Archive for pornography

In which I avoid my NaNoWriMo commitments by blogging

In particular, I kind of felt like I needed to respond to a comment that’s been sitting in my moderation queue for far too long. As could have been predicted, posting critically about the topic of pornography in my Utopian Promise of Porn post induced at least one dude to feel the need to hugely overshare about his masturbation habits in a defensive way. Who could have called that development? Aside from everyone I mean.

Said dude, who goes by the handle “Chris”, had a heck of a lot to say, and I don’t really feel like having descriptions of his masturbatory behaviour up on the blog permanently, but here’s a few quotes. He starts off strong, not able or willing to speak directly to me, the writer, but still wanting The World In General to know how he feels about what I’ve written:

I think the author is making a leap of faith on this article. The release of Oxytocin during orgasm has just recently begun to be studied. The kind of reactions that the release of oxytocin combined with degrading or abusive images cause on our psyche is completely speculative and would be difficult to impossible to prove.

Thanks, Chris. The author was positing a theory, not quite the same thing as a leap of faith. I can see you’re hoping to out-intellect* me with your quasi-academic style of writing here, which is fine. I have a tendency to want to come across all academic-y myself. It’s a distancing technique for me, a way of hopefully putting my words up above dispute, because once I’m convinced of something I’m admittedly a bit impatient with dispute, especially from people I perceive (rightly or wrongly) as uninformed. We all need hobbies I guess. Nonetheless, I thought I’d respond to a couple of points.

It’s true that oxytocin and orgasm have only been studied for a short period of time. Are you suggesting that nobody should ever write about things that haven’t been thoroughly studied by lots and lots of scientists who have come to consensus? Or does this standard only apply to to things like pornography?

However, sociological and anthropological studies on human behaviour have been going on for a long time and will likely continue, and it seems to me that those would be better avenues for testing my theories. As for impossible to prove, I don’t think that my original supposition would fall into that category. We have science! We can design studies!

In fact, off the top of my head I could think of some pretty basic experiments which would suggest whether orgasms produced while consuming “good”** porn vs. those produced while consuming “bad” porn vs. those produced while fantasizing with no visual stimuli vs. merely viewing any of these sans orgasm had any effect on attitudes expressed in, for instance, subsequent interviews or questionnaires. A study of this type would not “prove” or “disprove” my original hypothesis, but it could offer some interesting insights regarding the effects of porn viewing on, perhaps, attitudes. Heck, I’m sure some studies have already been done. More studies along these lines including ones with a longer term focus or measurement of hormone levels would provide an aggregate of data and would likely eventually suggest certain conclusions.

I’m afraid, of course, that the only people likely to get the funding to do this kind of research would be Evolutionary Psychologists (i.e., people like this irritating misogynist), and they would undoubtedly find some way to use their results to forward their own wacky aims, but what can you do. If I won the lottery I’d squander my  millions doing research on all my pet theories and interests, such is my enthusiasm.

I think the opposite is true that people that have a degrading view of women to begin with enjoy watching degrading porn. Treating women like that has been something they’ve picked up from their parents and friends growing up.

The chicken or egg argument. You’re suggesting that it is not the isolated Chicken of bad porn affecting the way people treat women, but the Egg of environmental factors that makes such porn enjoyable. I would suggest to you that it might well be both chicken and egg at the same time. Let’s agree that the Patriarchy exists and that we are all swimming in it. I would suggest to you that people, not just men, who have been raised in a non-patriarchy-questioning way are probably more likely to be unconcerned by pornographic depictions of unwilling or degraded or victimized women and disaffected and detached or abusive men. However, we are all raised in a patriarchy. We are all surrounded by problematic imagery all the time, and it often takes an added effort to recognize how problematic a specific image is.

I also feel like I need to point out, again, what was in essence the main (though poorly articulated) thrust of my original post: people talk about pornography as though there is a “good” kind and a “bad” kind, but in my experience, there is very little at all that could be classed as “good” in the ways that people mean. Most porn, almost all porn probably, contains problematic images and portrayals. You speak of “degrading porn” as though there was in actual fact another kind that was common and readily available and that this awesome non-degrading porn was the kind that most people sought out to watch, with only the nasty deviants damaged by their upbringing wanting to watch the degrading kind. This is the Utopian Promise of Porn again!

From here on I got to learn a lot more about Chris’ sexuality and masturbatory practices than I ever wanted to know, so without the explicit bits, here’s his next point:

… It certainly does relax me and calm me afterwords [sic]. It relaxes my physiological drive to procreate and it calms my natural mental obsession to have that connection on a regular basis.

Maybe I am a sex addict, or orgasm addict. But, I can control it. I can control doing it on just myself, instead of cheating. I can control it if there is no privacy.

Porn contains men’s sexualities? I guess this is your point? Porn stops men from becoming Cheaty McCheatersons? Porn saves relationships? Porn prevents overpopulation? Although, again, we’re conflating porn and masturbation and they’re not the same thing.

When you use phrases like “natural mental obsession”, “sex addict”, and “orgasm addict”, there’s something a bit false feeling about that, as though you’re declaiming responsibility for your own sexuality. Indeed, the suggestion that without masturbation you would be cheating, that’s a cop out. I’m unconvinced that most people who cheat do so because they’re just not getting enough sex at home and can’t masturbate. That’s nonsense. It’s refusing to take responsibility for your own choices. Not a scientific observation by any means, but in my experience (and I know this is shared by many of my friends) the more you think about having sex or have sex, the more sex you want to have within certain limits – a positive feedback loop. The reverse is also true, within certain limits. Times when you’re not thinking about or having a great deal of sex, your interest also wanes.

Here’s a proposal for an experiment for anyone to do on their own. Stop consuming porn for a finite period of time. Only you know what would be an appropriate time period for you. If you look at it daily, then start with a week maybe. If you ordinarily don’t look at it but once a week, stopping for a week wouldn’t be terribly meaningful, so maybe try three weeks or a month. Do you feel your attitudes to sex, men and women change? What if you stop for longer, what then? I don’t know what these answers will be for you.

Astonishing as this may be for some folks to hear, it’s okay to not always be interested in sex. Yes, even for men. Sex is important for many people, and I don’t mean to say that it isn’t. But there is a rhythm to our interest in it, just as there is with everything else. Sometimes it’s the only game in town, it’s the cat’s meow, it’s everything good in life. And other times, it’s a total take it or leave it kinda thing. And this is totally okay, not pathological, not a problem. I think there’s a fair bit of societal pressure on everyone, but especially on men, to have a constant minimum interest in sex and that this, in part, is one of the things that drives the demand for pornography.

Okay, so absolutely my favourite line:

I don’t think there is anything that is going to seriously affect my real life watching bare chested girls jumping on trampolines, or the “perfect? start to finish sexual encounter (like we ever watch the whole thing).

Bare chested “girls” jumping on trampolines: an ordinary background for an ordinary life with no effects at all on the watchers. How the girls themselves feel about the matter: not important to Chris.

*Learn to logic!

**If there is such a thing as “good” porn, which is really part of what the original Utopian Promise of Porn post was about. I am undecided on this point, but often lean no-wards.

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Utopian Promise of Porn

Nursing a cosleeping baby and lying next to a partner who snores sometime combine to leave a person lying awake with a spinning brain at 5 in the morning.

It occurs to me that part of the problem with porn is that all of that icky emotional negotiation stuff takes place off screen (if it is assumed to take place at all). In porn it is absolutely INCONCEIVABLE that anyone would change their mind halfway through, would decide to withdraw from the encounter, or take a pause in the encounter, or renegotiate their intentions for the encounter – “I’ve changed my mind, let’s not do penetration tonight.” No. Porn is not about fluid expression of sexuality between real thoughtful people with bodies that tire, or get sore, or simply stop feeling like sex.*

And since “sex” isn’t a monolithic concept free from the complications of people, the fact that it is portrayed that way in pornography is quite possibly a contributor to some of the major problems that we have, sexually, in our society. As a society, we actually tend to equate pornography with sex, when perhaps it is something entirely different. This feels like an important idea.

I came of age in the era of the internet. That means that like a lot of folks my age some of my first sexual explorations came online, with folks in chat rooms, or with downloaded sexual stories or pornographic pictures or (extremely short, fuzzy) videos. And when you’re 17, interested in exploring this sex thing, but certainly scared of having to be involved with real people who could potentially hurt you, pornography certainly seems like it could have its pluses. And certainly, many folks were very enthusiastic about it. I was so inexperienced and, up till then, sheltered that as regards sexuality I felt like an alien dropping into an entirely new world. I took it on faith that the idea of pornography I saw online was the truth.

There was this concept that I now think of as the Utopian Promise of Porn. Oh my, yes. I recall being told by many people that porn was a good thing because it could be a teaching tool for people who didn’t know how to please each other in bed, or who wanted to learn new ways to please each other. I remember being told that porn was just “hot” or arousing, or pleasurable to watch, or funny. I recall being told that there was good woman-centered porn that was respectful of women, even orchestrated by women. I seem to recall a lot of claims like these that added up to the Utopian Promise of Porn. But I never actually saw pornography that lived up to this Promise.

After all, as I started off by saying, if you’re using porn as a teaching or learning tool of some kind for real people having real sex together, surely it would be important to include real negotiations, real situations where real people change their mind about sex, and that’s okay, and even still a part of an enjoyable encounter. And although I haven’t seen All Porn Everywhere (thank goodness), I certainly explored enough porn in my late teens and early twenties to know that for all the claims that porn could be a teaching and learning tool, I never saw any that actually taught anything worth learning.

And after a while I started to wonder if I was just somehow always seeing the wrong porn (obviously they were hiding this “good” stuff somewhere I wasn’t seeing). My porn-friendly friends tended to indicate that I was just missing the good stuff, but recommendations always fell just as flat. And so my willingness to be porn-friendly  became a bit strained.

After all, pretty much all the porn I ever saw** showed people in uncomfortable-looking sexual positions, performing sex acts which seemed unlikely to be pleasurable, with poses with camera-friendly, but very much person-unfriendly qualities. Men commonly seemed disdainful, uncomfortable, not particularly aroused (except physically), disconnected. Women were commonly called unpleasant names, or spoken to in disrespectful ways, or dominated unpleasantly, or coerced, or tricked. Or women acted obviously bored, uncomfortable or were actively in discomfort at various points but all without renegotiating, pausing, stopping, changing their minds – a major problem, because it perpetuates the idea that sexual discomfort is unimportant, that women need to “suck it up”, grin and bear it, that it will get better or the pain will pass and pleasure will come, such damaging ideas!

So pornography may well be a teaching or learning tool, but I think the lessons are not as advertised. And I think pornography is powerful because of the ways in which it is used. I think a lot of very well-meaning folks use pornography (where use means masturbate to), see some of the problems inherent in it, but discount the effect of those problems, because after all it’s just something they’re doing by themselves and it doesn’t affect anyone else.

But masturbation is such a powerful thing, too often discounted it seems to me. We are producing in ourselves surges of powerful hormones.

Oxytocin is know as the love hormone. Mothers and babies both have extraordinarily high levels of this hormone in the period just after birth, when they are experiencing a period of powerful bonding, falling in love, and mothers produce oxytocin at lower levels when nursing, reinforcing that bonding, and when they hold their babies skin to skin. Oxytocin is one of nature’s answers to getting babies through the difficult period of dependent infancy – it has to be powerful to counteract all the work that babies take (remember that it isn’t just humans that have babies). It’s also the hormone we produce when we hug, when we kiss, that wonderful warm feeling we get at those times, and it’s the biggie that we produce when we orgasm.

And so it seems to me that we are fooling ourselves if we think we can repeatedly orgasm, producing high levels of a powerful bonding, falling-in-love hormone, in response to portrayals of sex including disrespect, coercion, lack of connection, possibly even pain, and not have that affect us, perhaps profoundly.

This is such an uncomfortable idea.

In part that is because of course we’re societally also very used to the idea that masturbation is somehow difficult or impossible without pornography, combined with the idea that masturbation is necessary and/or good for you. And I guess, right now, I don’t have an answer or even much to say about that, except what I’ve already said. I don’t know that difficult problems have easy solutions, since if they did they wouldn’t be difficult, or uncomfortable, or problems (assuming this is a problem – I’m not sure).

There’s a whole lot more I could say about pornography, about the problematic aspects of the production of pornography (there are many), or more about the portrayals (lots of problems there too), or my own use of pornography, but this post is already rather long.

What do you think? Due to spam problems, all comments are moderated, but I’m busy with my 6-month-old baby, so give me a couple hours to respond – sorry about that!

* If your first response is something along the lines of “but it’s a fantasy” or “it’s an ideal”, well, isn’t that just the point? Wouldn’t sex ideally include people being free to change their minds? And wouldn’t sex where people changed their minds and negotiated different ways of being together than they first intended ideally still have the potential to be awesome?

** A lot, primarily heterosexual in focus, but not entirely. Let me state for the record, if it’s not clear, the fact that I am not looking for recommendations for porn that fulfills the Utopian Promise of Porn. Hey, maybe you found the perfect portrayal of consensual sex between two (or more) people. I don’t know. Perhaps its possible. But a) I think, based on what I’ve seen, that it’s very very unlikely, and b) this theatre is no longer screening films or images of this type, thankyouanyway. Besides which, the existence of one or more films or images fulfilling the Utopian Promise of Porn doesn’t eradicate the vast majority of porn which don’t. Exceptions don’t prove rules.

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