Rethinking Pornography

Pornography is in an intriguing conundrum among people, particularly Anarchists. It's potency is something that is difficult to ignore due to the natural sexual desire hardwired into humans. But it also serves as a social and political controversy. It stands to reason that generations of religious demonification of sex and sexuality plays a large part in this controversy, but the opposition to porn seems to cross a great deal of social boundaries for a wide variety of reasons.

Yet, pornography is a highly profitable industry due to high demand, so clearly more people are partaking in it than the social and religious opposition would like to admit.

Anarchists are among a few socio-political groups where a high level of opposition to porn exists. I agree that many of the points that have been made are valid, and consistent with Anarchist ideologies, but I wonder if the reasons generally stated are enough to make total opposition legitimate. Most arguments hinge on coercion, degradation, and exploitation, and mainly of women. These arguments I find, are valid only part of the time. So let's take a look at reevaluating pornography.

First, I'd like to define what I'm talking about when I say "porn". Legitimate porn, in my opinion and for the purposes of this discussion, are videos, audio, literature and stills that are designed with the specific intent of sexual arousal. So while that lingerie magazine may be enticing, to me that's not porn because it is designed to sell lingerie, not to cause sexual arousal. Some types could include anything from sensual romance, erotica, to sex and fetish based pornography. I'm undecided on stripping as porn at the moment, so I'll exclude it from my lists entirely. Illegitimate porn, in my opinion, is that which is generally created without the consent of it's participants. Unwilling "stars", children, and those who have been coerced into it by any means is not legitimate porn, and I tend to also include the types of porn that defy basic human compassion and sexuality. So bestiality, snuff films and other highly extreme types of porn, in my opinion, go so far beyond the normal spectrum that I don't include them as legitimate porn. And I'll get to why in a few.

Pornography is deeply psychological to both the viewer and the creator. It's more than just trying to get a basic physical reaction, it's the creation of a fantasy designed to become a lasting memory or perhaps to tap into the conscious at a very deep level. But in my experience it goes even beyond that. After having been exposed to BDSM culture in a meaningful way, and after many conversations I realized just how psychological it is. It isn't just sex. It's an experiment with the human psyche that generally results in the betterment of the participants in their everyday lives. For example, a submissive in the bedroom is (typically) a dominate person outside of the bedroom. But by allowing someone else to control them during their most intimate experiences they learn to trust, let go, take instruction (AKA listen), and if nothing else they get a release from having to be in control of everything for most of their day. And if you're wondering yes, I'm a submissive. And no, submissives are not always women. The dominate in the bedroom is most likely not dominate outside of the bedroom, and thus learns how to give instruction, but also how to care for another person fully. Contrary to popular belief the dominate's role is not to simply do as they please with no regard for their partner, it is quite the opposite. They must take great care not to harm their partner, but to also do what their partner needs them to do, both sexually and psychologically. If they fail at that not only will the experience be a bad one, but their partner could potentially be hurt. In this way the two people are bonded psychologically and emotionally in the same way that the average couple would bond with the more socially acceptable romantic, sensual, sex.

Now, I'm coming to pornography with these basic insights tucked away into my brain. The arguments of coercion, degradation, and exploitation just ring false in my opinion because of these experiences and this knowledge. Now that doesn't mean that these things don't exist (check my list of illegitimate porn), what I am saying however is that they do not exist across the board and to paint pornography with such a broad brush is to do a great disservice to humans in general.

First I'd like to say that I fail to understand how the consensual participation, with the agreed upon roles and activities, can be considered exploitation. I hear people say it, I don't understand it. Is it exploitation when they do it at home for free? No. It's particularly not exploitative when the people engaged in it are being compensated with an awful lot of money for their trouble. (Granted, not all are paid well - see my list of illegitimate porn above. Those who are working for the porn equivalent of pimps are clearly not in a consenting state of mind). Unless of course you are of the frame of mind that being paid for the use of your body in any way is a form of exploitative non-sexual prostitution. If so let's make one thing clear on that point - it's not the sex that makes it exploitation but the use of one's body and mind for a profit of any kind. Now I'm of the opinion that regular gainful employment is exploitative because work in that regard is compulsory for survival, and thus the threat of homelessness and starvation is coercion, and so the decision to work is only quasi-consensual. I also make a distinction between those who choose to engage in pornography (as opposed to those who are also economically coerced into it) and those who are forced into gainful employment in the same way that I make a distinction between a person who truly chooses a particular job, not because they need it, but because it provides them with other benefits beyond financial compensation and because they could generally choose not to work there due to their economic standing.

OK so that's out of the way.

The issue of degradation in porn is a tricky one to address. There are literally millions of pornographic images, movies and books out there that vary widely in content. Some forms of pornography truly are degrading to people, typically women but other forms seem degrading but are not. This is where the psychological aspect comes into play. Degradation and humiliation, when done a particular way is a psychological, sexual fetish that encourages participation, trust, the pushing of mental and physical boundaries and emotional bonding between partners. It may not seem that way at first glance, but when person watches or reads about the sexual activities they often find themselves imagining that they are in that situation, with their real life partner. The arousal comes from asking oneself what they would do if they were in that situation, or how their partner would react if they did that. It can also serve as an idea-template for the more adventurous types. (Hey, we all need inspiration from time to time).

One thing should be mentioned here: porn is about fantasies - most people do not carry out pornographic fantasies in real life and those that try to tend to find that fantasy is best left in the realm of the imagination. Of course, "fantasy" and "reality" is quite relative for individuals and what one would never do in real life might be exactly what another loves to do in real life and so on. But it is about fantasy and imagination. This is why I think many people view pornography in movies to be degrading. It's a misunderstanding of the feeling one gets when viewing it. I don't find it to be degrading, but rather unimaginative, contrived, and otherwise "forced". So it leaves less to the imagination, and possibly leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable because they are being confronted with images they may not like or understand. Whereas written porn tends to stimulate the imagination a great deal more, and seems less degrading because characters on a page are not real people.

But that's just my opinion. And again, there are truly degrading types of pornography out there that only engage in the degrading acts to stimulate a sexual arousal without the mental arousal because it lacks the back and forth play between willing participants and tends to defy what a person would actually want to do or even imagine doing with his or her partner.

Porn is also a convenient way for people to capture their sexual fantasies without actually having to do the work themselves. We all make our own "porn movies" in our heads, but few of us actually want to share those fantasies with others, or at least claim ownership of such thoughts even if we admit to liking it when someone else presents it to us. Sharing sexual fantasies with your partner is an essential way to keep those fires going, and porn facilitates that need for people who are less than open about their sexuality.

If you don't believe me, try writing down one of your fantasies, being careful to highlight the details that arouse you most, and send it to your partner. Writing "dirty stories" and "talking dirty" is quite frankly, foreplay, and most people understand that. Pornography is just the prepackaged lubricant for people with poor imaginations, little time, or who are very shy about their preferences.

Not only does the sharing of porn with your partner (self created or purchased) help grease the sexual gears, it also serves as an insight for your partner. When you present your partner with a sexual fantasy she or he can ow understand better what makes you tick. It's a backstage pass into your psyche, and that my friends, is sexy.

So to wrap things up, I guess my main point here is that (all) porn is not bad, degrading or exploitative. To say that it is is to say that not only are we not free to do as we please with our own minds and bodies, but that sex itself is degrading and exploitative. It creates deep psychological connections, emotional progress and bonding between partners, as well as being a valuable "marital aid" for those who need to spice things up a bit.


Anonymous said...

It is a deeply psychological thing, for some it is their escape and for others it is their life...sad really and well written article of course!

Anok said...

Thanks Jesse!

René Monroe said...

Well I have to say that I agree with 99% of what you said. The only thing I really disagree with (and it is quite minor) is the aspect that a job is coercive. In reality, no one person is forced to obtain a job.

I say this because any one person is free to steal or corrupt the system as a means of survival (as long as they do not get caught).

Now survival is coercion but the means by which to survive isn't...at least in the sense of having a job or not having a job.

Anyway, I know that was minor but it was just something I felt the need to say. As for everything else that you said, I really pretty much agree with it.


Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Dave Dubya said...

The very word "pornography", like sex, is a loaded, flexible and slippery term. No puns intended. Sex can be anything from violent rape to a loving tender caress. I think our language has not adequately developed into mutually understandable words, largely due to the personal nature and religious and social taboos of the subject.

So we need to qualify with terms like good sex, bad sex, safe sex, dangerous sex, good porn, bad porn, exploitive/non-exploitive porn, artistic/vulgar porn. At least we can mostly agree that "consenting adults" should be the minimal standard.

Good essay on the subject.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

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