I've Never Watched Porn

The idea of getting a close-up of a stranger’s penis, butthole or labia sounds more like training for a medical exam than a turn-on.

Apr 24, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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Not porn.

True story: I've never watched porn.

In 1996, when I was 17, I did some work for a sociologist friend of my mom’s. She was compiling research about lad mags, which were a new phenomenon back then. My job was to flick through a few different issues and note the number of references to stuff like pop culture, sports, and sex.

For weeks, I turned page after page of masturbation references, photos of women with their breasts and butts exposed, and in one case, a gallery of pubic hair topiary. For years, this was the closest I got to p0rn0graphy (or to journalism) and frankly, it was enough.

I don’t know when I found out that p0rn0graphic photos and movies existed, but I do remember being shocked to discover that they weren’t only on the fringe of society, but something a lot of people enjoyed, um, “consuming.”

As a teenager, I associated XXX films with creepy people, thanks to two things: some gross boys I knew who kept talking about how they’d watch p0rn together then see who could produce the most cum, and my grandma’s neighbour informing us that the weird cat-abandoners next to her had showed her their pantry filled with hundreds of blue videos which she was “welcome to borrow.”

I’ve since accepted that not everyone feels the same way I do, but here’s the thing: the idea of watching other people have sex doesn’t turn me on. It creeps me out.

I can’t deny I’m a bit of a hypocrite: Like a lot of women, I’ve definitely felt what my friend Keris calls "a disturbance in the force" when watching a simulated sex scene in a “legitimate” film, and you could easily make a case that there’s not much difference between two actors rolling around with only modesty patches between them and two actors fucking for our supposed delectation. The latter may even be more honest.

But there is a difference. P0rn crosses a line. And it’s one I’m not keen on walking (or wanking) over.

To quote Valerie Cherish, “I don’t need to see that!” Any of it. I’ve always thought that mystery is more sexy than seeing everything, and the idea of getting a close-up of a stranger’s penis, butthole or labia sounds more like training for a medical exam than a turn-on.

I prefer soft lighting and the products of my own imagination, and it’s incredibly unlikely that some random producer’s vision of sexiness will tally exactly with my own.

Plus, I feel like p0rn reduces sex to nothing more than a physical act, and a boring one at that: just a series of holes for plugging and fluids for spurting. The one time a man suggested we look at some together, my prejudices were confirmed: the photos on the soft p0rn site he showed me depicted one woman after another in one "sexy" pose after another, all of them dead-eyed as if they were just going through the motions -- which of course, they were.

I couldn’t help thinking less of him as a result: Did he have so little insight or imagination that he thought those women were actually enjoying themselves, or didn't he care, as long as he got hard?

I know it’s possible that some women enjoy participating in p0rn. I still think they’re probably in the minority and that most women are in it for the money rather than the fake orgasms and the chance to capture someone else’s fantasies on film, but I’m open to the idea that it could be empowering, even as I think that using “empowerment” as a feminist justification for women being valued only for their bodies is overplayed.

One thing I do want to make explicit (ha) is that I’m not in Rick Santorum’s camp on this issue: I’m not advocating censorship. But I do straddle second and third wave feminism (no, you can’t see a picture) and believe that it’s possible to respect the people who work in the sex industry while considering the existence of the industry itself to be a sad symptom of our patriarchal culture.

I am not anti-woman. I am not pro slut-shaming. I am for a woman’s right to have sex with whoever she wants, whenever she wants, however she wants. But let’s not deny that those choices (including to make p0rn, and the type of p0rn to make) are made in the context of a society that too often treats women like scum, a world in which sexual abuse is all too prevalent, and in which p0rnography, especially in its most violent forms, contributes to the depersonalisation of women that is a hallmark of rape culture

Also -- and this is where I cross from feminism into hippydom -- I do think it’s degrading. Not in the sense that p0rn’s participants are disgusting, or that a woman getting money for sex reflects badly on the rest of us. But in the sense that it divorces sex from feelings, from who we really are, from our souls, man.

It’s not that I think every sexual act must be fraught with intense emotion, but I do think p0rn encourages to separate our bodies from the rest of us, and to do the same for other people, and nothing good has ever come from feeling disconnected.

I live in a world that is saturated with p0rn, in which kids can buy Playboy-branded backpacks and stripping classes are heralded as feminist, where women are queueing up for invasive and medically unnecessary surgery because their labia don’t look like the girls’ in the movies.

And we rarely hear voices saying it’s all right if you want to opt out of all that, if you’re in favour of sex for those who want to have it but don’t like the theory or the reality of p0rnography. So I want to be one of those voices. I want to say: I’ve never watched p0rn. And I never want to.