Pornography is not about sex.

When it comes to pornography, its biggest users, pornsick men, have a lot of trouble accepting basic facts. They can’t accept that pornography is done in real life to real women. They constantly argue that pornography cannot have any real life effects. They refuse to recognize that there’s anything wrong with encouraging others to consume pornography.

Pornography is a touchy subject for pornsick men, the same way that cocaine is a touchy subject for cocaine addicts: if your livelihood or well-being becomes dependent on a certain stimuli, then you will defend it as much as you can. Unless you hit “rock bottom,” the realization that your life has become terribly worse because of the addiction, you will reject the idea that you should ever stop or that the addiction is hurting you or others.

Add to this the fact that, for most pornsick men, hardcore pornography and its associated imagery in popular culture are the main way that sexuality has been presented and explained. This means that they are loyal to the pornographic worldview: that women are always sexually available to men, that women love violent penetration and that violent penetration is what sex is really all about, that women must look like models of beauty in order to be sexually attractive, and that the humiliation and degradation of women is the highest desirable goal. These are all basic premises of the pornographic form, easily accessible to anyone who feels so masochistic as to watch any mainstream pornographic video.

What all these premises have in common is that they have absolutely nothing to do with actual sex done by people who meet as equals, know what they want and what they’re doing. The famous analogy by Gail Dines, that accusing an anti-pornography advocate of being anti-sex is like accusing someone who’s against McDonalds of being anti-food, can be reformulated as: pornography is to sex as McDonalds is to food, a manufactured facsimile that can only be called “sex” in the loosest possible sense. The goal of pornographic directors and companies is not to show sexual possibilities, it’s to make money, and they make money by addicting people to representations of genital violence. Because you can’t get people addicted to representations of actual sex, and therefore that makes it an inferior business model. It’s really that simple.

Pornography’s closest equivalent is not sex, but masturbation. Obviously men use it to masturbate, but in doing so they come to see the women they have sex with as masturbatory aids, as adjuncts to their pornographic fantasies. To quote Gail Dines in her great book Pornland:

After one lecture a boyfriend and girlfriend came to speak to me about his porn use. She was very upset that he wanted to bring porn into the relationship. His comment to me and her was “We don’t have to watch it a lot, just enough to give us some ideas.” His girlfriend didn’t respond so I asked her how she felt about this, to which she replied, “I feel cheap. I know he watches porn and I don’t mind it too much, but I don’t want it to come into our relationship. I don’t like it when he wants me to do certain things he saw in porn. I can tell what these are just by the way he acts.” The intimacy, igniting of senses, and connections developed when skin meets skin are all either absent or overridden by the industrial product that these men have come to depend on for sexual pleasure. Trained by the porn culture to see sex as disconnected from intimacy, users develop an orientation to sex that is instrumental rather than emotional. No wonder one man described pornography as teaching him “how to masturbate into a woman.”

Men become pornsick because orgasms are a powerful conditioning tool. Pornography companies use that conditioning tool to maintain consumption, manipulating men through their orgasms.

One may reply that the sex is happening in the videos, but the pornographic storyline itself is no different from the way its users see women. Men in pornography are basically using women to masturbate themselves: there is no intimacy or connection in pornographic stories (as slim as they are), no consideration for the woman’s orgasm or even pleasure, nothing that would suggest anything beyond a man using a woman as a glorified sock. What there is, is a relation of gender, class or race: certain men have sex with certain women and their attitudes are based on what stereotypes they fall into. A white man relates to a white woman differently than to a black woman or an asian woman, a black man behaves in a certain way, “white trash” women behave in a different way, and so on. This is designed to create different subgenres that will appeal to different men. That’s not sexual behavior, that’s market behavior.

As I quoted here, there is also a case to be made that pornography, as a form of rape (as sometimes pornographic actresses do get raped) or at least something that looks like rape, is about sexualized power. Pornography certain does follow lines of power quite closely in its depictions of violence (superiors are generally the ones inflicting violence on their inferiors, and not vice-versa). But there’s no reason why it can’t be both: objectifying people usually goes hand-in-hand with having more power. We objectify women, not men. We objectify POC, not whites. We objectify children, not adults.

10 thoughts on “Pornography is not about sex.

  1. Emma February 16, 2016 at 20:34 Reply

    Excellent post.

    Now cue in the “sex positive” feminists and their porn fan allies telling you how “sex negative” (or worse) you are.

    Apparently nowadays there is only one PC line of reasoning on prostitution and porn, and, curiously enough, it is aligned 100% with the capitalist reduction of people and relationships between them to market agents and transactions. So empowering.

    • Francois Tremblay February 16, 2016 at 20:37 Reply

      Glad you liked it!

      “Now cue in the “sex positive” feminists and their porn fan allies telling you how “sex negative” (or worse) you are.”

      I doubt it. I’ve already banned most of the ones who used to come here. I suppose it could always happen though :)

      “Apparently nowadays there is only one PC line of reasoning on prostitution and porn, and, curiously enough, it is aligned 100% with the capitalist reduction of people and relationships between them to market agents and transactions. So empowering.”

      Yep! No matter what people’s position on capitalism is nowadays, there’s one thing they can all agree, and that’s the position that “sex workers” can go to Hell. That because they are “workers,” they deserve every rape, disease and murder they get. Which just goes to show you how much respect they really have for women… :I

      • Emma February 16, 2016 at 20:50 Reply

        I got schooled (read: viciously attacked and dogpiled on) when I said on a feminist site that sex work is a contradiction in terms. It was eye-opening, and not in a good way.

        There was no possibility of any rational exchange, I was labeled an enemy of the (feminist) state and asked to grovel and apologize or else.

        I chose else, since I don’t believe there was anything to apologize for (or that I’m wrong).

        But for someone like me, who grew up under communism, this experience had an oddly familiar taste of totalitarianism. The odd part is that I’d never expect my fellow feminists to act this way. Live and learn.

        • Francois Tremblay February 16, 2016 at 22:46 Reply

          Because if they’re not allowed to call it “sex work,” they might have to acknowledge the non-consensual nature of this “job” they’re busy defending at the expense of actual human beings.

          And that would be truly horrible. Unlike the rape and murder of actual women. :)

  2. roughseasinthemed February 17, 2016 at 03:59 Reply

    When (read if) I get round to doing a post about porn, maybe I’ll just link back here as you have summarised it so well.
    Re Emma’s comment on sex pos, I did think about doing a satire comment based on ‘choice’ and ’empowerment’ but a) I didn’t want you to think I meant it and ban me (!) and b) I don’t even think it’s worth satirising.
    We can all make mistakes in our youth due to lack of education, information, surrounding culture, but for an informed intelligent (one might question that) woman, who claims to be feminist, to be sex pos is just incredible. I digress.
    I read your link to an earlier post. It reminded me of a comment I read on a largely male vehicle form, about having sex with a woman until ‘she squealed like a stuck pig’. Such graphic imagery about how he viewed having sex with women. Or rather, masturbating using a suitable object.

    • Francois Tremblay February 17, 2016 at 04:49 Reply

      “When (read if) I get round to doing a post about porn, maybe I’ll just link back here as you have summarised it so well.”

      Oh, you flatter me. But I would like to read your take on the issue as well.

      “Re Emma’s comment on sex pos, I did think about doing a satire comment based on ‘choice’ and ’empowerment’ but a) I didn’t want you to think I meant it and ban me (!) and b) I don’t even think it’s worth satirising.”

      I love satire though! I’ve written satire before and no doubt will write more. I certainly wouldn’t ban you for doing that.

      “I read your link to an earlier post. It reminded me of a comment I read on a largely male vehicle form, about having sex with a woman until ‘she squealed like a stuck pig’. Such graphic imagery about how he viewed having sex with women. Or rather, masturbating using a suitable object.”

      Lovely!

  3. Sundazed February 17, 2016 at 07:50 Reply

    Awesome post. Thank you.

  4. Anthony J. Gavin February 18, 2016 at 08:49 Reply

    Excellent post! I’m especially interested by your usage of the concept of a “pornographic worldview”, and I wonder about the extent to which cultural formations over and above the porn industry are responsible for shaping such a worldview. Not only in providing the broad contours of such a worldview, but also in preconditioning its social acceptability. I’d suggest that “pornsick men” aren’t the only problem, that we are also living in a pornsick culture more generally. It’s in our advertising, the ways in which bodies are commodified and fetishized, socially produced and dispossessed through the violent extraction of a surplus value (do the objectified/marginalized get the full value of their bodies in a culture that tends to commodify them as a sexual thing?). I tend to ground some of these attitudes in what Heidegger might have called the technological enframing of the body – porn as commodified bodies delivered through heavy technological mediation. And I wonder what Heidegger might have had to say along these lines, about the possibility of instead revealing bodies poetically. I don’t know what a poetic body would look like, act like, or how we would act when we gaze upon it. But perhaps it merits further reflection.

  5. Francois Tremblay February 18, 2016 at 17:14 Reply

    “I wonder about the extent to which cultural formations over and above the porn industry are responsible for shaping such a worldview. Not only in providing the broad contours of such a worldview, but also in preconditioning its social acceptability. I’d suggest that “pornsick men” aren’t the only problem, that we are also living in a pornsick culture more generally. It’s in our advertising, the ways in which bodies are commodified and fetishized, socially produced and dispossessed through the violent extraction of a surplus value (do the objectified/marginalized get the full value of their bodies in a culture that tends to commodify them as a sexual thing?).”

    Yes, definitely! It’s no secret that the pornographic worldview has become integrated in mainstream culture. See for instance the book Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Ariel Levy.

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