"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Sex-Negativity in Porn Criticism

Whenever folks talk or blog about porn, there are always strong reactions (and lots of hits!), often overstated or oversimplified. I noted a long time ago that I agree with Lisa Jervis when she asks: Can't we talk about porn without having the same conversations over and over again? Human sexuality is complex, and our relationship to porn is complex--the conversations we may want to have about porn should necessarily be kinda intricate.

That said, why is it that most porn criticism I read tends to have an undertone of sex negativity? I like criticizing porn--there are so many reasons to do so, and I think it's important to not just take so-called "porn culture" as a given. We should criticize the industry for its sexism, racism and transphobia (of course, such criticisms should also be dealt out for most industries!). We can examine the ways in which porn and easy access to it can, has and will change our sex lives. But I wish that we were having such conversations within a larger conversation about positive sexuality, rather than framing the conversations within mostly heteronormative, not-kink-friendly frameworks.

Take Marina Robinson's article about the ways in which porn viewing may be changing the structures in the brains of young men. There's some interesting stuff in there. In particular, it's interesting to read her take on how the so-called "reward circuitry" of the brain may reinforce sexual habits in a way that we may want to pay close attention to. I'd say that the science still seems "iffy" to me, but it definitely worth lots of more study, and, like I said, it's interesting.

And yet, she has to throw in subtle moralizing that, for me, undermines her persuasiveness. For instance, she says:
"Masturbation based on imagining affectionate contact with a real potential mate is stimulating enough, especially for a teenager. But masturbation based on shocking stimuli, by gradually numbing the brain, can shift the user’s priorities away from real potential mates."


There is a lot of loaded language here, and it seems to me that she must know that the language is loaded--she was a lawyer before going into the porn-criticizing business with her husband, so I imagine she chooses her words very carefully! And yet, she is above saying quite clearly that one's priorities when having sexual fantasies should be on one's "real potential mates".

To which I ask: Why? And who gets to decide that? I mean, if one's sexual fantasy life is larger than one wants it to be, that's one thing--but the idea that, somehow, the goal of fantasizing is to only imagine "affectionate contact with a real potential mate" seems (if you'll pardon me) perverse.

And this betrays her view of masturbation in general, a view which has rung out through the ages: Masturbation is practice for the real thing. And this is a limited (and limiting) viewpoint. Masturbation can be practice, for sure. But it can also be having fun with oneself. Sometimes we may want to simply be alone and jerk off. Of course we might want to take care that we don't over-isolate by doing so, and we will need to navigate our other sexual relationships (if I jack off too much when I'm alone, and don't feel like having sex with a partner, that does mean something). But starting from a place where we only masturbate as practice is limiting ourselves unnecessarily.

And the sex-negativity comes out in other ways. I mean, she argues against the use of "sex toys" (though she doesn't define what a sex toy is--are buttplugs sex toys? are feathers? how about a bed?) as another "overstimulator". These are toys! You play with them! Of course they shouldn't be the only thing you use to get off--unless, of course, that's what you're into.

It's stuff like the above that makes me question whether the science is being made to fit very limited views of sexuality, rather than coming in to explain what's going on.
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