You can be anti-porn and pro-sex

I'm no censor, says Lisa Saunders. She talks through some common misconceptions about anti-porn/pro-sex feminism

, 13 December 2011

Pornography seems to have become an every increasing part of my life. Advertising, porn-spambots, the overwhelming barrage of sex-encounter venues that seem to flood my neighbourhood, the commodification of body parts and sexual imagery in all walks of life seems to be at an all-time high. I feel sick, not just physically, but emotionally and culturally sick.

Declare yourself to be anti-porn, however, and prepare to be compared to Mary Whitehouse. The assumption is that campaigners against sexual exploitation want to (using the word intentionally) hysterically ban everything. But the truth is far from this:

Myth: Anti-porn means you just hate sex

The F Word-art piece (porn).jpgI am the anti-porn flavour of feminist, yes, however that is a misnomer. The term I adopt is anti-porn/pro-sex. Anti-porn means, to many, a sexually repressed Millie Tant in dungarees and Doc Martens who jealously hates the idea of anyone getting their rocks off. It’s a useful image to derail anti-porn/pro-sex arguments, but none of it is actually true. (OK, I wear vegan DMs, rumbled.)

I love sex, it’s one of the most fun things you can do that is free. I was raised to be comfortable about my own body and never really found a difference in attraction between men or women, I just fancy certain people. I guess many would label that bisexual, I prefer to think of it as simply having desires and the equipment matters not. Expressions of sex and sexuality are a gift that keeps on giving, all your adult life.

Where I grew up, this was a redeeming feature, as everything was geared around tourism, not local young people. Sex is never anything to be ashamed of and, as long as no-one is exploited, it can never be wrong, dirty or bad. Alone or with the consenting adults of your choice, good sex can boost your endorphins, help you keep fit, boost self esteem, bond you to your lover and some of you might even want to make babies. Sex can be for love, procreation, or to pass the time of day like any other hobby, it’s all good. Sex is awesome, more decent sex for everyone!

Sex is one of the most fun things you can do that is free

So this is why I hate porn. Porn is a simulacrum of sex, if not its complete opposite. I’ve seen enough porn to know. Those people don’t really fancy each other; they are being paid to do that. I know that face, that is not arousal or desire it’s the same look I had in my old job on a Monday morning. Dread combined with tedium. That thing you are doing to her/him/that donkey just looks painful and degrading. Their body parts are generally all cut up, butchered, shaved, bleached, silicon-stuffed and battered into something that represents a brutal war more than it does having happy fun times. I am not knocking any kind of sex you might like to have, I am simply stating that what occurs in porn is fake, whereas all sex is real. Anti-porn/pro-sex, it’s a simple concept to grasp really. Probably why the endless tirade of derailments I have lobbed at me weekly are so vague and flimsy.

Myth: You are a rubbish anarchist; you want censorship, you Nazi.

Censorship is the process of obliterating voices. That can never be a good thing, no matter how much anyone might dislike a voice, and every voice should be heard. The very concept of censorship is revolting to me as I believe in self-autonomy.

I am entirely responsible for my own actions and must do unto others as I would have done to me. I do not want anyone else to be forced to agree with me. Nor do I want to criminalise pornography. I do want an end to exploitation: you make your porn exploitation-free, we can talk about it, but for now it’s abusive and it hurts people every day.

Right not, it’s about as easy to get hold of ‘ethical’ pornography as it is to score ‘ethical’ cocaine. By which I mean, do we ever ask the big morality questions about the porn we consume, while we smugly sip Fairtrade coffee?

Anything that is high-risk yet lacks genuine independent regulation runs the chance of exploitation. Call me kinky but I think putting people at risk of HIV/Aids due to a lack of regulation on STI testing and ‘barebacking’ (porn made without condoms) is about as unsexy as it can get.

George Fox, one of the founders of Quakerism, suggests in his diaries: “Be Patterns”. By this he meant that we each have to live our lives as walking, talking examples of what we believe to be right and good. Everything else is just fluff. We must be honest in our actions and deeds with one another.

Let’s not censor anything, but rather let’s be granted a much kinder, gentler right. I’d like the right to avoid exposure to triggering abusive and grotesque material should anyone wish to. So to allow my right to not see pornography on my journey to work, so the four lap-dancing clubs I pass need to stop dropping leaflets all over the pavement outside, as a simple starter for 10. The Lynx advert for Hop On, Hop Off at my bus stop would be gone, and not to mention the kid sharing his Sun Page Three iPhone app with his mate in front of me on the bus. Seriously, why should I have to see this grot? Give me the right to not have to endure this onslaught of degradation, please.

Myth: But I am a consenting adult, why can’t I have adult movies?

Well yes, if you are a grown up you can have your porn films. This may lead to you having a reduction in how well you relate to your partners and the women in your life as most porn is very demeaning.

For sale.jpgStudies have been done suggesting the damage porn can do, Google for them next time you are trawling for free internet porn, it might change your mind. Worse still, and this is purely based on my own experiences, people who watch a lot of porn are rubbish in bed. They think that you will climax simply by shoving you over the washing machine and battering your genitals. Now you might quite like this, but that is not my idea of fun. In most porn no-one is interested in enjoyment, it’s just their job to stick bits of themselves into each other. It arouses me even less than the idea of someone to stick their finger up my nose – and we have erectile tissue in our noses so I’d probably enjoy it more anyhow.

Randomly Google some pornography if you dare (and I do not dare any more), look into their soul-crushed miserable eyes and tell me that looks like fun. Would you really like to do that to someone you care about? Would you like that done to you? If yes, then fine, but don’t get angry when I want something more. Something that involves actually being with me and engaging with me and how my body works, not just putting something in me. That, my femi-friends, is why porn can never be sex.

Pounding endless monotonous penetration is not any sex life I aspire to. The human body is an amazing thing and will do all sorts of fantastically pleasurable things if you choose to learn how. Women are all different: many of us are not waxed, augmented or orange, it might come as a bit of a shock, so brace yourselves. Porn makes people confused and anxious about intercourse because it tells lies about sex that are very hard to deconstruct. Porn, stop ruining sex for everyone, bad porn.

The term adult entertainment is a bizarre construct as well, seeing as so much porn is watched by children. I saw my first porno movie in 1994, aged 14, at a friend’s house whose dad had just got cable TV. This was before the internet boom, so I am assuming that much younger kids watch far more explicit material with far greater unsupervised access. I did not enjoy the film, my friends and I sat around laughing at how there only seemed to be one communal pair of knickers amongst the cast. It would be viewed as very mild now, Channel 5 material; it was smutty more than hardcore.

The movie did not really shape my sexual thoughts as a teen (and I was already sexually active and very comfortable being so), but it did make me look down on the women involved. So it did do its job in making me think less of women in under 20 minutes. I now look back with self-reproach and am glad I now know a little better than to slut-shame or belittle women who might be victims/survivors.

Myth: Why can’t I have porn and you not look?

So I don’t like porn, why don’t I stop being a buzzkill and just live and let live – porn for those who like, no porn for those who do not? I wish, but you porn-loving people won’t stop forcing it on me. Porn has invaded every part of our culture. I even went to one of those slide-show timed presentation Pecha Kucha events and someone showed a film about stalking then murdering a woman with a scene of genuine (illegal) hardcore porn in it and thought it was acceptable as ‘art’. I can’t go a day without someone trying to sell me something using some fetishised body part or the suggestion I will be more likely to arouse someone else if I do something demeaning or subjugating.

When you buy porn or even if you pirate it (thus not contributing to the livelihoods of the people whose body parts are attached to your masturbation session), it scrapes off a little bit more of the humanity that we so desperately need to evolve beyond thinking women are lesser mortals than men. I am not a walking set of holes with mammaries. No person is.

Sex.jpgAccept us for what we are or lock yourself away in your porn dungeon forever and stop bothering us. I have had a relationship ruined by being exposed to my partner’s porn. I laid it out as a deal breaker that it was porn or me and they lied needlessly. It was only later that I realised it was intentional and meant to demean me – to show me how I was supposed to be; fake and subservient. I’m glad to be out of that private hell, however I am sure there is someone reading this who has felt that their partner was comparing them in some way to their porn. You can’t ever be better than porn because you don’t fit in a DVD case under the mattress, so do not try.

I remember graffiti on a toilet door in a club “****** is the BEST f*ck EVER. She Does It Like Porno”. It then had a list of signatures of those who agreed. It saddened me then, it saddens me now. It is even more horrifying when I tell you that I know the woman in question and she was a 13-year-old incestuous abuse survivor at the time and has been in and out of psychiatric facilities all her adult life. She was the first person I knew to get breast implants and she ended up making porn. She nearly died having bags of toxic silicon shoved into her perfectly lovely body just so porn-lovers could have a ‘Tommy’ without having to think of something erotic for themselves. (I have asked her if it is OK to mention this incident publicly and she told me to use her name, but I prefer the asterisks as if you Google her without safe-search you will see her back catalogue from her skin-career.) I’m not saying that porn equates to abuse or that abuse equals porn, I am simply sharing my experiences and those of someone I consider a good friend.

I’d rather it was legal to shag in the streets than continue to be subjected to the levels of pornography I seem to be exposed to these days

If you watch the same type of thing over and over as an aroused kid, it will condition your responses like Pavlov’s dog. I work in mental health and I am not sure if I am comfortable with the term sex addiction, but I do believe in porn addiction and, all posturing and joking aside, I feel for these poor men and women and children. Fear not. There is hope for the porn-damaged. Talk to people. Make connections through social interaction. There are amazing groups of people who also had their lives ruined by porn, they are out there read to help you heal and just as easy to locate as any free porn website. Join real human beings; if you are nice to them, some of them might have genuine full-on messy roll around giggly sex with you someday, and won’t that be so much nicer? Porn can’t make you breakfast or give you a lift to work in the morning…

You still want your porn, fine. Just please accept that not everyone wants to see it. It’s not dirty, it’s just rubbish. Just don’t impose your values and exploitative lifestyle onto others. I’d rather it was legal to shag in the streets than continue to be subjected to the levels of pornography I seem to be exposed to these days.

If you like sex and dislike porn, don’t be afraid to say so. We’ve been told to ‘get ’em out for the lads’ as some sort of misdirected empowerment. They say we are allowed to like sex now but we aren’t. We are allowed to sell ourselves as sex, so basically we are porn. Let’s break the real taboo and shout from the rooftops what we are really too scared to say:

“I love sex, but I want good sex with someone who actually loves sex too, not some porno-addicted misogynist terminal masturbator with zero imagination who doesn’t know how to please me or anyone else for that matter.”

Not sure if I can get that onto a t-shirt but I will try.

Artistic interpretation of pornography an original piece of art by Bethany Lamont. Image of mannequin wearing “Sale” underwear uploaded by Flickr user Arty Smokes. Image of ‘Sex’ sign uploaded by Flickr user danielito 311

Lisa Saunders is not a blogger, gender theorist academic or journalist, as she is sure this article will show. However, she volunteers on the Leeds Reclaim the Night planning committee and is a member of Leeds Feminist Network. She consider herself a feminist, an anarcho-pacifist and a practising Quaker. She tweet as @bolli_bolshevik and this article is purely her personal opinion and not representative of any organisation she works or volunteers for

Comments From You

Quinn Capes-Ivy // Posted 13 December 2011 at 10:19 pm

Myth: But I am a consenting adult, why can’t I have adult movies?

Because you can’t be 100% sure that the actors in the movies you are watching are either consenting or adults. And if you still watch, knowing you can’t be sure they’re not non-consenting or children, then you just don’t care, and if you don’t care then you’re a raving misogynist…

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 13 December 2011 at 11:13 pm

You say, “I’ve seen enough porn to know”… I’d be very interested in your opinion on queer and alternative porn, directors like Courtney Trouble and actresses like Jiz Lee, Madison Young or Judy Minx (see No orange bodies or boob jobs there, some of them do not shave *at all*. All body types too, and in many films no cismen whatsoever.

Is the argument you’re making against “straight mainstream porn” (which is rubbish) or porn (understood as explicit depiction of sexual acts) in general?

romseygirl // Posted 13 December 2011 at 11:13 pm

I remember seeing a review on a blog of ‘top 5 porn sites’. For one of them the (female) author said that she’d heard that they treated the actresses fairly well – basically admitting that (a) that probably wasn’t the case with the other 4 sites (b) she didn’t really care and would still recommend them anyway as her and her readers’ right to get off to porn is far more important than the women’s welfare.

In short I think most porn users DO know that most women in porn are experiencing physical pain and abuse, but they just feign ignorance when feminists call them out on their porn use.

Towards Harmony // Posted 14 December 2011 at 7:22 am

I am totally pro-sex and female sexuality and anti-porn! Loved this article.

LUVM // Posted 14 December 2011 at 9:48 am

I was with you until ‘this may lead to you having a reduction in how well you relate to your partners’ – I don’t agree that is the case, at all.

I also don’t believe in ‘banning’ your partner from doing things. All men watch porn and porn will never go away. It needs to become more ethical.

Nee // Posted 14 December 2011 at 2:34 pm

What a brilliant article, as an anti-porn pro-sex feminist I think you covered every argument that I tried to form in a far more articulate and humourous way. Internet porn is stomach churning, like an abusive gyneacological exam, which is the norm rather than some specific hardcore genre. Definitely contributing to dreadful, incompetent lovers, not to mention the incredibly regressive view of women and sex.

JP // Posted 14 December 2011 at 9:23 pm

Hello! Great piece. I don’t actually have anything intelligent to contribute, but I just thought it might amuse you to know that I just fingered my own nostril to see if it felt good. It was not an altogether satisfactory sexual experience, but it was much better than most of the mainstream porn I’ve seen.

Quinn Capes-Ivy // Posted 14 December 2011 at 10:45 pm

I also don’t believe in ‘banning’ your partner from doing things. All men watch porn

Wow, nice blanket statement there. Only about 20% of the men that have been in my life over the past ten years have been pornography users. Of the 20% who were, 100% were willing to give it up when asked. Because they respected me, because having me in their lives was more important than having a few pictures to have a wank to.

Indie Ninja // Posted 15 December 2011 at 6:16 am

@LUVM – I strongly disagree with your second statement. Not all men watch porn – it seems a strong indicator of the prevalence of pornography in our lives that this misconception should be so strongly and widely held. There are many, many men in the world who do not need or want pornography in their lives, just as there are many women who feel the same – and indeed, many women who *do* enjoy porn. I do, however, agree that given the freedom of the internet and the unacceptability of censorship, pornography is probably now a fact of modern life. But the violence and dehumanisation that the majority of pornography promotes cannot have a place in a compassionate world.

You say also that you don’t believe in banning a partner from doing things; I think the issue there is as much one of trust and respect between the two partners as it is an issue of the morality of porn. If you say to your partner, “I find this behaviour deeply offensive and would like you to stop”, it doesn’t matter if its watching porn or wearing socks with sandals – if they continue to do so, and worse if they lie to you about it, it’s indicative of a low level of respect for your needs and values, and so of you as a person.

Finally, with regards to the article in general, I’m wondering – would it even be possible to make ethical porn? Of course you could insist on proper protection and care for the people involved, but how could something created for mass consumption possibly encorporate the complexities of human relationships?

Laurel // Posted 15 December 2011 at 10:28 am

“all men watch porn”

thats not actually true. many abstain for political reasons, religious reasons, or because it just doesnt do it for them.

thats not to say that i think erotica of some kind or another wont always be present, but i think calling it porn is limiting.

i want a society thats so radically different that it isnt really a thought because theres so much else out there which is definitely consensual ways of expressing your sexuality. there isnt a ‘need’ for porn now, though theres certainly a strong demand to have ‘something’ there. im not sure sex/women on tap is the healthiet manifestation.

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 15 December 2011 at 10:28 am

Myth: But I am a consenting adult, why can’t I have adult movies?

ACTUALLY, in 2011, you can. There is enough great and ethical porn out there, made and produced by women, queer people, consenting adults of legal ages, all sizes, colours and genders.

Please please google Candida Royalle, Tristan Taormino, Anna Span, Annie Sprinkle, Jennifer Lyon Bell, Courtney Trouble. I would add, google Bruce LaBruce, but you don’t seem to be interested in depictions of gay male sexual acts (as this makes the argument about degradation of WOMEN quite hard to sustain).

As Annie Sprinkle said, the only answer to bad porn is good porn.

Enjoy! (as anything, responsibly)

Ellie // Posted 15 December 2011 at 11:32 am

@ LUVM – “All men watch porn” – how can that possibly be true?! And even if it was true, why should that inform an argument about the ethical acceptability of porn production or consumption?

Joannemlive // Posted 15 December 2011 at 5:33 pm

Thank you so so much for this article, really well written too. I feel it validates a lot of what I think and rant about anti-porn/anti-sexism/pro-sex.

The arguments for porn (from a lot of people that I know and respect) I now see are complete rubbish. People think that they are being pro-sex when they defend porn, but they really are not.

I get really concerned about the look of lots women in porn, recently I watched an episode of The Joy Of Teenage Sex of Channel 4 and there is a regular feature about teens and sex. The presenter asked a number of teenagers about what a vagina should look like and what sort of vagina they preferred. There was a strong preference for the smooth and bald vaginas and this is so far from what lots of vaginas look like. This is a direct influence from porn and the teenagers casually mentioned that they would consider having vaginal plastic surgery! I have recently become aware of the rise in this surgery. It is just disgusting!

lil1 // Posted 16 December 2011 at 9:18 am

If all men watched porn, then that would leave no one left, for me *not* to have less respect for. To me the word porn means exploitative. Sex videos might not go away, and don’t need to. But ‘porn’ in its real sense does need to. I bet they used to reason slavery would never ‘go away’. If porn becomes ethical it is no longer porn, but sex. Porn can and does need to go away.

So, totally with the OP.

Kitty // Posted 16 December 2011 at 9:54 am

I’ll admit- I’m pro-sex, and pro-pro-sex, which does indeed include porn. I know it’s possible to find feminist and ethical porn- I challenge anyone to watch meetthemayhems, for example, and say it’s not feminist or ethical (and believe me, that’s a couple that really does like to have sex with each other). However, I agree that there’s a major conversation to be had still (and ongoing) about the ethics in porn, both what the viewers see (what acts occur, language used, scenarios, safer sex practices, etc) and what goes on behind the scenes (fair pay, contracts, how they treat the performers, testing practices, etc)… and no, certainly, it’s not just mainstream porn (gay and straight, mind) that has those issues. It doesn’t do anyone any good to be defensive about those issues, for sure.

I think that while the internet certainly has lent itself to exposing people to a lot more crap, it has also been a good venue for people (women and queers especially) to DIY in ways that challenge the mainstream. A lot of performers maintain their own sites, and because of that have a lot of agency around their image/brand, which is awesome. And it says a lot to me that AVN nominated queerpornTV for an award this year- a suggestion that perhaps the mainstream is starting to take notice. I live in hope, anyway.

Clarabelle // Posted 16 December 2011 at 10:38 am

Just like Vegan DMs, ethical porn is not in the mainstream, it can be hard to find but it IS out there. I think sexualised images in advertising are a separate issue to actual porn and personally suspect they’re a bigger influence than something you hunt out occasionally – we’re surrounded by soft porn images in advertising, magazines etc.

Shoving “all porn” (a completely useless term as it is as varied as the people who decide to make it, however they decide to make it) into a box & labelling it as wrong doesn’t allow for a dialogue on regulating it, improving conditions or establishing where & when it’s appropriate.

I do feel that at the moment sexualised images are visible in many inappropriate places. No, I don’t want 3 year olds looking at page 3, I don’t want girls growing up with the idea that adult females are shaved, surgically altered and sexually available to anyone. To be honest, no porn I would choose to watch features that stereotype – but mainstream magazines do, frequently and in prominent places in supermarkets, newsagents and other shops. At what point does it start being porn?

To me, the argument isn’t about some nebulous concept of what “all porn” is responsible for. That’s like saying “all Germans”, “all women” or “all gay people”. It’s reductive and insulting to suggest people cannot vote with their wallets/feet – just as making the extra effort to buy vegan DMs is a choice, consumers can and will seek out ethical porn. I dont think that is wrong. The reason that it’s hard to find while junk & degrading images remain widespread is that little is being done to have a constructive debate on what’s being done RIGHT. encouraging porn to move in a more ethical direction would surely improve more lives than trying to ban every pornographic image ever created.

Dee K // Posted 16 December 2011 at 7:37 pm

Thank you Lisa for making a great argument that anti-porn doesn’t mean anti-sex.

Pornography trains men (or women) to be consumers when it comes to sex. It trains us to see sexual pleasure as something on-tap and made-to-order rather than as a natural result of two people love each other.

EmilyBites // Posted 16 December 2011 at 9:28 pm

Totally with you, Lisa – I’d rather it were legal to have sex in public than be subjected to a constant barrage of porn! I hate having to preface ‘I hate porn’ with ‘I love sex, but’ because going on and on about how much you love sex makes you sound a bit weird, and as though you’re already defensive about something (which you are, thanks to Heff and his ilk’s smear campaign against anti-porn activists).

LUVM, it’s not ‘banning’ your partner from doing anything if you state your boundaries in a relationship. I will not date a man who watches porn, end of. I make that very clear, very early in the relastionship (as a radfem, politics comes up in the first meeting, mostly!), and a guy can take or leave it. I won’t be called misogynist slurs, so a guy who uses ‘bitch’ isn’t someone I will go out with, likewise I won’t go out with a guy who uses porn.

The vast majority of porn celebrates an image of degraded women and callous men, EVEN when it doesn’t do actual harm to the participants – and the idea of sleeping with someone who gets off to that grosses me out! If I ever met a man who watched ONLY feminist, ethically sourced, non-misogynistic porn (all four films), I’d still be uncomfortable. The idea of someone I’m dating masturbating to other people having sex makes me uncomfortable – I wouldn’t go out with someone who cheated on me, and porn feels kinda like cheating, so…that’s my boundary. No one has to go out with me.

Also, my boyfriend doesn’t watch porn, and nor did my ex. Yeah, they have done, but it’s not a human need, it’s not inevitable, and no, ALL MEN dont do it. Give them more credit.

Jess McCabe // Posted 17 December 2011 at 9:27 am

@Clarabelle I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s right to compare generalisation about porn (which is a product), with generalisation about a group of people, such as “all Germans”, etc.

Kitty // Posted 17 December 2011 at 10:44 pm

I have a question: are sexual scenes in movies also Bad? I mean, they’re acting, right, so it’s not real chemistry, and people could get turned on by it. Are sex parties out too? I mean, if I watch sexual acts at a party, and it arouses me, am I just a consumer of sexuality? Are sex parties also bad because I might have sex with someone I don’t love but just want to have sex with for the pleasure of it?

I agree that not all men look at porn. Interestingly, I recall a study wherein girls found erotic material online earlier than boys did. I think it’s a lot less gendered than people suggest, but socially, there’s a lot of investment in the idea that men are the gazers and women are the gazed upon.

I guess ultimately, while I agree that there are changes that need to be made, I have a different way of going about those changes. I worry a lot about some radfem attitudes that portray sex workers as lacking agency or free will and in need of “saving”, as that seems to be pretty infantalizing of women. I agree that there are issues of misogyny and bad work practices, but banning it has not had the intended consequences before (Magdalene Asylums did start with well-meaning social justice groups), and I doubt it would help now. I think encouraging and supporting sex work unions, and giving sex workers legal recourse, would do endlessly more to improve the lives of women who do this work- and in turn, it would have a trickle down effect of reducing a patriarchal structure.

lil1 // Posted 18 December 2011 at 4:47 pm

I think it’s the exploitative part endemic in the making, portrayal and consumption of sex, many here are against – not in the having of/indulging in sex itself where it doesn’t hurt anyone. Not trying to talk for anyone when I say this but, I don’t think ANYONE here is trying to trample on women’s agency and free will – it looks like quite the opposite to me.

It’s really the behaviours of many of the (mostly) men they work with that need more answerability, not an issue of ‘saving’ anyone. Human rights abuses are illegal, so why aren’t they illegal in porn? To me porn and sexual indulgence are two very, very different things. Sex isn’t porn. Sex parties aren’t porn. Casual sex isn’t porn – until and only when somebody abuses/exploits someone else – in a way quite obviously beyond their right.

I don’t think there’s anything ‘radical’ about any opinions that express concern over abuse of women and their rights, and I don’t think it’s ‘radical’ of me either to agree with them.

Joy-Mari // Posted 18 December 2011 at 10:48 pm

Ooooh, I love, love, love your commenting policy ;)

Ok, here goes: I agree with Clarabelle about generalisations.

And i’d like to know how Lisa knows that ‘all sex is real’. How do you know that ‘all porn is fake’? There are amateur pornstars out there who have ‘real sex’ and make it into a home-made porn movie…

Another question: do you watch rom-coms? If yes, why? Is it not clear that the people acting in it are just actors who clearly get paid to fancy each other? Do you read fiction? Do you watch soap operas? Do you listen to music? You can apply the same argument to almost all these art forms –they’re fake.

But that’s not an argument against consuming art. The only good argument against (doing) something is that it is inherently hurtful. And I’m not convinced that porn is inherently hurtful. Ethical porn shows we can infuse goodness into porn.

Kitty // Posted 19 December 2011 at 8:59 am


I agree! There’s serious worker issues in various areas of sex work, including porn. Talking about the “soul-crushed eyes” of the performers isn’t a step towards worker rights. I’m all about worker rights- as are many of the ethical porn companies I’ve worked with (many of whom are quite active politically in sex worker and union rights).

I think it’s more complex than “porn never shows sex in a healthy, positive way” or “porn always shows sex in a healthy, positive way”, and if we want to reduce negative experiences for people working in adult industries, talking to the workers and asking them what THEY want seems like an obvious way to start, no?

Also, I’m confused by your definition of “porn”, @ging- when I say porn, I mean, in this context, visual material primarily meant to be erotically stimulating. I don’t believe that abuse or exploitation are part of the definition of what pornography is. Yes, some, arguably most pornography depicts exploitation and/or abuse- but then, correlation is not causation. If you want to stop exploitation and abuse, tackle that, rather than the act of recording a sexual act. That act is not innately exploitative, but it can become that way due to a lot of issues- issues I think would be more productive and successful in tackling.

What makes me feel like my free will is being trampled on is the suggestion that I am abused or exploited, when I am actively saying I don’t feel that way, and I’m the best expert on that. It’s difficult being in the sex industry when I say “but I *like* my work; I can acknowledge that there are issues and have lots of ideas on how to challenge those issues, but ultimately I enjoy my job”, and yet I’m being told I have “soul-crushed eyes” and that the sex I’m having is passionless, fake, and abusive. Um… please let me speak for myself on that. I have watched a LOT of pornography- a lot. Many many many hours. And I am very aware of the issues involved, don’t get me wrong! But to ignore or silence the voices of performers who DO like their production companies is to invalidate them and deny them that agency- and additionally, it means you miss out on ideas and advice from the very people you want to help. That seems counterproductive, right?

lil1 // Posted 19 December 2011 at 2:21 pm

“If you want to stop exploitation and abuse, tackle that, rather than the act of recording a sexual act.”

This is what I’m getting at. Essentially I do think we are in agreement, and wires are somewhat crossed with interpretations of the others’ message – and I do think support for sex worker unions, and increase in avenues to legal recourse are defninitely needed as well.But I also think (mostly) men in the industry need to be made answerable over their behaviours and accept responsibility over what messages are sent out.

Apologies if my personal definition confuses you, when I refer to porn I simply mean recordings of sex that are misportrayed, subjugative, sexist in their message – i.e abusive, porn. This is why I even call it porn otherwise to me it’s just a sex vid. Even if the content seems unobjectionable in marketed porn what about the taglines over the top of many that normalises a perception of women, e.g “naughty slut rides…” so it is still porn – and marketed as such, with only men in mind, when it involves a woman.

How it is presented and sold, as above (and whether the consumers pay for it or pirate it so not contributing to the workers) I think is all too often utterly beyond the control of the ones actually making the sex being recorded, and this is one of the problems.

I definitely agree we need to hear much more from the people doing the work, and in the industry, and there may well be many people very happy in the sex industry but there are so many who are not whose voice and experience are routinely silenced and I think the way it is now cultivates an environment in the majority of places those voices and that agency cannot be excerised often at all let alone in its fullest.

I think this is what we want to see an end to, not the recording of or ‘indulging’ in sex etc.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 24 December 2011 at 11:12 pm

I’ve been watching with post with great interest. I will certainly agree that not all men watch porn, my partner definatly doesn’t. It’s just not his thing, and I can confirm thats not just what he tells me. He would not be impressed with a comment such as “all men watch porn.”

I don’t watch porn either. The most basic reason is simply it does absolutly nothing for me as a tool for sexual arousel. Crudely put, since there is no porn out there starring me, The Witch King of Angmar and some squirty cream (please don’t ask) there is absoultly no point whatsoever in me watching it.

I do have other reasons, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the implications of most of it. Let’s not beat around the bush, yes there are women in porn who are happy in their work and yes, it is unfortunate that they feel feminists are patronising them, which is wrong. We most definatly should not be dismissing their voices.

Kitty is correct in pointing out that the issues relating to porn are not in black and white. BUT, and this is a big but. There are women in porn who are not happy, are subjected to abuse or have a history of abuse. We cannot whitewash around these issues. Just because there are those who choose the work freely and are happy in their work does not mean we can ignore the others who are not.

I’m speaking as a women who in my late teens and early twenties (I’m now 26) fully embraced so called “raunch feminism”. I would freely admit I was very naive about certain things. I looked at the sex industry through rose-tinted glasses and ignored certain truths I found unpalatabel. I do worry that the current mainstream embracing of the sex industry is drowning out the voices of those women who have not found it a happy place to be.

Nobady wants to be called a prude, it’s not pleasent. But I don’t think we can ignore the elephant in the room, there are men out there who are influenced by the porn they watch. I should know, my ex was one of them. I’ll not bore you with the grisly details but basically he expected me to look, act and behave like a porn star. He would nag me to get a (very painful) brazilian wax and he would sulk whenever I reminded him I was due an orgasm thank you very much.

When we finally broke up over this I realized that porn isn’t always just “harmless fantasy” It does affect people, or at least some people. I can’t account for everyone. My then-boyfriend’s obessesion without had a profound affect on my sense of worth as a female person. Was being a sex object all I was good for? Of course it wasn’t, but in my experiance at least porn really was anti-sex.

I do believe there most likely is good “ethical porn” out there, but I can only speak from my experiance. I can proudly say that I have reclaimed my sexuality for myself and not just seeing myself through the eyes of men. It helps that my current partner is on the level with me.

I’m sorry this comment is so rambling but I’m just trying to make sense of everyone’s point of view and hoping I’ve said something that makes some sort of sense as well.

MariaH // Posted 26 December 2011 at 2:06 am

@ Kitty

“I think encouraging and supporting sex work unions, and giving sex workers legal recourse, would do endlessly more to improve the lives of women who do this work- and in turn, it would have a trickle down effect of reducing a patriarchal structure”.

Interesting how you managed to make a detour in the discussion to ‘promote’ sex work. I take issue with your last statement, though. Normalizing sex work would not have a trickle down effect of reducing a patriarchal structure. On the contrary, prostitution functions to entrench the madonna/whore syndrome. Empowerment for the prostitute means disempowerment for the non-prostitute.

Jess McCabe // Posted 27 December 2011 at 10:34 am

@MariaH “Empowerment for the prostitute means disempowerment for the non-prostitute.”

This is the sort of thing that makes it difficult for people to believe in a feminist sisterhood…

Whether or not normalising sex work is the best way forward is another discussion, but this is pretty much the worst argument I’ve heard yet against legalisation and regulation.

MariaH // Posted 28 December 2011 at 5:08 pm

@Jess McCabe

I disagree.

What do you believe is the function of prostitution?

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 29 December 2011 at 11:56 am


How exactly does the discussion of the working conditions of prostitutes take away from sexual empowerment and agency of people who are not sex workers??????

Sexual empowerment and agency are not zero-sum games.

Prostitutes are definitely not the only manifestation of “whore” in the madonna/whore binary you mention: eradicating sex work would be tackling symptoms and not causes of misogyny and heterosexist prejudice.

MariaH // Posted 30 December 2011 at 5:56 am

@Ania Ostrowska

What do you believe is the function of prostitution?

Siobhan // Posted 13 February 2012 at 4:04 pm

I do not enjoy porn, I tend to think I would rather be doing it than watching it but also the porn that I have been exposed to has revolved around humiliating and degrading the woman. I have also found that close ups of a penis being thrust into a vagina repeatedly does not turn me on and seems to take all humanity out of the sex that is being portrayed. I do worry that the availability of it on the internet is damaging young peoples views on sex and the human body. I do have concerns about porn and its effects – on those watching it and making it and so I am really happy to hear that there is ethical porn out there. However it may be true that some people may prefer the degradation of women in mainstream porn as this is what turns them on, that even given the choice between ethical or not, they would chose not. I guess this means there are root causes of why the degradation and humiliation of women is considered sexy and a turn-on, that need to be addressed… Sorry that was a bit of an unstructured ramble…

lil1 // Posted 14 February 2012 at 10:00 pm

Massive edit while I’m at it: I would want legal recourse for the (mostly) women in the industry to make defective men answerable,that kind of recourse – not a legal way to legitimise their consumption/commodification by, say, legalising sex work so that men especcially now think it’s their “right to buy”.

trlasalle // Posted 20 February 2016 at 7:45 pm

Dear Lisa,

I’ve just been up most of the night looking for something that comes even remotely close to how I feel about this subject and you have hit it spot on. I just had a monogamous relationship end in December because it came up on Thanksgiving that my boyfriend had been using porn during the 7 months of our relationship without my knowledge. Maybe I’m niave, but sex is a very personal thing to me and I guess I assumed when we became intimate that there would be some kind of discussion if either of us wanted to explore anything, that included. Ironically, he assumed the opposite, stating that since he wasn’t forcing me to watch and it clearly was not affecting our relationship (debatable) it was none of my business what he wanted to do with his free time.

I think there is a yes and no to that statement–that ethical porn (if there is such a thing) has its purpose and if people want to engage in it and it empowers the performer and the viewer, and harms no one else in the process (including the person of a current relationship or the unsuspecting woman on the street) that’s totally fine and admittedly none of my business. But the fact of the matter is, I was involved–I was hurt by the fact that while I loved this man fully, passionately, and deeply, I was not enough.

I do believe that the attitudes that porn promotes about women and their place in sexual relationships is very real and extremely negative. I also believe that porn does not promote closeness with one’s partner unless used in a very specific way (assuming you both are into it). Personally speaking, I don’t want to be assaulted with porn in my everyday life and, if given the choice, I’d prefer not to have it as part of my or my partner’s sex life, or free time for that matter, as I feel like it takes away from the reality we share. That real-life connection that involves sweat, warm bodies, pheromones, caresses, and attentive communication about needs and wants between two people (or more if you’re into that kind of thing).

Most articles and videos I found tonight on this topic were extremely dry or one-sided, and some had a radically religious backbone. I’ve seriously been feeling like an alien on the planet for thinking the way I want to live is somewhere between tolerating people’s use of ethical porn and not wanting it in my own life.

So, thank you for your work and for giving someone like me the knowledge that I’m not alone in being anti-porn and sex positive. I look forward to seeing more of your work on this subject in the future, should you choose to write about it.



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