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(sex)uality: my journey with porn

Image: Tom Morris

Image: Tom Morris

When I was in my second year of uni, I had a friend who was adamant that her boyfriend watching porn was the equivalent of him cheating on her. I thought this was completely unfair and inaccurate. So I took a bit of a pro-porn stance on the matter. As I saw it, porn was a harmless tool, used to facilitate physical arousal during masturbation. I saw it as having no reflection on whether a person is unsatisfied with their current partner or whether their current partner is not attractive or sexually experimental enough. I felt like the poor boyfriend-of-friend in question and people in similar relationship/porn predicaments were getting the rough end of the stick.

Being very much pro-sexual exploration and masturbation, this pro-porn stance suited me fine. On a particular evening, a couple of my girlfriends and I decided it would be fun to watch Pirates together and critique the biggest budget porn film ever made. Every heterosexual sex scene ended with a face shot. Face shots being the man ejaculating in the woman’s face, usually with her pretending to thoroughly enjoy the experience. Even the (only) scene that portrayed a man going down on a woman, the scene my friends and I enjoyed the most, ended in the woman happily receiving a face full of semen. There was many an exclamation of disgust and horror from our little audience when this occurred.

I myself, found it extremely difficult to watch porn involving both sexes. The extremely violent and degrading treatment of women was too much for me. A scene from Pirates depicted the main male character, Captain Reynolds, bending a woman back on herself and pounding her relentlessly with his abnormally large penis. This bending was to the point where I suspect she sustained serious spinal damage, unless she moonlights as a contortionist in Cirque de Solei. The graphic violence and degradation did not work for me, and I decided I would not watch porn anymore. However, I didn’t look at this decision critically. I didn’t see it as reflecting a greater problem in the industry or as having a negative impact on society’s perception of women. I just took it as a decision that I had made and nothing more.

I have no idea how to explain or excuse my complete lack of critical thinking on this one. I guess I hadn’t been as actively engaged with my identity as a feminist at the time. I was not as aware of the implications of what my decision to not view porn meant for me.

Recently, I was engaged in conversations about porn negatively impacting on individuals’ relationships and perceptions of love. I became acutely aware of how little I had explored the topic and how much I wanted to. The way I saw it at the time, there were two issues that I wanted to explore; the impact of pornography on the actors and individuals involved in making the films, and the impact of pornography on society.

“Howard (Stern; radio presenter) asked me if I’d ever been molested or abused. It was the one question I wasn’t prepared for. ‘No’, I told Howard, in answer to his question. I lied like a rug. I wasn’t ready to tell anybody about any of this and I certainly wasn’t ready to deal with Howard’s reaction. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was in the business because I was a victim.” Jenna Jameson in How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. The “this” that she refers to is being gang raped, beaten, and left for dead in the middle of nowhere.

I recently read Jenna Jameson’s biography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. She is the first real “star” of porn, crossing the divide from porn into mainstream. I wanted to understand how she felt about acting in pornography and what led her into that career. I was expecting stories of abuse, which I certainly got. What I wasn’t expecting was her strong, fighter mentality. She is a hard worker and is incredibly driven to succeed. I respect that.

Jenna Jameson also discusses what it can be like for women entering the porn industry. The women will go to callings and get hired by a “gonzo” crew. What happens to her in the gonzo shoot leaves her traumatised and forever regretting the experience, fearful of being found out. “Over the years, I had noticed that women in the adult industry didn’t seem to be valued. The stars were just disposable products with a shelf life of a few years… Every adult company was run by a man.” Jenna Jameson

What is gonzo? Gonzo porn is a style of pornography that attempts to place the viewer within the scene. Often the participants are also filming. There are more extreme close-ups than full body shots as a result. More importantly, the genre is cheap to produce, flooding the porn marketplace, and has content of an extremely ‘hardcore’ nature. Some of the content, I don’t even want to describe, because I just ate breakfast, but let’s just say:

  • Face-shots have been replaced with bukkake (avoid googling that around meal time)
  • Penetration gets trumped by double penetration
  • ATM (arse to mouth), what more can I say?
  • Close-ups of the poor female actors body parts afterwards are commonplace

I don’t want to go on (Pornland by Gail Dines goes into detail if you want to find out more). The point is that the acts that porn actors are required to perform are pretty intense. Unless you are as strong willed (for example, refusing to do anal and sticking with it) and business savvy as Jenna Jameson, the opportunities for porn actors to be exploited are there and real.

“When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped,” said Linda Boreman, star of Deep Throat and anti-porn activist.

When I read the descriptions of the content of porn, my second thought (after ruminating about the poor actors) was, “Does my little brother watch this? How is he ever going to have a normal sex life if this is shaping the way he views intimacy?”

I almost sent him Pornland.  Can you imagine receiving a book in the mail from your big sister called Pornland?

Norman Doidge, in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, described his clinical experience working with men who had mentioned being hooked on porn. More alarmingly, they had reported increasing difficulty becoming sexually aroused by their actual sexual partners, often fantasising about porn to help them make love to their partners. I won’t get too bogged down in the science of it, but to describe it simply, when you masturbate to porn, your pleasure giving neurotransmitters reinforce the behaviour (ie. porn watching) that caused your pleasure. As such, you want to keep watching porn to keep getting that pleasure. After a while, you build up a tolerance, just like a drug addiction, so now you need more to get the same amount of pleasure. Getting more from porn means delving into the more extreme acts that you didn’t find sexy before, now you need them to have the same pleasure response. (For more information and other great tales of neuroplasticity, please check out Norman Doidge’s great book).

What does this all mean? There is an awful lot of information out there on this subject and I have barely scratched the surface. I am sure as I learn more, my ideas on pornography will grow and mature. At this point, with everything I have learned, I worry about young men and women growing up with incredible access to this information. When you have access to porn via the Internet, you are going to be exposed to degrading language directed at the participants of sex acts, very intense sexual behaviours, and for the most part an absence of intimacy and caring. I worry that it might be difficult to form a sexual identity without taking this information and integrating it into your ideas about sexuality. Goodbye sensuality and true creativity.

In an ideal world, porn would show egalitarian sex, involving respect, intimacy, and clear communication about boundaries and desire. The actors would feel respected and safe. Perhaps the next genre to take off in porn will be feminist porn, which I hope will show respect, intimacy and creativity. In this ideal world, there would be a more open discussion with teens and adults about pornography, what it portrays, how that relates to real sex and intimacy, and what its effects can be on individuals and relationships.

Am I dreaming?

8 thoughts on “(sex)uality: my journey with porn

  1. I think companies like Kink.com are very respectful of their performers. I used to like watching James Deen porn in particular because it actually looked like both actors were having a good time and enjoying the sex. They LOOKED at each other. However, after reading some utter crap he wrote on his Twitter account, I’ve been put right off him as an actor.

    I have heard that No Faux(xx?) is also another company that respects its performers, but I believe that it is entirely a paid site, so I can’t say for certain if that is the case.

    Nina Hartley is a big name to look into if you want to view porn that skews feminist.

  2. Without any figures about how many people actually watch gonzo porn as opposed to softporn, egalitarian sex etc, it’s difficult to simply conclude that *all* men must watch ‘Pirates’ and like porn that depicts women being coerced by men. I watch porn, I hate Pirates, and anything like it.
    Drawing conclusions about ‘porn’, a hugely diverse genre of media, based solely on gonzo porn and the likes of Jenna Jameson is like critiquing the genre of ‘rock music’ based on a few listens of Motorhead and a book about the thrash metal scene.

    • I know Sara’s done a lot more research than she’s mentioned in this article, but irrespective of this, she does address the fact that she has “barely scratched the surface” of available information and her opinions will change the more she learns. It is only her journey with porn that she’s writing about, after all :)

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. I’ll check out some of your recommendations Sonya. I definitely want to explore some more… the journey is not over yet.

    Chris, when reading Gail’s book, I was at all times aware that she was very strongly biased and did not buy into her perspective by any means. (She also used anecdotal evidence, and with my experience in research psychology, that rubbed me the wrong way). That someone is quite one sided in their argument can be freaking annoying, but it doesn’t automatically negate what they say. I certainly finished the book feeling very concerned about what is available on the net.

    I don’t think at any point I concluded “that *all* men must watch ‘Pirates’ and like porn that depicts women being coerced by men”, my only conclusion was that I wanted there to be a more open discussion about the potential effects of porn and that I wanted to learn more. I do not judge men who watch it. I used to watch it, and I am intent on finding some good stuff to watch in the future (if you have any recommendations by the way…).

    I’m really glad that you all want to engage in this topic. I certainly want to learn more.

    (Thanks Dunja <3)

  4. No Fauxx is indeed a feminist porn company, run by Queer feminist Courtney Trouble. Shine Louise Houston’s Crash Pad Series is another queer feminist porn company – her work is really great – consensual and safe sex, with actors who are friends, and sometimes partners, in real life, with that rapport and respect really showing through.

  5. As a young woman i enjoy watching porn, and honestly i can say i enjoy the man to be in control, and to dominate the woman with lust and strength but i know that at the end of the day SHE chose to be apart of that movie, she knew what she was in for and its all part of the act. No person can walk in to a bar, drink until they can barely stand and say, how did i get drunk? this is a hard topic to discuss as we all have different opinions, but they knew what they were doing when they decided to go into the industry in the first place.

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