To Watch Porn or Not to Watch Porn — A Black and White Question? Or a Question of Which Shade of Grey?

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First of all, a bit of full disclosure: I have no moral authority here. In so far as I voice some opinions here critical of pornography, or condemnatory of those who view pornography, that only makes me, in truth, a hypocrite. I have been viewing pornography for more than 30 years now. And not just viewing it. I did a little homemade amateur porn photography of myself and put it out on the internet — in my much younger, not-so-very-wise days. Of course, in the present day, the way so many people, especially young people, are gleefully sexting one another, the fact I did that would be greeted with a big yawn, but I did this in the “olden days,” before there were iPhones, before camera phones, back when the whole “internet” concept was still in its very early stages, and so it was not yet so blasé a thing to do, me doing my own little home porn photo shoot and then uploading it to a website where couples shared such amateur porn images. I did it. I enjoyed it. I was very pleased with myself at the time (like I said, young and not-so-very-wise). And I was enormously pleased when my stuff kept getting five star ratings and guys commenting on how hot I was, etc., so I get it, how that can be an addictive ego boost to a woman. And I therefore have no moral authority here to be condemning porn. However, I am hoping that maybe, for that very reason, more people will “hear me out” on what I am about to say. Because I do “get it.” I get it why people watch and enjoy porn. I get it why a woman might enjoy participating in some pornographic footage. I get it all. And I do not agree with those who say all porn should be gotten rid of. That is too simplistic. That is too black and white. The real question is, which shade of grey? The shade of grey that is out there most predominantly in porn is what I want to condemn. And the shade of grey that is a completely different kind of porn, in all respects, so different that it shouldn’t even really be called “porn” but rather called “erotica,” is what I want to praise and encourage. Do please hear me out, whichever camp, pro-porn or anti-porn, you personally are in.

First, the predominant shade of grey that is the vast bulk of porn available for free on major internet porn hubs….well, it has only been in the last year or two that a voice deep down inside me — that was only a bare whisper before — has become louder and persistent telling me, quite simply, that this is wrong. I should not be watching this stuff. Because by watching it, I am de facto condoning or at least not condemning as I should — same difference — the exploitation, degradation and abuse of women. Pure and simple.

Now I have certainly heard the arguments in some feminist circles that part of women’s liberation is their sexual liberation. I absolutely agree. But when that is extrapolated to say that therefore, if a woman wants to be a porn star, that is a good thing, because she is empowered, taking ownership of her life, and she is doing what she wants to do, well, when phrased in those terms, the answer is forced to be a yes, that must be a good thing. I just question the phrasing of the terms. And here is why.

I recently watched on Netflix the documentary film Hot Girls Wanted. Yes, I know, it is a film not without controversy. I have read some of the linguistic and intellectual somersaults that defenders of sex workers have gone through in order to criticize this film. Just one example of this is an article by Elizabeth Nolan Brown, “Hot Girls Wanted Tries and Fails to Turn Its Porn-Star Subjects into Victims”. In this article, she talks about a scene where Tressa’s mother and Tressa’s boyfriend are talking to her and trying to convince her to quit this business, and the author says:

But her mom and boyfriend are both uncomfortable with and ashamed by Tressa’s porn work. In convincing her to quit, they stress how Tressa’s work makes them feel and what she is doing to them by continuing. Tressa reluctantly agrees to quit.

The mom and boyfriend were not “uncomfortable and ashamed” and they certainly were not just thinking of themselves, as the author seems to imply. This is an example of how when a person already has a pre-established opinion on a subject, it colors their whole view of everything. And of course that applies to me too. What Ms. Brown saw was not what I saw. Instead of “uncomfortable and ashamed,” I saw the mom was deathly afraid of the risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and picturing in her mind’s eye men ejaculating in her daughter’s face, feeling horrified at her daughter being used this way. And the boyfriend? What I saw was a guy who had initially bent over backwards to be accommodating to her doing this work, but who was still feeling bad over a party they attended where the men, knowing his girlfriend was in porn, disrespected her, were obnoxious, and she, while looking a little uncomfortable, still just good naturedly smiled and laughed along with it, while at her side, her boyfriend had looked like he was about to be sick to his stomach. So in this scene, I did not seem him as “ashamed,” rather I saw a boyfriend who loved this girl, was tired of her being disrespected and was fearful for her well being. “Uncomfortable and ashamed?” If only all young women could be so lucky as to have a mother who cared about them and a lover/companion who cared about them like these two people did. The greatest love a person can show is to speak up when the person they love is putting themself at risk of very great harm and making a very terrible mistake. Silent acquiescence is indifference. Speaking up is love, and telling somebody what they maybe don’t want to hear is the greatest love of all.

The author goes on to say that the “saddest moment in the film for her” was when Tressa is on the phone with her former porn agent (well, lets call this slimy man what he really was, a pimp) and says she misses doing her own thing and having her freedom.

Really? That was the saddest part of the film? For me the saddest part of the film was learning all about the type of porn called “forced blow jobs,” where men slap and choke the girls, and then do a forced blow job on them with the goal of causing them to vomit, and then film the girls vomiting. That was the saddest part for me. Not Tressa’s “loss of freedom” to participate in that world. I saw in Tressa a young woman with good sense, who, with the help of a loving mother and a loving boyfriend, listened to her own conscience, and decided that some things are not worth any amount of money.

One of the young women mentioned in this film, Belle Knox, had said on The View that “the idea of empowerment and degradation is completely subjective.” No, it is not. Empowerment has a definition, not subjective interpretations. Empowerment is to have power, pure and simple. If Belle were in a porn shoot that was hers, that she directed, that she controlled, that she was in charge of and dictated what was going to happen in detail, doing things the way she would have them done, then she would be empowered. But in the documentary, we see that she was in one of those “forced blow job” gigs. In it, she was being slapped, choked, brought to tears, crying out, called a bitch and a femi-Nazi by the man. I think — though who knows for sure, I don’t claim to be a mind reader — that if she were “empowered,” then that would not have been the script she would have written. The word “degradation” is also pretty straightforward, since the man calling her a bitch and a femi-Nazi and who slapped and choked her was pretty unambiguous in his purpose of degradation. After all, he wasn’t calling her “bitch” in a loving way, was he? Sure didn’t sound loving to me. And didn’t look loving when she was being choked, her face puffing up and her tear-filled eyes bugging out.

The saddest part of the film was loss of freedom? You cannot lose something you never had. There was never any freedom for any of these girls. That is really the whole point here. Yes, technically, they chose to enter into pornography, so supporters of sex workers stand and applaud and say hurrah. But one of the girls said it herself. She says “what else can a girl do to make good money?” That is the tragedy.

If you would like to read an article which, I think, a little more acurately got at what the documentary Hot Girls Wanted was about and what it was really saying, I would recommend “’Hot Girls Wanted’ Is The Most Depressing Documentary You’ll Ever Watch” by Berlin Sylvestre. That certainly summarized how I felt.

So, just like a person addicted to alcohol, who then witnesses the bloody aftermath of a drunk driving accident and swears to never touch a drink again, I swore I was never going to watch porn again. But just like that alcoholic, that didn’t last for long, and I was back watching some pornography. Unlike the case of an alcoholic, however, when talking porn, we are not talking just one thing. Alcohol is alcohol, but there is a completely different sort of porn out there. We actually don’t have to throw out all porn. The porn that is degrading to women, abusive of women, exploitative of women, chuck it. Just chuck it. Don’t watch it, don’t support it, don’t promote it, and please don’t make excuses for it. Please. Don’t.

There is an alternative. You don’t have to give up viewing explicit depictions of human sexuality. How about instead of “porn” turning to erotica? Sexy, hot, wonderfully and intensely arousing erotica that is all about the woman, that is all about giving her pleasure and enjoyment, that is about giving her an orgasm, that is about giving women what women want, that is about treating her sensually, softly, lovingly, tenderly, passionately, erotically. How about that? Am I dreaming? No, I am not, because such erotic film does exist, but you have to make an effort to find it. This particular shade of grey does not show up in the mass of garbage to be found for free on internet porn distribution hubs. This has to be paid for. Simple reason for that: Crap is free. Quality has a price tag. And not hard to figure out why.

There is a growing field of erotic films by women for women. And it is all about sexual pleasure for women. Let me repeat that: pleasure for women. That is the elephant in the room in this debate about women being “empowered” if they go do sex work in the porn industry. Who are they working for? They say they are working for themselves. But lets be honest, in the mainstream porn biz, they are working for men, the male viewership that demands seeing what (some) men want to see for male pleasure so the man can get off on it, the whole raison d’etre of the mainstream porn biz: By men, for men. So to my mind, the bulk of these supposedly “empowered” women are working, still, as slaves of Patriarchy, and are, I am sorry to say this, deluding themselves when they say they are doing it for themselves and that this is “freedom.” This is a sexual version of the Stockholm syndrome; women still the captives of men, but this time celebrating their captivity and even calling it feminism. I am no expert on feminism. Far from it. I am still in the process of climbing a steep learning curve to discover more about feminist thought. But nevertheless, just like when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, when asked to describe his threshold test for obscenity, that “I know it when I see it,” I think maybe I know feminism when I see it. And I don’t see feminism when watching a girl getting pounded roughly by a man, crying out loudly (and sorry to break this news to you guys, but those actually aren’t cries of pleasure, but cries of pain, and her “orgasm” is something she is faking, because that is what she is paid to do), in a production financed by men, directed by a man, filmed by men, distributed by men, to be viewed for the pleasure of men so men can get off. Sorry, that is not feminism. That is Patriarchy at its worst.

So, please, everyone who thinks as I do, that there is a place for the depiction of sensual erotic sex acts on film, done with taste and style and genuine eroticism and genuine pleasure for all participants, please take the time and trouble to find and pay for the shade of grey that is made by women, for women. That sounds like feminism to me.

Written by

A private person, now living mostly “off the grid.” I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science (and photo is from the 80s, I’m hopelessly nostalgic)

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