UNPOPULAR OPINION: Porn Is Not Empowering

I am not sex-positive in spite of my opposition to porn. I am sex-positive because of it.
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Kelsey Ruane
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I am not sex-positive in spite of my opposition to porn. I am sex-positive because of it.

CONTENT NOTE: This piece contains descriptions of violence and degradation.

If anti-sex attitudes were truly the only reason that people oppose pornography, I would be right there with the pro-porn feminists. I can agree with pro-porn feminists on the idea that the suppression of female sexuality must be challenged, and that women deserve the chance to be sexual beings. 

Given the long history of “purity culture,” I can completely understand the temptation to think that anything that involves women having sex is automatically empowering. But while it may be difficult, it’s time to accept that porn is not the solution we are looking for.

I am anti-porn, and I reject the idea that I am “anti-sex” because of that. Before you accuse me of “slut-shaming,” let me assure you that I am not sitting around and worrying about your sex life or your sexual preferences. I have neither the time nor the desire to personally shame every person who has participated in or who has consumed pornography. 

I also don’t want to tell you that you’re any less of a feminist if you enjoy porn. My issues with pornography and other types of sex-work exist on a societal and cultural level, and I’m tired of having my legitimate concerns about porn being shut down because “some people like it.” The individual feelings of certain participants do not negate the social consequences of porn.

I have never acted in a porn film, but I don’t think that automatically renders my point of view irrelevant. As a woman, I never gave my consent to be represented as nothing but a plaything, object, fuckdoll, slut, cumdumster, whore, cunt, and anything else the porn industry can come up with. Feminists who are anti-porn are often categorized as “sex-negative.” I can't think of a more ridiculous concept. My opposition to pornography is exactly what makes me sex-positive, and if you’re willing stay with me, you might see why.

Let’s take a look at a description from the popular porn site, Facial Abuse:

There is nothing hotter than seeing a girl get humiliated by having a huge load of cum on her face. Here you will find a whole variety of whores getting facially abused and face fucked by cocks. They all get their throat destroyed until they gag and puke. Then, at the end of their torment, they get their slutty faces covered in hot jizz.

What is being sexualized in this scene? Is it super hot when a girl pukes everywhere during sex? Does ejaculation automatically feel better when it goes onto someone’s face? Does “throat destroying” violence make sex hotter? I’m going to go with no. 

What we’re supposed to find sexy is the degradation and humiliation of the female performers. There is no point in denying it, because the pornographers are saying it themselves. The message from porn is that sex is a degrading experience that should be as brutal and violent as possible -- only to women, of course. In the world of pornography, woman’s pleasure and basic humanity mean absolutely nothing. Where is the sex-positivity and sexual agency in that scenario?

Somehow I’m skeptical of the idea that if I take issue with this, I am automatically anti-sex. It doesn’t matter if performers consent to or enjoy this type of activity. When a huge industry is constantly reinforcing the idea that sex is only pleasurable if it involves dehumanization, that is when we have a problem. We can argue about “different preferences” all we want. The fact of the matter is that degradation stops being a subjective preference when it becomes a selling point. When the entire appeal is the fact that women will be mistreated, it is no longer an expression of diverse sexual interests. It instead becomes a display of cruelty which follows and reinforces the same pattern of inequality that exists in all other areas of our society.

To make matters worse, porn desensitizes its users to even the most extreme violence. It’s not enough to degrade someone for being a woman. Pornography is also a shameless celebration of racism and white supremacy. If you still believe that the misogyny in porn is up for debate, then what about racism? If the porn industry is a challenge to patriarchy, then why does it reinforce white supremacy so proudly? Take a look at this description from Ghetto Gaggers, a site that specifically features the abuse of black women:

When pimps attack!!! Sophia was fucked over from jump street and it nearly got us killed. Tyrone picked up this hood rat and promised her an awesome porn shoot. Next thing she knows, she’s getting slapped around like the cheap hooker she is...

I’m going to guess that most people don’t think that being reduced to racist stereotypes is empowering. So where is the feminist explanation of racism in porn? If it’s so empowering to be belittled and degraded for being a woman, is it also just a matter of "preference" to be reduced to a skin color and a set of damaging stereotypes? Hopefully you said no. But then why is violent misogyny all of a sudden up for interpretation?

Perhaps this is the part where people who say that porn in and of itself is not harmful, that it’s just been taken in a harmful direction. They suggest that just a few changes to the content of porn will fix the problem, but this completely ignores how ubiquitous the influence of porn has become in our culture. The porn industry is fundamentally rooted in racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, and violence. It is no coincidence that its content reflects that. The conversation on "good vs. bad" pornography exists in a different world than the one we currently live in.

All this being said, I still declare that I am a sex-positive feminist, and I am not sex-positive in spite of my opposition to porn. I am sex-positive because of it. I believe that everyone deserves a sexuality that it developed on their own terms. We deserve so much better than the ideas about sex that are manufactured and sold by an industry that sexualizes degradation, cruelty, and brutality towards women. 

I am sex-positive because I want young women to believe that they are sexual subjects, not sexual objects. I want to see women asking for what they want, and I don’t want to see men losing their ability to be intimate with someone that they care about. 

I don’t want a culture where girls learn early on that their most important attribute is how fuckable they are. I don’t want to live in a culture where young women are learning that they have to tolerate degradation and cruelty if they want to be in a sexual relationship. I don’t want women to think that their pleasure doesn’t matter, and that their body and sexuality exists only for men, and not for themselves.

I believe in a sexual liberation that goes beyond simply mimicking what we see in the media and pornography. Instead of actually breaking the mold, the current so-called “revolution” has just repackaged male pleasure and female submission and sold it back to us as empowering. To accept the warped version of sexuality that the porn industry has manufactured is to give up on a wonderfully intimate and human experience that has the potential to be enjoyable for everyone -- not just men. Giving in to porn just because it’s easier means surrendering to a misogynistic and racist institution and being complicit in our own degradation. An authentic sexual experience for any and all genders is worth fighting for. 

It’s time for a true sexual revolution, and the last place we’ll get this is from the pornographers.