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Very interesting piece in the New York Times about porn, the problems and perils of. It sounds as if the lewd and licentious pendulum is starting to swing back towards more healthy and above all complete depictions of sex.

You don't need me to tell you porn is everywhere. You also probably don't need me to tell you that porn and sex are very loosely related, that pornography bequeaths a wide and ruinous variety of completely unrealistic expectations on many of its viewers of any gender, or that nearly every participant in a porn shoot is being objectified, or that women in porn are not just objectified but outright abused. Given this, you might wonder why it is that our society is soaked in pornography.

The writer of this article contends, and I agree, that it's because men gleefully co-opted  the 'sex positive' feminism. Hey, all we ever wanted to do was fuck 'em, and now we've convinced them that they're less of a woman if they don't do what we want! Better yet, we've gotten other women to tell them that!

This article is about sex positivity. I have a complicated relationship with the term: I'm enthusiastically positive about real sex, that being sex that is about people rather than their poles and holes--but if you hang out on the internet long enough, you will be told that this is actually very sex negative, that sex positivity involves a total embrace of any act, no matter how outré, performed on or by anyone of any gender involving any number of other participants of any gender on short, or no, notice.

That's not sex. That's porn.

The sex positivity movement was born out of laudable ideals. You might recall Dworkin's dictum that all sex is rape. This was not a tremendously popular view even when it was current, but it had a fair bit of influence on culture...until it didn't. You'd think a radical feminist would understand women a wee bit better: that women have sexual desires and experience sexual pleasure; that women can actually be the aggressors in sexual encounters; that in real sex -- as opposed to, well, porn -- women are equal and very willing participants. 

So women protested, and third wave feminism was about, among other things, sexual empowerment of women. Wonderful. Except most pornography is still produced by men, and nearly all pornography, including lesbian porn, is produced FOR men. 

From the article:

Feminism is supposed to ease some of the dissonance between what women want and what they feel they’re supposed to want. Sex-positive feminism was able to do that for women who felt hemmed in by sexual taboos and pressured to deny their own turn-ons. But today it seems less relevant to women who feel brutalized by the expectation that they’ll be open to anything.

This is how you get a guy choking a woman on their first date. This is how you get a man who just sticks it in, pumps for a while, comes, and then leaves, because hello?  it's obviously over. This is how you get deeply unsatisfied women who went out in search of their own orgasms only to find themselves dating men who don't know women can have orgasms. 

What, in short, has dropped out of sex? All semblance of emotion.

If you watch porn, it's one of the first things you realize. There's no emotion. It's all performative: positions are predicated not on comfort but on visibility. This is especially true when more than two people are involved. Check out the train position they inevitably arrange themselves into. The groans and screams are cloyingly fake. I mean, I'm sure there are screamers out there -- I've even heard a couple in real life, from rooms and houses adjacent to mine -- but I assure you no woman starts shrieking the instant you touch her with your Magic Dingus. 

Here's some more things that distinguish porn from sex.

PORN: There is no or very little foreplay.

SEX: while quickies are a thing and can be accomplished without foreplay when both parties agree to that, in most cases women require attention be paid to some parts of their body (and mind) before they're ready for the act. Incidentally, this can be true of men, too. (My apologies for the cisnormative nature of this post: I'm simply not qualified to write on trans sex.)

PORN: Anal sex is utterly banal, not just done without introduction but done after PIV sex and in many cases before oral sex. 

SEX: Some women adore anal sex. Others absolutely detest it. Even for the women who enjoy it, it takes preparation and usually copious amounts of lubrication. Going from anus to vagina virtually guarantees a nasty infection; going from ass to mouth is...well, ask yourself how you'd feel if it was your ass and your mouth a dick was going into.***

PORN: Semen goes wherever the man wants it to go.

SEX: Semen goes wherever the woman wants it to go.

PORN: Kissing is as rare as unicorn teeth.

SEX: Very much enhanced by kissing.

And the biggest, most profound and ugly difference:

PORN: Consent is assumed. To anything. (Have you EVER seen porn where one party asked if they could do something? EVER?)

SEX: Consent is absolutely vital, not just to PIV sex but to any new act.

***That's something I've found many men just don't do, is imagine what sex might feel like for their partner.  Again and again I flash on what a woman who really loved sex once told me: "You've got an itch in your ear. You put your finger in there and give it a good scratch. Now, what feels better, your finger or your ear?" I've never forgotten that. 

I have long wondered about gay porn.

Yes, I've watched gay porn. Not because I'm gay, or bi, but because I was curious what porn would look like if it was completely male. It looks pretty similar to straight porn, actually, which shouldn't be a surprise because straight porn is pretty much completely male, too, no matter how many women are in it.  No emotion, certainly no affection. If there is gentle gay porn, I haven't found it. It's all hyper-aggressive pounding. I find myself wondering if this is a gay ideal or a male ideal: just get your rocks off in the nearest hole as quickly and violently as possible and then get on with your day. I don't know. It's certainly not my ideal. I get more pleasure out of giving pleasure than anything else. But gay porn is still porn: no emotion and no consent. 

ow here's the thing.

If you are in a sexual relationship of some duration, straight, gay or anything in between, certain activities can be consented to ahead of time. You might, for instance, have blanket permission to have sex with your sleeping partner. It is necessary to revisit even the most blanket permissions from time to time, because comfort levels change. Consent will also be easier to obtain with closeness: you'll have a better (though never foolproof!) idea what what your partner is okay with, what s/he is more than okay with, and what is off the table for now or forever. I have that talk before sex happens. At the risk of TMI, I'm good giving and game so long as it doesn't involve any of six things:

  • inflicting pain
  • receiving pain
  • inflicting degradation
  • being degraded
  • former food
  • anything sentient but non-human, or formerly human.

New activities open up as your explore each other's fantasies and some of those activities might end up well beyond first date (or first sexual encounter) territory. THAT'S where I look to porn: to enhance an already established and loving sex life. I take what I see in porn and add love to it I have a very limited subset of porn I enjoy. For some reason most of it is German, but what all of it has in common is enthusiastic participation from all parties involved -- especially the woman or women. Any coercion and I deflate. Any fake moaning and I'm out of there. 

Even the most vanilla porn is actually sexually advanced in that you don't see that explicit consent. But of course people don't see it that way. They see sex acts depicted, ergo, they think this is what sex is. Not just sex: good sex, the best sex.  I mean, porn stars, some of them, are PROFESSIONALS. Wouldn't you want to do sex the way the "pros" do it?

The answer is no, you don't. Because even if you're an exhibitionist, there's more to sex than theatre. A lot more, as it turns out. 

Count me glad...overjoyed...that women are rejecting the 'anything goes' ethos in favour of something that serves them better. But as this pendulum shift gathers speed, I do worry about the male reaction. Not just from the incels and guys whose little heads do all their thinking, either. It's not just that men don't see women as fully human: many of them can't. I read something in the Atlantic a few years back from a young man that made me simultaneously weep and shake in my boots: 

"We hook up because we have no social skills. We have no social skills because we hook up". 

This is why I say the overwhelming emphasis on pornography in our world, and the misplaced assumptions it, ahem, engenders...that's not just harming women. It's really doing a number on men, too. 



This post first appeared on The Breadbin, please read the originial post: here

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