Teaching Harm Vs. Teaching Pleasure
When I was a Junior in high school, I was brave enough to ask out a girl that I had been talking with for a little while. On the third date, we found ourselves by the beach on a chilly night in November while there was a winter surf swell that made the waves quite large. Walking down the sand with our arms around each other, she spontaneously breaks away, undresses, and runs into the ocean. I was left stranded and in shock – I was going to have to go skinny dipping in order for this girl to like me. I undressed slowly, feeling every bit of cold bite my body, and ran in after her where I met her past the break of the waves. I asked if I could kiss her and to my delight, she said yes. After getting our clothes back on, we walked back to her place, made our way up to her bedroom, and my virginity that had been under construction for the prior 17 years was taken from me.
Because she lived far from me, I found myself having too much time to think while driving home. I began to sob while the headlights of oncoming traffic blinded my vision so I pulled over to call my Mother – YES MY MOM – and talk with her about what I was feeling.
This conversation started with deconstructing why I was so upset that I had lost my virginity. I shared with her my preconceptions about how sex would be better and that I thought I would feel better afterward. I was somehow led to believe that sex was something a man should always desire – but did not know what. As I sat on the side of the highway, lights of cars hitting the driver side view mirror, my mind was blank; however, in retrospect, I question how the pornography I had been watching shaped my view of intimacy and sex.
For people socialized as male, porn can influence them to believe that losing their virginity will be incredible while for socialized women – painful. Like many other adolescents, the pornography I was watching was entirely focused on the male gaze and was left depicting women as objects of sex rather than subjects of pleasure. With the combination of my Mother’s insight and a little bit of introspection since then, I have come to understand that the mainstream pornography I had been watching failed to depict intimacy, sex, sexuality, and gender in a realistic and healthy way. As I sat in my car, virginityless, the effects of the mainstream porn industry on my body and mind were evident based on my tears and pain. While my experience only plays a partial component in the creation of the truths surrounding the mainstream porn industry, the reality is that easily accessible tube pornography plays a large role in cementing a foundation for people’s notions on sex, sexuality, gender, and intimacy.
When it comes to feminism, the topic of pornography can raise tensions. On one side is the anti-porn / anti-sex feminists that believe there is no possible way for porn to be created ethically and with a feminist lens because it will continue to perpetuate dangerous heteronormative, patriarchal, and mysoginistic ideals. Conversely, there are many feminists that are pro-porn / pro-sex and believe porn can be wonderful and liberating; however, the mainstream porn industry is not fit to take on the project of making this kind of porn. In the end, if feminism is about helping liberate marginalized identities and pornography is a method of casting oppressive ideologies through adult content, the porn debates are an incredibly important subject within the feminist project as the reformation of pornography could help to normalize and destigmatize ideas around sex, sexuality, gender, and intimacy for all bodies – as well as help bring pleasure to many.
Through the consumption of mainstream porn, consumers are placing their bodies and minds in harms way as they risk inflicting body/mind terrorism on themselves by viewing content with overly idealized bodies, scripted and unrealistic encounters, and often violent depictions of sex. While away from this piece I acknowledge that sex work is capable of providing escape routes for many people of marginalized identities, I set out to breakdown the ways that specifically the consumption and viewing of mainstream porn lays the foundation for misconceptions and debasive mindsets surrounding sex, sexuality, gender, and intimacy. Finally, taking up the stance of a pro-porn feminist, I will discuss the uprising of the ethical porn industry, its project, and whether it has the capacity to instill—through pornographic content—new ideologies surrounding sex, sexuality, gender, and intimacy.
While there are many sides to the feminist porn / sex debates that focus on the ways the industry produces work, I am wanting to address how the consumption of porn from mainstream and ethical companies is capable of fostering different harmful or healthy views around sex, sexuality, gender, and identity. Pornography is often used as an educational tool surrounding sex and intimacy and through mainstream porn, viewers are being misled about these subjects as well as gender, identity, and sexuality. With ethical porn, consumers are being exposed to content that teaches healthy morals surrounding intimacy and identities that are non-normative and non-dominate – which in turn normalizes all bodies and identities when it comes to sex and intimacy.
- Mainstream Porn: A Problematic Educational Source
Mainstream internet porn is an incredibly trafficked media and feminist scholar Alice Echols (1983) notes that the advancement in porn consumption technology has created dangers for society because of the notion that mainstream porn causally determines mistreatement of bodies. Echols introduces the idea that tube pornography is a catalyst for male sexual revolutions and marginalizes other identities by creating content that objectifies or lacks any portrayal of non-ideal, non heterosexual, identities. However, from Brennan’s (2017) piece one understands the degree that mainstream porn diminishes oppressed identities through discourse analysis of “Boys Halfway House” – a tube sight famously known for gonzo gay porn. Brennan notes that sites like these garner appreciation for liberating sexual fantasies; however, it often depicts violence, abuse, and r•pe through the exploitation of male bodies in exchange for housing. Congruently, through discourse analysis on the site’s comments, Brennan unearths that the viewership of porn that depicts hardcore abusive fantasies through “realistic scenarious” perpetuates individuals developing similar unhealthy fetishes and perpetuates exploitation, r•ape, and sexual abuse (Brennan, 2017). In addition, mainstream porn is capable of influencing adolescents’ sexual developement as behaviors and attitudes are linked to the porn viewers watch (Massey et al., 2021). Massey et al. shows that youth are greatly affected by sexual imagery and social learning uncovers these behaviors that harm bodies
Delving deeper into the affects of consuming visual sexual stimuli, Nicole Prause (2019) establishes that VSS is capable of bettering relationships and sexual behaviors, but like Messey at al. (2021) notes – this is not always the case. VSS can be educational and has the capacity to instill negative sexual behaviors because what is viewed is not always healthy sexual acts(Prause, 2019). Prause shows that adolescents learning about sex through VSS enables learning and normalizes behaviors and fantasies that degrade people. Furthermore, with the consumption of visuals so strong and unhinged from normal sexual behaviors, Lisa Tremblay (2011) highlights that porn has become synonymous with sex and hidden behind it is the capitalist agenda of monitizing off of new sexual fantasies. Mainstream porn is constantly trying to go above and beyond to keep its consumers tuned in and in doing so – creates a desensitized view of what intimacy and sex really is in order to assist consumers in searching for a new edge.
From Anne Korfmacher (2020) work on the podcast “Girls on Porn,” the understanding of how mainstream porn leads to the suppression of female desire, fetishization of identities and acts, and forceful submission of marginalized bodies is implicit. Gonzo pornography perpetuates racism, abilsim, and peadophilic tropes that make porn ubiquitous (Korfmacher, 2020). This kind of media solidifies unhealthy standards, blatant acts of aggression, and places bodies in harm's way with overly idealized imagery, debasive acts, and lack of representation of marginalized bodies, sexualities, and identities.
- Porn Is Not All that Bad… Especially Ethical Porn
While Korfmacher (2020) demonstrates how mainstream porn negatively affects society with its media, they also exhibit that the shortcomings and oppressive behaviors, scripts, and imagery depicted has called for critical critiques on the porn we consume. With the idea that mainstream heterosexual porn is patriarchal, cisnormative, predominantly white, and entirely focused on the paradigm of vaginal penitration, Carrie Lyell (2015) highlights how mainstream porn simply does not speak to women as it depicts them being degraded and as objects of pleasure rather than subjects. Consumption of “Lesbian” porn is a visceral reaction to heteronormative porn by women, whether mainstream or ethicaly created, because it is more likely to reflect non-degrading pleasurable sex and highlights a reality – sex is more than penitration (Lyell, 2015). Furthermore, it offers women the chance to desire and function as the voyeur – a role men regularly assume.
When considering the alternative to mainstream porn that Lyell (2015) discusses, marginalized audiences want porn that is authentic, non-degrading (unless consensual), and pleasurable for all parties involved – something ethical porn delivers! With the idea that porn has become “synonymous” with sex, Tremblay (2011) also discusses a feminist critique of pornography can be incredibly benificial to the liberation of bodies and identities by depicting porn that represents all people in and out of the margins.
With this, the feminist critique of mainstream porn is ethical porn, and Tina Vasquez (2012) exemplifies how the two differentiate. It considers topics like sexuality, consent, and overall production aside from the content it produces (Vasquez, 2012). Adult film actress Kitty Stryker argues that ethical pornography is a positive force attempting to deal with the consequences of violent mainstream and unconsentual pornography – Vasquez’s very same argument (Anonymous, 2020), (Vasquez, 2012). Both understand ethical porn is capable of healthily reflecting, broadening sexual desires, and extending perspectives on who can be sexual.
Furthermore, in conversing on ethical versus tube porn, feminist scholar Allegra Smith (2015) discusses how ethical porn intervenes with the male gaze by producing content that allows for people of all identities and sexualities to gaze, be sexual, and feel desired. If porn consumers, as understood through Marques (2018), are being critical of the porn they are watching and questioning whether it is ethical, degrading, genuine, and consensual, it is due to the fact that viewers want to see real sexual acts. Ethical pornography is capable of creating content that offers a window into realistic scenes with real societal cultures, sexualities, and bodies (Smith, 2015).
As shown by Echols (1983) and Vasquez (2012), the dangers and liberations that pornography brings to the world is no new subject. My research emphasizes how pornography is a problematic educational tool and mainstream porn is not representative of marginalized identities. I wish to show, through media discourse analysis and conversation on the subject, that to eliminate porn entirely would be to take away a resource for one to learn about sex, and their sexual identities. In the end, Ethical pornography is capable of liberating and legitimizing sexual identities through viewership of bodies that look and identify similar to us.
- What is the mainstream porn industry
- How does the consumption of mainstream porn industry content affect individuals?
- How does it foster unhealthy/or educated views on sex, sexuality, and gender?
- What is the ethical porn industry?
- What is its project? How is it different from mainstream pornography
- Does it foster healthier mindsets on sex, sexuality, and gender in comparison to the mainstream porn industry?
- Does the ethical porn industry solve these problems or just some?
Through a mixed methods praxis, I will acquire data for my research. I will begin with conducting interviews with people on their relationships with pornography, whether they view it, how it makes them feel, and if they have learned anything from it. I will take into account sexuality, gender, and other identities – at the consent of the subject in order to discuss these markers and how they may correlate with the effect of porn consumption. Furthermore, I will discuss their relationship with ethical porn, whether they have one or not, and if they feel that it is capable of changing their views on pornography. This response could be a shift in morals on pornography for the worse or better. When it comes to researching people’s relationships with pornographic content, the discourse generated through interviews can be incredibly resourceful in uncovering the harm it causes, as well as the liberation it could facilitate.
For my additional method, I will analyze discourse on pornographic media from both mainstream and ethical companies. In order to do this, I will look at comments and forums on certain kinds of porn. For example, Reddit has many forums and subreddits focused on the discussion of pornography. Within these spaces, people discuss porn, their relationship to it, the harm it can cause, and the pleasure they receive from it. I will enter into internet spaces that discuss specifically mainstream or unethical porn and compare that language to spaces designated for discourse on ethical porn. By analyzing this media, I hope to find patterns in the acts and types of pornographic content that people view as oppressive or liberating as well as the language people use to describe both kinds of mediums for pornography. Furthermore, this analysis might uncover whether or not people are discussing porn positively or negatively.
By using the mixed method approach of interviews and discourse analysis, I hope to learn about individuals relationships with pornography and whether they view them as harmful or liberating. I am curious whether people's relationships with porn are recognized as harmful or unknowingly harmful. Furthermore, I want to understand if supporters and users of ethical porn feel that it is capable of fostering healthier relationships with sex, sexuality, gender, and identity in comparison to mainstream porn.
Anonymous. “Can Pornography Be Ethical?” Voice Male, vol. 24, no. 78, Voice Male Magazine, Spring 2020, p. 13.
Brennan, Joseph. “Abuse Porn: Reading Reactions to Boys Halfway House.” Sexuality & Culture, vol. 21, no. 2, Springer Nature B.V., June 2017, pp. 423–40. ProQuest http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12119-016-9397-3.
Echols, Alice. “Cultural Feminism: Feminist Capitalism and the Anti-Pornography Movement.” Social Text, no. 7, Duke University Press, 1983, pp. 34–53. JSTOR https://doi.org/10.2307/466453.
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Korfmacher, Anne. “Reviewing Pornography: Asserting Sexual Agency on Girls on Porn.” Gender Forum, no. 77, Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier, 2020, p. 13.
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Massey, Kristina, et al. “Young People, Sexuality and the Age of Pornography.” Sexuality & Culture, vol. 25, no. 1, Feb. 2021, pp. 318–36. DOI.org (Crossref) https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09771-z.
Prause, Nicole, “Porn Is for Masturbation.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 48, no. 8, Springer Nature B.V., Nov. 2019, pp. 2271–77. ProQuest http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-1397-6.
Shearer, Haji. “Intimacy and Porn: A Contradiction in Terms.” Voice Male, Voice Male Magazine, Fall 2006, p. 14,22.
Smith, Allegra W. “Whose Porn Is It Anyway: Rhetorically Exploring the Differences between Mainstream and Feminist Internet Pornography.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, Michigan State University, 2015. ProQuest https://www.proquest.com/genderwatch/docview/1680518216/abstract/22993859B4CA4CA6PQ/8.
Tremblay, Lisa. “Porn Again: Why It’s Time to Take Another Look at a Divisive Issue.” Herizons, vol. 24, no. 3, Herizons Magazine, Inc., Winter 2011, pp. 29–31.
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