More Porny Thoughts

I’m still reeling from the head rush of writing about housing policy! I mean, gosh, where do I go from there? I guess could ride the Financial Timesy wave for a while, talk about today’s big autism news or how to boost reading skills in vulnerable populations. Alternatively, I could share my guilt at not totally loving Julia Roberts and my doubts about the authenticity of her earthy laugh and how psyched I am that her Snow White movie appears to be headed for flop-dom (making way for the surely superior Kristen Stewart vehicle this summer).

So many choices! But then it hit me that I still have a few more Fair Trade Porn thoughts to disgorge. That essay got a big second life a couple days ago, with Andrew Sullivan’s shout-out. I hadn’t really intended to keep flying my freak flag, as the kids say, when I wrote it back in February (to the shrieking horror of the three teenagers and 400 young adults in my care). I had planned to slink off and write about preschool reform instead. But then I thought: why should I run from my views on women and human sexuality? What am I ashamed of? I mean, I’ve already tarred myself as an energetic apologist of Twilight, for heaven’s sake! (And I tried to run from that train wreck, like the coward I am, until I came to my senses after reading the overwhelmingly sweet and grateful and totally NON-crazy responses from the Twilight fanverse… about which another time…)

So I’ve received a lot of feedback about Fair Trade Porn, and it falls in two general categories: 1) I am a skeevy pervert and 2) I am a joyless scold. I’ll address my alleged perviness in a bit. But re the kill-joy rap: I think there’s just a wee bit of protesting too much.

Apparently I have absolutely no idea how fabulous it is to work in the porn industry. There is no coercion. Nada. Women adore being gagged and choked and, furthermore, there’s no real gagging and choking going on, anyway, it’s all just kind of a kooky game, with a lot of “mutual respect” and “creativity.”

Cool!  Sounds like the porn purveyors could teach the rest of us a thing or two about worker morale since most Americans aren’t quite so blissfully happy in their pathetic, unsexy jobs, especially women and men in, go figure, low prestige jobs. In fact, American job satisfaction is at a 22 year low and it’s only those saps in the ‘caring’ and ‘protecting’ professions – the clergy types, psychologists, fire fighters, doctors and teachers and such – that actually enjoy making a living. The really miserable folks are found in the construction and, you guessed it, “service” industries. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about where facial cum shot receivers fall in this schema, since they weren’t asked.

If you’re wondering about the porn industry’s well-documented uncontrolled STD rates? The rampant drug addiction? The huge percentage of porn actors who suffered sexual and emotional abuse as children and teenagers? The fact that people with education and financial choices generally don’t pick porn as a career? Well, you can read a succinct and disturbing summary here. Or check out Jenna Jameson’s autobiography. And then you can just shut up, thank you, because the porn-positive crowd isn’t going to dignify any trash talk about such a fun and positive career path.

As I said in one of my comments, and forgive me for being blunt: I don’t actually give a fuck what consenting adults do to each other sexually, but I do care a lot about whether and how consent is negotiated. Am I surprised that there are women who genuinely want to be gagged/choked etc. onscreen (or off)? No, I’m not. The question is: how many? And in a world of different norms and practices and opportunities, would they feel differently? I believe this is a serious question and I also believe it’s unreasonable to pretend that “consent” can be detached from social realities.

What’s missing from the porn industry defenders is an honest acknowledgement that the vast majority of pornography caters to heterosexual male tastes and norms – tastes and norms which have evolved over the last couple decades to be increasingly physically demanding of women. Do women like this changed landscape? Apparently some do, some don’t. Is it possible to imagine a world where greater or fewer numbers of women would want to perform certain sex acts? Of course it is. Behaviors change. Power structures change.

But it seems disingenuous to downplay the reality that most (duly noted) pornography privileges men’s financial, sexual, physical, and cultural power. End of story. Whether or not this asymmetry is a turn-on to most women performers and viewers, I wouldn’t presume to say. I’m not even prepared to ask myself – children, cover your ears! – whether it’s a turn-on. I simply want an honest reckoning here of whether women would so happily sign up for particular sex acts (paid or unpaid, recreational or work-related) if they lived in a different sexual world, a more female-centric sexual world, where the norms about what is sexy and financially rewarding were different. I don’t know the answer. But I suspect this woman, a porn industry insider who responded to my essay at HuffingtonPost, might have some ideas:

I came from porn (not originally of course, I came from my mother) and I think you’ve written a brilliant article with a totally impossible goal…

If people within the industry were to be honest with themselves and others about the motivation for being in the industry and the emotional toll that it takes, they would be unable to continue participating. I know very few people who’ve remained emotionally available/psychologically healthy throughout the porn career. An industry bookkeeper friend said that girls should save every penny they make between 18-21, because that’s how much money they’ll have to spend on therapy once they leave.

Fair trade porn would require absolute honesty about the conditions of the occupation, which requires absolute honesty about the condition of one’s self. Near impossible.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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