From Dinosaur Comics.
I think the proposition I give in the title of this entry may seem counter-intuitive; anyone interested in these debates has been bombarded by entitlement propaganda from the pro side, which posits that men have a right to, and are entitled to, female sexuality. Starting from this premise, I agree that the notion that the pro-prostitution and pro-BDSM positions are selfish does not make much sense (how can it be selfish to demand something that you are entitled to?). But I reject male entitlement to sex, and if we do go beyond that flimsy rationalization, I think the selfish nature of these positions is obvious.
I think that actions which benefit the self and hurt others would be labeled selfish by everyone (except Objectivists, but their own pro-capitalist ideology belies that). So however else selfishness may be defined, we can posit that selfish people are fine with running roughshod over others in the satisfaction of their needs.
Before even looking at how pro-pornography advocates defend their position, we can define the fundamental issue as this: in order to support pornography as an institution, you must first believe that your orgasms are more important than the widespread physical and mental abuse of women in pornography, the use of prostitutes and trafficked women to produce pornography, the creeping invasion of pornographic images and poses into mainstream media, and the threat to all women that pornography represents.
So I think we can all agree that, a priori, being pro-pornography is a very selfish position. But what about the advocates’ replies?
First, they try to argue that all these harms cannot possibly exist because “porn is not real” or “it’s just fantasy.” I could facetiously argue that they are out of their minds and can no longer differentiate between real life and fantasy, but I doubt that’s actually the case. I’m more inclined to believe that they are simply lying. Of course pornography is real, it’s made by real people in real circumstances and the sexual acts really are performed. To seriously argue otherwise is a complete psychotic break and requires treatment, not debate.
Sex-positive advocates will usually talk about how important healthy orgasms are, but pornography is not necessary for orgasms in the first place, so it’s really a red herring. The fact that a couple may sit down and watch pornography as a way to spark their sex life doesn’t mean they need pornography to have sex. And pornography, as I’ve pointed out before, is a very poor way of learning about sex. And even if the argument was valid and not a lie, it’s still selfish to think that the harms of pornography are compensated by your orgasm.
Another popular argument is the free speech argument. Besides its logical invalidity, what does it say about you that whatever you’re defending is so harmful to society that the only argument you have is that you have the right to defend it? Anyone has the right to be a woman-hating little shit, but how does that justify woman-hating? That seems to me like a rather childish and selfish attitude to have.
It rather reminds me of choice-talk. People throw the word “choice” around as a way to reduce everything to the individual. When they use it about themselves, they are basically saying “you can’t criticize me!”. To take one random example:
“I am an adult and if I choose to watch pornography, violence etc. then it is my own business.”
“I am an adult and if I choose to watch pornography, violence etc. then you are not allowed to criticize it. You may criticize children all you want, but I am an adult and all my choices are just as valid as yours.”
So there is an element of misopedia in this comment (obviously children don’t have rights and their “choices” cannot be valid without adult approval), but most importantly the individual demands that eir values have primacy over everyone else’s. Because there is criticism of pornography from a radical perspective and that criticism deserves as much consideration as the individual’s “choice.” To say otherwise is to refuse to live in society, but there lies the rhetoric of the sociopath, who, like the consumer of pornography, desperately does not want you to confront what he does.
If you read this blog, you know that I have repeatedly exposed the lies and misrepresentations of the most visible “feminist” pro-pornography advocate, Wendy McElroy (see 1, 2). Her defense of pornography is a mishmash of lies (e.g. radfems think women who look at pornography are “damaged” and regressed to a childlike state, pornography is sexually informative) and ignorance (e.g. she cannot use the term “objectification” correctly, she only discusses pornography with privileged and successful white pornographic actresses). Reading her defense, one gets the impression of a person who wants to sound like the voice of reason, but rejects anyone who is not like herself or who has different issues.
How often, in the pro-pornography discourse, do you hear anything about human rights, about equality, about the harm done? The reason is obvious: no human right, no egalitarian principle would be broken by banning pornography, and no harm is being resolved by pornography. They have no argument there, so they have no choice but to fall back to the same “free speech” and “it’s not real, it’s not real” rhetoric.
With BDSM, we have a similar situation, in that the person’s orgasm remains paramount. BDSMers must, a priori, believe that their orgasm is more important than the fact that they are reproducing physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault, torture, rape, and slavery, participating in a sexual institution which normalizes and justifies these activities, equating sexuality with oppressive hierarchies (and labeling non-hierarchical sex “vanilla sex,” on the premise that sexuality that is egalitarian and respectful of consent is inherently uninteresting and flavorless), and threatening abused women.
When I first commented on BDSM, I pointed out that, like with the pro-pornography advocates, the main argument used to address these charges is that BDSM is “not really” physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault, torture, etc. In order to make the point, they use weasel terms like “consensual non-consent,” “dubious consent,” “meta-consent,” “long-term consent.” None of these terms are actually forms of consent, but rather ways of calling various forms of non-consent “consent.”
I do feel like this point will be misunderstood, so I want to expand on it a bit. I have defined consent quite a bit on this blog, but basically to consent means to agree to participate to, or allow, if one is not directly involved, a certain course of action. All these BDSM terms entail that by agreeing to something that will happen in the future, agreeing when one is forced to agree, or by agreeing to actions which are undefined, one is agreeing to those future, coerced or undefined actions.
But this is logical nonsense. The only way to consent (agree to an action) is to agree to the action at the time of the action. Anything else is coercive; if consent really existed at the time of the action, then you wouldn’t need any long-term or contractual agreement in the first place. Sexual acts which are not consensual are actually really acts of sexual assault or rape.
Not only is it rape when agreement is not obtained at the time of the act, but even when there is no agreement at all, the assumed validity of BDSM as a sexual practice helps rapists get out of rape accusations (“we were practicing rapeplay, honest!”). Abusive forms of BDSM sex are, in practice, indistinguishable from other forms of abuse (how can we tell if there was an pre-existing agreement two days or two years ago?).
There is a “not all BDSMers” argument, just like there’s a “there is feminist porn too” argument. Both arguments are misguided, since the radfem position is not that all BDSMers are rapists or that all pornography is abusive, but rather that pornography and BDSM as institutions further the cause of woman-hatred and patriarchal ideals. Sadly, in defense of their sexuality, BDSMers are not ashamed to tell people about their sexual activities without their consent (not surprising, given how little they value consent) as if this was a normal thing to do (an activity which some in the anti-kink community call kink-creep).
Same problem with the argument that BDSMers only do it between themselves and thus cannot hurt anyone else. Apart from the fact that such arguments marginalize survivors of BDSM abuse, they obscure the fact that radfem arguments are not concerned with what people do in their own bedroom but with systems of oppression. BDSM as an institution is more than just people having sex: it’s a system of thought about sexual relations and “consent,” a reframing of sex as hierarchy and an us v them ideology where everyone who does not practice hierarchical sex is “vanilla” and has not discovered their personal kink.
As you can see, I’ve highlighted a number of areas where both positions are very similar. But the fundamental similarity, I think, is that advocates of pornography and BDSM are both conditioned by their orgasms (in the case of BDSM, often on purpose; in the case of pornography, involuntarily). If you keep getting orgasms in a specific physical or mental way, then eventually your orgasms will be connected to that way.
Let’s take porn for example: “John” enjoys pornography that includes group sex, so he seeks out this type of stimulus when he masturbates. Every time he orgasms to stimuli (visual or fantasy) of group sex, “John”’s brain forms an association between the stimuli and orgasm. And the more he pairs his orgasm to group sex, the stronger the association. Now, this doesn’t mean that simply seeing or thinking about group sex will cause “John” to orgasm, but it will start the arousal process. And more importantly, “John” might find that it takes longer to become aroused or to achieve orgasm to other types of sexual stimuli. He may even have to fantasize about group sex when he’s being intimate with his partner in order to orgasm.
If women’s oppression is the only way for you to get an orgasm, then you have a huge incentive to defend women’s oppression. Addicts will defend their right to have their drug of choice at any costs. And a lot of women are hoodwinked by the lie that it is normal for men to need pornography to orgasm, or the lie that women need to get into BDSM to have interesting sex lives (e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a manual for “forced seduction”).
Under the guise of tolerance and openness, pro-pornography and pro-BDSM advocates peddle the same old patriarchal bullshit. To paraphrase a famous quote, pornography and BDSM are the theory, rape is the practice.
I love when pro-porn people criticize radical feminists for their vague pragmatic agreement with conservatives but don’t seem to realize their much greater agreement with a massive legion of rapists.
[P]orn teaches the same things as rape.