Sigh. Another Conference Against Porn

Many of my sex-positive, pro-porn friends are talking about the Stop Porn Culture conference in a couple of weeks. I was resisting writing something about this because I don’t want to give them more attention (or, for that matter, more of my bandwidth). And after sitting with it for a bit, I realized I had something I wanted to say.

First things first. I really understand many of the critiques that anti-porn folks have. In fact, I share some of them, myself. There’s a lot of porn that is based on and reinforces maladaptive gender roles, performance-based models of sex, racist, sexist and/or homophobic stereotypes, narrow definitions of pleasure, and more. I absolutely get that and I feel a lot of anger around that.

I also agree with them when they say that the use of sex and sexual imagery in advertising warps our view of healthy sex. I strongly believe that in a sex-positive world, there’d be no reason to use sex to sell cars, clothes, or shampoo because the titillation factor would be gone. Plus, the idea that using a given product would make you sexier (and therefore, happier) would be pointless because people would be happy embracing their authentic sexuality and wouldn’t need to jam themselves into an externally-defined model of sexiness.

And yet, I also have a lot of problems with the anti-porn crowd. First and foremost, I think that they either forget or willfully ignore the fact that women, queers, transfolks, and people of color are often among the first groups that get censored. For example, Little Sister’s Bookstore in Canada had many of their books seized by customs officers, even though mainstream booksellers were able to get many of the same titles. And while I know that most anti-porn feminists aren’t calling for censorship, they rarely offer an alternative response, which means that their critiques get used as a justification for banning books and movies. Pointing out a problem without offering a solution makes it easy for their ideas to be turned into yet another sex-negative crusade and the first targets are almost always the people on the margins. And then, some folks in this camp want to censor porn, despite the well-documented effects of censorship on society.

I also think it’s really problematic that they usually make sweeping statements about porn without acknowledging that when they talk about “porn,” the term gets used to cover all sexually explicit material, even though porn is much more diverse than they describe. Although it’s in the minority, there’s a growing amount of porn that challenges, questions, and subverts the mainstream industry and they’re usually left out. of the discussion For that matter, there’s plenty of gay porn that, while it doesn’t necessarily challenge notions of sex, certainly doesn’t fit their analyses of how porn affects women simply because there aren’t any women in these movies. There’s also heterosexual porn that shows people having fun, without themes of nonconsensual domination, humiliation, or degradation. If they used some/many/most language in their analysis, they would actually make it more valid because they would actively challenge the idea that all porn has to be a certain way.

Also missing from their critiques is any questioning or reflection upon the goals and needs that people are trying to meet by watching porn. In my experience as a sex educator, there are lots of reasons people are interested in porn. Any approach to changing the relationships that people have with porn that doesn’t take that diversity of motivations into account is going to be limited in its validity. Further, unless they work to offer or create alternative ways to respond to those desires, they’ll inspire resistance and increase shame. I wouldn’t be pointing out that these folks don’t have much understanding around the experiences of men and porn if they weren’t already making all sorts of declarations about the reasons men watch porn and the effects that it may have on them. And they offer very little analysis of the reasons that women and transgender people watch porn or what they get out of it.

I’m also intrigued by the way that some anti-porn feminists describe their work around sexuality. For example, here’s a snippet from the Stop Porn Culture FAQ:

Aren’t the people who object to pornography really just afraid of sex?

Feminists who have committed their lives to the anti-pornography movement have been among the most articulate spokespeople for a progressive view of sexuality. These are the people who have done the most to help society move toward a more healthy view of sexuality. To accuse them of being “anti-sex is an attempt to distract attention from pornography’s sexist and racist images of sex that are fundamentally unhealthy for individuals and our culture.

What about the people who are working to bring comprehensive, accurate, and non-judgmental sex education to youth and adults? What about the thousands of therapists who help people transform their lives? What about the people like my co-workers, colleagues and peers who do direct counseling, coaching, and education to help people discover their sexual well-being, pleasure and authenticity? While I know that I have a bias here, it seems to me that the people who have done the “most to help society move toward a more healthy view of sexuality” are the folks who are doing the direct work to make it happen. I can guarantee that right now, someone out there is having a better orgasm, a happier relationship, or better communication because of something I told them. Can these folks say the same?

I really get that there’s a lot about the porn industry that’s messed up. In fact, I’m willing to bet that I see that even more than many of the anti-porn folks because I see it more closely. And it seems to me that rather than trying to eradicate porn or complain about it, we’d do better to ask what people are trying to get when they watch porn and how that’s working out for them. We’d do better to support people who are challenging the stereotypical models of what sexually explicit media can be. We’d do better to recognize that in a world that denies people access to quality sex education and images of sexual diversity, many people end up going to porn to find what they need, and we can work to give them better options.

There’s porn made by people who are not just consenting to perform, but are actively enthusiastic. There are people who enjoy watching people have sex and there are people who enjoy being watched. And I see no problem with that. For me, the questions comes down to: what do we need to do to maximize the sorts of porn that is grounded in pleasure, passion, joy, and consent? What do we do to shift things so that we can be sure that the performers are well treated? How can we make it so that people who don’t want to have to deal with sexually explicit media have spaces for that, and that people who want to have access to it, have spaces for that.

But then, as I said, I’d much rather work towards solutions than complain about problems. Maybe these folks could do the same, but I’m not holding my breath.

If you want to check out some of the porn that comes from a different angle, take a look at Good Releasing, our very own production line. You could also try Jiz Lee, No Fauxxx, Pink & White Productions, Courtney Trouble, Comstock Films, Furry Girl, Ruby’s Diary, or Candida Royalle.

 

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

You may also like...