in selling Liberal Feminists out first by aligning themselves with Republicans — who are manifestly opposed to the very idea of gender equality in a visceral way. When it comes to gender equality, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

Posted on July 24, 2011, in Feminism, Porn Nation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This is exactly the conclusion I came to years ago when reading a lot of sex [industry] positive feminists and anti-feminists. They were talking about porn and sex work in theory. I was thinking about them in practice. (I didn’t and still don’t have the fortitude to engage with them.) This is the first time I’ve encountered this perspective outside my own head (although I’m sure it’s been discussed many times). I’ve read part 2 and look forward to the rest of the series.

  2. RadFemPornBasher

    I can guarantee you I never, ever, ever allied with Republicans when I was active in the 80’s. Yuck. Makes me want to barf.

    Glad to see you’re still around.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: