Chrissy D responds to Erica Lust winning “Movie of the Year” at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto this month.

NB: Only partial nudity is shown in the clips included but they’re probably NSFW.

Erika Lust.jpgI don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that the contemporary porn landscape has somewhat taken the joy out of sex. But here’s my confession: when I first heard the phrase ‘porn for women’, back in the day, I scoffed dismissively. I imagined fluffy faux romance, beefcake men and way too much build up; too many words, not enough action. Because that’s what contemporary mainstream culture tells us heterosexual and bisexual women want. Hell, it even claims it’s what lesbians want sometimes – a man to intervene, the imperative phallus. And it tells men how to pretend to give it to women. I imagined at best, “semipornographic glamour” and at worst a few thrusts and gasps on a malfunctioning washing machine. Like ‘female masturbation‘, ‘porn for women’ conjures up something novel, other than and niche.

But when I see that the woman picking up the award for “Movie of the Year” at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto this month is none other than a Vimeo fave of mine, Erika Lust, I am reminded that there are other voices, even a realistic female gaze, out there prepared to give women something more than what we’re told we should want. Lust describes her goal as, “to show modern women and men enjoying their sexuality with an intelligent and fresh script”. This, at least to my taste, she does achieve.

Cabaret Desire, the award winning movie, is “a journey through intimacy, love, passion and sex” and was made in conjunction with Poetry Brothel in Barcelona. In her blurb on Vimeo, Lust states that, “I don’t like the way sex is portrayed in most porn films (stupid plots, ugly locations, ridiculous characters, bad lighting…) and I also don’t like the way mainstream cinema narrates sex (there’s always guilt, shame, bad karma and the characters’ sexual behavior tend to get them in trouble). I demand a new genre where sex is portrayed positively, where sex is associated with joy and life.”

I have to agree that in my favourite of her short movies, Room 33, Lust does achieve well in her drive to counter the ugliness and guilt of most contemporary porn and replace it with a deep love for lust. In this short piece, a man and woman check into some kind of sex hotel, and (female led) passion ensues. Then another man joins and hereafter follows more bouncy, passionate sex. It’s really rather good. And for me, it reads from the same script as MAYA at Feministing, by giving a positive representation to the play of submission and dominance, and group sex, for both women and men. Handcuffs also does this beautifully. This kind of scenario is something which has been snatched by the male gaze of contemporary porn, made violent and shameful and, most recently, been touched upon in ‘mommy porn’ literature. (Ugh, I detest that phrase, but that’s another piece.)

Lust also addresses the notion that, for women, sex and desire are so often seen as superficial performance, rather than experience and, in turn, that it doesn’t matter whether women experience real pleasure or not. Indeed, porn (unfeminist porn?) feeds into this idea and girls are cultivated to be turned on by simply performing desire, rather than experiencing it. Although the performance of sex isn’t a terrible thing, per se, this is a damaging blanket assumption that has led to the dominance of the male gaze. And the only representation of the female gaze we seem to see is of being fangirls or ‘middle-aged’ housewives, who are ridiculed and deemed the premature or mature horny exception to the norm. Lust insists upon not denying the male gaze, but encouraging an honesty between performance and real life and the importance of both male and female pleasure, albeit a beautifully shot real life with lots of intense orgasms.

Her movies do have, as described, “an innovative mise-en-scène, beautiful sets, and characters we can identify with” but also a creativity, imagination and linger that we can lust for. This seems far from the Mills and Boon/Chippendale representations of female desire of days gone by.

Finally, the porn is feelgood in the sense that you get the impression everyone’s been paid and/or appreciates the artistic vision behind it. Also that no one is pretending to love it through gritted teeth and a bad case of the shakes. Yes, I’m making assumptions. But as far as I’m concerned, as a sex positive feminist, Erika Lust fills a pretty wanting void.

Picture shows Erika Lust casually sitting in a chair and smiling, against a blue background. She is holding what looks like a magazine in her left hand and a pen in her right hand, wearing blue jeans and a vest top with the word “lust” in silver on it. By TV Cultura and shared under a creative commons licence.

Comments From You

Holly Combe // Posted 30 April 2012 at 7:39 pm

Thanks for writing this piece, Chrissy. It reminds me that I must check out Erika Lust’s work soon. I’ve been meaning to for a while!

Shadow // Posted 30 April 2012 at 7:53 pm

Feminist Porn?????? Oh yes and the earth is flat too! Feminist porn does not exist because it mirrors/imitates/copies malestream pornography wherein what is promoted is male sexual domination and female submission. Irrespective of whether or not the humans filmed whilst they engage in sexual domination/sexual submission are dominators male and submissives female the message is the same. ‘Sex’ is not ‘sex’ unless one or more persons primarily biologically male are sexually dominating/committing sadistic sexual violence and/or sexual torture upon the other person who is predominantly female. Feminism is not about normalising Male Supremacist claims that ‘sex can only occur when one or more persons primarily male enacts sexual domination and sexual control over another human being who is predominantly female. ‘ Women committing sexual domination and sexual violence against other women for supposedly ‘entertainment’ is not Feminist – rather these women are aping men and wrongly believe they will earn ‘cookies’ from men for imitating men’s misogyny and contempt for women.

Homosexual porn has the same message wherein one or more homosexual males enact the ‘male’ sexual dominator role and the other male homosexual is viewed as effeminate and/or is reduced to being ‘a female submissive.’ Eroticising male sexual violence and then claiming ‘oh but we women only produce “feminist porn” is the same as my claim that the earth is flat. Both statements are blatant lies because ‘feminist porn’ does not exist. In fact we real feminists do not want porn to be normalised because unlike the innumerable male pornographers who are earning huge profits literally by filming and selling male sexual violence against women, girls and men who are seen as ‘females in male bodies’ we loudly state that women are not men’s disposable sexual service stations and no woman was placed on this earth to be men’s dehumanised sex toys.

There will undoubtedly be a chorus of hysterical responses all claiming ‘you’re a prude; you’re advocating censorship; you don’t like sex blah blah blah. Such responses are standard pornstitution apologist statements because the ones promoting porn do not want to accept porn is never ‘fantasy’ but is filmed predominantly male sexual violence against women and the tiny number of female pornographers aping male pornographers is not feminist, rather these women believe it is their right to subject other women and/or to film women committing sexual violence against other women because the male buyer (and yes it is still overwhelmingly males buying this filmed sexual violence). Dehumanising women for profit and/or sexual entertainment is not feminist but certainly supports Male Supremacist System.

Not forgetting of course women in porn always have to smile and act as if they are enjoying being subjected to sadistic sexual violence – after all the male buyers continue to delude themselves what they are watching is ‘fantasy’ not filmed real predominantly male sexual violence against women.

[Offtopic comments about the Holocaust edited out]

This link proves ‘feminist porn’ doesn’t exist because porn is porn is porn!

http://elkballet.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/what-about-feminist-porn/

Chrissy // Posted 1 May 2012 at 7:36 am

Thanks Holly – of course, it is strange to write about something so subjective, but I like that her movies are coming more into the mainstream, giving a feminist voice (even if not everyone agrees) to adult movies.

Holly Combe // Posted 1 May 2012 at 11:39 am

@Shadow. The link you provide does not prove anything. It is an opinion piece on an individual’s blog and you are linking to it as a source that articulates your view.

”There will undoubtedly be a chorus of hysterical responses all claiming ‘you’re a prude; you’re advocating censorship; you don’t like sex blah blah blah.”

Seeing as this is a feminist website that respects different feminist positions on porn, I’d say such a chorus is highly unlikely. Certainly, it doesn’t resemble anything I’ve ever seen round here so I find it baffling that someone who has been commenting on the site for years would anticipate it. In my experience, feminists don’t tend to throw around words like “prude” or churlishly issue weak retorts such as “you don’t like sex!” (Also, I’ve never heard anyone say “oh but we women only produce “feminist porn”. That seems like a pretty far-fetched claim to me. Would you point me towards where this quote comes from?)

There is not only one ‘real’ feminist position on porn so highlighting what “real feminists do not want” will not exclude feminists you don’t agree with. The writer of this post is a real feminist whether you like it or not.

While we’re on the subject of what’s feminist, I’d suggest caricaturing the arguments of women you disagree with and labelling them as “hysterical” falls rather short.

Chrissy // Posted 1 May 2012 at 12:37 pm

It’s interesting to read another view on the topic, so thanks for the link, Shadow.

However, it seems that you go slightly off on a tangent in your comment and that some of your comments don’t refer to anything mentioned (or implied) in the original piece. For example, “‘sex can only occur when one or more persons primarily male enacts sexual domination and sexual control over another human being who is predominantly female.” (citing a male supremacist viewpoint).

In my view and to my taste, Erika Lust doesn’t simply put herself where a man normally is (directing porn) and use all the same conventions (sexual violence, guilt, shame) of ‘porn by men’, she goes some way to presenting a joyful image of sex.

If we are to say that there can be no such thing as feminist porn, then we’re saying that there can be no such thing as ‘feminist’ sex, aren’t we? For porn, in its most basic form, is people having sex and being filmed doing it. Take away the camera, and it’s just people having sex.

I would certainly never call a person a ‘prude’ or say that they have any kind of view simply because they ‘don’t like sex’, so please be assured of that.

Thanks for taking the time to compose your response to this piece.

Itziko of London // Posted 1 May 2012 at 3:07 pm

Seems that some of the comments before me assume that porn is, by definition, un-feminist. Porn (on video) is, basically, just another cinematic genre, with its particular cliches, stereotypes, tropes and narratives.

It’s not porn itself as a visual genre that can be sexist or non-feminist, but the way much of mainstream porn is produced, packaged and presented. It’s painful to see people screaming about it, who haven’t actually looked at much porn to base their opinion on, but have a monolithic, very limited, highly subjective image of what porn is. Pornography is probably the cinematic genre that, thanks to the internet, has developed and expanded the most in the alt 15 years. As somebody else put it in a better blog entry than mine, the variety of sexual perspectives in current porn is proof of human creativity.

I am, for the record, a woman, a cis-woman in case anyone needs to know, and I’ve been working in the sex industry for 10 years. Independently, that is, not attached to any studios, brand names, or companies. I recently wrote a blog entry about my own decision to start making my own porn, following my one personal preferences and desires, but also to explore how to challenge and fight the immensely popular the hegemonic heteropatriarchal porn plots that permeates most mainstream porn.

You can read my article, “The porn I want to make”, here: http://lenceriafemenina.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/the-porn-i-want-to-make/

lil1 // Posted 1 May 2012 at 3:14 pm

If it’s non-exploitative sex/vids with women in mind to, I really wish people would stop referring to it as ‘porn’ because porn by definition is exploitative. But then as many other have said different things so easily become porn. “Feminist porn” really is an oxymoron for me…

*Runs away*

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 1 May 2012 at 3:22 pm

The sole fact of being a woman does not guarantee, in any field, that the products of your work will be great, not controversial and always taking other women’s wellbeing into account. The examples are legion, from not-that-amazing women filmmakers, mediocre women artists and not too peace-loving and just women politicians (Maggie, anyone?). Guess what: it’s just like with men.

Granted, having a woman directing an ostensibly ‘pornographic’ film does not *guarantee* that it will be ‘good’ (=not degrading to anyone involved; not perpetuating sexist stereotypes about men, women and sex; arousing for at least some of the audience; aesthetically pleasing/ narratively titillating etc.). But when a woman does set off to make porn (and yes, let’s start with Chrissy’s basic definition of “people having sex and being filmed doing it”), the chance is quite big that she will focus on female pleasure or, put bluntly, that her film will not be revolving around cock.

Of course, if you gather ten women in the room, you will (hopefully!) get ten different accounts of what sexual pleasure is for them. For some this will involve no men at all and so queer porn is a very abundant (and at times very pleasurable) field. I would say that work of Erika Lust and other women who are in the business of reclaiming heterosexual pornography is even more important and much more difficult: they are up against mountains of sexist misogynist representations (aka Ten Million Very Long Blowjobs).

And so I cheer these women every time they succeed in making something hot that can be enjoyed by straight and bisexual women without them feeling guilty that the actors are mistreated or feeling turned off by the way the sex is portrayed.

Producing pornographic and erotic films which start with the consent of all participants, respect their actors and care about the influence they may have on their audiences’ sexual behaviour is possible. Sex is not the enemy and explicit images depicting it don’t have to be either. It has been happening for some time now even though you will not get it in your corner sex shop.

Itziko of London // Posted 1 May 2012 at 4:25 pm

lil1, you said “porn by definition is exploitative.” Can you please tell me what this definition of porn is?

Holly Combe // Posted 1 May 2012 at 4:51 pm

I would guess it’s a reference to the “writing about harlets” origins of the word. Personally, I think most people now think of the word as meaning something along the lines of “sexually explicit material with sexually arousing the viewer as the sole or main purpose”. IMO, saying all porn is bad tends to mean anything that’s sexually explicit ends up being sidelined, even if it goes to great lengths to identify as erotica or something else.

lil1 // Posted 1 May 2012 at 5:36 pm

@ Itziko of London and Holly combe – I guess what I mean is mainstream porn – when people reference porn they mostly mean the mainstream porn that is by definition exploitative. When they use the word elsewhere, for me it can never be devoid of the connotations of all that is wrong with mainstream porn. Basically for me the term just doesn’t fit.

“Personally, I think most people now think of the word as meaning something along the lines of IMO, saying all porn is bad tends to mean anything that’s sexually explicit ends up being sidelined, even if it goes to great lengths to identify as erotica or something else.”

Now you see this is my point because “sexually explicit material with sexually arousing the viewer as the sole or main purpose” I wouldn’t always call porn. And I don’t think the harmless stuff is always what, my friends for example, mean, when they say porn.

Very often when people make similar points to mine they are embroiled in an endless pattern of others misinterpreting what they mean, as you perhaps just did – obviously not all sex vids/erotica/material for the purpose of viewer arousal are going to be bad and what Lust are trying to do should be commended, and this is why the term “porn” jarrs with me when I see that work – because it just doesn’t fit for me and I reckon we’re just a bit too far off from it being “reclaimed” for it to mean something more innocuous.

Having said that there is always a danger of trying to recoup erotica and sex within the perimiter of malestream porn.

lil1 // Posted 1 May 2012 at 5:51 pm

*Whoops, accidentally cut out a bit of my own quoting there.

Itziko of London // Posted 1 May 2012 at 8:46 pm

Thanks for the explanation, lil1. Then porn, according to you, is not exploitative “by definition”. Some forms are.

I read your reply and thought: imagine replacing porn for fashion – “fashion is by definition exploitative-, and given the way many major chains operate, where the exploitation of women and minors working for brands we all know, is rife, it could be said too. However, that’s only the definition of certain, unfortunately widely spread, modus operandi as practiced by some fashion names.

To define Fashion as exploitation for that reason, is as accurate as describing porn as such. To carry the similitudes a bit further, fashion employs far more underpaid, overworked and exploited women and minors (some of them very young) in their factories than porn is their studios. And yet, fashion doesn’t elicit the moralistic hair-pulling and finger-pointing hysteria that porn does. Imo, people object to porn because it’s sex and they don’t feel comfortable with it, period. Otherwise, they should be just as morally charged and disgusted about most major Western companies.

lil1 // Posted 1 May 2012 at 10:21 pm

I disagree with your interpretation of what I wrote, Itziko of London. I’m sure many other people are just as disgusted by the other forms of exploitation you touched on as they are by those of porn – and I think your comparison is a little simplistic. Porn by its original intentions is exploitative which is why I don’t use the word porn to describe things which break away from it and are not.

Itziko of London // Posted 1 May 2012 at 11:08 pm

“Porn by its original intentions is exploitative” -> again, I need to ask what these original intentions are or were, so I can understand your statement.

And I disagree that comparing the fashion industry to the porn industry is simplistic. of course they both raise major outrage, but the moralistic tone and disgust that most of anti-porn’s supporters, is very different for the outrage of, say, the reality of sweatshops. Nobody says that fashion is immoral, they say that its form of production are. With porn, it’s claimed that porn itself is immoral, and it breeds immorality by its own nature and subject matter.

PCC // Posted 2 May 2012 at 1:30 pm

Shadow. I found your comment interesting. I used to share similar views. I was brought up by a very strongly feminist mother and told all porn was bad. I read Dworkin et al in my teens and for a long while thought that it was all bad.

But then I read more, I read Nancy Friday and some of the more sex positive feminists. I met a friend who was bi and into gay and lesbian porn and i began to think about whether or not all porn, full stop, always had to be bad.

I came to the conclusion that much of the industry is negative and reinforces negative views of female sexuality however I couldn’t agree that all porn had to be bad, per se, because then surely that would mean all sex was bad? If porn is just sex being filmed then there are ways to film positive and – as this article states – joyous sex.

When you say that all porn – even gay porn – shows male domination, I’m not sure what you mean? I’ve honestly not watched that much porn but I’ve read a lot of erotica and I’ve seen some porn. I saw one gay porn film that showed a very loving scene between two men. It wasn’t violent and there was no domination, however one man did have sex with the other. I wonder if you mean by domination the act of penetration itself?

In this sense then we aren’t really talking about porn but about sexuality itself and the act of sex.

If you are really saying that all penetration is an act of domination, and therefore the filming of it is always going to be about violence, then we are getting into a much, much bigger discussion about sex itself, biology etc.

lil1 // Posted 2 May 2012 at 3:21 pm

Ok, well, I’ve read one definition as “the exploitation of interest in sex for financial gain” so it is exploitation by definition regardless. What makes it different to other ‘businesses’ is that their obvious and basic intention is to profiteer from sexualizing power inequalities, as others have said – otherwise it wouldn’t be such a massively lucrative, endemic with abuse, and poorly regulated industry under the “patriarchy”. How can anybody say that is not intentional?

Porn does not mean what is still the fringe minority of respectful sex recordings – it means, whether we like it or not, the exploitative industry that is the vast majority. We are so far off reclaiming it as something inherently good it is depressing.

If you are looking to make sexual material that is not this, though, I don’t see why one would want to misrepresent themselves so badly by calling it ‘porn’.

Can I also point you to the first comment in this post which I feel expresses what I am trying to say /features/2012/01/she_gives_me_fever

I do think the fashion comparison is a little simplistic because fashion and sex are not the same as porn and sweatshops. Please don’t look for thinds to lambast in my view, I’m not against you – if you are looking to make “feminist porn” then I totally commend your efforts, but to me that will not be “porn” it will be something else.

I don’t want to clutter up the comments thread, so I’ll leave my response at that.

lil1 // Posted 2 May 2012 at 3:46 pm

*@Itziko of London.

(also I see what PCC is saying)

Ok, NOW will leave it at that :)

Holly Combe // Posted 2 May 2012 at 3:51 pm

@Lil1. You definitely aren’t cluttering up the thread! Actually, I’m really glad people have taken the time to comment. I admit I did initially hope there would be more talk about Lust’s films but it’s obvious there’s still work to be done in terms of bridge-building between different feminist positions on this one so an actual discussion (as opposed to a flame war or silence on the issue) means a lot, IMO.

Sarah // Posted 15 June 2012 at 11:15 pm

Thank you for anyone taking the time to read this. I am listing some of my questions about porn and am hoping to get thoughtful responses. First, I’d like to list some facts about myself that may shed light on my biases:

– I am 35, in a relationship with a man, have two teenage children (boy 13, girl 15), and I grew up (and still live) in Chicago, Illinois. (USA)

– I was molested by a 23 year-old male foreign exchange student in my family home at the age of 9; the man was not punished at all (the police were never called).

– I was a runaway from the ages of 14-18, and during this time was gang-raped twice, sexually assaulted in other ways countless times, poisoned with crack-cocaine against my will and tied up and raped by both a woman and a male attacker, and was “kidnapped” and almost forced into sex-slavery twice (one time also involving a woman accomplice). Also, one of the times I was gang-raped, I refused to admit it to anyone, but there was another runaway who witnessed the event and reported it to police. At the age of 14, I was subject to a forced rape kit, at the behest of my parents, although as usual and ironically, they then dropped all charges (against the four grown men/rapists).

– At 16, during my stint as a runaway, there were times I was forced to “beg for change” outside of adult book/video stores. Needless to say, the individual who forced me to do this was trying to pimp me.

– Most of my social experience, outside of mental hospitals, rehabs, abusive (religious) child detention centers, and foster homes, was in the inner-city. The inner-city, in Chicago and to the best of my knowledge, is a hyper-masculine and thus hyper-misogynous environment. Most people I encountered were totally accepting of and/or were users of porn and often strip clubs. Ironically, those same individuals were adamantly against soliciting prostitutes, or at least put on as if they were.

– I have watched porn quite a few times in a non-coercive or forced setting, but haven’t since 2008 because of the negative feelings it gave me regarding my relationship with my partner, my body, and my sexual satisfaction, but not necessarily in that order.

This is (obviously) not a comprehensive account of my life, nor does to (obviously) address how I became who I am today, which is a well-adjusted, well-educated mother and partner. If anyone has questions about any of my biases/experiences, please feel free to ask – I am not shy, nor easily offended, nor easily triggered in any negative way.

The following are some of my struggles with (the idea of) pornography. The following arguments are from an ethical perspective, which is my chosen angle for discourse. Please bear with me…I’ve never written this out before.

Potential problems with porn:

– If a rape victim is told that experiencing sexual arousal during a sexual assault, we tell them that this is merely a primitive body response and that the response should not conflate the feelings with the circumstance. Why is it, then, that when people say they prefer porn that is (what some people believe to be) exploitive, racist, or bordering the lines of pedophilia, we are expected to accept that this is simply sexual preference. If it is true that primitive sexual arousal, or arousal that happens “knee-jerk” in response to stimuli, is not to be taken as a guide for one’s choices or perspective, as it was in the rape victim scenario, then how do we then use it to justify ones use of porn?

– If the reason for banning organ sales, but not organ donation, is that compromising the integrity of one’s body for profit is unethical, then why does this not apply to pornography? Yes, it is true that in a capitalist system people need money, and from one perspective sex work is just another component of this system. However, it is body integrity compromise for profit, not profit itself that I find difficulty with.

– Is there no thought of “explicit permission” when arguing whether or not porn is ethical? I actually have no problem with porn that is made by and for parties that have officially agreed with each other upon the terms of the encounter/distribution/other potential concerns. Nonetheless, consider another rape feature: it is considered rape to continue to have sex with someone who has changed their mind and asked their partner to stop. It is not, however, unlawful for a company to continue publishing video/photos of individuals who have changed their minds about their decision to participate. In this instance I am concerned because an issue faced by those who decide to stop performing in porn is that they have no way to effectively remove themselves from it.

Thanks again for reading this and for any of your comments, counter arguments, or questions. I am planning to be writing about these issues in the future and this is good practice for me.

Sarah

Rose // Posted 18 June 2012 at 2:16 pm

@Sarah, I whole heartedly agree with you. In my opinion, there needs to be right to withdraw, and consent for when/where/how/why/whom. That just doesn’t exist in porn.

From what i have seen the porn industry does a huge amount of damage to individuals lives, (abusing peoples poverty, crushing self-esteem, denying true sexual expression – ie performance.v.enjoyment, normalising sexual violence, etc)and I personally do not believe that that is an acceptable price for some people to satisfy their ‘lizard brains’.

As far as I’m concerned, sex is an interaction – you don’t intereact with a person via porn, use just use/abuse their image. I don’t find that ethical – and it will certainly never turn me on.

I think that it is possible to have female-centric porn – but that does not make it good, respectful or ethical. To me, feminism is about human equality, it is against sexual abuse, and objectification. Therefore, I do not believe that feminist porn even makes sense as a term. (For discussions of the fundamentally expliotative nature of porn, I recommend reading up on Diana E H Russell.)

Sarah // Posted 18 June 2012 at 9:58 pm

@Rose: I wanted to respond to some of what you commented:

(@Sarah, I wholeheartedly agree with you. In my opinion, there needs to be right to withdraw, and consent for when/where/how/why/whom. That just doesn’t exist in porn.)

I agree with you, Rose. However, I think the idea of creating a law to address this is a virtual impossibility, given the nature of media today. I can always simply take a picture of a picture, so that an image created of a person, whether it is explicit or not, can never be fully retracted. So, although there are those who leave the industry with no regrets, that simply cannot be stated for everyone. There are those who have to come to terms with that part of their life, but find it difficult because there is no closure. Furthermore, whether one likes it or not, they continue to be a tool for some other person’s pleasure, again, by the very nature of the business.

(From what i have seen the porn industry does a huge amount of damage to individuals lives, (abusing peoples poverty, crushing self-esteem, denying true sexual expression – ie performance.v.enjoyment, normalising sexual violence, etc)…

I agree here too, almost entirely. I believe that pornography has the capability of ruining people’s lives. I also believe that this does not happen, necessarily, to every person who participates in pornography (producing, acting, or watching). Again, I’d like to point out the organ donation/compensation question I posed in my first post: why don’t we allow people to sell their organs? For that matter, what would stop me from charging big money to set up a webcam and chop each of my fingers off for a certain price per finger; would that be ethical? Even if one could argue that one is in possession of one’s fingers (and other body parts as well) and that this should allow them to make money from doing whatever one wishes (when it comes to one’s body), I suspect we would all be hard pressed to say that this doesn’t violate some ethical code. Another way to look at this would be to consider the poorest of the poor individuals in the world and then read about how many decide to consent to selling their organs or becoming surrogates for (typically Western) couples who have issues conceiving. It is safe to say that these people would not risk their own welfare if it wasn’t for the absolute financial necessity. Are there people who are not exploited in the process? I would argue yes, possibly. Should we change our laws to allow people to sell body parts, since it is their body and they can do with it what they please? Having sex, not entirely dissimilar to organ donation or surrogacy, poses a series of risks for its participants. If a person, on their own accord, wishes to take these risks, then I am all for that. Once money changes hands, I believe we are in an entirely different ball park.

(I personally do not believe that that is an acceptable price for some people to satisfy their ‘lizard brains’.)

I think it is important to note that, much like the argument I made regarding sexual arousal in rape/sexual assault victims, it is not the primitive response to stimuli that I take issue with (this is natural/normal). I believe that we can infer from the Stanford Prison Experiment and other scenarios like it, that as humans, we respond to conditioning/stimuli. In other words, I’m totally turned on by sex too. What bothers me is that knee-jerk sexuality is passed off as something that good for the sake of itself, and I in no way believe that. I believe that there are many primitive responses that we have as humans (anger, repulsion, hunger) that we guard because we know that everything that looks good/feels good isn’t good for us.

Rose, thank you for responding to my comment and for linking me to Diana Russell’s writings. I hadn’t read any of her stuff, but am always looking for more to read on these topics. Take care!

Nichi // Posted 18 June 2012 at 10:15 pm

@Sarah

I agree with much of what you say, Sarah. I think the point about porn being distributed even if a performer changes their mind about appearing in it is a pertinent one, although that applies to lots of things where there is a creative licence involved.

But re the matter of organ sales vs donation…I think a lot of the medical ethical concern is to avoid a black market or system where people might sell organs without proper medical aftercare. Selling a body part – which you can never get back – is not at all like selling a performance or action. The idea that exists of ‘selling your body’, when talking of porn or prostitution is actually a metaphorical misnomer.

When you say porn is problematic because you think compromising bodily integrity for profit is wrong, does this mean you would consider hard physical labour, or exposure to chemicals, which also compromise bodily integrity, to be similarly unacceptable? And if not, why not? What about athletics or gymnastics, where the individuals often effectively wear their bodies out?

It seems to me that the main difference between a porn star and an athlete, or a porn star and a miner, for eg, is often society’s moral pronouncement on the value of the activity their body performs.

Sarah // Posted 19 June 2012 at 12:05 am

@Nichi: Thank you for your response :)

(But re the matter of organ sales vs donation…I think a lot of the medical ethical concern is to avoid a black market or system where people might sell organs without proper medical aftercare.)

I believe that my comparison is still relevant because porn that is not regulated poses similar threats to individuals as black market surgery would. I mean, it is the nature of HIV to be difficult to detect, so if the rule today is that actors are tested monthly (I actually can’t remember what the rule is), then those tests are not conclusive and the other actors remain at risk for infection. Furthermore, there are other diseases that occur at a high rate in the industry and outside of it (gonorrhea, herpes, etc) so that no one who participates is ever fully protected from harm. Unwanted pregnancy is, I’m sure, also a potential problem. Also, I think there could be a system set up for organ sales to be done without a black market or lack of proper medical attention. What is the argument against that?

(Selling a body part – which you can never get back – is not at all like selling a performance or action. The idea that exists of ‘selling your body’, when talking of porn or prostitution is actually a metaphorical misnomer.)

I agree that “selling your body” doesn’t actually mean what it purports, and I do not speak in those terms when I consider porn or sex trade in general. However, performance, in my opinion, consists of sets, costumes, and other mechanisms to fool the audience into “believing” the performance. In order to call pornography/sex trade merely performances for sale, wouldn’t it necessarily have to be fake? The “real” part of these performances is distinctly physical and real and requires a person to expose themselves to necessitated and unmitigated risks. However, one doesn’t always simply walk away unscathed and “intact” in the sense that they haven’t suffered in one way or another.

(When you say porn is problematic because you think compromising bodily integrity for profit is wrong, does this mean you would consider hard physical labour, or exposure to chemicals, which also compromise bodily integrity, to be similarly unacceptable? And if not, why not? What about athletics or gymnastics, where the individuals often effectively wear their bodies out?)

One way or another, our bodies will degrade over time. Working is one way to speed up this process, but not all jobs are the same (so they wear on the individual differently). When it comes to exposure to harmful chemicals, no, I do not think this is appropriate. In the case of hard physical labor I think it depends on how hard we are talking; I am not opposed to labor in factories and such, so long as it is within reason and adheres to safety practices. The type of labor I do not condone is that which is exploitive: too many hours doing hard manual labor, unfair wages for work done, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, etc. I think labor should adhere to these ideals, at least. What I mean by body integrity, however, does not involve this sort of work, but rather refers to being paid for compromising the integrity of one’s body (in a single exchange). This would include paid surrogacy, medical trials, organ sales, and sex trade (to name a few). The reason these (should be) volunteer-based is that, as you stated, once you participate there is no going back.

(It seems to me that the main difference between a porn star and an athlete, or a porn star and a miner, for eg, is often society’s moral pronouncement on the value of the activity their body performs.)

It is true, I do not value sex work in terms of it offering something to society, or fulfilling some need; in terms of the workers themselves I do appreciate the need to earn a living. What sort of miners do you have in mind when framing this question? I think it depends. In my opinion, whether or not an athlete is compromising their body integrity would depend on the sort of athlete you are referring to. American footballers, for instance, are notoriously exploited for what amounts to be gladiator-style entertainment, nothing that I could argue benefits society. These athletes are used and discarded, unvalued in old age and after natural body deterioration. They suffer proportionately high numbers of head, neck, and spine injuries and those injured are often penniless once medical expenses have been paid.

Again, thanks for the response and I hope this conversation continues. I’m not necessarily convinced of all the things I argue, but am merely trying to make sense of all the information out there.

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