Saturday, November 1, 2003

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A very important post about.... porn

For your weekend reading, I refer you to James Joyner, who takes Naomi Wolf to task for making the following assertion about pornography:

The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

Garry Trudeau has been making a similar point this week in Doonesbury. To which Joyner responds:

Watching beautiful movie stars with silicon-enhanced breasts romping around naked is interesting. For a while. And then it becomes, while not exactly boring, at least mundane. Seeing a good looking but famous woman nude in a movie or on a computer screen is, for those of us past adolescence, interesting in the way that the Blog Chicks Pix is: it's a curiousity. And, frankly, "More, more, you big stud!" isn't exactly the height of stimulation.

Real women, unlike those on a screen, are, to use a techological term, interactive. They have personalities. Plus, they're, well, corporeal. They're warm. They smell good. They taste good. They laugh at your jokes. And that's not to mention emotional attachment, the ability to share our lives, have babies, and all those other reasons why heterosexual men are drawn to women. Until fantasy gains those qualities, real women have no competition.

Joyner's absolutely right. I mean, after looking at Salma Hayek pics online, it starts to get boring, tedious, mundane.... which is why I'll switch to looking at Alex Kingston pics. And then Ashley Ju-- [we get the idea--ed.].

My point is not to suggest that Joyner's completely off-base -- despite what was just said, I have the same preferences regarding the sensory advantages of real women. However, my sneaking suspicion that some men prefer two-dimensional fantasy to three-dimensional reality. David Amsden makes a similar point in his recent New York Magazine cover story. An example that eerily echoes Wolf:

Over beers recently, a 26-year-old businessman friend shocked me by casually remarking, “Dude, all of my friends are so obsessed with Internet porn that they can’t sleep with their girlfriends unless they act like porn stars.” A 20-year-old college student who bartends at a popular Soho lounge describes how an I-porn-filled adolescence shaped his perceptions of sex. “Looking at Internet porn was pretty much my sex education,” he says. “I mean, in school, it was just, ‘Here’s a gigantic wooden dildo, and now we’re putting a condom on it,’ whereas on the Internet, you had it all. I remember the first time I had sex, my first thought as it was happening was, Oh, this is pornography. It was a kind of out-of-body experience. I was really uncomfortable with sex for a while.” (emphasis on original)

This is not a reason to adopt Andrea Dworkin-style attitudes towards porn, or even Katie Couric-style attitudes for that matter. However, perhaps Hugh Hefner was a bit off-target as well.

Speaking of Hef, in Slate, Laura Kipnis has an interesting cultural appraisal of Playboy on its 50th anniversary and why no one's reading it for the articles anymore. Go check it out.

UPDATE: Sara Butler has some thoughts on the subject at Crescat Sententia here and here. She also wrote a Chicago Maroon story that provides way too much information about campus social practices:

Whether you participated in one yourself, or merely gossiped about it after the fact, welcome to this sexually-liberated campus. No-strings-attached physical encounters have replaced dating, and women in particular have been encouraged to take charge of their own sexuality, which usually means behaving like our worst stereotypes of the promiscuous male.

This is at the University of Chicago??!! Sara also highlights the fact that Protection From Pornography Week just ended.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Michelle argues below that bloggers are equally to blame for the dysfunctional dating scene. Heh. [Of course, she posted that comment at 11:00 PM on a Saturday night!--ed. Yes, and you read it at 11:15 on the same Saturday night. D'oh!!--ed.].

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has tons of links on the relationship between sex and blogs. Alan K. Henderson points out that those who love porn and those who despise it haved more in common than you would think. Via Lauren's Blog, I found this Cleveland Plain Dealer story about how women are also into Internet porn. This graf must be quoted in full:

The editors of Today's Christian Woman, an evangelical magazine, had heard anecdotes of churchgoing women getting hooked on pornography, so they conducted a survey asking readers of their online newsletter if they had intentionally visited porn sites. Thirty-four percent said they had.

[Three updates in less than twelve hours? You're a machine!--ed. Well, I must confess that I am endowed with what I am told is an extremely large.... appetite for information.]

posted by Dan on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM


Which explains this article:

". . . women were rarely seen walking into seedy adult bookstores. But in recent years, the accessibility, affordability and anonymity of the Internet have made pornography undeniably attractive to millions of women. . . Nearly one in three visitors to adult Web sites is a woman, according to Nielsen NetRatings . . ."

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

I give up: why is the "debate" about porn "very important"?

posted by: Charlie on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Let me offer a little perspective here.

I have worked in porn. No, not as an actor, but as a cameraman, tech, and manager of models, as well as in digital video capture and editing. For over nine months I spent eight hours of every day watching porn, fast-forwarding to the cum shots, maneuvering the camera for a better angle on a woman's genitals, and fetching a towel for the girls when things got too sticky.

Here's the net effect it had on me: it gave me an arsenal of really funny stories to tell.

Oh, for a while there I was so inundated with it that I didn't even want to think about porn. And since one phase of my work was in the technical and customer service side of the business, I got a look at a fairly annoying cross-section of humanity: the people who have nothing better than to sit on a porn site all day.

But in the end, I still have a hearty lust-on for my girlfriend, who is far from the ideal porn star/model body type. I don't look at women as objects; if anything, I found most of the porn I had to watch to be pretty annoying and shallow.

Also, the quote in the first comment here is spot-on. Most of the women I know joke about their own sources of "porn", although for women it's more often liable to be text-based media. I know no small number of women who /write/ porn.

So, don't believe everything you read written by someone with an agenda.

posted by: Catsy on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

I think it works the other way around too. Reading blogs has ruined my social life--I meet a nice guy, but his conversation can't match your blog, Lileks, or Dean Esmay. So I'm bored after ten minutes. *sigh*


posted by: Michelle on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Pornography serves the man who is too lazy or incompassionate to develop and nurture a real sexual life with a real human being. Instead, the porno dependent lets the viewing of paper or celluloid images replace all the physical and emotional work necessary to create a real love life. Isn't it better to have romance/sex with a real and obtainable human being than a plastic, rubber, paper (or whatever) surrogate? And don't tell me that some people can't find a partner. All depends on whether a person is willing to be realistic with their expectations.

Porno dependency is like eating and never, ever feeling satisfied or full; there is no fulfilling emotional experience involved. Out of frustration, you have to back for seconds and thirds of both.

I can't believe, further, that adult men and women would need porno as an instructional aid from which to develop inspiration or technical knowhow. Most of us would be pleasantly surprised to find that we have partners quite willing to learn with us.

I don't really claim to know why women view pornography save for trying to comply with the wishes or demands of a man. For men, I believe that a cursory review of the usual themes in which women become objects upon whom to exercise dominance over or to humiliate, will provide a simple answer. Men can fantasize all the less than honorable acts that they couldn't get away with in the real world; and with the woman of their imagination's choice.

I'm not speaking from the point of view of an inexperienced prude as I admit that I have had plenty of experience doing the very thing I am here crticising. After sixty years of very exploratory living, I feel I have seen enough to be able to voice an educated opinion on this one.

Put away your picture books, your x-rated films and save your quarters for something more worthwhile. Get out and find a real person to devote the same amount of time and energy to. The porno sites on the internet are there to sell you something and I think the way they clutter up your computer isn't worth the product they do provide.

posted by: Marcel Perez on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

you read it at 11:15 on the same Saturday night

Don't remind me. =/

A different perspective on porn: for young gay people it's one of the best ways to flesh out your sexuality and figure out what you like and what you don't. At 12 or 13, seeing it was an epiphany for me -- holy sh*t, I like this stuff a LOT -- as well as an affirmation that I wasn't alone, that there were other people like me. I'm sure it similarly affected a lot of others in that situation. Additionally, porn is probably the #1 way closeted gay teens deal with never getting any action. Unless you have fooled around with people of the same sex, that first time on the internet is definitely a wow moment.

posted by: saranwarp on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Pornography serves the man who is too lazy or incompassionate to develop and nurture a real sexual life with a real human being... After sixty years of very exploratory living, I feel I have seen enough to be able to voice an educated opinion on this one.

Sixty years of sexual experience?

Get out and find a real person to devote the same amount of time and energy to

Time and energy? I'm on the Internet, about fifteen seconds away from images, movies, or stories about any sort of sex I can imagine (and a few sorts I'd rather NOT imagine).

I'm 31. My sex drive is, if you'll pardon my saying so, probably a lot stronger than that of a man whose first sexual experience happened at a VE-day party. If I want sex and my partner doesn't, or if I don't have a partner at the moment, that leaves two options: masturbation, or sexual frustration. The former is a hell of a lot more fun, and Internet porn supplies an endless source of fantasy material to assist with it.

posted by: Grr! on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Does every moment of sexual arousal require gratification? If so, a person hardly has time to get anything else done.

Yes, 60 years of sexual experience, having discovered the blessing (or curse) of the orgasm at age 6. That was the beginning of a long obsession with sexual gratification. It dominated most of my waking moments and even sought to control my dreams. It helped ruin two marriages because of just the very things I talked about earlier. My mistake was not identifying my problem in time to make a difference. Time and an aging body were my natural mediators. Too bad I didn't follow my own advice.

Notice the link of pornographic obsession with all sexual predators in the news in recent years? Very scary to know this. Of course I'm not suggesting this is a recent phenomenon; most likely always has been a factor. It's a common element for those people who have a pathological way of pursuing their gratification and usually is characterized by violent themes.

The use of porno as (Grr) describes doesn't suggest anything disturbing or wrong if it is used as an adjunct to or temporary substitute for your regular sex life. The obsessive user is the one that has not learned to channel his sexual energy in more acceptable ways.

You have heard the suggestion by many that the availabiliy of porno keeps some from committing sex crimes? This suggests that if porno were not readily available, we would immediately see a sharp spike in the occurance of sexual assault and murder. What a dangerously fragile citizenry we must have if this is true.

I'm not suggesting that porno is all bad. It is bad for those obsessed with it, just as with overeating, chainsmoking, excessive drinking, etc. There is no particular measure of what is too much as that will always be a personal matter. Bottom line is that porno must only be a part of a healthy sexual psyche and not the mainstay for an unhealthy one. We are in deep trouble if we can't recognize the difference.

posted by: Marcel Perez on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Anyone here try out the 'Tropic of Cancer', 'Lady Chatterly's Lover', or 'Lolita'? How about maybe Burton's edition (25 volumes or so) of the 1001 Arabian Nights? Schezerachade kept her husband's interest with a *very* interesting imagination.

Ain't nothing new about sex, or people putting it in stories and the like, and people enjoying it. The only difference being that the quality has gone down. Being aware of all these things used to be considered to make a man a better and more considerate lover, and a woman more discriminating in her lovers. That all went the way of sipping wine and tea with scones and the art of conversation. Sigh. People don't build each other up no more, just tear each other and themselves down.

posted by: Oldman on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Mr. Oldman:

Is this your blogging moniker, your real name or self description, as mine?

It sounds like you are old enough to remember gentler, more romantic times when the "porno" of the day were such writings as you mentioned. Can you imagine how your school classmates, today, would respond to being told "mom found a copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover under my mattress"?

Today's erotica reflects totally different times. You can see the differences in the music, movie and TV story themes, and the contemporary style of "porno" that mirrors the hurried, expediency driven lives of most people today.

As indicated in several comments above, visual images already prepared and available at the touch of computer key, an insert of a video film, or a flip of a page are relied on to bring almost instant sexual arousal. There is no time to try to achieve the same by having to read an excerpt from the Kama Sutra or Lolita. That would assume, also, an ability to translate the words into images successfully enough to provide the desired effect.

We all have at least browsed through a full menu of pornography and "adult" material available on the internet. Notice that there is a preponderance of what is considered "hard core" and image specific portrayals of men using women (models, they are called) as instruments to achieve their own sexual gratification. These "models" come in all ages and conditions for men of all tastes. You don't even have to enter the site, Google listings and descriptions are sufficient forewarnings. If you are looking for romantic erotica, better look elsewhere.

Many sites graciously remind us that our pets, barnyard and zoo friends need love, too, and not just from their own species.

Yes, I agree that too much porno is thematically challenged and much of it is downright mean spirited. But that reflects diferences in times and attitudes and, sad in some ways to say, advances in electronic technology.

posted by: Marcel Perez on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Protection from Pornography Week -- my opinion.

posted by: J on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Economics should be able to provide some insightful analysis in this debate:

The male sexual desire, though large, has a finite demand. If you have an unlimited amount of free stimulus (e.g., Internet porn) being produced, then why would anyone “pay” (i.e., with such intangibles as time, effort, attention) for sexual gratification?

posted by: J.P. Carter on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]


You seem to be under the impression that there is an even substitution taking place here.

posted by: James Joyner on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Dear Mr. Perez,

Oldman is a nickname often given to me by others in varying situations without it having been suggested by myself, a personal statement of my identity, a moniker or screen name, and a description of my personal philosophy in life. If you met me, you might not at first understand it. In time however for many reasons including acting just as one would expect a crotchety, grouchy, stubborn, long-winded old man is expected to act you would understand it perfectly. In addition, I have this habit of knowing the right thing to do with a touch of philosophy to put it perspective. As such, as a "wise-man" with allot of personal experience off the books, I get consulted by allot of people from different walks of life from everything from stock markets to love affairs. The oldman has a very high batting average even in very difficult problems of specific technical natures. My memories go a long ways back, and my roots even deeper. The oldman is who I am. It also sounds allot better than 'oldsoul' which I get thrown at me too.

As for your question, Sturgeon's law has always applied - sometimes applied twice for good measure. 90% of everything is crap. However, there used to be a striving for the decent or even excellent as well as the crap. If I saw some more of that and didn't feel it was all crap, I'd feel better about the modern porn the medium issue aside. That's all this oldman is asking for, some quality work and attention to craftsmanship and artistry.

posted by: Oldman on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

Mr. Oldman:

Thank you for introducing yourself. You are about what I was hoping for - a man of like disposition on many matters of life.

Nothing radical about our thinking. A reasonably intelligent person asking the same question the trial law asks "what would a (reasonable man) do under the same or similar circumstances", usually comes up with the right answer. Many of us simply call this "common sense".

By the way, I find your spirited commentary in quite a few sites. Keep it up.

posted by: Marcel Perez on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

To say that there is nothing wrong with alcohol as long as it is done in moderation, is never to have known an alcoholic and how he can devastate the lives of everyone around him. To say that there is nothing wrong with smoking as long as it is done in private, is never to have lost a loved one to heart or lung disease. To say that there is nothing wrong with pornography as long as it is used by an otherwise sexually and socially healthy individual, is never to have seen such an individual turned into an unhealthy and self-destructive one through its use. Pornography is wrong any way you cut it. Whether you've got the disease or are just a carrier, it destroys lives; not only those of the users of pornograhy, but also many in the industry.

Men and women weren't made to self-gratify themselves. Only a selfish and self-centered person or society would think they were. But we've become so self-focused that we think anything is allowable as long as it has limits. How do you limit something that by its very nature tends toward adiction? We're not that powerful, although our ego-mania makes us think we are. As I said, if we're not adicts who have the disease, we're carriers who will give it to someone else if we indulge in activities that are potentially self-destructive to someone else. It's time we started thinking about someone besides ourselves. Which in a self-centered, self-gratifying society like ours is very difficult, but not impossible.

It is possible to live and be happy without satisfying every desire we have. To live with an awareness of the needs of others is far more fulfilling. That's what is meant by being a family, a community, a society. Addiction, whatever the type, is anti-family, anti-community, anti-society; because to fulfill it, the addict seeks isolation, seclusion, secrecy. It's time we started becoming concerned about what others are doing in secret, especially kids who don't know any better. It's time we started being concerned over the welfare of others, and not just in what we think are our own rights and privileges. There's a price to be paid with everything we do, and everything we don't do that we should. What is the price that we as a people are paying for the "right" to have pornography? What price are we paying for the "right" to have a drink? Look around you. Is it worth it? Ask MADD or the children of alcoholics. Ask the children or spouse of a porn addict. It's not just about us as individuals. It's about all of us together:hat's best for all of us.

Think about it.

posted by: Waitsel Smith on 11.01.03 at 12:05 PM [permalink]

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