Once more into the breech
Okay, of all the stuff I read this weekend about the Values Voters Summit, this had to be the best. Michael Schwartz, Sen. Coburn’s chief of staff, accused pornography of creating homosexuality. First, he inferred a natural hatred of gay men in young boys that we should supposedly applaud.
But it is my observation that boys at that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct.
I love how, when people teach children a prejudice, and then the children parrot that prejudice, the parents gleefully announce that the kids thought of it on their own. It’s like when people claim that 4-year-old girls are just born wanting princess shit, and the heavy amount of marketing aimed at them has nothing to do with their desires. What kids are born with is a lack of context, and they spend the vast majority of their time trying to figure out how to be. If that was your only job, you’d be a fast learner, too. Anyway, boys are good homobigots until….they see naked women.
He said, “all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants.” You know, that’s a, that’s a good comment. It’s a good point and it’s a good thing to teach young people.
In other words, try to scare your boys off using pornography by telling them that it will make them gay. When a wingnut says stuff like this—that naked ladies make you gay or that every man really wants to have gay sex, but has to fight the urge like mad—I’m forced to wonder if the entire “family values” movement would fall apart if every gay man in the closet just came out already. Because seriously, if porn did push a few more dudes into homosexuality, who gives a shit?
With that in mind, I want to link this excellent post by Becky Sharper, who has a wonderful sense of irreverence in the face of people who are going to give you the least generous read imaginable when you suggest that perhaps porn isn’t all roses and fountains of gold. I hesitate to open this can of worms, because when I pointed out that the facial exists in porn as a symbolic marker of female degradation, many, many, many people deliberately misread me, claiming that I said that coming on the outside was wrong, or that if any touched your face, it was wrong, or that you’re a bad person if you like being degraded in bed. All I said was that it’s funny to me that something that is overtly about employing the “this slut deserves to be humiliated” trope in porn gets to send its message to an audience that wants to hear negative things about sexual women, and the rest of us will pretend that they just didn’t say that.
Even though, from my perspective, the implicit argument—that women who have a lot of sex, or with a lot of men are sluts who deserve humiliation—is anti-sex. In other words, for all the sex in porn, much of it adheres to the “family values” narrative, where a sexual woman is used up and deserves nothing but abuse. Being truly pro-sex, in my view, means believing that women who have sex, a lot of sex, or a lot of partners do not forfeit a single ounce of their dignity or humanity.
Becky notes that the heavy use of anal sex in porn has resulted in an uptick in anal sex in real life. And though I know a good half of the commenters will pretend I didn’t say this: This isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. Just like coming on the outside is a fine way to spice things up, anal sex also can be a lot of fun for straight couples in the right circumstances. But porn morphs rather mundane sex acts into tropes about hurting and humiliating women, and then those tropes are repeated in bedrooms for that purpose. The problem with this is that many of the women engaging in these deliberately humiliating behaviors don’t get off on being submissives or being degraded. They’re doing it just because they thing that’s what sex is.
I repeat: like coming on the outside, there’s a way to do anal sex that isn’t about hurting, humiliating, and punishing a sexual woman. (If only I knew the secret number of times to repeat to avoid being misread!) There are entire excellent books about it, and whole lines of sex toys that exist solely to exploit the sensitivity of that area of the body. In fact, straight men can put things up their butt and like it, too! This is not being questioned. (I predict 5 comments before someone suggests I questioned this.)
But porn doesn’t show anal sex in the pro-woman way that many practice it, where there’s an attempt to warm you up, make you comfortable, go slow, and stop if there’s any discomfort. Like Becky says:
Problem is, hetero mainstream porn isn’t depicting the kind of careful, attentive interaction that makes anal sex pleasurable. In fact, in porn there’s no attention paid to the woman’s pleasure–or even her comfort–at all. The male actors just plunge in and start pounding.
Young people get very little sex education to begin with, and absolutely none when it comes to things like anal, which you should approach with caution, because you can hurt yourself. So when we say porn is causing an escalation in the amount of anal sex with young people, there’s a real cause to believe that it’s being practiced as taught in porn—something that debases women, and therefore if it hurts or you’re made to feel dirty, that’s part of the “fun”. Indeed, I have a strong reason to believe that older people fall into this trap, too. Periodically, you’ll read advice columns about sex or listen to the Savage Love Podcast, and there will be a woman who feels bad because the pain of anal sex is so unbearable, and she doesn’t want to keep going, but I guess she feels she has to. There’s no doubt what’s going on there—he just plunged in, maybe not even using lube, and because porn reflects our society, and therefore sends the message that sex is something women perform for men (and therefore, like good performers, we believe the show must go on!), she simply endured. And now she’s scared, for good reason, to try again. Portrayals of effective, pleasurable anal sex are stuck in books shoved in the back shelves of feminist-minded sex shops.
Jaclyn Friedman has an article up at the Washington Post that addresses exactly the concerns I have about porn tropes showing up in bedrooms, and how women who aren’t into humiliation in bed may feel they have no choice. But because what she’s addressing doesn’t happen behind closed doors, so perhaps there will be less misunderstanding. Her article is about women who embrace Tucker Max, in all his misogynist, flirting-with-rape glory.
The women in his stories are insulted, tricked, coerced, traded and discarded. One conquest is vomited on and videotaped without her consent…..
In retrospect, we really should have seen Tucker Max coming. We’ve already, after all, replaced the fiercely independent vampire slayer Buffy with the helpless vampire lover Bella. The cult of Tucker Max is just a photo negative of the “Twilight” phenomenon: Both cultures view women as irresistible objects that tempt men into doing dangerous, uncontrollable things. If Edward Cullen were less stoic and less monogamous, he’d be Tucker Max.
Max girls have worked out that sexual purity is a trap — they’ve even worked out that there’s power to be found in proudly claiming their sexual identity. But they seem to have no idea that they can use that power and still demand respect from men.
Jaclyn and I aren’t expressing concern because we’re meanies who enjoy judging young women for exposing themselves to male disrespect that might feel exciting at the time—you’re getting attention and rebelling!—but make them feel weird, icky, and debased afterward. I don’t know about Jaclyn specifically, but a lot of feminists I know express these concerns, because we’ve been there. We’ve let guys push us around, because we didn’t know there were options. We built up bravado about it, because we didn’t see any way out. We thought the choices were be treated poorly or be celibate. We didn’t know you could say no to someone shooting on your face and enjoying his power over you while you frantically tried not to cry because come was leaking into your eyes. We didn’t know that there was a way to do anal sex that wasn’t painful, but was actually fun for you. And some of us took a long time to learn otherwise, because there’s few people out there saying that we can demand respect and still have fun, because so many liberals are cowed by the fear that expressing such a message brings down the hoards of people claiming you’re anti-sex. Which is awful, because most of us start to practice what we fear to preach once we get a little power and a few, hard-to-find books. But again, what’s really anti-sex is a message that tells women the sole path to being sexual is being treated like a pincushion.