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Thinking about Porn

     I asked the young man sitting next to me why he came to hear Larry Flynt, the founder and publisher of the porn magazine Hustler, who was on a book signing tour for his new book One Nation Under Sex. I knew that my seat mate probably had not been born during Flynt’s near  assassination nor when he had won the groundbreaking Supreme court case on free speech in “Flynt vs Falwell” He replied,

     “Well, I like pornography and I like Hustler in particular. He is an icon in the porn industry. I really admire him.”

       Since I was wearing my clergy collar I thought I needed to tell him why I was there as well. I said,

     “I am here because I admire his work on protecting free speech. And I am interested in how he is going to link sex and politics in his new book as well. But it is hard for me to admire someone whose wealth has been built on the exploitation of women’s bodies.”

      He responded, “Oh I don’t think it is exploitation. I watch porn and all the women seem to be enjoying it. I am sure they like what they do.”

Now I did not comment to my naïve seatmate that looking like they are enjoying what they are doing is a job requirement. Failure to do so or to convey they were rather bored would have been grounds for dismissal in that industry for sure. It also seemed strange to me that he believed that nothing can be oppressive if it doesn’t seem to look like it from that vantage point of the one being oppressed.

Most of us have a public and a private face and when it comes to oppression, to reveal the private side in public may have severe consequences. What about those of us who know that to be honest about what we are experiencing would cause us lose our jobs or our families? And has this young man never heard of “false consciousness”? Isn’t it possible for we can fall in love with the comfort of the familiar chains that enslave us?     

So for my young friend, I would like to suggest that not every woman in the sex industry is deliriously happy to be there. For most, it is a simple economic decision and not because they have excessive sexual desires. (Although that is certainly part of the salespitch that promotes the fantasy.) More disturbingly, an extraordinarily high percentage of these women are survivors of sexual abuse and molestation as children and teens. This is particularly troubling in that it can very well mean this unresolved trauma has left them scarred with low sexual self-esteem that then gets acted out in exhibitionist ways or they act out because the trauma taught them this is all they are good for…continued exploitation.

I am well aware that there is a difference between erotica and pornography and also clear that few, men in particular, can tell the difference. I suspect the need to make sure the actress is enjoying what is being done to her or what the director tells her to do, is an attempt to try to make it erotic rather than pornographic. Further, I am aware that erotica (or porn?) has educational potential for some and provides a safe sexual release for others. I am equally sure however that porn teaches people how to have bad sex by lowering sexual standards to an expectation of mutual objectification and exploitation even as it raises the standards of expectations of bodily perfection and performance.

The feminist communities have been conflicted about sex workers and pornography for years (as has been the church though for different reasons.) And, given the ways our society schizophrenically socializes women to be sexual (or not) as either “whores or virgins” it means that most women have trouble recognizing when they are being objectified or exploited. In addition, numerous tomes sit on the library shelves that try to even define what pornography is visually or behaviorally.

There is however one way that we can determine what is pornographic. It is to put ourselves into the experience. Or, as the Iroquois Indians say we should “walk a mile in someone else’s’ moccasins” before making conclusions. Would we want to be treated this way? Or, better yet, would we want our daughters to be treated this way? If the answer is “not really” then it would probably be best not to support the porn industry altogether.   

 

 

 
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