Is a woman kneeling in a coffin while being anally penetrated the height of bad taste? Clearly Gail Dines thinks so. I read Adventures in Pornland the other day and felt the need to respond. Not simply to refute Dines, who seemingly wrote a book about the ails of pornography without talking to any porn stars or watching any porn; not because I actually think that a blow up doll can be a great way for a man to learn how to be with a woman--or certainly a step above other options I can think of; and not because I think coffin-sex sounds kind of kinky. Instead, I wanted to respond to Dine's article because in my humble opinion, porn is neither all good nor all bad, and I think polarizing views on the topic distract from the issue of how to better the porn industry--something we all could stand to think about since most men and an increasing number of women watch porn all the dang time.
So who the heck am I? Well, I'm pretty much your average housewife and a good example of the mainstreaming of XXX. Imagine you're a woman who hasn't watched all that much porn and feels rather squeamish about the topic. Then imagine that one day your fiancé comes home with a job offer to shoot a reality TV show about LA porn stars.
"Pardon me?" you say. "Will that mean filming people have sex?"
Yes, it will. Months later your betrothed is swinging through the door with film equipment and showering off other people's bodily fluids before tucking into his steak.
The truth is I never felt entirely comfortable with my better half filming porn (or to be semantically correct--filming people filming porn), which is why I have a different take on the industry than your average pro-porn pundit. Without ever seeking it out, the topic of porn entered into my world. Being a curious and, yup, often critical type, I, like Gail Dines, questioned whether porn was degrading to women. For a year of my man jetting off to porn shoots in The Valley, we discussed the topic at length. We talked about a woman who, for lack of a better term, seemed cracked-out and detached while filming a double penetration scene. We discussed a business-like gal putting herself through law school filming naughty teacher scenes with no qualms about it. We compared male producers to female producers, some of who were more hard-core. We chatted about the botched system of testing for STDs after a performer gave several others Gonorrhea. And much, much more.
As we hashed it out, I began a little research away from the dinner table and discovered complexities to the degradation argument. Did I really think that porn was degrading to women? And if so, did I think the men and women watching it were degrading women? Or were the people making it degrading women? Or was it the women participating in porn who were degrading themselves? There were so many perspectives to consider that to say, as Dines does that, "mainstream Internet porn is filled with images of body-punishing sex acts that are designed to debase and dehumanize women," seems overly simple and awfully judgmental. What if said women enjoy said "bodily-punishing acts" and are consensually making a living performing them?
Having my husband-to-be filming porn was an emotional journey for me. It brought up issues of comparison, jealousy, and trust. As I discovered that I couldn't just lump all porn into the women-degrading bin, I had to take a long hard look at my relationship and myself. I discovered that I'd long veiled certain issues behind my judgment of porn. What I really needed was a trusting relationship where no topic of sexuality was out of bounds, and a partner who was willing to talk it out with me and let me into his world. I found one. As the job ended and my husband watched less porn (he'd been an avid and secretive viewer but being behind the scenes was somewhat of a turn off) I began watching more porn to see what I liked. As you can probably guess by now--I found some.
As for whether porn is creating a "bored and desensitized consumer base," if it is then my husband and I are leaden and dull. But we'd prefer not to think so. My take is that we live in a capitalist society where if you want something other than McDonalds and Transformers 2 you're going to have to hoof it to the art house cinema and have Ethiopian for a change. The same is true with porn. But Gail Dines wouldn't know that because she's never looked at any beyond a cursory Google search.
As for how to ensure the ethical production of porn--I don't have all the answers to that but for starters a pay scale that isn't based on spitting or swallowing, or missionary versus anal would be good. And unions, perchance, might also be a healthy start. Maybe Pornland offers some suggestions? I will read her book to find out because I'm interested in all perspectives about porn and she's not wrong to take issue with the industry. But at a first glance, sitting on the sidelines of the Adult Entertainment Expo and making friends with the disgruntled non-porn industry worker seems like a bit of a cop out. I wonder why the protective security guard wasn't asking the women how they felt about performing in porn? It never occurred to me to call Dine's viewpoint anti-sex because I agree with her that anti-sex and anti-porn are separate topics. But isn't telling women that "what they are doing is bad for them" without asking their opinion quite anti-feminist really, Gail?