Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pro-Porn: An Apologia

There's been an interesting discussion over at Melinda Tankard Reist's blog, where she posted about the Stop Porn Culture conference, including Gail Dines keynote. (For those not familiar, MTR is one of the anti-porn folks mainly coming at it from the standpoint of "sexualization" of young women and girls. She is kind of an Australian equivalent to Diane E. Levin ("So Sexy So Soon").)

I will give one word of praise to Ms. Reist: unlike many others in the anti-porn movement, she seems to have open commentary at her blog, so there has been some interesting back and forth there. Whether this is her clear moderation policy or she's simply overlooking comments, I'm less clear about.

I had a chance to respond to one of the condemnations of pornography and porn culture made by another commentator, and I think my response was strong enough that its worth posting here.

First, the post I responded to, followed by my defense of a sex-positive and pro-porn position:

I’m also confused by the idea that if you oppose porn you’re ‘anti-sex’ while if you support it you’re all about ’sexual freedom’ and ’sex positivism’. Pornography is a commercial product that desensitises and deadens the senses, that promotes masturbation and isolation as opposed to sex with another human being, that favours sensation over sensuality, that dictates what ‘good sex’ and sex acts supposedly are, that dictates what ’sexiness’ is and that turns many people, particularly women off of sex a lot of the time. I’m mystified as to what any of that has to do with the positive expression of human sexuality. Pornography is a commercial product, it’s not sex. Pornographers are not interested in our sexuality, they’re interested in our wallets and their bank balances, end of story.

From another perspective, I was exploited in ‘the sex industry’ when I was a teenager. My sexuality and ability to have intimate relationships has been seriously impacted by my experiences during that time. To say that ‘the sex industry’ is all about our ‘right’ to sexual freedom is ludicrous to me. Not from my perspective. It’s about sexual exploitation for profit. That is it’s purpose. Whether that exploitation is consensual is neither here nor there. We’re talking about the ethics of the industry itself and what it means for everybody, especially the women who are most effected by it.

I think it’s very sad and indicative of how pervasive ‘the sex industry’ has become that so many people fail to differentiate between a commercial product designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to maximise profit, and real sex. And even worse that they’re happy to do the pornographer’s dirty work for them and defend porn in the name of ’sexual freedom’, ultimately to their own detriment (not to mention the detriment of those who are less privileged than they are).

Well, even though you probably don't want to hear a response from one of us horribly misguided sex-positives, I'll give one anyway, because I think debate abhors an echo chamber.

In my opinion, the freedom to express sexuality through media, in other words porn (note that I view the porn/erotica distinction as basically meaningless), is part and parcel of sexual freedom. The idea that "you can do it, but broadcast it and its morally wrong" (or even a crime) just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

The statement "whether exploitation is consensual is nether here nor there" is absolutely mind-boggling. It makes me wonder how you even define "exploitation" if the party ostensibly being exploited is not even allowed to define that for themselves. I think the Stop Porn Culture session that referred to homemade porn as "self-exploitation" was very telling. Is personal autonomy as an ethical value even on the radar of the anti-porn movement? Statements like this make me doubtful.

In my opinion, the fact that pornography is "commercial" is kind of a red herring. All mass media in a modern capitalist society is more or less commercial. There is a publishing industry, a newspaper industry, a movie industry, a music industry, and an art industry. To simply hold that these are no longer the subjects of free expression because these are often large for-profit industries would be ludicrous. I don't think this magically should change just because sex enters the picture. And, yes, the fact that its an industry that is dependent on the labor of its workers means that paying attention to the rights and needs of sex workers in that industry is vital. But I think approaching it from a sex workers rights perspective rather than a paternalistic "abolition" one is far better.

It is also important to point out that to speak of the porn industry as a monolith is ludicrous. The "porn industry" is everything from multi-million dollar companies like Playboy Enterprises to somebody who has a for-pay webcam set up in their bedroom. Do you really think all of these people are either exploiters or victims?

There's lots to unpack in your ideas about "real sex". Evidently, you're very down on masturbation, and against non-relationship sex. You seem to think pornography "imposes" this on the society, rather than being a reflection of how sexuality has been going since the sexual revolution. I think open, democratic societies are ones that can allow pluralistic values about sexuality to coexist. To have the state or a powerful social movement step in and impose a "return to order" in the name of a narrow relationship-only view of sexuality and "stopping porn culture" is moral authoritarianism of the highest order.

It is likely that you'll probably see these words as my simply doing the "dirty work" of "the pornographers" and dismiss it out of hand. But perhaps you need to at least understand where we pointy-headed "sex positive" and "sexual freedom" folks are coming from, and why we so vehemently oppose much of what your movement is trying to accomplish.

We're not trying to step on your sexuality. Please don't step all over ours.