Know the Difference: Anti-Porn, or Anti-Sex?

The more some people tell us why we should think porn is bad, the more we see specific themes repeat in anti-porn values. Two of the strongest themes don’t seem to actually have much to do with pornography itself: namely misandry (hatred of men), and sexual xenophobia (uncontrollable hatred and fear of unfamiliar or unknown sex practices). When we break down understanding the reasons why anti-porn people think pornography is evil, it becomes clear that there is widespread belief (especially in feminist anti-porn ideology) that men are thought of as inferior and malfeasant, and that the anti-porn people really don’t know that much about how porn is made. And that they have zero tolerance or interest in understanding sexual activities outside their own limited definitions.

The rest of us get pretty confused by this; we are, after all, talking about a group of people who want to put an end to people’s enjoyment of explicit visual stimulation simply by telling us that certain sex acts are “good” or “bad” (such as anal sex). Meanwhile, some of us do have legitimate questions about making sure we watch porn that is “fair trade” if you will; made with respect and consent. We do know, however, that judging other people’s sexual choices is not anywhere near an answer to our concerns.

Sex educator Charlie Glickman had an epiphany: he pulled apart the difference between being anti-sex and anti-porn in one of the most interesting articles to come out of the anti-vs-pro porn debates. Delightfully, unlike the destructive, shaming and condemning attitudes of anti-porn pundits, it is a solutions-oriented approach to encountering potentially offensive pornographic content without becoming sex-negative. He offers ways we can navigate porn’s lamenesses and our own limits, and also how offensive porn sites could fix the negative ways they portray sex acts without giving up the fantasies viewers pay to see. (Some ethical porn websites already do this; Gag Factor does not.)

Here’s a snip from 7 Ways to Create a Sex-Positive Critique of Porn:

One of the most common responses to the anti-porn critiques of pornography is that they’re sex-negative and all too often, that ends up creating a “no we’re not/yes you are” argument. And yet, whenever I read the anti-porn side of things, I’m struck by how often sex-negativity is woven into their claims, although in all fairness, that’s not always the case.

I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that bothered me by the way that Gail Dines keeps talking about gagfactor.com, a website that focuses on men facefucking women. And then it hit me- there are two parts to it. First, Dines is trying to foment a moral panic. And second, she simply doesn’t understand sex.

I can explain the first point better if I start with the second one. As someone who has been studying sex in all its wide and varied forms for over 20 years (my goodness, that makes me sound old!), I can attest to the fact that for any sexual act, there are people who enjoy it and people who are squicked by it. There’s a certain privilege inherent in being part of the majority- if you enjoy penis/vagina intercourse, you can be pretty confident that lots of other people share your taste. And it’s important to also remember that there are people who feel just as much disgust about your desires as you might feel about something less common. No matter what the act, some people love it and some people would never dream of doing it.

(…) So why do I think that Dines’ strategies are sex-negative? Because she deliberately works to trigger disgust about a sexual practice in order to manipulate people into rallying to her call. Rather than opening up a dialogue about the real reasons that some porn is problematic or asking how the performers on the site feel about their experiences, she uses tactics that depend on and deepen sexual shame in order to sway people to her point of view. And that makes them sex-negative. Facefucking is not inherently abusive, violent, or misogynistic any more than intercourse is inherently respectful, pleasurable, or egalitarian. As with any sexual act, it’s a question of whether you want to do it, how you do it, and how you feel about it during it and afterward. When Dines makes it sound otherwise, she reinforces sex-negativity. It doesn’t really matter whether she deliberately chose this strategy or happened to discover its effectiveness by accident.

So all of this has me thinking: what would a sex-positive approach to the question of porn entail? (…read more, charlieglickman.com)

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