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A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.
September 27, 2010 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Pornland. At the beginnings of the 1950s, porn was something boys indulged in behind the barn and creeps enjoyed in dingy little movie theatres. 60 years later, porn is everywhere. Michael Enright recently interviewed academic Gail Dines on CBC Radio's Sunday Edition. Listen to the interview here.

Dines is the author of PORNLAND; How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality.

Sez CBC:

There are 420 million internet porn pages, 4.2 million porn web sites and 68 million search engine requests for porn daily. And the language, imagery and ethos of porn have become the stuff of movies, music, books and advertisements. Our culture, our politics and our economy all have porn laced throughout.

All of this may sound alarmist, but if Gail Dines is correct, it should be alarming; if for no other reason than the effect porn has on how men and women, and especially young men and women have come to define who they are, how they relate and what relationships and intimacy really mean.

Dines goes further. Given that the average boy first sees porn at the age of 11, we are raising a generation of boys who are cruel, bored and desensitized.

Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston and the author most recently of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality. It's a startling book and it's a rough, harsh read and rightly so. Porn is an ugly world and getting uglier all the time.
posted by KokuRyu (75 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Porn is an ugly world and getting uglier all the time

I disagree.

I've often joked with late 30-something friends (my age) that if we had the internet porn of today when we were 11, I'd only be able to get off watching monkeys fisting donkeys, but it's a joke and though a lot of porn is oddly misogynistic and puts women in the submissive role, not all porn is created equal. I keep seeing more and more porn that puts women in the dominating role, and doesn't seem to be written with the average low-brow fan in mind.

I haven't read this book, and I'm not sure on-demand ubiquitous porn is going to make growing up and relationships any easier, but I do see a bright side of at least removing the "hidden" and "dirty" qualities of it from American life. Hopefully future generations will be more open minded it. I think it was Dan Savage that predicted in about 20 years I bet we'll have a presidential candidate with a easily found sex tape that will be no big deal to most people.
posted by mathowie at 9:54 PM on September 27, 2010 [20 favorites]


Also, I see from the site the author is mostly concerned with how violent some porn is getting as customers/viewers get "desensitized" to vanilla porn. Again, I'd disagree here. There is definitely some creepy violent stuff out there that borders on rape fantasies, but I'd argue that people seeking that kind of stuff out were already into it. You don't just eventually get off on crazy shit like that after seeing porn deemed too boring.

I was just thinking about this the other day in regards to porn, which is if you see something that goes beyond your comfort zone it's often a massive turn off. I don't think everyone "gets used to" disturbing imagery with regards to sexuality, it almost seems to have the opposite effect when you see something that is totally and completely unsexy to you take place in a porn environment.
posted by mathowie at 9:59 PM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've often joked with late 30-something friends (my age) that if we had the internet porn of today when we were 11, I'd only be able to get off watching monkeys fisting donkeys, but it's a joke and though a lot of porn is oddly misogynistic and puts women in the submissive role, not all porn is created equal. I keep seeing more and more porn that puts women in the dominating role, and doesn't seem to be written with the average low-brow fan in mind.

Listening to the interview on Sunday morning as I was making pancakes (Dines: There's some words I can't say on radio; Enright: Oh, come on, it's all right, don't worry; Dines: Okay, slut, cumbucket...) I was struck by how out of touch Dines was; it was as though she didn't really understand everything that is out there (or Rule 34, for that matter).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:00 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also see that this seems to be another of those authors who doesn't get that gay porn also exists.
posted by blucevalo at 10:06 PM on September 27, 2010 [17 favorites]


I'm listening now, but my general problem with these kinds of studies/books is that they theorize "porn should have X, Y, and Z effects on society." But I see little proof that it actually does. In fact, there is some evidence that porn has had a positive effect on society.
posted by sbutler at 10:13 PM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Of course, the San Fernando Valley has become known as "Porn Valley" and at one point in my semi-career as an accountant I was offered a job with a producer/distributor of Porn VCR Tapes (almost 25 years ago). I wasn't so bothered with the porny part, but when I did a little due diligence of the company I realized it was still semi-connected to an organized crime family that used to dominate the illegal porn biz and many suspected that the relatively new "legal porn" was being used for laundering mob money. I would have been handling all the non-payroll payables and maintaining the IBM System 34 computer that held all the company's records. If there was money-laundering involved, I would've ended up right in the middle of it, and even if it wasn't, I'd be Most Likely to Get Dragged Into an Investigation. (And I don't handle interrogation well, with bad cops OR good cops). So I passed on that job and ended up working for a financial firm involved with an exciting new financial product: Junk Bonds. (The CEO was even a close pal of Michael Milken) Out of one obscenity, into another.

If you were to ask me where the breakdown of America's morality originated, I'd tell you it was definitely NOT porn.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:14 PM on September 27, 2010 [47 favorites]


So far, she seems highly disingenuous. She says all internet porn is gonzo porn, which is ridiculous. Then she suggests that the porn of the past is not the issue, but says "Hugh Hefner is a pimp."

Basically, this part is true: if for no other reason than the effect porn has on how men and women, and especially young men and women have come to define who they are, how they relate and what relationships and intimacy really mean.

This part is ridiculous: Given that the average boy first sees porn at the age of 11, we are raising a generation of boys who are cruel, bored and desensitized.
posted by Chuckles at 10:23 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Beware all alarmist rhetoric that bemoans an unsubstantiated coarsening of culture.
posted by clarknova at 10:25 PM on September 27, 2010 [24 favorites]


if you see something that goes beyond your comfort zone it's often a massive turn off. I don't think everyone "gets used to" disturbing imagery with regards to sexuality, it almost seems to have the opposite effect when you see something that is totally and completely unsexy to you take place in a porn environment.

The difference between porn and erotica: Porn turns you on until your finished, and then you feel disgusted for looking at that crap.
posted by Chuckles at 10:26 PM on September 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


@Chuckles It's even better than that! Around minute 20 she starts a slippery slope argument saying that you too can become addicted to child porn! You know, because that's where being bored with sex logically leads...
posted by sbutler at 10:28 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


How apropos, on another forum I frequent we're having a huge debate about this at the moment. And damn it, I'll say here what I said there:

I feel like any thoughts along these line are beyond the remit of governments or frankly individuals. I barely know what sex “means” for myself; I really don’t see it as my business to tell other people what it means to them, or what it should mean. If it’s consensual, and no one is getting hurt (in a real sense, not an ethereal cultural sense), then whatever gets you through the night, I say.

I’m extremely reluctant to tell people that how they look at porn – or the mere act of looking – is wrong, or making them devalue x, y, or z.
posted by smoke at 10:28 PM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


On interracial porn: What I'm specifically focusing on in this chapter is what's called interracial porn, which is always a black man, or black men, and a white woman.

I love Micheal Enright, but I might have to turn this off..
posted by Chuckles at 10:34 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


So far, she seems highly disingenuous. She says all internet porn is gonzo porn, which is ridiculous. Then she suggests that the porn of the past is not the issue, but says "Hugh Hefner is a pimp."

As the interview gets further along, she drops the pretense of only being against gonzo porn and it becomes "I'm against the pornography industry, and sex and the pornography industry are not the same. Pornography is a particular representation of a type of sex based on the debasement of women.
posted by sbutler at 10:43 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hm. I first saw porn when I was 10. (A Tijuana Bible my father had stashed in his closet.) It's a good thing I wasn't a boy, or I'd be cruel, bored, and desensitized. (I guess it did make it hard for me to read the comic "Blondie" afterwards.)

if for no other reason than the effect porn has on how men and women

This only makes sense if you define porn as sexual content that has a deleterious effect. Sexual content that is good for men and women's sexual relationships is erotica, or relationship therapy. I'm not down with the "porn is badsex" definition.

I just finished reading chapter six of her book, about growing up female in the porn culture. It's like she's got no sense of history. She thinks that the bombshells of our day are way more disgusting and slutty than the bombshells of yesteryear, and she bemoans the fact that at least in the '50s, women had other models of femininity than slutty celebrities*. And yeah, she seems to think that only straight porn exists, or maybe only straight porn is at all relevant.

It seems like half the time she's using pornography as a proxy for the patriarchy, and the rest of the time she's just slut-shaming. I tend to agree with her on the outcomes of the former, in that women's bodies still in many ways are thought to belong to men. But, the badsex porn she's upset about and the oppression of women she's upset about are correlational; both symptoms of patriarchy. And the slut-shaming? I have zero tolerance for it. You don't get to call me a slut just because you think I can change, and don't have to be that way**.

I do like my porn "Vegan" these days -- drawn or rendered. I like thinking that no living beings were harmed during the making of my porn, though sometimes I worry about the poor artists' drawing hand.

*I guess she's never watched Ellen Degeneres, or Rachel Maddow? I suppose Nanci Pelosi and Hilary Clinton aren't models of femininity? If they're not -- then what does she think it means to be feminine? Oh, I guess it only counts if its an image about women ought to relate to men. [HAMBURGER]

**Getting to call me a slut is a right only earned by a rather long and detailed negotiation process, and never on the first date. Oh no! I did it again, I showed what a slutty slut slut I am by expressing interest in sex! Why won't the porn culture leave me be!? [CHEEEZBURGER]
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:44 PM on September 27, 2010 [19 favorites]


I didn't stop listening.. She says, "The pornography industry is out to manipulate [boys], is out to bankrupt them morally and financially."

Ugh...
posted by Chuckles at 10:45 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel like I'm listening to someone tell me how today's marijuana is 800 times more potent than the marijuana my parents smoked.

She commits the frustrating fallacy I've mentioned before:
"There's an obvious definition game that is frustratingly common in porn/anti-porn arguments, where the anti-porn side self-servingly defines porn as "sexually explicit material that is bad" then demands to know why the porn side doesn't acknowledge that porn is inherently bad. This isn't just bad rhetoric; it's bad critique, reducing the argument to one about lexicography."
She starts out by saying that when she talks about porn, she's only talking about "gonzo porn", specifically not pictures of naked women, Playboy, or softcore porn (which she claims cannot be found on the Internet). I agree about the degree of debasement, racism, misogyny in "gonzo pornography" (and even beyond that!) but she's defining pornography as gonzo by virtue of it having those characteristics, and pornography by virtue of being gonzo. G.E. Moore named a fallacy after that.

But the really egregious remarks come near the end. She claims that the Dworkin/McKinnon anti-pornography statute was not censorship because it was a civil statute, not a criminal one. She goes on to compare it to car companies being held civilly liable for manufacturing defects that cause injury to consumers.

This is so incorrect, I suspect that it is willful misrepresentation* (she even insists on the point when the host voices skepticism). In fact, the anti-pornography statute allows civil actions for discriminatory practices, then defines "The production, sale, exhibition, or distribution of pornography" as a discriminatory practice.

The 7th Circuit opinion is worth reading -- even though Dines appears to be unfamiliar with it, it is a landmark First Amendment case. Most relevant for this discussion:
We do not try to balance the arguments for and against an ordinance such as this. The ordinance discriminates on the ground of the content of the speech. Speech treating women in the approved way--in sexual encounters "premised on equality" (MacKinnon, supra, at 22)--is lawful no matter how sexually explicit. Speech treating women in the disapproved way--as submissive in matters sexual or as enjoying humiliation--is unlawful no matter how significant the literary, artistic, or political qualities of the work taken as a whole. The state may not ordain preferred viewpoints in this way. The Constitution forbids the state to declare one perspective right and silence opponents.

The ordinance contains four prohibitions. People may not "traffic" in pornography, "coerce" others into performing in pornographic works, or "force" pornography on anyone. Anyone injured by someone who has seen or read pornography has a right of action against the maker or seller.

Trafficking is defined in Sec. 16-3(g)(4) as the "production, sale, exhibition, or distribution of pornography."
So yeah, I agree that racism, degradation, misogyny, and brutality are problems in pornography -- widely defined -- and in society at large. But even setting aside the much-neglected chicken and egg question about whether social ills cause evil porn or evil porn causes social ills, I don't think she's got anything resembling a coherent, or even honest, argument against porn, unless "Stuff that I think oughtn't exist does" counts.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:46 PM on September 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


the average boy first sees porn at the age of 11

Is there any reason to think this is lower than it used to be? When I was a kid in the early 70s, we weren't under round-the-clock surveillance like today's kids used to be, everyone's dad had Playboys stashed away, and we found them around age seven.

"And after school he sold the most amazing pictures...." --Tom Lehrer
posted by doubtfulpalace at 10:47 PM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, the lede lost me at "creeps."

I have noted increasing usage of that term. Whenever men are sexual or have sexual interests, we're creeps. We're skulking about with our debased and unwholesome desires in the dark. We're creepy creepers. Screw that with the double-headed dildo I saw painted on a vase in one of my Latin books in high school, which was clearly sent back in time from our sexually depraved and desensitized present.
posted by adipocere at 10:55 PM on September 27, 2010 [33 favorites]


If it is truly consensual, and made for public consumption, it is expression.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:03 PM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


The level of argumentation is really frustrating though... There are problems with the uber availability of porn in our culture. Look at AskMe.. Any guy who's having performance problems, what's the first piece of advice: stop with the porn for a while.

Dine's seems like Bill O'Reilly.. So much bluster that any legitimate discussion gets drowned out by her point of view.
posted by Chuckles at 11:07 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, the lede lost me at "creeps."

To be fair, the term is used to describe guys who hung out in porno theaters back in the day. And what usually happened in those places was lots of jerking off onto floors and seats and such. Which is pretty creepy, you have to admit.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:16 PM on September 27, 2010


Oh man, awesome! I love the "SOMETHING BAD!!: The bad thing that is happening that I have absolutely no evidence is actually happening!" genre!
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:30 PM on September 27, 2010


I will argue that porn, if consumed in a sphere where one is separate from more realistic depictions of sex and intimacy (whether through sex-ed, Dan Savage columns, discussion of actual sexual experiences, etc), can definitely warp expectations not only about how women look like with their clothes off but with what actually happens during sex. I have talked about sex with dudes in their mid-twenties who are otherwise nice, smart dudes, but because they didn't engage in a lot of discussion about sex outside of porn and generic frat boy boasting they remained astonishingly ignorant about some basic sexual realities. Like that the size of the average penis is not porn-star nine inches, dudes are not expected to last for three hours and switch positions every two minutes, anal sex requires preparation, isn't necessarily clean, and you can't just dive in, and some porn tropes like multiple orgasms and slapping the vulva aren't really par for the course for many women. It's profoundly bizarre and kind of sad.

I don't think this is so much a problem of porn though as it is an issue with it being one's only exposure to sexuality.
posted by schroedinger at 11:37 PM on September 27, 2010 [22 favorites]


I was about seven back in the early 70s when my friend a couple houses down found his mom's stash of porn. And this was no Playboy stuff, either. It was black and white hardcore, penetration, some SM, some gay, some scat stuff. It was a strange world of ickyness and mystery, combined with an acute discovery of my own boner. It did get me interested in that Pussycat theatre we used to pass on the way to Grandma's house. Disappointingly, I never turned into a raging sexual deviant. Or even mild one. I think Dines would find my sex life, likes, and desires surprisingly ordinary, maybe even boring.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:38 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just speculate, but I think that one's major turn-ons are formed in a similar but oppositional way to phobias: an experience that leads to extraordinary emotion, and as the emotion is pleasant, the person will seek to repeat the experience that evoked it. The implications of that are contentious for just about any ideology one cares to name, though ...
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:42 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


schroedinger:

I can see what you're saying, but I'm not sure that exposure to porn in a vacuum is necessarily worse than exposure to just the vacuum. We've all heard the cases about sheltered religious kids who get married and then have to find help because they actually don't know how to have sex at all or even what their partner's anatomy is.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:59 PM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


And they're just figuring this out now?
posted by bwg at 12:10 AM on September 28, 2010


metafilter: watching monkeys fisting donkeys

I guess we all do have our edge of what is stimulating - and mine must be in a prudish place because I find 90% very, very offputting.

But I'll return to something that came up with the "meefs rescue Russian sex slaves" thread: surely it is hard to enjoy watching anything that has such a strong risk of being built on human exploitation and misery. I mean, how could you ever put out of your mind the dirty underbelly of the industry?
posted by Rumple at 12:13 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


mathowie writes "I do see a bright side of at least removing the 'hidden' and 'dirty' qualities of it from American life."

This seems to be a likely positive outcome.

I wonder how the vast quantities of truly amateur porn that is already floating around and continues to be produced is going to change the game. Even if some of it is spread without both parties consent it almost invariably shows two people having fun without all the exploitation baggage that attaches to commercial porn. It's going to be a game changer.

doubtfulpalace writes "Is there any reason to think this is lower than it used to be? When I was a kid in the early 70s, we weren't under round-the-clock surveillance like today's kids used to be, everyone's dad had Playboys stashed away, and we found them around age seven."

Porn in the Woods after all.
posted by Mitheral at 12:31 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, "porn in the browser cookies" is the new "porn in the woods"
posted by Rumple at 12:34 AM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I mean, how could you ever put out of your mind the dirty underbelly of the industry?

There are companies out there that treat performers with respect.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:52 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, how could you ever put out of your mind the dirty underbelly of the industry?

Probably the same way all those perfectly nice women walking around with diamond rings on their fingers do. Which is to say; you just don't think about it.
posted by Justinian at 12:57 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


But I'll return to something that came up with the "meefs rescue Russian sex slaves" thread: surely it is hard to enjoy watching anything that has such a strong risk of being built on human exploitation and misery. I mean, how could you ever put out of your mind the dirty underbelly of the industry?

That's quite the assumption you've got there, that everybody in the industry has been tricked into it.

Are you sure you believe that women have, you know, agency and the ability to choose what they do with their lives?

we are raising a generation of boys who are cruel, bored and desensitized.

[cite required]
posted by effugas at 1:20 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


1972 -- friends and I, aged 12, explore the sagebrush steppe surrounding our suburban development. One day we find an old stash of porn magazines hidden behind some rocks. These were sepia-toned "go-go" men's mags from the 60's, replete with lots of pictures of what were thought to be lesbians back in those days. One shot was of a young, beautiful dark-haired woman, her mouth open wide over a wide-spread "beaver" just below her head. That image haunted my puberty. I later attended UC Santa Cruz, a university known around the world for its high lesbian population. Coincidence?
posted by telstar at 1:21 AM on September 28, 2010


I wonder if the escalation of pornographic interests is partly to do with having nearly everything to do with sex treated as forbidden and naughty when you're young. Why wouldn't you make the connection that if sexy = wrong, wrong = sexy?
posted by lucidium at 2:27 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, how could you ever put out of your mind the dirty underbelly of the industry

Yeah, 'cause porn is the only industry with a dirty underbelly!
posted by nomadicink at 2:53 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


These arguments all seem to come down to some deep-seated conviction that one's fantasies must have some sort of effect on one's opinions and behavior.

That's certainly true for some people. If you are that kind of person, then you should avoid pornography, as well as other forms of escapist entertainment.

Otherwise, the art and entertainment you consume has exactly as much effect on you as you let it. I read some great works of English literature in school and was absolutely unaffected by them, because I didn't like being made to consume them. With a little more self-control I can view the most grotesquely violent pornography (in my case, mainly to laugh at it) and derive entertainment from it, then move on with my life and act like a decent person.

If you don't believe people have this ability, then I wonder why you would fixate on pornography specifically. I would think that the fantasies people generate themselves--the ones that lead them to escapism in the first place--would be a great deal more harmful, being unique and personalized. And I think everyone, without exception, has some fantasies that they should never realize.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:34 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what gets me hot, really hot, I mean REALLY HOT?!

A warm bath.
posted by nomadicink at 4:09 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Her thesis presupposes that the extinction of the novelty of one kind of porn leads to a thirst for greater and more violent extremes. And that certainly serves her agenda.

I'm probably not a representative sample or anything, but, I have found that this is not the case.

I have mentioned before that I used to work for a porn distributor. I was constantly exposed to a wide and abundant variety of all sorts of porn. All day, every day, a neverending parade of every permutation of flesh twisted into every caricature of desire.

Rather than sending me to the outer extremes, it drove me back. I developed what a friend who worked in an adult video store dubbed a "porn callous." I recall one day, on my way home, I saw a woman with her hair pulled back, wearing a grey crewneck sweatshirt and jeans and no makeup. She was probably out running errands, and hadn't given a second thought to the way she looked, but after a day of looking at Jenna Jamesons and Chasey Lains, she was an absolute vision. "She's so beautiful," I thought to myself. "I wonder if she even knows."

I'm still aware of trends in the, uh, industry, and something I've noticed is that homemade and amateur porn seems to have surged in popularity. There are certainly people seeking "gonzo" extremes, but that genre seems to have waned in popularity. The trend I have noticed now is that there is more interest in material depicting people with natural bodies who are genuinely aroused by each other.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:38 AM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


The farmer who lived across the street from us where I grew up had a predilection for porn, to my benefit, and I'd get off the school bus, walk nonchalantly past his mailbox to see if the flag was down, looking out across the broad fields where slow-moving steers drifted through the grass. Sometimes, he'd be on his old Ford tractor, way off in the distance, and I'd watch the tractor lumbering past the huge tree beside his farmhouse, aimed at the open door of the barn, then strike.

The trick was to selectively pull one or two of the gleeful skin rags out of the group, just enough to add to the collection without alerting him to the theft and threatening the cancellation of a subscription. I'd very casually stand there, being as surreptitious as I could while rifling through a mailbox that stood alone at the end of a long dirt driveway with a few thousand feet of pasture on either side, and select a magazine or two, then tuck it in the back of my shorts, under my shirt, and dart off to my mildewed bachelor pad behind the furnace.

Self-described "marriage manuals" were the best. That was the trade name for black & white hardcore porn printed on thick paper with a dull gloss. When you were lucky, it advertised "16 FULL COLOR PAGES INSIDE!" so you weren't stuck translating shades of grey while holding the thing in your free hand. Those books were amazing, a treasury of what people could do together that were as liberated as the seventies and full of people with long hair and ass pimples and droopy biker mustaches and tits that looked like real tits looked, though not quite as real as National Geographic tits.

For my interest, they were also not so segregated about what was in there. You'd page through picture after picture of bored, stoned girls putting up with bored, stoned guys, all labeled with seemingly serious titles apropos of a marriage manual, like "the art of cunnilingus" and "a pictorial representation of the mechanism of clitoral stimulation, as illustrated by two Swedish medical professionals," and suddenly, you'd hit "homosexuality and bisexuality."

Holy crap, can you fuck someone like that?

That's just about the damnedest thing I've ever seen.


Naturally, my friends and I would try things out. Perhaps that's the escalation of perversion they're supposed to be worried about, except none of it was something we wouldn't have done later, albeit a little less well. Certain things needed more context. Anal sex, for instance, is pretty much a no-go until you find out that you need a slippery substance to make it work. When we cleared out my family home, more than a decade ago, I found the very jar of store brand petroleum jelly that launched a thousand victimless violations of Maryland sex laws (a little went a long, long way), and I cleaned it out and keep condoms in it now as a sort of memorial to the invention of buttfucking.

Other stuff wasn't so clear. It turns out that the "blow" in blowjobs is more of a metaphorical blow, like blowing your mind. As a budding sexual scientist, though, I read it wrong in the Penthouse letters and worked out that it must have something to do with air going up your urethra, and so, with the willing participation of my fellow scientist, I carefully threaded a plastic coffee stirrer straw into that region of the anatomy, took a deep, deep breath, and…

"What are you screaming about? Shut up, or my mom will hear us!"

The marriage manuals faded away at the advent of the Reagan years, and with it, the appearance of penises in porn started to fade as well. We were heading into the wreck of the world of gorgeous, grimy, over-the-top smiling friendly hippie porn and into the shaven, airbrushed wasteland, and it got downright depressing. The farmer subscribed to Hustler, but it was a mixed bag of gross-out and oh yeah. You sit there, feeling tragically inadequate as you looked at The Texas Longhorn with some bored, aimless German lady, using your mother's cloth measuring tape for a purpose that would mortify her if she'd known when she was later using it to measure her hips to tailor the jacket she was making. Still, it was intimidating, but strangely compelling, if you looked closely enough for long enough.

Then, you'd turn the page, and there would be some idiotic and vile cartoon, something horrifying about anatomy or perpetuating a racist stereotype, or a little of everything. Then, you'd turn the page and see a news item with a woman vomiting on the belly of a guy. Then, you see things all stretched into weird shapes and doing stuff that's not meant to be done, or at least not as much as that.

Shudder.

Fortunately, I was a scientist, and had a full roll of electrical tape. I'd carefully cut my own little black bars and stick them in place, so I could eventually masturbate my entire way through my favorite issue of Hustler without having my stomach turned. At some point, I got the idea that I must have some kind of complex, because the male parts were so overwhelmingly interesting, so I unrolled my tape and censored out the most interesting ones, just to keep things in balance.

That magazine eventually disappeared, and I had an ongoing crawly feeling, wondering where it had gone, and who knew, but you let these things go.

As it turned out, my sister had found it, in a reprisal raid in the ongoing wars of sibling conflict, and, to hear her tell it now, had a sort of abject moment of head furrowing as she held up the inch-thick sticky mess of magazine and electrical tape. In her near-adulthood, she took it to my dad, asking, with a grimace, if it was possible I was on the verge of becoming a serial killer.

Much later, my dad described turning the pages of that Hustler, having to unstick them not from youthful emissions but from the glue seeping off all my homemade censor bars, and actually pondering what was wrong in my head.

"Yeah, though when I really took a look, it looked like you'd plastered over all the big ones in there, like you were afraid you had a little dick."

It was one of those early conversations, when the subject at hand finally came up and we had the big heart-to-heart talks about what I intended to do with my life, and who I intended to do it with. Stuff was awkward, and I was an adult still in my teen years, despite the evidence of my fluffy, well-cultivated mullet to the contrary.

"Aww, shut up, dad," I complained. At any age, you don't want to hear your dad saying that sort of thing. "I was just trying to balance out my interests."

He laughed.

"How'd you think that was going to work, son? You like what you like."

I shrugged. My dad described a moment—carefully getting a fingernail under the corner to pry up one particularly well-censored photo, only to reveal the polychromatic horror of sexualized belly puking.

"I figured out you were okay after that, just sort of finicky."

"C'mon dad, that puking thing was unbelievable."

"Well, Hustler's pretty gross."

And years down the line, you'd think maybe I'd escalated in my perversity, what with all this wicked pornography out there. I've surfed an ocean of obscenity, and swam in lazy, luxurious circles in pools of porn, all kinds, avoiding the gross stuff when I found it, and I'm just fine. I haven't touched a little boy since I was one, haven't become a serial killer or a rapist, haven't become alienated and obtuse, at least in a sexual sense. In fact, I'm arguably in the vanguard of the first really porn-saturated generation, and I'm okay. The few fetishes and exotic interests I have, like my titillation at seeing attractive men speaking American Sign Language, are consistent throughout my history.

We're supposed to be desensitized by now, and maybe it's true, though it's more about losing that electric glee you'd feel, ripping off the brown paper sheath around Swedish Marriage Manual Annual '77 and seeing the badly-lit photo on the cover, with a couple going at it on an orange sofa sitting on a brown shag carpet under one of those big chrome ball lamps. We're desensitized, and it's okay, because it's natural for sex to just be there and natural and ordinary, except for that moment when you used to start to page through a forbidden thing in the dank little safe spot behind the ancient wheezing bulk of the furnace and anticipate the hundreds of orgasmic releases you'll feel, because of that low-gloss, stiff paper, black & white bible of what the body can do for us.

It's a strange nostalgia, but I pity the generation that has such easy access, because it'll never be worth what it was worth when we were young. Maybe I'm just placing myself in that get-off-my-lawn age group, albeit in the opposite direction, when the get-off-my-lawn was an angry white-haired farmer lurching your way down a long dirt driveway, hollering about his mailbox as you ran off, laughing, with a copy of Club International tucked down the back of your shorts, knowing full well he'd never tell your parents what you did.

If anything, the ubiquity of porn is removing its compulsive charge, just like the moralists and the concern trolls would have hoped, though not in the way they hoped. It's omnipresent and easy. I open my browser, looking for almost anything, and there's some porn that shows up.

Hmmm.

You go through your email and the usual round of favorite sites, and there it is.

Ugh. Not in the mood for that. Next.

The bankers and the realtors and the investors and the elected officials and the oil men and the meganationals are all raping us, minute after minute, day after day, year after year, and the most corrupt among us hammer the point home about sexual perversion even as they reach into our finances, teasing our tingling purses and tracing out quivering assets to firmly twist and tug at, and they sell our souls and mortgage our futures because they live in a morality of their own.

The concern trolls troll, the moral histrionics roll and rant and ramble in the playful surf of the electromagnetic spectrum, the churches cry out, the tea parties call out for the truly moral to reclaim a country they never had, and yet, the most strident of them are almost always the ones who turn around and go on to fuck the whole damn world.

You want to see a dirty underbelly?

Call a realtor, plan a funeral, or buy some stock.

Meanwhile, I'm just masturbating, for pete's sake.
posted by sonascope at 4:53 AM on September 28, 2010 [124 favorites]


Reading about reading about reading about porn makes me almost ready to leave my insomnia alone and go back to bed. If only for an hour before dawn.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:07 AM on September 28, 2010


Given that the average boy child first sees porn television at the age of 11 0, we are raising a generation of boys kids who are cruel, bored and desensitized.

Fixed that for her.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:11 AM on September 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Honestly, it sounds like the only verifiable point that she has to make is that a lot of porn creates a rather unrealistic portrait of sex. That is also true, of course, for the way that popular media portrays romantic relationships, war, law enforcement, the practice of law and medicine, the size of the apartments that young people starting their careers in New York City can afford, etc.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:44 AM on September 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


I remain on the fence about this. (And the feeling of the post against my buttocks is... uh, never mind.) A 70s issue of Playboy and Russian Sex Slaves In Torment.com contain very different messages. That today's 11 year old has easy access to more porn of greater extremity than could have been assembled by an adult millionaire of decades past is such a huge change that I don't think anyone can be confident what kind of effects it will have.

Sheesh, when I was a boy, Jane Russell had to demonstrate the Cross Your Heart bra on a mannequin. And we wore onions on our belts. Which was the style at the time...
posted by Joe Beese at 5:50 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wonder how the vast quantities of truly amateur porn that is already floating around and continues to be produced is going to change the game.

I'm still aware of trends in the, uh, industry, and something I've noticed is that homemade and amateur porn seems to have surged in popularity.

I never "got" porn, was never really interested in pictures or videos, until the truly-homemade stuff became widely available (so, since sometime this decade). It was like, hey, look, this isn't contrived or gross; it's just a single shitty webcam angle of people who genuinely love (or at least lust after) each other, fucking.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:51 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Although there is still a, hm, soft spot in my heart for that fake nude of Marina Sirtis.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:53 AM on September 28, 2010


I bet she has the biggest, weirdest porn collection.
posted by jtron at 6:14 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm going to star in a musical called Sane Guy on the Roof, where I play Tevye, a cranky old man that sings songs about how things aren't so bad, and we all should just chill the fuck out.

Perspective! PERSPECTIVE!

What scares you as you scramble for a living,
feed your wife and children, say your daily prayers?
They are not so different,
From things that came before!

It's not new! PERSPECTIVE!


Guys can't get off unless girls are shaved and wearing high heels and vigorously riding a Sybian? Nothing new here except for perhaps household electricity. If porn has "hijacked our sexuality," then Marilyn Monroe standing over a street grate "hijacked our sexuality," too.

"Ohh, baby, wear a skirt just like hers in that movie."
"Eww, gross. You'll see my legs!"
"Exactly!"

Perspective! PERSPECTIVE!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:45 AM on September 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


I bet she has the biggest, weirdest porn collection.
Of course, for "Research"
posted by delmoi at 6:51 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ridiculous. Sexuality is our most basic drive. It has always been the dominant factor in human social organization, as it is for all species that sexually reproduce.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:51 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also see that this seems to be another of those authors who doesn't get that gay porn also exists.

I'm genuinely tired of reading more "porn is bad" arguments that don't bother to include the much broader universe of porn, from gay to lesbian to radical feminist to total amateur. Those tend to complicate the simplistic "porn is bad" shtick, and so everyone leaves them out, but they were actually incredibly important to the formation of mainstream, heterosexual modern porn.
posted by Forktine at 7:06 AM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Things nowadays are worse than when I was a kid. News at 11.
posted by Melismata at 7:36 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't stop listening.. She says, "The pornography industry is out to manipulate [boys], is out to bankrupt them morally and financially."

Ugh...


Financially? She does know that "boys" don't EVER pay for it, right?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:39 AM on September 28, 2010


effugas: That's quite the assumption you've got there, that everybody in the industry has been tricked into it.

Are you sure you believe that women have, you know, agency and the ability to choose what they do with their lives?


Uh, I said "strong risk", not "everybody." And it is just a question of being tricked into it, it can be a stop on a downward spiral which can also include abuse, addiction, homelessness, etc. Otherwise, what was the concern about those nice Russian girls exercising their agency?

Nomadicink: Yeah, 'cause porn is the only industry with a dirty underbelly!

Two wangs don't make a right.

KokuRyu: There are companies out there that treat performers with respect.

No doubt. Is there some kind of list of what they are? I, err, know someone who might be interested.

Though more seriously, there could be, if there isn't already, a niche for a sort of equivalent to "fair trade" certification for porn, a sort of ethical sourcing affirmation.

I mean, it is entirely reasonable to be concerned about sweatshop conditions for making the clothes you wear or serflike conditions for the coffee you drink, some sort of consumer-driven ethical certificate for porn would be very welcome.
posted by Rumple at 7:41 AM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dines goes further. Given that the average boy first sees porn at the age of 11, we are raising a generation of boys who are cruel, bored and desensitized.

This would explain why the crime rate has risen astronomically over the last 20 years.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:53 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why is it, after decades of porn stashes being discovered by kids, that parents haven't figured out how to successfully hide it? How hard could it be? Do they just immediately forget that the average 12-year-old is going to rifle through everything they own with the skill of a highly-motivated KGB agent?
posted by mecran01 at 8:07 AM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Graphic Sexual Horror (trailer, mostly worksafe i.e. no boobs) is a documentary about now defunct Insex.com (wiki link), probably the hardest of hardcore bondage sites. Interview with director. (NSFW art) Occasionally a performer's requested boundary ("no slapping") was crossed as in this clip (very, very NSFW).
posted by waraw at 8:11 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, it is entirely reasonable to be concerned about sweatshop conditions for making the clothes you wear or serflike conditions for the coffee you drink, some sort of consumer-driven ethical certificate for porn would be very welcome.

You seem to be moving the goalposts here. Your original question was surely it is hard to enjoy watching anything that has such a strong risk of being built on human exploitation and misery. I mean, how could you ever put out of your mind the dirty underbelly of the industry? That seems to imply not just that you might be concerned about the exploitation involved in producing coffee or clothes but that it would be hard for you to enjoy a cup of coffee or wearing a new pair of sneakers. If you are able to imagine ways to cheerfully consume other commodities sometimes produced under exploitative conditions, why the doubt that one could enjoyably consume pornography?
posted by layceepee at 8:17 AM on September 28, 2010


> Ridiculous. Sexuality is our most basic drive.

I can tell you've never been seriously short of food, water, or air.
posted by jfuller at 8:24 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If anything, the ubiquity of porn is removing its compulsive charge, just like the moralists and the concern trolls would have hoped, though not in the way they hoped. It's omnipresent and easy. I open my browser, looking for almost anything, and there's some porn that shows up.

Hmmm.

You go through your email and the usual round of favorite sites, and there it is.

Ugh. Not in the mood for that. Next.


There's a strange and unfortunate undercurrent of argument I get from the older generation in my family that runs along lines something like: "If you have porn you take sex for granted, and if you take sex for granted, there is no reason for affection and attachments." Which is an alarming take on human nature, much like the assertion that we need a God to tell us what is right and wrong or, who knows, we'd just go off and kill all our neighbours with an axe.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:28 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This woman is clearly intelligent, but anyone who takes a cum-on-face scenario as de facto degrading is absolutely, unequivocally, anti sex. That said, although her moral outcomes argument is weak, the potential for addictive patterns using porn can make a screwed-up person worse. Porn can definitely be thought of as a somewhat destructive drug. Intelligent people generally seem to use it intelligently; but as is the case with other drugs, they (not to mention the far greater number of yobs out there) go more than a bit too far.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:57 AM on September 28, 2010


I have a hypothesis about the "degrading" aspect of current porn. A big appeal of pornography is transgression; I mean sure, it's not everything, but getting taboos tweaked is clearly part of the appeal of good old-fashioned smut. Back In The Day, the transgressive aspect was depicting women with healthy, enthusiastic attitudes towards sex, because that was so very much not reflected in reality.

These days, the transgressive aspect is control, humiliation, and degradation. . . is it possible that this represents progress in the "real-world" sexual treatment of women? If you want dubious consent, cruel power trips, whatever, you have to go to porn for it, because you're sure as hell not going to find it in polite society without being a creep? If so, I gotta say, I'm kinda good with that. People can find things totally hot in the FantasyVerse that they simultaneously find repellent in ActualLand.
posted by KathrynT at 9:27 AM on September 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


Make love, not porn makes the same point, without the fear-mongering.
posted by joedan at 10:11 AM on September 28, 2010


telstar: "One shot was of a young, beautiful dark-haired woman, her mouth open wide over a wide-spread "beaver" just below her head. That image haunted my puberty. I later attended UC Santa Cruz, a university known around the world for its high lesbian population."

I am imagining a subliminal Boroughsian conspiracy among porn models to shape world politics by manipulating the psyche of millions of young boys via subtle cues in facial expression and posture.
posted by idiopath at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2010


I'd only be able to get off watching monkeys fisting donkeys

Wasn't that a SLYT post on the front page last week?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:43 AM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


How dare you degrade the beautiful and innocent memory of baby monkey riding on a pig. HOW DARE YOU.
posted by elizardbits at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


anybody have a link to this in mp3? I can see how the subject matter could be enhanced with visuals, I am guessing is it purely aural.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 2:04 PM on September 28, 2010


I am suspicious of anyone who states: "Porn is bad" or "Porn is good". The real problem is that "porn is here" and we have had no public discussion about it. It's like sex education. Many people would rather not talk about sex at all than talk about it sensibly. There is a religious dimension to this.

But we need a discussion. It is unacceptable that children can access pornography (in any form) from the age they can use a PC (7? 8? 9?). Porn is not good sex education. It is also unacceptable to prevent adults accessing pornography. Pornography can have positive effects on adults. Adults have the right to orgasm. The current head-in-the-sand attitude to pornography suits certain people, belief systems and organisations.

Virtual sex is about to revolutionise human sexuality. We need a public discussion.
posted by bobbyelliott at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, people pay for porn?

Hey people, you are doing the internets wrong.
posted by localroger at 3:08 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


schroedinger:

I can see what you're saying, but I'm not sure that exposure to porn in a vacuum is necessarily worse than exposure to just the vacuum. We've all heard the cases about sheltered religious kids who get married and then have to find help because they actually don't know how to have sex at all or even what their partner's anatomy is.


I wasn't arguing for a vacuum or against porn. I was simply stating that if porn is your only exposure to sexuality, it can give you a pretty warped idea of how sex works in the real world. It is the same as if you base all your expectations for relationships on what you see in romantic comedies. Any time you confuse fantasy with reality things are going to get fucked up.
posted by schroedinger at 4:38 PM on September 28, 2010


I read 'Gonzo porn' and the visual was just too much. yes, that Gonzo
posted by ostranenie at 4:44 PM on September 28, 2010


It is unacceptable that children can access pornography (in any form) from the age they can use a PC (7? 8? 9?). . . . We need to have a public discussion.

In any form? What about "In the Night Kitchen" by beloved illustrator and children's author, Maurice Sendak? (I don't think the book is at all pornographic, but the folks who demand it to be removed from libraries claim it is, or at least that some people will get off on it.) What about shoe fetishists that really like the Allen-Edmonds catalog? What about National Geographic magazines that most adults don't find pornographic, but that many pre-teens do? What about the people who think (or at least claim to think) that Daddy's Roommate is pornographic solely because it is about gay people? I'm all for public discussion of pornography, but what is this "porn" thing we are to discuss? There's no third way here because we haven't even gotten to the fork in the road.

In the meantime, if it's unacceptable that children can access stuff you think is sexual and bad (in any form) from the age they can use a PC, don't let your kid use a PC.
posted by Marty Marx at 5:17 PM on September 28, 2010


I can tell you've never been seriously short of food, water, or air.

All of which are only necessary so we can reproduce. Nature doesn't care if you suffer as long as you pass along your genes first.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:41 PM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


*alerts fourcheesemac to the existence of asexuals*
posted by LogicalDash at 6:43 PM on September 28, 2010


I am imagining a subliminal Boroughsian conspiracy among porn models to shape world politics by manipulating the psyche of millions of young boys via subtle cues in facial expression and posture.

Well, the no pubic hair conspiracy didn't work so well in 2000 and 2004...
posted by Forktine at 7:12 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


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