Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pizza and Porn


Today I attended a lunchtime college panel debate on "Does Porn Make Sexism Sexy?"  Of course the question was never answered. They served pizza (umm, okay, but not all that great), and showed a clip from the documentary The Price Of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality & Relationships. Then a five-student (and one professor) panel had their say, followed by discussions at the individual tables.

At the risk of sounding agist, what struck me most was ... they're all so young! Not as in their age (though most of the room were probably younger than my oldest child), but that their viewpoints were so ... young. I remember being that age. I was an Adult! Though I never thought I knew it all (I still don't) - life does tend to furnish perspective. And that lack of perspective came through loud and clear to me (I'm hoping cerulean will chime in with her reactions in the comments - she took better notes than I did). 

When cerulean had emailed me and asked if I was interested in the event, my first thought was - how cool that I now have someone to go to stuff like this with. We both agreed that though it was something we both would be interested in, we wouldn't  likely go to alone. Besides, it's fun to have someone to discuss it with afterwards. We were both interested in hearing what young people had to say.

Of course, the main focus was visual pornography, even though my dictionary widget (that I don't necessarily agree with) gives the definition of pornography as "printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings." So written "erotica" wasn't really touched on at all. Besides, there was only an hour or so - time only for the chips and dip of a proper examination of the subject. 

Each student gave (or read from) their prepared position. There were comparisons of porn to the economy (good vs. bad), the typical "porn oppresses women" and "legally protected speech" statements. There was simplistic (imho) notions that the images of "deviant acts" were themselves damaging. That if a child (of say 13 or 14) sees a pornographic image it will "wipe away their innocence." The implication being that this is a terrible thing.  

There was a lot of talk about pornography being male dominated, "all about the guy's pleasure," and an almost dismissive attitude that any woman would even be interested in, much less like to look at porn. There was also talk about how porn has changed the dating world (negative impact of course) - since porn is only for the "male gaze." That porn makes guys think that pubic hair is something to be rid of and that "taboos" like bisexuality (female, not male, oh no, can't have that) and anal sex are something guys want, not necessarily what the girls they're dating want. Guess I'm getting old. I'm fucking glad I don't have to date - it doesn't seem that anything has gotten any clearer to the participants since I was in my early twenties, internet porn or no.

I'd be interested in watching this documentary, though my sense is that it is full of the porn is degrading to women and bad for everyone involved (whether they consent or not) attitude. If anyone reading this has seen it, I sure hope you'll post a comment. My opinion on the whole subject is extremely complicated and I sure don't have the time to get into it right now. Though I know I'll keep coming back to this over and over again, don't worry. ;-)  The subject of sex fascinates me. Oh, when I was "researching" this blog post I came across one that Greta Christina posted over a year ago that I liked. I agree with her, so rather than paraphrasing - just go read it. 

So, at my ripe age I've decided to own up to my forever attraction to smut and smutty things. And I find it kind of ironic that in doing so (considering my history), I've become (as I only half-jokingly say to my husband) empowered by porn. 

Porn/erotica/smut/whatever-you-want-to-call-it has been around forever. The internet. Cable, DVDs, VHS, Betamax (remember?). Film. Photography. The printed word. Painting and drawing and sculpture. I'm sure that somewhere somebody was drawing dirty pictures on a cave wall. So what else is new?

15 comments:

Heidi Champa said...

I attended the Great Porn Debate at my alma mater, and I have to say it didn't do anything to help me decide how I felt about anything.

I thought it was a shame there wasn't more active discourse on the subject.

My opinions are all over the place too. Just when I think I have it all figured out, something else changes my mind.

Donna said...

Thanks for the report, Robin. Oh, I'm so glad I'm not young any more either! Sure my skin isn't as smooth and glowing, but everything else is way better in terms of quality and wisdom.

That talk and Greta's excellent points are the very reason we need to keep writing and adding to the discourse, slowly and surely. We can change the word one dirty story at a time. We can prove that we like sex--which is the compliment Greta gave my story in X. I had the pleasure of going drinking with her and Susie Bright in January. Talk about dreams come true, lol. Anyway, thanks for the pointer to her essay. It gives an excellent, nuanced perspective on the debate indeed.

In sum, I just think your mediocre pizza party proves you need to keep writing lots and lots :-).

Emerald said...

"an almost dismissive attitude that any woman would even be interested in, much less like to look at porn"This has consistently been one of my biggest pet peeves in this discussion. The argument that “pornography objectifies/degrades/etc. women” to me says that sex degrades women. That sex is for men, and when women partake in it they are being objectified. The irony is searing to me that it seems to me it is this argument, rather than pornography, that degrades and oppresses women. It hands sexuality over to men, leaving women in the position of having to fight around sexuality somehow in order to struggle to be understood as equal. This, of course, I find such a load of shit I hardly know how to express it. Whoever conceived that feminism meant eschewing sexuality sure didn't check with me first.

I'll leave it at that for now (I wrote a 25-page ethics paper in grad school in part on this subject :) ), as I, funnily enough, just got done working for the night and feel tired. :) (I was webcamming, which may not technically be considered porn but I would guess could be. That said, I have worked in amateur porn, but again, I will save that for a time when I feel more up to commenting thoroughly.)

Thanks Robin!

Erobintica said...

Heidi, when was that? Did you write about it on your blog? (hint - so I can go back and read about it - I vaguely remember it, but my memory is not as sharp as it used to be). Yeah, this was billed as a debate too, but other than what happened at the individual tables - and I'm not sure we even had 10 minutes - there really wasn't "active discourse." Though, since the arguments have been going on forever it seems, I'm sure nothing will ever be "all figured out." I could probably argue all sides, hahaha.

Donna, thanks for the thanks. Wow - drinking with Greta and Susie - sigh hehe. Yeah, it's not like I have an "agenda" with my writing, but I do hope to somehow contribute to the debate. ;-)

Emerald - I'm hoping when you're not so tired you'll write more. I find that I'm of the mind that if you don't like the way something is, work to change it, not wipe it from existence (or try to - porn's here to stay).

Okay, I could write a ton more, but I gotta have breakfast and take a walk.

cerulean said...

For someone who didn’t think she took adequate notes, Robin certainly reported on the “porn panel” we both attended at a local college with incredible accuracy.

I was not surprised by the opinions and comments made by the students—they were typical of any young person trying to navigate through, and find their place in, a very adult scenario without the advantage of a lot of experience. I respected their opinions, spoken with clarity and (mostly) supported with responsible data, yet I smiled at their naïveté. I hope their confidence in what they think they know now will see them through their future sexual challenges.

However, two comments, did give me pause. The first was made by a professor who compared porn images of women from the past with the current industry standards. Her complaint (one of many) is the portrayal of women in an everlasting state of pubescence—i.e., a shift from past images of a lush, well-trimmed pubic bush to the virtually hairless labias seen today, that she feels has forced women to shave their pubic area for men in order to “forever look 10-years old.” Ahem…I’m 53-years old. Nothing I do is going to make me look ten to any man, and frankly, those aren’t the men I wish to have a relationship with. It is not the reason I lather up. Her comment seemed to ignore that the practice has been going on for a long time for other reasons which she failed to mention (or could imagine)—it’s just that now it’s “okay” to photograph it.

The other opinion was from a very articulate female student at our discussion table who seemed to have solved the problem of male-dominated porn. I quote loosely: “That’s why I like queer porn. It takes the power out of the picture and makes it equal between the people involved,” she stated, almost giggling at her brilliance. “That’s why I like it.” Ahh, yes. Two people of the same sex playing nice together, respectfully taking turns filling each other’s orifices. Maybe it's true in the young woman's rose-colored world, but gay sex doesn’t titillate me in mine. Gay sex images can be beautiful, artful, and damn steamy but when I need to fuel my own primal urges, I am clearly heterosexual and seek that which is closer to my own sexual reality.

This is supposed to be a response post, not a blog entry of my own so I’ll stop here before I put everyone to sleep. I need to trudge to work now. I’m sorry I’m going to miss everyone else’s opinions and comments but have at it! I'll read them all tonight.

Erobintica said...

Hi cerulean - we posted comments at exactly the same time!

Um, yeah, I didn't get into the professor much - I was too afraid I'd go off into major rant land. ;-) And you're not going to put everyone to sleep!

It just occurred to me - that there was little talk (unless I missed it) how there are so many variations on what turn people on and that is what drives porn. There was a lot of tossing around of the word DISGUSTING yesterday. I'm sure that some of what turns me on would be thought by others as "disgusting" - and I don't think I'm a sick raving lunatic. Hmmm, yeah, going to rant land. *Hits the pause button*

Thanks cerulean, stop back later and add "to the discussion." ;-)

JM Stone said...

What a great post and comments!

I'll own up to honestly having no clue how I feel about porn. I guess I've a confused and nuanced opinion.

I love erotica - at least well written stuff. I used to pick up a copy of Penthouse Letters on occasion - sometimes there was a rare gem in there, but most of the time it wasn't up to my standards. It's been a long time since I've bought one of those. But the good stuff....ooooh how do I like it. I read it for pleasure, I read it for pleasure, I read it when I have spare moments.

I love erotic photography and art. A well composed image paying homage to the sensuality and sexuality of the human body(male or female) is something that both my eyes and my libido can appreciate. Like fine lingerie, my favorites are those that leave just enough up to the imagination. I have an active one, so no need to beat me over the head with the stuff.

As for video...that's where you lose me. And I don't think it's so much that I don't like porn. I think it's that I don't like how they FILM porn. It's the fact that the guy stands this way and the gal hold her leg like so to facilliate the shot. I'm sorry - I just don't see that being pleasureable for either of them. It's the fact that they show a woman with wicked nails fingering a pussy - nope - sorry, I know from experience that a pussy would much rather nicely trimmed nails.

So...for me the way the video is filmed dictates whether it's porn or erotica. I think I would be a HUGE fan of erotica video. Scenes of real sex, not porn sex. I know that stuff's out there, but I haven't gone looking for it yet ;)

I get bent when the "feminist" aspect comes into things too. Who are they to tell me that I can't enjoy the pleasures of my own flesh? And if I watch, look at, read or write things pertaining to sex, why is that demeaning?

Okay...I think I'll stop before I get ranting. I've known quite a few people who condemn erotic art in all of its forms for sexist, and I think they just are stiffling their sexuality. Truly.

~J

Erobintica said...

Jen, I loved this in your comments about video and the way it's filmed It's the fact that the guy stands this way and the gal hold her leg like so to facilliate the shot. I'm sorry - I just don't see that being pleasureable for either of them. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) porn sex seems almost robotic to me - I guess I want more (and yeah, I haven't gone searching either). I sort of bristle though at the idea that women aren't turned on my images (like porn) as much as men are (which is supposedly why we like written erotica more) .

Ah, maybe one of these days we'll have to have a purely rant away post and comments. We all seem to be reining in our rants today.

JM Stone said...

Exactly!!

I mean, if an erotic film took the same care in casting for chemistry and so forth, THEN I'd watch it! But filming a porno simply because so-n-so wants to see whazisface do whazerface??? Puleeze.

And I'm with you....maybe we need to have a blogland "bitch session" day...all of our blogs - pick a day, and we'll just rant!

I like the idea and I'm definitely game!

Donna said...

Wow, everyone, this is such a fascinating discussion!

I totally agree with Emerald that saying porn is for men erases female sexual agency and desire--even if a lot of porn doesn't appeal to women. But the point is different things do turn us on as individuals and shaving for example is "bad" if a partner insists against your wishes, but not if you find pleasure in it.

And yes, gawd, the positions and conventions in most porn is just so contrived. Especially those nasty nails on tender skin. I just cringe. I find those sort of documentary type films engaging--where they interview a real couple and then invite us into their bedroom.

Please do share your amateur experiences when you have the time, Emerald!

Emerald said...

Ah, I'm still so tired I shouldn't even be here (have been meaning to take a nap for over an hour, lol), and thus I'm still not going to babble much about the perspective in me, but I wanted to throw out a couple recommendations for anyone interested.

JM, as far as real sex scenes in porn, you might want to check out Comstock Films. I enjoyed Matt and Khym particularly.

And two book recommendations: First, Naked Ambition, edited by Carly Milne. This book is a collection of essays by different female professionals in the porn industry, and I found it fabulous even if I didn't agree with every single thing said in it. I highly recommend it.

The second is a much denser and even academic book that I enormously appreciated, but admittedly seems to perhaps be one best suited for those considerably interested in this issue. :) It's Defending Pornography by Nadine Strossen (President of the ACLU).

Okay, I really am off to bed now. More later (likely anyway) after I have caught up on sleep!

Erobintica said...

I'll return in the morning - hoping the conversation keeps going.

Donna George Storey said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Emerald. I'm going to check them out!

Erobintica said...

Okay, back.

Emerald - thanks for the links. Gee, my library doesn't have either of those books. ;-)

Emerald said...

Lol Robin. Okay, so this is seriously the first time I've made it back here with any chance to comment since I last posted. I don't know what's up with my schedule lately. I also noticed that when I last posted I forgot to even read the comments that had come since my previous post! Jeez. Apologies if it seemed like I thus ignored them!

It seems to me that porn, as with much of the sex industry, has been forced "underground" in a way for such an extended period that its context has naturally been affected. I have frequently felt surprised that this does not seem to occur to us more. There is complaint that porn seems poorly made, strip clubs seem "sleazy," prostitution seems surrounded by crime.... Well, we criminalize prostitution, degrade stripping as a profession, and have tended to respond collectively to explicit depictions of sex in a staggeringly pubescent way for adults to do so (it seems to me). And then we wonder why the contexts surrounding these fields seems less than stellar? Some may argue in the "chicken or egg" area that one obviously came first — but I don't see that at this point as much more than arbitrarily decided and feel I would appreciate it being pondered more openly. Perhaps it would follow for it to shift as such.

Sorry it took me so long to get back here to follow up, Robin! :)