I have to say that I have had my com-upance on this one. It simply will not do to say that I have an ambiguous relationship to the phenomenon, or to document some statistics as if I have no interest in the subject; my bluff has been called.
I am not sure that my argument will stand. It goes something like this: porn was better when it was a forbidden pleasure. I may sounds somewhat old fashioned and conservative on this but I do believe that there’s nothing quite like permissiveness to kill desire.
Let me clarify. Porn, of course, has some educational value. There are certain hardcore websites out there that can teach about the G-spot, and gushing and such things. A lot of hard work, anatomical study, repeated viewing and perseverance is required to bring these thing to fruition and women rarely complain, unless to protest that one is being rather too technical.
Maybe I should go further back. Yes, for sure I am an unreliable narrator for such a subject and highly suspect. Let me just set it straight for the record: I have had, since the age of about thirteen, an enduring relationship with pornography. Back then it was a less complicated affair, it was simply a question of going to the local newsagents and slipping a copy of Playboy or Readers Wives into some geek computer magazine, like PC Games or Mac World. Then of course there was the stash, hidden in the hole I had cut on the underside of my bed. Things seem rather quaint in the light of this era before teenagers had access to several million hardcore websites. Back then it was a matter of objects and pages, held in hands. Images of women, centrefolds with staples in unfortunate places.
Maybe going that far back is not useful. Lets go forward a bit. Lets say that I was twenty years old and studying feminist film theory. It was 1988, and there was an ideal among radical feminist filmmakers of the time that no women should be shown in any way, or men for that matter, no ‘gendered subjects’ in any films. This was my degree thesis and another kind of hardcore – hardcore radical feminism, about the time of Andrea Dworkins book Pornography which laid out a lesbian separatist anti-porn stance that said that porn was an incitement and encouragement to rape. This text was taken very seriously from about 88 to 91. Various studies were done that proved the opposite, that porn was actually a release valve and a kind of limiter to incidents of rape, but these were overshadowed by something much bigger. Round about ’92-93 sex went mainstream. Madonna’s Sex book came out, S&M became fashionable; with even Dorothy Perkins doing a line in plastic and rubber wear, and the idea of ‘self empowerment through sex’ became trendy. Also, it should be noted, that in 1993 the World Wide Web became active, this thing called the Internet that you may have heard of.
It’s round about here that things become complicated and confused for me. It would have been wonderful to have had a Dworkin versus Madonna debate on whether Porn corrupts and abuses or liberates women, but at that point there was what can only be called a paradigm shift. The possibility of debate was simply blown out of the air by the new technologies, and let us not forget that the new technologies were and are driven by consumerism. Even the London Filmmakers Co-operative, that bastion of radical anti patriarchal hegemony started showing very naughty S&M films, with girls in naughty clothes and guys tied and bound. While, mere months, before they showed nothing but films of empty rooms with Sylvia Plath-esque voice overs.
The new ethos said that porn was OK for women to enjoy too. This was a new kind of liberation, totally opposed to the older kind of feminist liberation which stood outside sex shops with banners. And here I can only admit to being deeply conflicted because as a man studying radical feminist separatist theory I also had my stash of porn and it is true that one of the reasons that I welcomed the ‘new spirit’ in feminism was that a certain book that I bought, which promoted the new acceptance of porn, (and the rights or sex workers like Annie Sprinkle) was a source of pleasure to me in way more than academic (There were rather exciting Victorian peep show pictures by way of illustration).
Now, don’t for a second think that I am an apologist for the dissemination of hardcore, for sure it is the largest industry in the world, the international weapons trade coming a close second. And for sure in the last five or so years hardcore has become easily accessible to anyone with broadband. In fact we may be looking at the first generation of adults who have not had to go into dark parts of town and booths to get such images. And the effects of this may yet take decades to account for. For sure it is a revolution as big as the invention of the washing machine, the car, the phone, the TV and the pill. But what will it bring?
With knowledge comes the burden of prior expectation. With the new sex-is -liberation ethos comes expectations a bit akin to that with which the consumer meets the product. It must fulfil obligation or your money back. Every encounter must be orgasmic or multi-orgasmic, men must be hung, women must have tight wet pussies and pouting nipples, firm tits and all the rest of the shebang. There are great burdens, almost laughable from the perspective of the existential encounter between two individuals who are, hopefully, more that the sum of their pornographic parts. Those of you who have had an encounter with a partner all-too-well schooled in on-line porn, may have experienced this post-modern malaise and melancholy. What I am talking about is having a partner who has watched too much online porn and wants to appear to behave like a porn star. This I can only call po-mo porno hell. It goes something like this:
Your partner does a striptease, there may be music, it may sound a bit like porno music, it may have been put on because it signifies ‘sexiness’. From that then there is felatio, the eyes looking up at you, then there is some showing off and striking poses before penetration, there will be talking, like give it to me, give me your big dick, whether you have one or not, then there will be the classical four changes of position as if a camera was watching, and more talk, like give it to me, give it to me, there there, and ‘that’s so sexy’ (and it has to be said that even though porn stars say this a lot there is nothing less sexy than being told that sex is sexy, in fact my theory is that porn starts only say this, precisely when they’re just doing it for money and it it’s getting uncomfortable, possible mundane, repetitive and not sexy at all), ending ultimately with the ‘money shot.’ Anyone who has been through this process with a partner, either male or female, should easily see how online porn has robbed humanity of both it’s spontaneity and, let it be said, it’s humanity. Things were much more sexy when things went unsaid, or at least without the sports-type running commentary. Yes, yes, we’ve scored, what a goal!
Porn was much better when it was something guys did as a surrogate. When women start acting like porn this is deeply disconcerting. Perhaps this is the new wave of feminism, the twist of history in which women call men on their pornographic fantasies and find men wanting. But this would be a rather sad turn of events and one in which everyone must be judged by the standards of those greased and lubed beneath spotlights. This kind of painful self-consiousness is a bit like those adverts you see for home DIY pole dancing as keep-fit-routine object. Do we really want couples to have to go through this ridiculous pretence that they are strangers in a pay per view night club after a dinner of mince and tatties before they go to their habitual bed? Where do such things end? With penis and breast enhancements, with memorising the words, moans and grunts or Peter North and Jenna Jameson?
I swear, anyone who says ‘this is so sexy’ while having sex is really not enjoying it, is going through performance anxiety and had seen to much porn.
I jest. But still I think that in the change from porn-as-perverse-activity to mainstream-free-for-all, something fundamental has been lost. Sensuality and seduction are about things unsaid, secrets to be discovered, desires born in the dark. If everyone is going to sit in front of their online porn memorising and aping moves while they film themselves with all the lights on then I’d much rather go it alone and return porn to it’s old secret place, under, not on top of the bed.
Of course this is nothing but nostalgia for the old days of print and page; of touch and urgent whisperings in the dark. We live now in the era of instantaneous feedback, of lovers on screens, of lovers who behave like screens. The digital age is upon us. But what are digits but fingers? Put your fingers not on flesh but on a thing called a mouse or a touch pad. Click it. Sounds like clit doesn’t it? But it’s not. Go on. Go it alone. The future belongs to wankers.