The other night, I had a really interesting conversation with a good friend about something that seems to affect the relationship of almost every couple I know. Our topic: pornography.
I have to say that I know very few women who jump for joy at the thought of their partners watching any porn online. I don't know if the attitudes would change if they were confronted with magazines or videos (DVDs, etc.) that had to be purchased. But the friends I talk to get upset at discovery or mere thought of their partners using the internet to look up pornographic pictures or videos, whether they're free or not.
I personally hated it. I only dealt with it in one relationship, since both my other major relationships were before the major proliferation of the internet (especially high-speed). When it's an occasional thing that acts as an outlet during dry spells, I can sort of understand it. My experience was slightly more... insulting than that. In my case, he was staying up past my "bedtime" to watch pron before he came to bed, while I was already dealing with some sexual trauma. In effect, rather than do his best to "not pressure" me, I ended up feeling completely undesirable, inadequate and incompetent, sexually. And while I don't know exactly how often he was watching porn, I do know that his garbage can filled up with tissues quickly and that on more than one occasion he couldn't be bothered to go get his own lube when he ran out (despite a pharmacy across the street), so he would use my stash.
In some ways, I blame porn for the decline of sexual intimacy of our relationship. Not only did he run to it when I was looking for a slower return to physicality in our relationship, but I feel like it created unrealistic and false expectations of sex, period.
Those expectations and the increasingly degrading depictions of women in porn are my two biggest problems with the genre. Couple that with its proliferation on the internet and easy access, and you have a problematic situation: how does a moderately sexual person find and connect with someone who doesn't a) see them as a mere sexual commodity, and b) feel the need to use porn as the gold standard for how sex works? And then there are those ethics of porn.
Without delving too deeply into the "some women choose" debate, let's take a look at a parallel. Some children choose to go to work in developing countries. It may be a choice between working in a factory or starving, but it's still a choice. Does that make it okay to beat them? Does that make it acceptable to deny them safe working conditions? Does that mean that they don't deserve the same basic protections as other workers? In the West, we have organizations that fight to let kids be kids, or guarantee protections for kids who have to work. Now replace "kids" with "women" and "go to work" with "make porn" and tell me what the difference is?
I would say that the difference is misogyny; that women working in porn somehow deserve whatever treatment they get because they're, well, women. And they're working in porn!
I'd love to be able to reason out all the problems with that particular mindset and how it connects to violence against women, domestic violence and sexual abuse, but I feel like the issue is so large that I don't know how to do it justice. I'll try another tack.
Right now, there's a push in society toward responsible consumerism. We're encouraged to "go green", reduce consumption, consider the impact of the products we buy/consume, consider the origins, find the least harmful, etc. Why shouldn't that apply to pornography? Why shouldn't we start considering where we get our porn, who makes it, how it's made and what impact its viewing will have on the world? Why not find out if the actors are being paid a decent wage, that everything is fully consensual and nothing coerced? Why not make sure that the sex is safe and hot so as not to encourage dangerous and possibly deadly sexual acts? Why not check into the policies of the producers to make sure that the women are taken care of in the event of a career-halting pregnancy? To me, this is common sense.
If you going to make sure that your shoes are produced in a factory that rejects child labour, buy fair trade coffee, go organic, support local businesses and producers, and do your part to reduce your impact on the environment, then how can you possibly justify not finding porn that is responsible and ethical in a parallel way?
I think whether porn is harmful to society as a whole is immaterial until we take a look at how and what we consume. Ladies, change your strategy: don't try to get the men in your life to stop watching porn altogether. Have them switch to porn that is made responsibly, has respectful, realistic depictions of women, and doesn't glorify unsafe or harmful behaviours.
If we can change attitudes about seat belts, gas mileage and pesticides, surely it's possible and realistic to find a new way to look at porn, too.