Evan Porter, writing for Upworthy, wrote a pro-pornography screed which is more imbecilic than most of the ones I’ve reviewed here before. I don’t usually go into the “feminism that caters to men is fun and edgy!” source materials, like Upworthy, mainly because they tend to be inane and devoid of logical argumentation. They inevitably degenerate into “choice” and “agency” rhetoric, self-ownership, equating feminists with misogynists, and other platitudes which are meaningless but make centrists feel tolerant and inclusive.
This one, however, has some twists to it. Very silly twists, but twists nevertheless. So I think it would behoove us to refute this nonsense, because people read this stuff and think it’s credible, mainly because they haven’t heard these arguments presented in that way before.
1. Anti-porn arguments are dangerously anti-science.
The anti-porn movement makes a number of scary-sounding claims: Men who watch porn will fall out of love with their partners; it causes them to lash out violently at women; it destroys the innocent, malleable minds of young people who view it.
The only problem is, most of this stuff is (probably) untrue.
Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist who specializes in human sexuality, says the majority of respected science reports viewing porn can have a positive, or at least a neutral, effect on a person. That hasn’t stopped opponents from twisting, ignoring, or even nearly fabricating results to say otherwise.
What Porter is presenting here is not the feminist view of the consequences of pornography, but the “drug scare” view of pornography. In the days before the Drug War, marijuana and cocaine were presented to people as leading to immediate violent crimes and to crippling lifelong addiction, and the right presents pornography in the same manner. So the mainstream view is that pornography should be illegal because it leads to men raping in the streets, marriages breaking up, and that it is an addictive substance, like a drug.
The feminist view does not present pornography as part of the addiction model, but as part of the conditioning model. Pornography does not turn the viewer into a sex-crazed maniac on the spot. Rather, it is, when repeated over and over, a conditioning tool, because the viewer gradually creates an association between their orgasm (a powerful stimuli) and what they are seeing on the screen, usually violent sex acts and the objectification of women. With more and more exposure, male viewers associate their sexual pleasure with violence against women and the objectification of women, while female viewers associate their sexual pleasure with their own objectification. Although we do know that many men develop an addiction simply because they become unable to orgasm without seeing pornography that has a certain level of violence, the addiction is not necessary for the conditioning to take place (we’re also conditioned by socialization, but socialization is not addictive).
As for the study that is presented to us as proving that pornography has a positive effect on people, well. You can read it yourself at this link, if you want a laugh. Look, for instance, at the “positive effects” of pornography:
Most people who view VSS [Visual Sexual Stimuli] believe that it improves their attitudes towards sexuality and improves their quality of life. More VSS viewing has been related to greater likelihood of anal and oral sex and a greater variety of sexual behaviors. This increased breadth of sexual behaviors could arise by increasing a person’s feeling of empowerment to suggest new sexual behaviors or by normalizing the behaviors. In any case, sexual novelty can increase pleasure in long-term partners. VSS can also promote pleasant feelings in the moment, such as happiness and joy. Additionally, VSS may provide a legal outlet for illegal sexual behaviors or desires. Increased VSS consumption or availability has been associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation and inhibition of aggression.
Right now I can just imagine every woman who’s ever been pressured or coerced into anal or oral sex seething with rage, and every other woman laughing their asses off at this passage. I mean, I couldn’t make this up. This is pure misogyny disguised as a “study.”
The final claim is perhaps the most surprising. The two studies referred by the “child molestation” section are behind some kind of paywall or registration, so I can’t judge their contents. One of them claims that there is “evidence” (but not conclusive evidence) that pornography decreases child molestation rates, and the other suggests that pornography may be a reason for a decrease in child molestation in Denmark. Neither of these studies talk about the effect of looking at child pornography, which is the crux of the matter here. So, as far as I can tell, the “association” between pornography and lowered child molestation rates is a hypothetical one at best. The claim of “inhibition of aggression” simply repeats the claim that viewers of pornographic images do not become immediately violent, a claim that feminists do not make anyway.
For more on the bizarre no-subconscious model adopted by liberals to defend pornography (i.e. “if pornography does not make someone violent immediately, then it has no effect at all”), see this entry.
2. Attacks on porn are often attacks on the LGBTQ community.
There’s been a lot of talk about simply “enforcing existing obscenity laws,” which doesn’t sound so bad. After all, there’s nothing illegal about most porn featuring consenting adults, right?
Actually, within the law, the Supreme Court (and Trump’s likely extremely conservative appointments) has a lot of leeway to decide what is considered obscene and, therefore, legal.
Kitty Stryker, a writer and former adult actress, put it this way, “One of the first things to go in that kind of censorship is not heterosexual porn. It’s queer porn, gay porn, porn with trans people in it, porn with interracial relationships.”
Again, the argument here demonstrates that what Porter is really attacking is not the anti-pornography position (the position adopted by feminists), but right-wing prudery. Right-wing prudes are mainly against non-heterosexuality, not against the objectification of women. They fight what they (falsely) believe is sexual freedom. Feminists fight mostly against heterosexual pornography because patriarchy in sexuality is expressed mainly through heteronormativity: the position that we should all be heterosexual, have heterosexual sex, act according to our gender roles, and follow the heterosexual life plan (marry, have PIV sex, have children, have grand-children).
Generally speaking, while “queer” pornography, homosexual pornography, and trans pornography still tend to express misogyny in some form, we (anti-pornography advocates) do not see it as the crux of the problem. Our attacks against pornography are aimed at heterosexual pornography, not LGBT-related pornography. The fact that right-wing prudes don’t see it that way proves nothing except that right-wingers operate under a false set of beliefs (including extreme genderism and heteronormativity).
3. The anti-porn movement is often carried out in the name of feminism. Many would argue the opposite is true.
Feminist author and leading anti-porn activist Gail Dines writes, “The more porn images filter into mainstream culture, the more girls and women are stripped of full human status and reduced to sex objects. This has a terrible effect on girls’ sexual identity because it robs them of their own sexual desire.”
But maybe this isn’t so much a problem with pornography as it is one with our entire culture.
After all, actress Evan Rachel Wood famously skewered the MPAA for censoring a scene from one of her films that featured a woman receiving oral sex. Meanwhile, guys getting blowjobs in Hollywood movies is pretty much standard procedure.
Say what you will about the sultry looks and the over-the-top moaning that’s synonymous with porn films, but at least they’re not afraid to show female pleasure.
I have to give Porter props for quoting Gail Dines, the most prominent anti-pornography advocate at present. Her work is absolutely amazing and highly recommended to all my readers. And she is absolutely right. Objectification is carried over from pornography into mainstream media and into the public consciousness. Arguing that this is a cultural problem is akin to arguing that cancer is not really a medical problem, but rather a problem with our entire body, since our body is made of cells that divide. That may be so, but it is a singularly unhelpful statement. More to the point, saying that cancer is a body problem does not tell us what causes it, or how to fight it.
Likewise, saying that the objectification of girls is a cultural problem makes it sound as if girls just pick this up from the social aether, that it has no definite cause. This is clearly not the case. We know what the cause is: the pornified depictions of girls and women as sexual objects or as objects of desire. It’s not rocket science. Depicting a woman receiving oral sex is not acceptable because women’s sexual pleasure is not generally an accepted thing in pornography either. No need to invoke the entire culture to explain it.
As for the last line, I think it’s quite clear that Porter has not seen any pornography that was made in the last twenty years, which makes him uniquely unqualified to write on the subject (although you have to wonder, why is this dude who clearly never watches pornography defending it?). I have no idea what “female pleasure” he’s talking about, but again, there’s not much of that in pornography, except if you go in the absolutely softest side of pornography, where there is some concern for showing women having an orgasm and enjoying themselves and so on. But this is not the vast majority of pornography that exists, and not the kind of pornography that children are first exposed to.
4. They say banning porn is about fighting sex trafficking, but conflating the two just makes things worse.
Human trafficking is bad — finally, something we can agree on!
But experts say propagating the myth that porn and sex work are totally overrun with people being held against their will (they’re not, at least in America) makes it that much harder for people who truly need help to get it.
The refutation only makes sense because the argument presented is batshit insane. I have never seen any argument that pornography and “sex work” are full of trafficked women. Yes, there are trafficked women in both cases, but I am quite sure it isn’t the majority by any means, and I have never seen any anti-pornography advocate saying such a thing. This is a straw man, and I don’t even know of what. This point is really only there to lead into a spiel for the legalization of “sex work” as the safe alternative, which is just silly nonsense. Real life cases have shown that legalizing the exploitation of women does not make it safer, and it does not hinder human trafficking. Only the Nordic Model does both of these things.
5. A lot of the same people who want to ban porn also want to ban abortion and outlaw same-sex marriage.
Fight the New Drug, a leading anti-porn awareness group, offers a whole host of alleged scientific evidence that porn is harmful, but many of the studies it cites come from the Witherspoon Institute, a research body co-founded by Robert George, who’s also the founder of the National Organization for Marriage. (Take a wild guess what they do.)
There is no link to any Fight the New Drug page or the biased studies on the article itself, so I went to Fight the New Drug to find those studies. There are a total of 22 citations presented as support for the factual assertions from Fight the New Drug. Of those 22, 4 are credited to the Witherspoon Institute, which is a conservative institute with clear conservative aims and which should not be quoted as a source. I agree with Porter that this is regrettable.
However, this does not prove his conclusion. By and large, anti-pornography advocates do not want to ban abortion or attack same-sex marriage specifically, because they are feminists. The fact that an anti-pornography organization references a conservative organization does not prove that anti-pornography advocacy is conservative. And if it does, then let me make the following argument: Evan Porter quotes Gail Dines (and agrees with her!), and his article was approved by Upworthy, therefore a lot of the same people who support pornography also agree that pornography objectifies women and promotes violence against women.
The lesson here is, don’t make straw man arguments, because they’ll only make you look stupid.