A Response

I got this comment on my recent post about how I write about porn and food a lot:

Hi Miss L,

As a writer, I wonder if you’ve read any literature on the long-term effects of ‘porn seepage’ into mainstream culture? The following link is to a MacLean’s magazine article (a few years old, but very relevant, IMO):

http://www.newsweek.com/2008/10/07/the-pornification-of-a-generation.html

Are you familiar with the work of journalist Robert Jensen and feminist scholar Gail Dines?

http://www.amazon.com/Pornography-Production-Consumption-Gail-Dines/dp/0415918138

I’m not a prude – far from it. I’m just a concerned citizen that sees most porn as a sad failure of the imagination, driven by profit, fuelled by misogyny. Is there no realm in our lives where we’re not being intruded upon by canned experiences? Do you have any thoughts about living in a society where there is profit in making thong underwear available to elementary school-aged girls and do you think tweens having ‘rainbow’ parties is just kids experimenting with sex? Do you think the ubiquity of sexualized imagery everywhere has NO affect on our culture?

Porn is about lies (especially about female sexuality) and profit; the industry doesn’t care about its overall affect on our culture. I don’t see anything progressive, sex-positive, or empowering about it at all. It has no soul, as you yourself have stated. It commodifies the most basic of human experiences.

I’m just wondering what your thoughts are since you already state you’re conflicted about this industry? Agree/disagree?

Best,
Jania Ketterling

Here’s my quickly written answer… I’d like to get into these topics more later on, but I just got back from my travels abroad, am absolutely exhausted, and started a new day job today, so I might not get my thoughts fully in order for a few days yet…

Dear Jania,

I’m very intrigued by your comment! Thanks for reading!

Re: MacLean’s article, I think he brings up some very interesting and valid concerns about the sex-soaked culture children are growing up in, and I absolutely agree that the accessibility of hardcore porn to anyone with an internet connection these days will have a huge impact on our culture–it’s hard to know exactly what kind just yet because it’s largely unstudied and the ramifications are still building. But I hesitate to heap the blame for the sexualization of advertising and media on the porn industry. Porn is the scapegoat for so many things these days, mostly because it seems nobody wants to actually take a good hard look at how anyone else could be implicated in things we don’t like about our culture. Because if you really look at it, porn isn’t solely responsible for the sexually-imbued nature of our culture these days. Not by a long shot. Obviously porn operates by selling sex, but it’s not exactly a new concept that sex sells itself. The porn industry is certainly a mover and a shaker in the tech world and other industries, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that BECAUSE of porn, our culture is more soaked in sexual imagery. Couldn’t it be the reverse, or a much more nuanced bleeding-over between the porn and non-porn worlds? Couldn’t it be the case that, sex being such an easy way to sell things because we are at heart sexual beings who are easily aroused by images, the advertising industry has simply hit upon a sure thing and run with it, as has the porn industry, because they’re both out to make money?

And in a similar vein, I don’t think that it’s necessarily porn that is hurting anyone, on its own. Porn has always been a part of human civilization, as has the sale of sex via prostitution, and it’s not going anywhere, whether anyone likes it or not. (On the “not” side, ie, Gail Dines’s case, I have little to say–I have heard nothing but condemnation for her “views” thus far from serious sex and porn aficionados.) Sex has been a commodity for thousands of years–today it’s easier and cheaper to get it via pornography online than ever before. As a profit-driven industry, adult entertainment is under no more an obligation to consider the effects its product has on those who misuse it (ie, kids and others who access it online via free, pirated content on websites that the industry has in no way condoned or encouraged) than any other industry to limit its negative effect on humanity (ie high-fat, high-calorie food makers, alcohol producers, etc) until sanctions are imposed, and though this might not be the best situation in the minds of the moral majority, that’s the way it is. So a far more productive way to look at the situation, rather than taking the view that people who make this product are bad and must be stopped, might be to consider the context in which this product is consumed and consider what we can do to change that.

I think the issues at hand would be far better dealt with if we as a society (not just you, Jania, but all of us) stopped treating porn and other sexual imagery as the enemy of moral rectitude and started understanding it as a very established part of our culture that’s no more evil or negative than we let it be. For instance, if parents and educators could learn to be more open and forthcoming about sex and sexuality with young people at earlier ages, perhaps young people wouldn’t be as negatively effected by graphic sexual images. If kids go into the experience understanding, or at least armed with a set of ideas they might not fully understand, that there’s a right and a wrong way to go about sex and sexuality (ie, consent and respect versus violence and degradation) or at least having heard that the things they see in porn online are pre-produced and pre-packaged “lies” (as you put it), they might be less likely to then internalize what they see.

And similarly, many of the negative attitudes that Dines and her ilk have about porn seem to stem from the belief that the porn industry is some sort of monolithic force of immorality that exists only to degrade human beings. But that’s just not true. While there are, certainly, people in the industry who really do want to just watch the world burn and destroy young women’s souls while they’re at it, there are plenty of others who make responsible and beautiful and celebratory movies and who want to share their vision of respectful, consent- and pleasure-driven sex with as many people as possible (look up Erika Lust, Blue Artichoke films, Jennaration X Studios, and everything from QueerPornTv for a small smattering). And while there’s surely lots of unimaginative sleaze to be had, porn producers want to sell their product more than they want to make it sleazy. The porn industry is varied and, above all, changeable–easily changed by the consumers who are willing to pay for their porn. The tide of violent and extreme content has been overwhelming in recent years, it’s true. But the porn industry isn’t just out to degrade–it’s out to make money. Your consumer dollars and input are vastly important to responsible porn producers and performers–of whom there are many. Input from the public through purchasing decisions or clear communication (most pornographers and performers are astonishingly easy to contact online) about what it would rather see in sexual content can have a very big effect on the output of the industry, and very quickly.

I don’t necessarily want to sound as if I’m adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude because I certainly think that people should fight for what they believe in, but I do believe that the debate around porn and its moral impact often relies heavily on impractical ideas. Porn isn’t going to go away because people think it’s hurting our culture, but it can change if we are proactive instead of reactionary. Assuming porn and sex itself to be the cause of our problems without examining how we have contributed to the things we don’t like doesn’t help the situation. By keeping sex firmly lodged in the shadows as a source of shame rather than joy and responsible pleasure, thereby creating a shady place where kids seek out information about sex online rather than from responsible adult educators like parents and teachers. Opening up the dialogue about sex and porn as performative sex might produce more responsible pornography and shrivel up the business of less delectable fare. We DO have a say in this, but adopting a unilaterally “this is bad” attitude won’t get anyone anywhere.

For instance, thong underwear don’t have to be a bad thing–as a matter of fact, I find them quite comfortable. Younger people might find them comfortable, too, but that doesn’t mean they are a nefarious source of sexuality, and nor does a source of sexuality necessarily need to be a source of shame. As far as “rainbow parties,” I don’t know anything about the topic so I’m unqualified to say. But I think far more damaging than sexual themes being present in the lives of young people is the polarized attitudes we tend to jump to when we try to talk about and approach those themes. It seems to me that young people are confused about how to approach their sexuality these days, not necessarily because of porn-spawned media images, but largely because of what we are willing, or not willing, to say to them to explain those images. Sex doesn’t have to be bad just because it’s present, nor does everything that could be sexual always have to be terrifying–it can be a chance to educate and to learn, or to enjoy life. Porn can be a celebration and a healthy extension of sexuality, or it can be a monster that makes us cower in fear. Personally, I think it’s the fear and darkness around sex that drives us screaming into a place where we can only get turned on or terrified, then cause porn to dive to the lows that Dines loves talking about because we’re all screaming and hysterical about it. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and we can’t just cry about and expect it to change.

I am very conflicted about the porn industry and the way that I relate to it, but the more I learn about how much variety exists in porn, and consider how it’s not just the porn that’s affecting us, but how we are affecting porn, the more hope I find in that conflict.

-Miss Lagsalot

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