Promiscuities my ass.

Naomi Wolf had the cover story in New York Magazine on Saturday titled, “The Porn Myth,� which largely discussed how porn today basically kills people’s sex lives; or in other words, men’s.
With mainstream porn’s fake breasts, tiny vaginas and perpetually tan bodies, the unrealistic expectations it puts on straight men and what sex is “supposed� to look like is evident, which Wolf points out. But her extreme oversimplification of the issue is evident as well.
She claims that all porn this day and age does is demolish straight women’s sex lives because they can’t live up to porn’s image of the “perfect body� and satisfy their more-or-less bored partners. In fact, the entire piece discusses the issue from the perspective of men, seeming to say that a satisfying sex life is defined based on what a man wants.
Her solution seems to be to regress back to a more modest sexuality, and possibly mimic the sexual habits of more “traditional cultures�:

I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.

Her example of this is her Orthodox Jewish friend who covers her body and hair in public, and the apparent erotic nature in the the fact that only her husband can see her hair. What exactly is she trying to posit by using this example? That we’d be better off covered up? She seems to be cloaking the idea of putting sex back into the private sphere with the concept of “sexual mystery.â€? Wouldn’t it be more practical (and fun) to simply promote the realistic images of women (and men) in sex culture than simply repress it altogether?

At another point, she says:

Well, I am 40, and mine is the last female generation to experience that sense of sexual confidence and security in what we had to offer.

Now that’s just insulting. While our generation obviously has work to do in terms of promoting realistic (and sexually reciprocal) depictions of sex, to presume that young women today don’t have sexual confidence or security is an extreme generalization and totally invalidating many of our happy and healthy sex lives. Not to mention that, once again, it’s about “what we have to offer.� What about what sex has to offer us? Why is, once again, our sexual satisfaction based on men’s approval of our sexuality?
There are many problems with mainstream porn and the ways it affects people’s perceptions of sex and of women, without a doubt. But besides the obvious fact that the piece is talking primarily about a heterosexual, white, mainstream college sex culture more than anything else, the passive-aggressive finger-wagging to young women is apparent, and all it does is fuel the slut-shaming fire. (And this was surprising considering this is coming from the author of Promiscuities, a book that inspired me when I was younger.) I was almost anticipating the last sentence to be the old, “If you give away the milk for free…”

Join the Conversation

  • ShifterCat

    Thought about this a bit, and came back to the keyboard.
    Vera: I think that you and I are drawing our conclusions from two very different samples of men.
    Your clients (is that the right word?) tell you, “[My S.O.] started watching porn more and more and all of a sudden he wants to act it out. When I said no, he beat me up and did it anyway.” The men who do this are the scum of the earth. They have no self-control — or worse, they don’t see a reason to exercise it with the women who should be the most important people in their lives.
    My friends and I have always been very open about discussing our sex lives. Most of my male friends, and several of my female friends, consume porn of one sort or another. Some are, or have been, in BDSM relationships — maledom, femaledom, or switch. But my (straight) male friends do not abuse their girlfriends. My husband has never raped or abused me. (This is not to say that my girl friends have had nothing but happy relationships — I’ve had a few female friends whose boyfriends began to act abusive, and they had to dump them.)
    One of my friends liked some porn that his girlfriend found distasteful. She asked him not to watch it when she was around. He respected her feelings, and complied.
    My male co-workers have watched quite a bit more of the store’s porn than I have. But I have never gotten any “red flag” feelings about them. (Though I’ve been told that if I feel really uncomfortable about a co-worker, I can ask not to be scheduled with them.)
    So, these are my experiences with male porn consumers. Clearly they’re opposite from yours, so it’s obvious why we’ve drawn such different conclusions.
    I really don’t know what else to say about this, so I think I had better disengage from the conversation.

  • JenLovesPonies

    Alright, alicepaul, bt if I say that porn is never alright, then can I support other industries that hurt women? I don’t know of a single industry that doesn’t harm someone. Should I never watch a Hollywood movie? Should I give up fruit because its usually picked by people who aren’t paid fair wages? Should I go naked? Most clothing sold in the US was made by someone who was exploited at some point- the factory workers, the cloth factory, the shipping department, the store workers, etc. Hell, sometimes I think something is made under fair labor conditions- for instance, Walmart used to only sell things made in the USA- and it turns out to be a lie. How does anyone live a life where they can be certain no one is ever exploited?

  • Mina

    “Is all the supposed pleasure and liberation that comes from veiwing or selling porn WORTH the pain and suffering of EVEN ONE woman?”
    Of course it’s not! I’m against rape, torture, etc. no matter if they happen on camera or off camera.
    Meanwhile, does viewing or selling porn always cause the pain and suffering of EVEN ONE woman or man or girl or boy in the first place?
    “Because you have already been presented with the evidence that some of us have.”
    You have presented us with evidence that some porn is made by abusing women and viewed by more people who abuse women.
    I still haven’t seen evidence that explicit yaoi manga, my driver’s license photo, romance novels, Azizah magazine, etc. are abusive too.
    Of course some porn, the “survival”* sex kind, is horrible.
    Now which stance against it makes more sense? Wanting women and girls to have more opportunities and better safety nets than “survival” sex, while ignoring kinky fanfiction? Wanting all porn to be shunned, while ignoring women and girls pushed into off-camera “survival” sex like being an HIV+ condom-hater’s housewife?

  • Mina

    * Oops, I forgot the footnote. “Survival sex” seems to underestimate the problem, given how many women and girls die of AIDS as a result of it

  • Joe27

    It seems this and many other conversations like it are focusing on the problem, not the solution. There’s a lot of discussion of patriarchy, abuse of women, overuse of porn. These obviously are bad. But what can be done about them.
    One part of the solution involves looking at the culture or mindset that produces this behavior, then figuring out practical ways to improve/evolve/change the culture/mindsets.
    Much of our culture is conveyed through advertising and media. The US is an immature country. Like young people, we value physical looks, physical strength and wealth. Whereas more mature cultures value wisdom, inner rather than outer prosperity, and peaceful co-existence.
    Many if not most of the male heros/role models we show to children are like children in adults bodies — hero’s like Arnold Schwartzeneger, who solves problems with violence, then gets elected governor, thus validating the extreme immaturity of our society.
    How do we begin to give boys and young men better role models — ones that show that real men use their strength to care for and protect those who are weaker or in need. Real men work for peace and try to make the world a better place. Real men can walk away from an insult because they have a mature ego, not that of a sensative child.
    How do we teach people that the best life isn’t alway easy, that seeking shor-term satisfaction through porn/food/etc leads to an empty, increasingly unsatisfying life.
    Probably no one knows the answers to these difficult questions. But if we begin to make it a priority, I think together we can make progress.

  • Vera Venom

    I’m sick to death of talking with people who refuse to accept reality. I will only say this:
    “As for making a stand, I believe that, like other male-dominated organizations, the porn industry needs progressive women to come in and shake the place up.”
    No, the answer is not women simply taking over and exploiting other women instead of men. Goodness.
    ” I do think its as you said- in many causes, these men were already jerks, and the porn was a catalyst- but I would also be shocked if there weren’t other things that tipped these guys off on their rages besides porn. In my experience, there isn’t just one thing or person that sets a guy off.”
    I said some of the men were already jerks. Some of them didn’t show any abusive tendencies until after they got into porn. Deny it all you like, it does not change in the slightest what I see happening everyday.
    And shifter? Just because you know a whopping three guys that haven’t raped/assaulted a woman – that you know of – does not mean that it’s not happening at an increasingly alarming rate. Just because you don’t get bad “vibes” off the guys at work doesn’t mean they are angels.
    if this is really the best defense of porn there is, I have to say I’m unimpressed.
    “Is all the supposed pleasure and liberation that comes from veiwing or selling porn WORTH the pain and suffering of EVEN ONE woman? If fifty people watch porn harmlessly, but one person used the images to hurt or torture a woman, is it still worth it to you?
    Your answer will reveal how much you truly care about women. ”
    Alice, I’m so stealing this.

  • Vera Venom

    “How does anyone live a life where they can be certain no one is ever exploited?”
    They can’t. All they can do is work to eliminate such products/services etc from their lives as much as possible, if they can (i.e. money-wise) and if they are so inclined. Porn, unlike clothing, food, etc is not a neccessity. It is an exploitive, abusive product which can be easily avoided.
    “Wanting all porn to be shunned, while ignoring women and girls pushed into off-camera “survival” sex like being an HIV+ condom-hater’s housewife?”
    This is an absolutely absurd nonsequitir. NO ONE has said all porn should be banned, shunned etc. Not one. And no one has suggested ignoring all other things except porn.

  • spaceninjamonkey

    Perhaps this has already been asked, but what are the ethical and legal difference between legalizing porn and prostitution?
    In both instances, women are SPECIFICALLY being paid to have sex, but the latter isn’t on camera.
    Thoughts, ideas?