Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Porn's Degradation of Men

**WARNING** The following blog post is very graphic, so be aware. It is graphic from the article standpoint.

Just how pervasive is porn? Well, just go to your local grocery store and check out the mags as you check out. Or even....go to your local ski slope (coming soon), where you can see the images of Playboy Bunnies on snowboards. It is everywhere and only becoming more invasive.

As the following article lays out, this is the nature of porn. Our brains are interested in what will excite or is unusual, and if we keep seeing the same thing over and over, we become desensitized and bored. Thus pornographers have to make things harder and harder. And because they are always looking for new clientele, they have to infect ordinary entertainment on TV and movies.

With the plethora of images to choose from, this doesn't mean that we are any happier, though. No, only real love between a man and a woman will satisfy. But at least we won't be alone in our misery, because there will be plenty of other addicts on the couch with us.

Porn's Dirty, Dangerous Secret
By Robert Jensen, Last Exit
Posted on October 21, 2008, Printed on October 22, 2008

Ed. Note: AlterNet has run a series of articles on the frequently
ignored role of pornography in contemporary society. At the bottom of
Robert Jensen's article you can find links to more stories addressing
the many questions that pornography poses.

There are a finite number of ways that human bodies can be placed
together sexually, and as one pornography industry veteran lamented to
me at the annual trade show, "they've all been shot." He sighed,
pondering the challenge of creating a sexually explicit film that is
unique, and mused, "After all, how many dicks can you stick in a girl
at one time?"

His question was offered rhetorically, but I asked: How many?

Probably four, he said; simultaneous oral, vaginal, and double-anal
penetration was realistic. Another producer later in the day told me
he had once worked on a film that included a double-anal/double-vag
scene -- a woman being penetrated by four men at once. He said the
director had a special harness made to hold the woman for that scene.
In contemporary mass-marketed heterosexual pornography, it's
unexceptional to see a standard DP (industry slang for "double
penetration," with two men entering a woman vaginally and anally at
the same time) with oral penetration.

Whatever the number, theoretical or routine, the discussion reminds us
that pornography is relentlessly intense, pushing our sexual
boundaries both physically and psychically. And, pornography also is
incredibly repetitive and boring.

Pornographers know all this, of course, and it keeps them on edge.

These days there are about 13,000 pornographic films released each
year, compared with about 600 from Hollywood. Not surprisingly, a
common concern at the Adult Entertainment Expo each time I attended
(in 2005, 2006, and 2008) was that the desperate struggle by directors
to distinguish their films from all the others was leading to a kind
of "sexual gymnastics." Lexington Steele, one of the most successful
contemporary pornography performers and producers, put it bluntly: "A
lot of gonzo is becoming circus acts."

"Gonzo" is the pornographic genre that rejects plot, character, or
dialogue, offering straightforward explicit sex. Gonzo films are
distinguished from "features," which to some degree mimic the
structure of a traditional Hollywood film. According to the top trade
magazine: "Gonzo, non-feature fare is the overwhelmingly dominant porn
genre since it's less expensive to produce than plot-oriented
features, but just as importantly, is the fare of choice for the solo
stroking consumer who merely wants to cut to the chase, get off on the
good stuff, then, if they really wanna catch some acting, plot and
dialog, pop in the latest Netflix disc." ["The Directors," Adult Video
News, August 2005, p. 54.]

In that description is considerable insight into why pornography (1)
has always been boring and (2) will continue to become more brutal.

The industry works from the assumption that the men who consume the
vast majority of commercial heterosexual pornography are not really
human beings with hearts, minds and souls. In the porn world, a man is
a kind of sexual robot in search of nothing more than the stimulation
of pleasure circuits. In that world, the goal is to reduce human
sexuality to the production of an erection and orgasm as quickly as
possible -- get it up and get it off, efficiently. Pornography assumes
not that a man has a penis but that a man is nothing more than a penis.

The pornographer faces one serious obstacle in all this: Men are human
beings. No matter how emotionally deformed by the toxic conception of
masculinity that is dominant in a patriarchal culture such as the
United States, we are human beings with hearts, minds and souls.

No matter how much men try to cut themselves off from the emotional
component of sex, that component never withers completely, and therein
lies the potential problem for pornographers. When all emotion is
drained from sex it becomes repetitive and uninteresting -- in a word,
boring, even to men who are watching solely to facilitate
masturbation. Because the novelty of seeing sex on the screen
eventually wears off, pornographers who want to expand (or even just
maintain) market share and profit need to give their products an
emotional edge of some kind.

But pornography doesn't draw on the emotions most commonly connected
with sex -- love and affection -- because men typically consume
pornography specifically to avoid love and affection. So, the
pornographers offer men sexual gymnastics and circus acts that are
saturated with cruelty toward women; they sexualize the degradation of
women. While most of us would agree those are negative emotions, they
are powerful emotions. And in a patriarchal society in which men are
conditioned to see themselves as dominant over women, such cruelty and
degradation fit easily into men's notions about sex and gender.

When I offer this critique to men who are avid consumers of
pornography, they often tell me that I'm wrong, that they watch gonzo
and don't see the kind of cruelty and degradation that I am
describing. They tell me that that there's no cruelty in a woman is
being penetrated in aggressive fashion by three men who call her a
whore throughout the sex. They tell me that when five men thrust into
a woman's mouth to the point she gags, slap a woman in the face with
their penises, and ejaculate into her mouth and demand that she
swallow it all, there's no degradation.

In some sense, they are telling the truth -- they aren't seeing the
cruelty and degradation because they are too caught up in the sexual
arousal, and in such a state their critical faculties are derailed.
They don't see it because they are men in a patriarchal culture
focused on their own pleasure. To see the woman as a person deserving
of respect -- to see her as fully human -- would interfere with
getting it up and getting it off.

When I was a young adult who used pornography, I didn't see it either,
because I had a stake in not seeing it. That's why after an orgasm I
would quickly leave the theater or adult bookstore. That dates me, I
know; my pornography use came before the VCR brought pornographic
films into the home. But the pattern endures; many men I talk to today
tell me that after masturbating they quickly take out the DVD or shut
off the computer to avoid really seeing what is taking place on the
screen. To slightly revise a cultural clich, when the little head's
work is done, the big head re-engages. When the sexual experience is
over, men can think, and when men can see the reality of pornography's
contempt for women most don't want to watch.

These are general observations, an attempt to identify patterns in
pornography. But the world is, of course, complex. There is
considerable individual variation in the human species; not all men
watch pornography for the same reason or have the same experience. And
among those 13,000 films each year, there is variety. But there is a
pattern to men's consumption of pornography and the industry's
strategy to keep men consuming:

* Heterosexual men tend to consume pornography to achieve sexual
satisfaction without the complications of dealing with a real woman. *
Pornographers deliver graphic sexually explicit material that does the
job, but to do so they must continuously increase the cruelty and
degradation to maintain profits.

Gonzo producers test the limits with new practices that eroticize
men's domination of women. Less intense forms of those sexual
practices migrate into the tamer feature pornography, and from there
in muted form into mainstream pop culture. Pornography gets more
openly misogynist, and pop culture becomes more pornographic -- many
Hollywood movies and cable TV shows today look much like soft-core
pornography of a few decades ago, and the common objectification of
women in advertising has become more overtly sexualized.

Where will all this lead? How far will pornographers go to ensure
their profits, especially as the proliferation of free pornography on
the internet adds a new competition? How much eroticized misogyny will
the culture be willing to tolerate?

When I ask that question of pornography producers, most say they don't
know. An industry leader such as Lexington Steele acknowledged he has
no crystal ball: "Gonzo really always pushes the envelope. The thing
about it is, there's only but so many holes, only but so many
different types of penetration that can be executed upon a woman. So
it's really hard to say what's next within gonzo."

What's next? What comes after DPs and double anals? What is beyond a
"10 Man Cum Slam" and "50 Guy Cream Pie"? I can't claim to know
either. But after 20 years of researching the pornography industry as
a scholar and critiquing it as part of the feminist anti-pornography
movement, I know that we should be concerned. We should be afraid that
there may be no limit on men's cruelty toward women. In a patriarchal
society driven by the predatory values of capitalism, we should be
very afraid.

For further reading:

Strange Bedfellows: Can Feminism and Porn Coexist?

By Nikko Snyder, Bitch Magazine

Is Pornography Really Harmful?

Michael Bader, AlterNet

Art and Porn: An Interview with Editor Dian Hanson

By Liz Langley, AlterNet

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at
Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center.
His latest book, All My Bones Shake: Radical Politics in the Prophetic
Voice, will be published in 2009 by Soft Skull Press. He also is the
author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South
End Press, 2007). His articles can be found online at



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