I’m no censor, says Lisa Saunders. She talks through some common misconceptions about anti-porn/pro-sex feminism
Pornography seems to have become an every increasing part of my life. Advertising, porn-spambots, the overwhelming barrage of sex-encounter venues that seem to flood my neighbourhood, the commodification of body parts and sexual imagery in all walks of life seems to be at an all-time high. I feel sick, not just physically, but emotionally and culturally sick.
Declare yourself to be anti-porn, however, and prepare to be compared to Mary Whitehouse. The assumption is that campaigners against sexual exploitation want to (using the word intentionally) hysterically ban everything. But the truth is far from this:
Myth: Anti-porn means you just hate sex
I am the anti-porn flavour of feminist, yes, however that is a misnomer. The term I adopt is anti-porn/pro-sex. Anti-porn means, to many, a sexually repressed Millie Tant in dungarees and Doc Martens who jealously hates the idea of anyone getting their rocks off. It’s a useful image to derail anti-porn/pro-sex arguments, but none of it is actually true. (OK, I wear vegan DMs, rumbled.)
I love sex, it’s one of the most fun things you can do that is free. I was raised to be comfortable about my own body and never really found a difference in attraction between men or women, I just fancy certain people. I guess many would label that bisexual, I prefer to think of it as simply having desires and the equipment matters not. Expressions of sex and sexuality are a gift that keeps on giving, all your adult life.
Where I grew up, this was a redeeming feature, as everything was geared around tourism, not local young people. Sex is never anything to be ashamed of and, as long as no-one is exploited, it can never be wrong, dirty or bad. Alone or with the consenting adults of your choice, good sex can boost your endorphins, help you keep fit, boost self esteem, bond you to your lover and some of you might even want to make babies. Sex can be for love, procreation, or to pass the time of day like any other hobby, it’s all good. Sex is awesome, more decent sex for everyone!
So this is why I hate porn. Porn is a simulacrum of sex, if not its complete opposite. I’ve seen enough porn to know. Those people don’t really fancy each other; they are being paid to do that. I know that face, that is not arousal or desire it’s the same look I had in my old job on a Monday morning. Dread combined with tedium. That thing you are doing to her/him/that donkey just looks painful and degrading. Their body parts are generally all cut up, butchered, shaved, bleached, silicon-stuffed and battered into something that represents a brutal war more than it does having happy fun times. I am not knocking any kind of sex you might like to have, I am simply stating that what occurs in porn is fake, whereas all sex is real. Anti-porn/pro-sex, it’s a simple concept to grasp really. Probably why the endless tirade of derailments I have lobbed at me weekly are so vague and flimsy.
Myth: You are a rubbish anarchist; you want censorship, you Nazi.
Censorship is the process of obliterating voices. That can never be a good thing, no matter how much anyone might dislike a voice, and every voice should be heard. The very concept of censorship is revolting to me as I believe in self-autonomy.
I am entirely responsible for my own actions and must do unto others as I would have done to me. I do not want anyone else to be forced to agree with me. Nor do I want to criminalise pornography. I do want an end to exploitation: you make your porn exploitation-free, we can talk about it, but for now it’s abusive and it hurts people every day.
Right not, it’s about as easy to get hold of ‘ethical’ pornography as it is to score ‘ethical’ cocaine. By which I mean, do we ever ask the big morality questions about the porn we consume, while we smugly sip Fairtrade coffee?
Anything that is high-risk yet lacks genuine independent regulation runs the chance of exploitation. Call me kinky but I think putting people at risk of HIV/Aids due to a lack of regulation on STI testing and ‘barebacking’ (porn made without condoms) is about as unsexy as it can get.
George Fox, one of the founders of Quakerism, suggests in his diaries: “Be Patterns”. By this he meant that we each have to live our lives as walking, talking examples of what we believe to be right and good. Everything else is just fluff. We must be honest in our actions and deeds with one another.
Let’s not censor anything, but rather let’s be granted a much kinder, gentler right. I’d like the right to avoid exposure to triggering abusive and grotesque material should anyone wish to. So to allow my right to not see pornography on my journey to work, so the four lap-dancing clubs I pass need to stop dropping leaflets all over the pavement outside, as a simple starter for 10. The Lynx advert for Hop On, Hop Off at my bus stop would be gone, and not to mention the kid sharing his Sun Page Three iPhone app with his mate in front of me on the bus. Seriously, why should I have to see this grot? Give me the right to not have to endure this onslaught of degradation, please.
Myth: But I am a consenting adult, why can’t I have adult movies?
Well yes, if you are a grown up you can have your porn films. This may lead to you having a reduction in how well you relate to your partners and the women in your life as most porn is very demeaning.
Studies have been done suggesting the damage porn can do, Google for them next time you are trawling for free internet porn, it might change your mind. Worse still, and this is purely based on my own experiences, people who watch a lot of porn are rubbish in bed. They think that you will climax simply by shoving you over the washing machine and battering your genitals. Now you might quite like this, but that is not my idea of fun. In most porn no-one is interested in enjoyment, it’s just their job to stick bits of themselves into each other. It arouses me even less than the idea of someone to stick their finger up my nose – and we have erectile tissue in our noses so I’d probably enjoy it more anyhow.
Randomly Google some pornography if you dare (and I do not dare any more), look into their soul-crushed miserable eyes and tell me that looks like fun. Would you really like to do that to someone you care about? Would you like that done to you? If yes, then fine, but don’t get angry when I want something more. Something that involves actually being with me and engaging with me and how my body works, not just putting something in me. That, my femi-friends, is why porn can never be sex.
Pounding endless monotonous penetration is not any sex life I aspire to. The human body is an amazing thing and will do all sorts of fantastically pleasurable things if you choose to learn how. Women are all different: many of us are not waxed, augmented or orange, it might come as a bit of a shock, so brace yourselves. Porn makes people confused and anxious about intercourse because it tells lies about sex that are very hard to deconstruct. Porn, stop ruining sex for everyone, bad porn.
The term adult entertainment is a bizarre construct as well, seeing as so much porn is watched by children. I saw my first porno movie in 1994, aged 14, at a friend’s house whose dad had just got cable TV. This was before the internet boom, so I am assuming that much younger kids watch far more explicit material with far greater unsupervised access. I did not enjoy the film, my friends and I sat around laughing at how there only seemed to be one communal pair of knickers amongst the cast. It would be viewed as very mild now, Channel 5 material; it was smutty more than hardcore.
The movie did not really shape my sexual thoughts as a teen (and I was already sexually active and very comfortable being so), but it did make me look down on the women involved. So it did do its job in making me think less of women in under 20 minutes. I now look back with self-reproach and am glad I now know a little better than to slut-shame or belittle women who might be victims/survivors.
Myth: Why can’t I have porn and you not look?
So I don’t like porn, why don’t I stop being a buzzkill and just live and let live – porn for those who like, no porn for those who do not? I wish, but you porn-loving people won’t stop forcing it on me. Porn has invaded every part of our culture. I even went to one of those slide-show timed presentation Pecha Kucha events and someone showed a film about stalking then murdering a woman with a scene of genuine (illegal) hardcore porn in it and thought it was acceptable as ‘art’. I can’t go a day without someone trying to sell me something using some fetishised body part or the suggestion I will be more likely to arouse someone else if I do something demeaning or subjugating.
When you buy porn or even if you pirate it (thus not contributing to the livelihoods of the people whose body parts are attached to your masturbation session), it scrapes off a little bit more of the humanity that we so desperately need to evolve beyond thinking women are lesser mortals than men. I am not a walking set of holes with mammaries. No person is.
Accept us for what we are or lock yourself away in your porn dungeon forever and stop bothering us. I have had a relationship ruined by being exposed to my partner’s porn. I laid it out as a deal breaker that it was porn or me and they lied needlessly. It was only later that I realised it was intentional and meant to demean me – to show me how I was supposed to be; fake and subservient. I’m glad to be out of that private hell, however I am sure there is someone reading this who has felt that their partner was comparing them in some way to their porn. You can’t ever be better than porn because you don’t fit in a DVD case under the mattress, so do not try.
I remember graffiti on a toilet door in a club “****** is the BEST f*ck EVER. She Does It Like Porno”. It then had a list of signatures of those who agreed. It saddened me then, it saddens me now. It is even more horrifying when I tell you that I know the woman in question and she was a 13-year-old incestuous abuse survivor at the time and has been in and out of psychiatric facilities all her adult life. She was the first person I knew to get breast implants and she ended up making porn. She nearly died having bags of toxic silicon shoved into her perfectly lovely body just so porn-lovers could have a ‘Tommy’ without having to think of something erotic for themselves. (I have asked her if it is OK to mention this incident publicly and she told me to use her name, but I prefer the asterisks as if you Google her without safe-search you will see her back catalogue from her skin-career.) I’m not saying that porn equates to abuse or that abuse equals porn, I am simply sharing my experiences and those of someone I consider a good friend.
If you watch the same type of thing over and over as an aroused kid, it will condition your responses like Pavlov’s dog. I work in mental health and I am not sure if I am comfortable with the term sex addiction, but I do believe in porn addiction and, all posturing and joking aside, I feel for these poor men and women and children. Fear not. There is hope for the porn-damaged. Talk to people. Make connections through social interaction. There are amazing groups of people who also had their lives ruined by porn, they are out there read to help you heal and just as easy to locate as any free porn website. Join real human beings; if you are nice to them, some of them might have genuine full-on messy roll around giggly sex with you someday, and won’t that be so much nicer? Porn can’t make you breakfast or give you a lift to work in the morning…
You still want your porn, fine. Just please accept that not everyone wants to see it. It’s not dirty, it’s just rubbish. Just don’t impose your values and exploitative lifestyle onto others. I’d rather it was legal to shag in the streets than continue to be subjected to the levels of pornography I seem to be exposed to these days.
If you like sex and dislike porn, don’t be afraid to say so. We’ve been told to ‘get ’em out for the lads’ as some sort of misdirected empowerment. They say we are allowed to like sex now but we aren’t. We are allowed to sell ourselves as sex, so basically we are porn. Let’s break the real taboo and shout from the rooftops what we are really too scared to say:
“I love sex, but I want good sex with someone who actually loves sex too, not some porno-addicted misogynist terminal masturbator with zero imagination who doesn’t know how to please me or anyone else for that matter.”
Not sure if I can get that onto a t-shirt but I will try.
Artistic interpretation of pornography an original piece of art by Bethany Lamont. Image of mannequin wearing “Sale” underwear uploaded by Flickr user Arty Smokes. Image of ‘Sex’ sign uploaded by Flickr user danielito 311