18 Jan 2010

No good can come of watching the Virgin TV channel...

...but hey, sometimes a girl gets bored late at night and flicks over. And what do Virgin like to show at night? Programmes all about sex, loosely disguised in the form of documentaries. I knew I was probably heading for trouble selecting 'Why Men Watch Porn', but it wasn't as horrific as it could have been. The attitude was pretty predictable, starting from the perspective that porn is fine and groovy, with no discussion of its potential to harm women, and that consuming it is 'just something normal guys do'. It was even mildly interesting to watch the results of a study involving men of different age groups rating their interest in different types of porn - and somewhat heartening to see men from all the age groups stating their lack of interest in using it. The reaction of the men's (female) partners to what the study 'revealed' about their sexual tastes was a bit tiresome - the women seemed happy to make excuses for male consumption of porn viz arguments that 'men are just wired differently', that women can distract themselves with 'a bath or a book' or that when we 'get the horn', we're capable of waiting for satisfaction, whereas men have to be satisfied Right Now, Dammit. I thought the women's words were evidence of just how internalised the modern stance on porn has become, that being: it's fine, men need it, we couldn't possibly understand because we're women, there's no point trying to argue against it. I also wondered if any of these women had ever 'had the horn' to the point where a bath or a book just wouldn't do it, and only a date with Ms Right Hand would suffice - cos I know have!
What was probably most dismaying though, was the final throwaway 'stat', which was that 32% of men surveyed thought porn reduced sex crime. That's an argument I get reeeal tired of hearing, simply because it seems to rely on a fatal misunderstanding of what sex crime is, and why it's committed. However, it means acknowledging that the opposition to that argument (that porn increases sex crime), also comes from barking up the wrong tree, which is anathema to some anti-porn feminists. I just think that this simplistic view of male sexuality needs to be dispensed with. If you're sadistic and fucked up enough that you're actually considering raping someone, I doubt that any alternative form of outlet is going to be enough. Rape isn't just about 'needing to have sex really badly' (and please, can we stop saying prostitution is justified because it somehow 'stops rape'? Newsflash - prostitution and rape still continue side by side) or wanting to do something so kinky that no woman would put up with it. Wanting sex and not always getting it is part of life - normal men and women can put up with that. They may masturbate, use porn, or just distract themselves, but to suggest that people rape because they're just too randy, is to fatally misunderstand what rape is about. It's not about sex, or sexual release, or satisfaction. It's about power, humiliation, domination, and controlling another person's body. If that is what you truly desire, then watching porn isn't going to stop you from wanting to go out and get it. Unfortunately, I think too many people 'normalise' rapists as 'regular guys who just got carried away because damn women won't put out all the time'. As if there's never been a rapist who was already in a sexual relationship with a wife or a girlfriend, or who had access to stacks of porn, or who used prostitutes, and went out and raped anyway.
However, as I said, this means also acknowledging the limitations of porn when it comes to influencing men's sexual behaviour. Now, it's important not to make blanket statements about this. When I say I don't think porn causes rape, that's not to say I think it has no impact whatsoever on the sexual landscape. But, as I said above, since rape has very little to do with sex, it stands to reason that its connection with on-screen depictions of sex, will only ever be fleeting. Yes, a violent porn film might give you an idea of how to violate someone, but it's not going to make you go out and do it. The impulse for sexual violence needs to be there already. Porn doesn't turn ordinary men into rapists - it doesn't have the power. It may give men who are already raping or considering rape, some methods for terrorising their victims, but that's where the connection ends. However, that's not to say I don't see the connection with porn and rape culture - one where rape isn't taken seriously because our porned society has numbed us to sexual violence. If we're all exposed to, or able to easily access, porn that sends out the message that women love to be beaten and raped, then our understanding of rape as a crime is going to be affected - even if it's just subconsciously. How many times have we heard rapists defended on the basis that 'she just liked it rough, your honour'? Only this week five men were acquitted of the rape of a woman on the basis that she had had fantasies about group sex, clearly sending out the message that if a woman has a kinky fantasy, she should be prepared to enact it with any man, at all times, and has no right to say no. Something's clearly fucked up - but it's not porn causing the rapes directly. It's a society so numbed to sexual violence, partly by increasingly violent porn, that's allowing rapists to go free, and sending out the message to would-be rapists that they'll always get away with it.
I wouldn't call myself an anti-porn feminist though. I don't believe that repression of human sexuality is ever going to lead to anything good. I think that porn can be produced responsibly, and that porn which depicts violence/coercion can be framed in the language of choice and consent, as BDSM porn always has been. It's the mainstream porn which steals the acts of BDSM porn, whilst leaving out the crucial aspects of consent (and failing to emphasise, as many BDSM sites do, that the actors are just that, actors playing a part and that This Is Not Reality) which I believe does the most harm. It's how to keep the good and dispense with the swathes of bad which is troubling. It was also telling on the programme that many men described a scene of anal sex - which would have been viewed as shocking and explicit a few decades ago - as 'quite tame'. It seems that the more extreme porn is produced, the more bored we get. Perhaps this is a worrying sign of how people will go to further and further extremes to get satisfaction, or perhaps it's a heartening sign that people recognised porn's limitations and will start to turn away from it, maybe even back to real people and having real sexual relationships. I think we are all capable of learning, and the depiction of men as so deeply influenced by porn that they're unable to shake off its 'conditioning' is more than a tad insulting. In the early days of our relationship, my partner admitted to me that the porn he viewed in his younger days made him think that women's genitalia 'worked a lot easier than it really does'. Ha ha, no shit, I remember thinking, and I didn't feel ashamed or guilty about my complex, hard-to-please body, but rather pleased that he had encountered a real woman and learned a lesson.

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