At a panel on sex education and porn hosted by Smitten Kitten in Vegas last weekend, discussions about a crap-ton of topics dear to my heart were brought up by panelists Nina Hartley, Sophia St. James, Tina Horn, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Courtney Trouble, Dylan Ryan, and Danny Wylde. I can’t even begin to list them all, but I felt that a lot of what was being said needs to be said over and over and over until people start listening. The whole thing was filmed by Smitten Kitten and Reid Mihalko, but I’m not sure if it’s available online yet. When it is, I hope that everyone gets a chance to watch the footage. Discussions of barrier use in porn (pros and cons), trans bodies and trans sex, triggers, abuse survivor empowerment… it all went down.
But there was one issue raised by Danny Wylde that’s been playing itself over and over in my head, along with a discussion that he and I had the next day about the same issue. That issue was the way in which young men who are growing up with a lot of mainstream porn available to them might learn to see their roles in sex through that imagery. While I’m all about the groundbreaking discussions and leaps forward that have been made for depictions of women in pornography in the past decade, I think that it’s getting to a point where a price may be being paid. There is a gaping void surrounding the understanding of (particularly straight) male sexuality, especially when it comes to porn. I feel like women have been eager, and with good reason, to take up this dialogue in recent years. We’ve become more empowered than ever before in taking back our voices and our desire, doing things for ourselves in sex and porn, and turning the lens of sexual empowerment upon ourselves. It’s fantastic. It’s necessary. It’s awesome.
But what about guys? There is so comparatively little room for men to have these same kinds of discussions, and for many reasons I don’t want to try to get into, but the net result seems to be that while the discussion and appreciation of the complex and astounding world of female, trans, and queer sexuality seems to be blossoming, the reverse is happening for male sexuality. Whereas women are more vocal than ever, men/males seem to be taking a back seat, a quiet, passive role, and while this gives the female contingent more talking and breathing space, which is good, a lot goes unsaid. And the result may be that all kinds of men are taking their cues about what their sex should be from places that aren’t being very responsible about it, like mainstream porn that shows men as little more than hard-ons and tattoos. Guys in most porn almost never speak or moan, they don’t show off their bodies aside from their sex organs, they don’t show their faces. They don’t moan, they don’t writhe, they don’t show any complexity or depth to their desire. They are, in very upsetting ways, like machines made only to fuck. They are disembodied organs of lust with no backstory, no layers to their sexualities aside from animal rutting. This is the easy way to film men having sex.
But it is not the whole story, and for people who are consuming this kind of material who may be unsure of the validity of their nuanced, emotionally-driven, difficult sexual desires and bodies and minds, it may be very very limiting. It may be stifling. It may be conveying the message that men do not have complex sexualities, that men just need to want to have sex and to be constantly, continually, perpetually, rock hard.
I am not a man. I am not very male. I don’t know what it’s like to have a penis. My adventures with strap-ons aside, I can’t fathom what it’s like for your sexual satisfaction to rely so completely on the engorgement of a phallus that’s attached to me. I can’t, and won’t, say that erections aren’t important, or that they’re overrated, because I don’t know how that really plays out in men’s minds. But I will say that reducing sex to the hardness of a cock, and reducing one’s abilities to please to that cock’s longevity, is really, really wrong. And I will say that I’ve had experiences with men in which a few minutes of lackluster response from that ONE organ destroyed an entire evening, and sometimes laid waste to months and even years of fulfillment. I won’t say that an erection isn’t important, but if anyone has it in their mind that it’s the only male organ that matters in sex, they’re wrong: there’s the skin, the balls, the perenium, the ass, the mouth, the fingers, the brain… They are all enjoyable. They are all important. And I think that porn’s insistence that sex is an equation that goes: hard cock + pussy + humping = the totality of sex… that’s hurting people.
Of course it’s not just porn. The rest of our culture feeds into the obsession with erections, too: barrages of commercials, spam e-mails, music, movies… Everything comes back to the men-as-dicks thing. It’s impossible to get away from. But porn isn’t helping anything, and the further we get into the internet age of easy-to-access porn, the more difficult it gets to pick out the fantasy-vs-reality aspects of pornographic sex. The real bodies versus the professional bodies, with their editing and fluffing and discipline and one-in-a-thousand natural abilities.
I worry about this. I worry that the men I sleep with think all I want from them, or for them, is an ability to get hard. It’s so much, so much more than that. I want them to want more, too.