Know the Difference: Are You Anti-Porn, or Anti-Sex?

The more they tell us why we should think porn is bad, the more we see specific themes repeat in anti-porn values. Two of the strongest themes don’t seem to actually have much to do with pornography itself: namely misandry (hatred of men), and sexual xenophobia (uncontrollable hatred and fear of unfamiliar or unknown sex practices). When we break down understanding the reasons why anti-porn people think pornography is evil, it becomes clear that there is widespread belief (especially in feminist anti-porn ideology) that men are thought of as inferior and malfeasant, and that the anti-porn people really don’t know that much about how porn is made. And that they have zero tolerance or interest in understanding sexual activities outside their own limited definitions.

The rest of us get pretty confused by this; we are, after all, talking about a group of people who want to put an end to people’s enjoyment of explicit visual stimulation simply by telling us that certain sex acts are “good” or “bad” (such as anal sex). Meanwhile, some of us do have legitimate questions about making sure we watch porn that is “fair trade” if you will; made with respect and consent. We do know, however, that judging other people’s sexual choices is not anywhere near an answer to our concerns.

Sex educator Charlie Glickman had an epiphany: he pulled apart the difference between being anti-sex and anti-porn in one of the most interesting articles to come out of the anti-vs-pro porn debates. Delightfully, unlike the destructive, shaming and condemning attitudes of anti-porn pundits, it is a solutions-oriented approach to encountering potentially offensive pornographic content without becoming sex-negative. He offers ways we can navigate porn’s lamenesses and our own limits, and also how offensive porn sites could fix the negative ways they portray sex acts without giving up the fantasies viewers pay to see. (Some ethical porn websites already do this; Gag Factor does not.) Here’s a snip from 7 Ways to Create a Sex-Positive Critique of Porn:

One of the most common responses to the anti-porn critiques of pornography is that they’re sex-negative and all too often, that ends up creating a “no we’re not/yes you are” argument. And yet, whenever I read the anti-porn side of things, I’m struck by how often sex-negativity is woven into their claims, although in all fairness, that’s not always the case.

I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that bothered me by the way that Gail Dines keeps talking about gagfactor.com, a website that focuses on men facefucking women. And then it hit me- there are two parts to it. First, Dines is trying to foment a moral panic. And second, she simply doesn’t understand sex.

I can explain the first point better if I start with the second one. As someone who has been studying sex in all its wide and varied forms for over 20 years (my goodness, that makes me sound old!), I can attest to the fact that for any sexual act, there are people who enjoy it and people who are squicked by it. There’s a certain privilege inherent in being part of the majority- if you enjoy penis/vagina intercourse, you can be pretty confident that lots of other people share your taste. And it’s important to also remember that there are people who feel just as much disgust about your desires as you might feel about something less common. No matter what the act, some people love it and some people would never dream of doing it.

(…) So why do I think that Dines’ strategies are sex-negative? Because she deliberately works to trigger disgust about a sexual practice in order to manipulate people into rallying to her call. Rather than opening up a dialogue about the real reasons that some porn is problematic or asking how the performers on the site feel about their experiences, she uses tactics that depend on and deepen sexual shame in order to sway people to her point of view. And that makes them sex-negative. Facefucking is not inherently abusive, violent, or misogynistic any more than intercourse is inherently respectful, pleasurable, or egalitarian. As with any sexual act, it’s a question of whether you want to do it, how you do it, and how you feel about it during it and afterward. When Dines makes it sound otherwise, she reinforces sex-negativity. It doesn’t really matter whether she deliberately chose this strategy or happened to discover its effectiveness by accident.

So all of this has me thinking: what would a sex-positive approach to the question of porn entail? (…read more, charlieglickman.com)

Photo by Firebird Photography.

About violet

Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com) is a Forbes "Web Celeb," a high-profile tech personality and one of Wired's "Faces of Innovation." She is regarded as the foremost expert in the field of sex and technology, a sex-positive pundit in mainstream media (MacLife, The Oprah Winfrey Show, others) and is regularly interviewed, quoted and featured prominently by major media outlets. Violet has many award-winning, best selling books; her book The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn is featured on Oprah's website. She was the notorious sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She headlines at conferences ranging from ETech, LeWeb and SXSW: Interactive, to Google Tech Talks at Google, Inc. The London Times named Blue one of the 40 bloggers who really count (2010). Violet Blue is in no way associated with the unauthorized use of her name (or likeness) and registered trademark in pornographic films.
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8 Responses to Know the Difference: Are You Anti-Porn, or Anti-Sex?

  1. maymay says:

    Charlie’s work is consistently balanced and fair. It is a boon to sex-positive advocates everywhere.

    That said, I am trying to figure out why you’ve lumped the recent Scientific American article claiming misandry against Dr. Emily Nagoski as “antiporn.” I don’t know much about Dr. Nagoski, but her take on Dr. Gail Dines’s anti-porn activism is anything but supportive of it. In fact, Dr. Charlie Glickman linked to Dr. Nagoski’s post in the article you excerpt.

    You have an enormous amount of sway in this debate, Violet. I feel you need to explain why you’re lumping Dr. Nagoski in with the anti-porn activist, sex-negative crowd. I can’t find a reference to Dr. Nagoski being “anti-porn,” and the “accusation” described in the Scientific American article is certainly inconclusive.

    It doesn’t help pro-porn-identified people to reflexively parrot anti-porn activist’s conflations. Let’s please be more careful and thoughtful than that.

  2. violet says:

    Maymay, I’m considering my answer to you, but nowhere in this post is Dr. Nagoski mentioned or discussed as the topic or subject. The topic is anti-porn vs. anti-sex. It doesn’t make sense. I also don’t know how I feel about your language cautioning my intent and tone, or the accusatory parroting statement. It’s confrontational. Especially as – again – it does not fit with this post. Why didn’t you email me? It’s bizarre to pick this post to demand that I explain a Tweet I made about another topic.

    I’m happy to explain anything in the context it belongs. Though I don’t like thread hijacks, demands for explanations, or being told “let’s” “be more careful” about what I have to say. All due respect, and I do link to your work, but I don’t know you, nor do we work together on editorial tone, mission or message.

    Care to discuss this somewhere more appropriate? I did do an Our Porn, Ourselves Facebook post on the subject you want to inject here.

  3. maymay says:

    Maymay, I’m considering my answer to you, but nowhere in this post is Dr. Nagoski mentioned or discussed as the topic or subject.

    Not in this post, but the one you link to, the Scientific American one. Was it just a link-for-link’s sake? It seems to me to imply that the content behind the link, which is most certainly about Dr. Nagoski, is relevant to this post (why else would you link it?) and thereby inferring that Dr. Nagoski is “antiporn.” I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but if it confused me, it may well confuse someone else, too.

    If the link was simply an off-hand one, that’s fine, but it would probably be helpful to clarify that, as requested. (Perhaps some title text in the link itself would help.) It should probably also be stated that I’m particularly sensitive to situations like this as, having been the target of incendiary insinuations by very influential people, I know how hard it is to combat misinformation once it gets out about you. If Dr. Nagoski is not “antiporn,” it is really inconsiderate to her to be lumped in with that group thanks to off-hand or uninformed remarks.

    I also don’t know how I feel about your language cautioning my intent and tone, or the accusatory parroting statement. It’s confrontational.

    Fair enough. :) “Confrontational” would not be an inaccurate description of me.

    As for my language, you’re right to infer that I advise you to be cautious with both your intent and your tone. If your intent is to link the Scientific American article to an anti-porn vs. pro-porn discussion, as you seemed to do both on Twitter and in this post, then I want to know what the connection is. If, as your comment implies, there is none, then I want to know that, too. Your comment makes it look, to me, as though you’re back-peddling, which is less gracious than simply coming out and saying that you drew a connection when none existed, or offering some other explanation if one is available.

    You may be at a disadvantage in all this because you’re well-known and very influential. Your words, whether as posts or tweets, certainly spread farther and faster than most of the rest of ours do. Although I’ll concede you have no responsibility to moderate that effect, if you’re lumping Dr. Nagoski into the antiporn camp without regard to that statement’s accuracy, then I feel it’s important to call you out on that disregard. Yes, even in a confrontational way, if that’s who’s calling you out (i.e., me).

    The parroting statement I made is a direct reference to the fact that it is an anti-porn activists’ favored tactic to inappropriately conflate one topic with another, as you well know. In my view, that’s what that link in this post does, especially considering the context of the discussion, and that’s really unfortunate. As someone with an important capability to reach many sex-positive activists like myself, I feel you’d be doing our cause a disservice to “parrot” that behavior, regardless of your (no doubt well-intentioned) motivation.

    Why didn’t you email me? It’s bizarre to pick this post to demand that I explain a Tweet I made about another topic.

    Bizarre? Why? The link (not the tweet) I’m asking for a clarification about is in this post. As I’m sure you’ll recall, I asked for clarification about the tweet on Twitter.

    I’m happy to explain anything in the context it belongs. Though I don’t like thread hijacks, demands for explanations, or being told “let’s” “be more careful” about what I have to say. All due respect, and I do link to your work, but I don’t know you, nor do we work together on editorial tone, mission or message.

    You’re right. We don’t work together on anything. That’s why I’m asking you for clarification. If we worked together, I imagine I’d already know why you did and said what you did, or at least have a better understanding of you and your work.

    In any event, I don’t see how this blog post is an inappropriate place to ask for a clarification about this blog post. And, on that note, I hope this comment clarifies my request for clarification. :)

  4. Maymay….can you tell me exactly WHERE does Violet label Dr. Nagoski as “antiporn”?? Because, I simply can’t find any instance of that anywhere.

    And the whole controversy between Andrew Bering and Emily Nagorski has not a damn thing to do with porn to begin with; it started with a Scientific American piece by Bering where he defended male masturbation by citing a controversial study in which used samples of rejected seminal samples from female mucous membranes, which Nagoski found as quite offensive. Bering responded with his infamous “Feminazi!! Dumb feminist!” rant..but even there he never labeled Nagorski as “antiporn”…in fact, again, porn was never even close to being the topic of discussion.

    Also…from what I see of Dr. Nagoski’s writings, she does come across of more of a “moderate” on the porn issue: vastly critical of what she sees as “hardcore porn” and its supposedly ill effects, but not to the point of supporting Gail Dines-like censorship. I’m thinking that the mention of the Bering-Nagoski melee in the usual antiporn feminist circles is simply to malign Bering more as a typical “misogyniist” sex-obsessed male than to defend Nagoski.

    In any way, this is mostly a tempest in a teapot, totally not worthy of extended debate or distraction from the genuine issues of defending sexual expression.

    Final point: I understand the need to accept nuance and diversity of positions regarding the porn debate…but it isn’t Violet’s nor anyone else’s obligation to pick and choose allies. The fundamental purpose of Our Porn, Ourselves is NOT to seek alliances with everyone; it is to defend the right of people to consume and produce sexually explicit media. I have a few disagreements with Violet on her own personal philosophy regarding the state of the porn industry, just I have documented my concerns with Cindy Gallop’s organization and what I see as some misconceptions they put forth about mainstream porn. Nevertheless, I’m not going to browbeat them nor insult their intellegence by claiming that they are automatically on the other side just because they may differ from my own personal opinions. Violet has performed a much needed and long overdue service with this blog and this campaign, and I don’t really think that her opinions about allies deserve this much vitriol. Save that tor those who actually deserve it…like the Dines/Lubben/MacDworkin crowd.

    Anthony

  5. makomk says:

    maymay: oh, not again. I don’t have the energy for this…

    violet: you may be interested to know that maymay posted similar comments on furrygirl’s blog a few weeks ago. Followed by some charming threats on twitter. I quote:

    “You seriously need to temper your attitude with some compassion. I have been kind to you ’til now. Do not—do NOT—push me further.”
    “@furrygirl Indeed. Hate all you like; I value it: http://vb.ly/2anc But sending it at me is foolish. You’re not my enemy—don’t make me yours”

    (FWIW, furrygirl’s tweet is correct. Only including those who “bravely” attended StopPornCon and shook hands with the anti-porn activists does exclude sex workers. For some odd reason, they’re not lining up to shake hands with people fighting for laws that’ll put them in prison, in mortal danger, or at the least out of a job.)

    Sadly, I was too tired to deal with this properly the first time, and he seems to have taken this as some kind of sign of victory…

    —-

    On more on-topic matters, yep, that’s a pretty good summary of anti-porn feminism. (There’s other fun stuff, like the idea that anyone supporting porn or “bad” sex acts is just doing it to prop up the patriarchy.) It also probably has a lot to do with why so many anti-porn feminists are also transphobes and vice-versa; feminist trans-mysogyny is just as deeply rooted in both misandry and the belief that other people’s experiences and desires are only real if they fit a preconceived ideology.

    Also, note that I don’t have reliable internet access right now, hence the late reply…

  6. Mark says:

    Does anyone please have a working link to that Scientific American article? I can’t seem to find it online.

  7. Pingback: Feminist Porn? « Towson University Women's Studies

  8. webcam sexo says:

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