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"I'm a Feminist Who Loves 'Demeaning' Porn" -- Is That Normal?

Sex questions so often boil down to "Am I normal?" Tracy Clark-Flory explains where individual readers fall on the spectrum of sexual behavior.
 
 
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Sex questions so often boil down to the simple, pleading query of, “Am I normal?” Tracy Clark-Flory talks to the world’s leading experts, explaining where individual readers fall on the spectrum of sexual behavior but also dismantle the notion of “normal.” Send questions to  tracy@salon.com

Question: I am a feminist, and part of me loves porn. More specifically, the kind of porn that is created to be viewed by men. I’m not a man, though. I’m the kind of woman who will make others uncomfortable by pointing out a sexist joke in a commercial and driving the point home to people who don’t think anything is wrong with it, or by forwarding something from a sociological blog to my friends, usually something pointing out the ridiculousness of gendered products or blatant sexism. And yet, I cannot escape the fact that I find male-oriented porn extremely arousing. I know that most lesbian porn is extremely inaccurate and insulting, and it still turns me on. I’m not sure why this is, and it really bothers me. I hate how sexualized American culture has become and how all men expect women to have shaved crotches. I worry about the effect it will have on my potential future children. But I am turned on sexually (not intellectually) by the most demeaning smut. I’ve tried watching more “women friendly” porn, and the same effect isn’t there. What is wrong with me?

Oh, feminist lady friend, there’s nothing wrong with you. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about this issue, because my own fantasies have often seemed to contradict my politics. In search of guidance, I found  “Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire,” a smart and edgy anthology that I recommend you snatch up posthaste. The book’s introduction points to something the inimitable Susie Bright once said in response to an interviewer’s question about how she reconciles her feminism with “the more traditional feminine roles, behaviors, fantasies, positions” that she engages in behind closed doors: “I don’t sit in bed with my dildo trying to rationalize anything!” I adore this rejoinder, but maybe you  want to sit in bed with your dildo and try to rationalize things — and that’s a perfectly legitimate response as well.

It’s no surprise that a feminist like yourself would use “demeaning smut” as an escape — in fact, it’s  exactly the sort of sexual cliché that one should expect. That’s right, I just called your deepest, darkest, most embarrassing fantasies cliché – but this means you’re not alone: The majority of us find an erotic charge in the forbidden. Not only is porn generally a lightning rod for controversy in feminism, but you’ve fixated on a genre that graphically represents the very concerns that the movement devotes itself to: exploitation, degradation, objectification — and so many other troubling “–ations.” There’s more friction, more  heat there for you than for someone who thinks that sexual inequality is no big thing.

Jack Morin, author of “The Erotic Mind” and a San Francisco sex therapist, tells me in an email, “Compelling turn-ons spring from positive, pleasurable experiences, but also from areas of ‘unfinished emotional business’ (even trauma) in our personal development. The healing purpose of eros is to transform struggles and conflicts into self-affirmation and excitement.” A common fantasy among survivors of sexual abuse is to eroticize past trauma. These fantasies typically “involve an unexpected conviction that the ‘perpetrator’ is actually the helpless pawn of the overpowering desirability of the ‘victim,’” Morin says. “Totally the opposite of real-life abuse.” This may not be the way you choose to  fight the patriarchy in real life, but as a private kink, it can be deeply satisfying. Like dreams, masturbatory fantasies simply “refuse to be constrained by the rules governing behavior, or politically correct ideals,” says Morin. “Accepting this fact can be the key to sexual pleasure and satisfaction.”

 
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