Sex & Relationships

Why I am Both Turned on and Disgusted by Porn

There are no clear cut answers when it comes to porn. But that's why we have to have smart discussions about it.

Photo Credit: OLJ Studio / Shutterstock.com

The following article first appeared in role/reboot. Click here for more great role/reboot content. 

At this very moment, a flannel-wearing, bespectacled student at a liberal arts university is about to declare his or herself a porn major. Can you feel the parents smacking their foreheads when they realize they’re footing the bill for this adventure? Can you hear the frat brothers high-fiving about their 4.0′s in porn, brah? Can you see the eyerolls from the students majoring in engineering and medicine and other disciplines that build stuff and save people?

Forget them, friends, this is a momentous occasion. Porn Studies, the first peer reviewed academic journal about pornography, launched this week [NSFW if words like “porn” in large print on your screen are not considered work-appropriate]. I, for one, am very excited.

*    *    *

I have strong feelings about porn. Sometimes they are strong in equal and opposite directions. I am turned on by porn. I am disgusted by porn. On some occasions, I am turned on and disgusted at the same time. You could say that confusion makes a fairly regular appearance. Guilt, too, rears its ugly head from time to time. While I actively avoid certain kinds of porn (particularly the type that uses verbs like “bashed,” “destroyed,” and “abused” to describe anatomical parts that I happen to have), sometimes I end up there by accident.

For me, discussions about porn and where it fits (or doesn’t) in contemporary sexuality, starts with these foundational bricks:

1) There is nothing fundamentally wrong with filming consenting adults having sex. Similarly, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with consenting adults watching other consenting adults have sex.

Erotica, in many forms, has basically existed forever. Humans are fascinated by what other humans look like naked, and particularly fascinated by what happens when they get naked together. The combination of voyeurism, sneakily watching something that normally happens behind closed doors, and the curiosity factor of wanting to know what other people do when no one is watching (even if everyone is watching) is too much to resist. And then, you know ... it can be super hot to watch attractive people be attractive together (whatever you find to be attractive, obviously).

2) There is a whole mountain of horrifying, destructive, dangerous shit that dominates huge swaths of the porn that is currently available.

All porn is not created equal. At the far end of the awfulness spectrum is porn created through coercion, intimidation, and violence. By the time a three-minute clip makes it to your screen, you may never know under what circumstances it was filmed. You can pretend all you want that every single porn performer you’ve ever watched was a willing, enthusiastic participant, but pretending is all it is. As a consumer, that’s a thing you either decide you can live with, or you find a way to only enjoy porn that meets your ethical standards.

Even if we limit our discussion to porn that isn’t the result of sex-trafficking or total economic desperation, we’re still left with the overwhelming prevalence of anti-woman tropes that permeate videos in virtually every category. The use of slurs, the lack of emphasis on female pleasure, the violent undertones, the suggestion, explicit and implicit, that women exist for male use ... That shit is ugly and it is everywhere.

On an individual basis, whatever you and your partners sign up for is nobody’s business, but porn unfortunately sets the standard for “normal,” and the “normal” it portrays treats women like crap.

3) Porn is everywhere.

While yes, porn and porn-adjacent content has existed forever, it has never existed in this quantity or with this instant accessibility. The temptation to rely on it as a substitute for sexuality instead of as a limited channel through which to explore sexuality is huge. And scary.

I don’t worry about adults watching porn. Well, I do, but adults have the ability to contextualize what they’re watching through the lens of performance. They can compare porn against real human experience and note the differences, the exaggerations, the pretend. Kids can’t. Teens can’t. They haven’t had a chance to develop their own sense of what they like and dislike independent of what they’re told to like and dislike. They haven’t seen real naked bodies in the flesh to realize that porn performers, like movie stars, are polished, primped, waxed, and styled in ways that most humans they encounter won’t be.

*    *    *

I’m excited for Porn Studies because we need to talk about porn.

It’s not going anywhere, despite the best efforts of concerned parents. Kids will only get better at hiding their dirty movies. Uncomfortable as it may be to talk about, discussion is the only way we come out on the other side with a healthy understanding of reality and performance, with respect for the role porn can play in adult sexuality, and with guidelines for mitigating the misogynist impulses it seems to celebrate. The only way out is through, and I, personally, am in favor of anything that helps us have those conversations.

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World