Hello, Big Boy: Pornography and Feminism

On Saturdays, We Talk About Sex is a new series in which the Spinsters talk about sex, sexual politics, and sexy things. On Saturdays. If you’re related to one of the Spinsters, or would prefer to never think of Grace/Kate/Mae mid-bedsport, this may not be the series for you. We recommend watching This ABBA video, instead of reading ahead. Everyone else, let’s talk about sex (on a Saturday).

04eMen watch pornography. It’s a bit of an expected thing, in this day and age. Teenage boys, given thirty seconds and relaxed Google settings, will find some people doing it. Boys will be boys, you know. Teenage girls, on the other hand, are expected to be horrified by porn, pretend it doesn’t exist, and spend all their time on Pinterest instead. This socially expected discrepancy will eventually play out in the following scenario:

A party of guys/girls. The first winter break of college.

Guys: We’re so free and adult now! We can talk about sex in front of girls!
Girls: We shall hint about our newfound sexual adventures, because it’s college and we’re no longer automatically slutty, if we’ve seen a penis!
Guys: Oh my god. The girls are ALSO talking about sex.
Girls: Sex, sex, sex! We are so empowered!
Guys: You know would be awesome, group of friends we’re really excited to be talking about real things with? Watching porn.
Girls: But no! We’ve never seen such a thing! Our eyes, our eyes!
Guys: Porn it is!
Girls: Oh My GOD! PEOPLE ARE HAVING THE SEX AND BEING NAKED! BRING US OUR PEARLS, FOR WE MUST CLUTCH THEM!

I know this scenario happens, because I’ve been there. An eighteen year-old Grace quite vocally insisted that she had never, not ever, seen pornography and why would anyone want to watch such a thing and, also, gross! Of course, I had seen porn. I was a teenager with an internet connection. It was “off limits”, so I’d switched off my safe settings and gone traversing the great, wide world of people doing it on camera. Being a virgin at the time, it was also super enlightening to have visuals of acts that seemed somewhat mechanically questionable. They weren’t my regular internet haunts, by any means, but I’d seen some P put into some V quite a few times.

So, why the feelings of shame? The guys weren’t embarrassed, but I would have bathed in warm garlic mayonnaise, before admitting to any virtual voyeurism. It was, of course, fear. If I’d spoken up and asked what the big deal was, my friends might have thought me—terror of terrors!—slutty. Good girls don’t watch porn. Good girls can be in touch with their sexuality, but only to the extent that they sometimes have monogamous heterosexual sex without hurling. To not only enjoy it, but actively seek it out? Unthinkable. Boys were the ones super interested in sex, while girls simply gave into it. As porn served chiefly to aid self-arousal, porn was off limits.

Now, here’s the thing—I am not pro-pornography. I think there are a lot of problems, for women specifically, when it comes to modern internet porn. In many ways, it has radically changed the way my generation looks at normal sex and sexuality. The most tangible example is in our grooming habits: well over 80% of women under thirty completely wax their pubic regions. While we say it’s for our own hygiene or for the guys we love, it has roots in a trend started in 80’s pornography, with the goal of better camera shots. That a standard beauty practice for young women has direct roots in pornography and the resulting look of pre-pubescence should cause anyone to pause. As a feminist, such pervasive and quick changes to the expectations of womanhood make me uncomfortable. Moreover, it’s just the beginning. We’re only just now starting to understand all the ways porn has changed the bedroom politics of America.

Vol-4 erotism-lingerie  (12)I’m not here to make value judgment on porn, but instead on the way we deal with it. Anytime something is a labeled a “man thing,” my hackles start twitching upwards. What exactly makes porn an exclusively male domain, World? Well, Grace darling, it’s because men are base creatures driven by their sexual desires and they’re going to masturbate themselves blind anyway, so we should let them have an outlet. Women, on the other hand, are delicate flowers who aren’t as in to sex and certainly don’t want the kind of dirty, lewd things featured in internet pornography. Unless they’re slutty, of course. That’s where porn really comes from: sluts.

Yeah, okay, see that’s all reeks-of-sexism bullshit. Women are told, subtlety and constantly every day, that we shouldn’t like sex. When we make jokes about wives having headaches or thinking of England, we’re reinforcing the notion of appropriate, gendered sexuality standards. Bullshit! Some dudes don’t have super excitable sex drives, while some women want it all the damn time. What’s more, how many women enjoy sex a whole bunch, but don’t feel comfortable voicing that enjoyment? How many men are made uncomfortable by the impersonal nature of porn, but must pretend otherwise to their buddies?

We’re doing everyone a disservice with these Victorian notions of what’s appropriate for whom. How will we ever talk about actual problems pornography may foster, if we can’t openly discuss who’s watching it and what’s happening in it? World, teenage boys are not the only young people watching pornography. Your daughters are seeing it too. What’s more, it’s quickly becoming the way all teenagers truly learn about sex. We need to address what that means for us as a society and we need to do it honestly. Let’s stop pretending men are all hypersexual semen monsters and that women are all innocence and light. Neither gender is that simple.

Men are watching porn. Women are watching porn. Instead of treating it as the flesh-colored elephant in the bedroom, let’s treat it like what it is: our modern sexual reality. How you choose to deal with that is the next question.

– Grace

13 thoughts on “Hello, Big Boy: Pornography and Feminism

  1. “What exactly makes porn an exclusively male domain, World?” The way most of it is written and produced. I know there is female oriented porn available but, overwhelmingly, it is male oriented porn that is offered. Clearly, quality is not an issue for most men.

  2. “Hypersexual semen monsters.” I realize this was not meant as a funny article, but damn, that’s a funny line.
    Good read by the way. Yes, as a world we need to come to terms with our new reality, good and bad. Short of getting rid of the internet (good luck), how do we adjust to the ready availability of porn????

  3. are you reading my mind or what??!! yesterday evening I decided to find some erotica online and all I found was porn…
    no, I don’t watch porn, because it’s BORING, I use books for sex with the person that loves me the most 😉 but yesterday I wanted visual…and ended up watching montage of sex scenes from Vampire Diaries on youtube and that did the trick :p (vampires are so SEXY ;p)
    why women do not watch (or admit to watching) porn?? because 99% of it is rather disgusting and definitely directed at male clients
    for me watching close ups of male and female organs is NOT a turn on, no plot, no story, no passion just pure physiology-not a turn on again, my body may react but my mind just cringes in disgust-not that I find sex or human body disgusting, quite opposite, but at the way it’s shown
    and YES it does effect very young people
    I’ve learned about sex in pre-internet times from Kamasutra my parents tried to hide from me, from books written by sexuologists (and a good ones!!! the very famous-in Poland-Michalina Wislocka r.i.p “The Art of Love”) and I consider myself lucky, there were films like “9 1/2 weeks” (still one of my favourites ;p) or even Emanuelle (part 1) but that’s about it
    the education kids get now is hard porn and youporn and all that kind of things and it’s scary and sad FOR GIRLS, if they think (and they do) that that’s how it is, suppose to be, should be, that this is what they HAVE TO (and you know teens they HAVE TO) to do…
    what to do what to do?
    any ideas/links for CLASSY porn? porn for ladies? for girls? for good erotica?? with a story, with passion, not a physiology lesson?
    anybody?

  4. Love, love, LOVED this post! I agree we as a society need to be more open to the idea of forums for sex and sexuality that includes both gender. What I can’t wrap my head around is the WHEN. When is it appropriate for someone to participate in these forums? Before college? Junior High? Or should age not matter? Interested in hearing your thoughts.

  5. Nice to see an objective perspective..well! watched it, done that..Porn just don’t excite me any more. But, I love this post which is so open and calls for healthy debate on the subject matter. One thing we should avoid is sexual segregation and women watching porn is something we should welcome:)
    Cheers
    Vishal
    http://www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com

  6. Pingback: To turn on a woman | Devil in Disguise

  7. You’re so awesome, I don’t even know what to say! What you’re saying reflects the situation perfectly, and that’s just sad! Can’t we just accept that women can like sex just as men can dislike it!?
    You guys have great blog, can’t stop reading it! I love the sarcasm and the sparks of humor, it just makes you want to keep reading, while nodding along to the points you make.

  8. I think more and more women are watching porn. However, I think women the fact that women are more mentally stimulated and not necessarily so visually stimulated accounts for the explosion of erotica predominantly written by women.

    In our circle, we all are quite open out watching porn and its highs and lows. Not all porn is created equal.

  9. Loved this post so much! Porn is becoming a real problem in a lot of relationships nowadays because it’s reshaping how men and women think about sex, and then from that (subconsciously) how they view relationships. Women are concerned that men are watching too much porn, some men might be concerned that they don’t watch enough porn, and both genders are afraid of watching it together for mutual arousal. It should be a topic more openly discussed and looked at more objectively such as you did. Massive kudos on the killer article!

  10. I stumbled upon your blog while I was creating mine, and absolutely LOVE IT! I’m in stitches over some of your articles and haven’t even had my coffee yet! I think you are EXCELLENT writers and have a lot of really great things to say, especially in this article in particular. It’s funny because when I do watch porn it’s usually girl on girl, which I’m then told makes me a lesbian. This doesn’t bother me so much, but, as some of your previous readers suggested, women do like being aroused. It’s just different for everyone! When I see girl/guy porn I’m revolted. I mean, the dude is usually NOT up to par with the lady (as far as being attractive) and it’s so forceful most of the time. Sometimes the women aren’t even good looking, but they can do some amazing things with their vaginas (some of which I would love to learn, by the way). It all comes down to preference, and, yes, porn had completely changed the business in the bedroom.

    Thanks for such good reads! I look forward to reading past and future posts!

    Heidi Eckl

    http://www.theneuroticblonde.com

  11. I’m a woman. I watch porn. There is a great College Humor skit on that actually. It’s pretty hilarious. I think the stereotype goes both ways. If I was a guy, I would hate that everyone thinks I am controlled by my sexuality and that’s the only thing I want. As a woman, I am upset that people think I shouldn’t know what sex is, or if I do, should only want it in missionary with sweet loving kisses. Generalizing makes things easy for people to understand, but it also make us forget that every individual is different and needs to be considered as such, an individual. Kudos to a great post.

  12. Pingback: An Introduction on Modesty and Gender Equality: | Hey Allie!

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