A friend sent over an article by Naomi Wolf published quite a few years back that attempts to debunk the porn myth and its effects on the intimate lives of men and women. Wolf’s argument to ‘turn off the porn’, she claims, is not a moral one but a scientific one relating to physical and emotional health: “greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity”. But has the sexual objectification of women by porn actually led men into being turned off the ‘real’ thing or is Wolf failing to see the bigger picture?
Dropping any religious arguments and minus the illegal stuff, porn in itself isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Acting as a stimulant, it becomes an exploration of one’s sexuality and an expression of sexual desire. There is no ‘one’ type of porn and anyone who has flicked through will see a variety of ‘genres’. People have different sexual desires and like any consumable good the porn industry caters to its different markets. Some may enjoy the ‘surgically hoisted breasts and Brazilian bikini wax’ pornstars; others prefer the amateur type because it offers a more realistic depiction. The ‘real’ women that Wolf physically speaks off, with real breasts and pores, can and do exist alongside other women who, despite being surgically enhanced or fetishised, are equally ‘real’ (they are alive aren’t they?). So what is the problem?
Men, sex and power
Porn as we know it is male-stream, it creates narratives about sex and sexuality that are present in everyday life, one in which they become defined by patriarchal social constructs. When I spoke to a few of my straight male friends about their opinions on what expectations porn creates, all of them agreed that it objectifies women and plays into ideas of what a woman should be doing in the bedroom. Some went as far as saying that many then equate rough sex as being synonymous with good sex.
But these images aren’t just in porn; they are all around us. Everywhere we look we see pornographic women ready and willing to please powerful men sexually. These hoisted tits, pore-less, tanned creatures are jiggling their goodies in music videos, on American Apparel clothing adverts posing in positions that scream karma sutra and singing songs begging ‘rude boys’ to ‘get it up’. ‘Real’ women, women in their diversity or complexity aren’t explored here; images of sexual perfection are sold to us alongside tips on how to please our partners. These women that are consumed by women and men feed into ideas about sex, power and gender; porn merely reifies them.
Sex has become a form of power that enables men to assert their authority through controlling women’s bodies, and in this case, women’s pleasure. It not only constructs sexual expectations (‘lady in the streets but a freak in the bed’) but also forms idea about what a man needs to do to attain such power and how to assert it. I remember an ex of mine became so used to watching men in porn who could excuse my French fuck for days with a 10inch dick, he ended up developing insecurities over his own sexual performance. He believed that all women must want what those women were getting, that he couldn’t measure up and that somehow made him less of a man. Looking back on it now, I can’t help but think that his increasingly sexually debased ideas were subconsciously linked to him attempting to reassert his masculinity.
For most, this power play is enacted through submission/domination (which can be quite subtle) and whilst in porn, like in music, these scenarios surrender women willing, reality can offer a violent alternative (just check out Rihanna’s necessary exploration in her new video ‘man down’). It is then no surprise that in a hypersexualized society that guarantees power through male sexual authority, 1 in 3 women have been beaten or coerced into sex in their lifetime; or that 54% of rapes in the UK are committed by a woman’s current or ex-partner. Love seems almost entirely a separate discussion and sex is reduced to an act, one devoid of intimacy.
Lets talk about sex
Wolf’s solution to her supposed findings of the lowered male libido for real sex (seemingly equated with the missionary position) is elementary to say the least. She suggests that we prohibit the sex that is currently ‘on tap’ and return to biblical conceptions of sexual sacredness to keep men interested. Her solution, however, still implicates women as objects of desire serving male sexual prowess.
Whether they are covered up or walking down the street naked, women aren’t simply to be had like cattle in a meat market. The truth is that women too are sexual beings just like men. It makes no difference if they are in porn or a nightclub; they still have a right to their own sexual agency and authority. A 2006 survey found that the number of women who downloaded porn had soared to 1.4 million. The rise in female porn directors to shift from the female objectification that dominates the industry is proof of women wanting to explore their sexuality. For some women this is in private, for others it may be with their partner; either way women need to be able to express their desires in
a space not subject to the current framing of patriarchal sexuality.
Sexual gratification and keeping one another ‘interested’, however, really comes from having an understanding of sex and physical intimacy that is mutual and reciprocated. One of my male friends laughed a little, claiming how partners should discuss sex openly before having it, how they need to engage in learning and sharing one another. Lord knows my man has to be willing to take the time and effort to try new things and keep it spicy on days where missionary and a quickie just won’t do.
‘Real’ women aren’t just bad porn in a patriarchal society women as objects of men’s sexual desires are, creating little space for healthy sex as an act between real, living people. If we really want to solve this problem, we need to critically engage with how society conceptualizes sex in general and the implications it has on gendered identities, power, love and relationships – not just as an act. People, be it with one partner or more, in or outside of marriage, will engage in sex at some point in their lives. Addressing it in a more holistic way, as part of a broader framework between and across genders is pertinent if we are to create and sustain healthy sexual relationships or passionate bonds in general. Dare I say it: lets talk about sex!
Here are some recommended reading/videos:
(watch all 9 parts!)