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Sunday, December 23, 2007 

The politics of pornography.

Marina Hyde writes convincingly on how pornography is shaping young men's expectations of sex:

The marvellous website jezebel.com touched on this theme recently, having identified an experiential trend among the staff's acquaintances. Several of these women had been on a first date, ended up sleeping with the guys, and the men had ejaculated on their face without asking.


Now, either these guys were just borderline rapists, or - way more likely and way more scarily - they simply didn't know any better.

I don't think it is either misogyny or, as Hyde puts it, borderline rape, but rather that pornography has changed, even from the early days when it was far more storyline-based and also erotic, into a series of perversions where women are sex objects rather than individuals whose sexual pleasure is just as important as that of the man's. The "studs" are there to have their every demand catered for by the "slut", whether it goes from the banal in pornographic terms of oral and "straight" sex, right up to the female performer having to rim or even felch the male, indulge in anal sex and then after all that, either take a "facial" or swallow his ejaculate. It's all about male power, and there are few more subjugating experiences for a woman than for the man to display his control over his lover than to come her on face. All of this though occurs in a controlled environment, in which the female performer has consented, most likely signed a contract which goes into exact details of what she's expected to do, probably received an enema and anesthetic if she's to "do anal", and then is handsomely paid for the privilege.

Unfortunately, young men especially don't see that pornography is fantasy, as Hyde points out. They expect women to be shaved or waxed, to perform blowjobs without any complaint and for them to be more than pleased when they come on their faces. After all, don't the women in porn at times beg for it, or even love it? Apart from that, there's also anecdotal evidence that teenagers especially are increasingly expecting their girlfriends to obligingly partake in anal, so commonplace has it become in pornography that they almost seem to imagine that the backside is self-lubricating, and that it's neither painful or messy. Anal sex is in fact even more about power, pain and force than "facials" are, for the simple reason that few women find it pleasurable without immense practice: they can't help that they don't have the prostate gland which is what becomes stimulated in homosexual male intercourse.

Pornography of course isn't going to go away, and this is also where sex education, which needs real reform, should be coming in and separating the myths from the reality. Pornography itself, despite some notable exceptions, is designed for male consumption: women don't get much of a look in. That needs to change, and it's that that's most likely to lead to a sea change in attitudes. In the meantime, a moderate, modern feminism, one that doesn't immediately dismiss all those involved in pornography as either victims or abusers, and which accepts that sex and the media are bound together but that they can be either toned down or that women themselves should be taking control, is sorely needed.

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I couldn't agree more.

The biggest problem I think I have with the anti-pornography crowd is that I think there is potential for pornography not to be a sea of degrading images, stereotypes and fantasies.

Being completely anti-porn leaves no room for healthy discussion about representing sex, because the woman is always an "object." That some women might not mind, at times, being an object can therefore never be honestly addressed. Sexuality is more complex than simply "that's objectifying and therefore bad and that's the end of the story."

I remember reading an article in The Guardian Weekend magazine some time ago that highlighted this rather worrying development of the pornification of real life sex. The piece I read though was looking at the way women of different age groups regarded their bodies and what their sexual expectations/attitudes are. The reponses given by those women that fell in the 16-20 (i think) age bracket made for some truly astonishingly depressing reading. I forget the exact stats but a vast number of young women have come to believe that sex is all about pleasuring their male partner, that they should be sexually available at all times, and that they should be entirely devoid of pubic hair! The author of that piece also made the connection between the easy availability of porn everywhere (especially teh internets) and the fact that it is slowly creeping into all aspects of popular culture as well as our sex lives.
I also wonder if the apparent rise in gang-rapes amongst teenagers particularly is also part of the same thing.

One of the most shocking and surprising things I remember reading was that the teenage wank mags, Nuts, FHM etc, have almost as high a female readership as they do male, as the teenage girl demographic seems to think that reading such soul destroying crap is bound to enlighten them to the ways of the opposite sex. As it seems, with predictable results.

Another porn post on another left blog! Over the last week they seem to be as common place on the internet as porn itself.

I agree with your comments about sex education dealing with porn, something I fear has been overlooked hitherto. It's never cropped up in any debates I've been involved in with other lefts over the years.

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