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May 19, 2006



"If looking at one beautiful naked woman was enough, Playboy could put out one issue a decade."

Very true!

I had never made the connection between pornography and advertising (marketing to create a need, to enhance a desire or appetite to sell products). Really there is a planned (or inherent) obsolesence in porn; no need for half-assed quality control, for the erotic product must be constantly reproduced, remade, remarketed.

Victoria Marinelli

(Warning: Long but respectful rant follows; apparently I'm on something of a roll today. You are welcome to ignore, although I'm sincerely interested in anything you might have to say on the matters that follow.)

Hmmm. It would appear that you are safe to put on my all-too-short working list of folks who are capable of engaging in thoughtful discussion regarding the sex industry/pornography, rather than just picking one of the popularized viewpoints (pro- and anti-, as viewed through ideological, dualism-based filters of the Christian/secular, conservative/liberal, feminist/anti-feminist varieties), selectively referencing only that data which best illustrates the selected view. "Death by agitprop" is how I'd characterize a lot of my own misadventures in terms of activism on this issue, where debate so often leaves behind the women (not to mention the youth) who are used in pornography, which only compounds their objectification.

(Tangent: I've gotta say that the anti-porn views of upper-middle-class feminists whose objections were rooted in their disdain and deep-seated hatred of those less privileged women who are, by and large, consumed in the porn biz, have done more to dissuade me from anti-pornography activisim than anything else, unless of course you count the anti-porn feminists who view women used in pornography and prostitution, who identify that experience as non-consensual and oppressive, as useful anecdotes for their research, grant applications, etc., but not as real, breathing women capable of thought and even, gasp, leadership. But, as usual, I digress.)
I'm curious as to what you think of this bumper sticker, which I saw a few years ago and haven't since been able to shake, which read, "Porn Rapes The Mind." Although I didn't physically act on it, the knee-jerk reaction I envisioned myself having was to jump out of my car (this was in slow downtown traffic), pound on the no-doubt-well-meaning individual's windshield, and shout helplessly through the glass: "No, asshole! Porn rapes the women in porn!"

Thing is, the person in that car was probably closer to being on the same page with me on this issue than anyone else who was in front of that traffic light with us, insofar as he or she (I couldn't see the driver) at least recognized there was any element of harm.

No right or wrong answers here, and I promise I would never pound on your or anyone else's proverbial (or actual!) windshield over it... but still, what do you think of this "rapes the mind" bit? Is that a helpful analogy at all, in terms of reaching the porn-consuming public (who as you acknowledge are mostly, but not exclusively, men)? Or is it too far out there?

I'm really not being rhetorical here... I'm in the process now of working to form a cross-disciplinary community task force on sex trafficking here in Richmond, Virginia, and I'm frankly scared. To say the least, in order to move any kind of positive action forward in my community, I'm going to have to deal with people for whom the humanity of the women in porn isn't even an afterthought, much less their primary concern - but they might be "reachable" when considering other factors (e.g., the collateral damages to neighborhoods after strip clubs and pornography stores set up shop). Is this a helpful conceptualization, which, for strategic reasons at least, I should consider embracing (windshield-pounding instincts notwithstanding)?


Hugo - I don't know if my experience is typical, but it does not support your statements about porn.

Most pornographic and erotic images don't hold my interest very long, though a few I can keep coming back to again and again. (Eric S. Raymond's essay, Why does porn got to hurt so bad?, has some interesting insights into why only a few pornographic images remain interesting.)

However, when it comes to real women, those who catch my sexual interest can continue to do so over the years. The extreme case for me is probably a woman I met when I was 19 and she was about 22. I'm now 39, she's now 42, and I still have a crush on her, despite what changes 20 years and having three children have made to her body and personality. But nearly every other woman I've dated, or been sexually attracted to, that I still run into once in a while, still holds my interest, despite the passage of time.

Perhaps it's because images are unchanging, while an actual person can grow and change, and actually responds to existing circumstances, rather than just glowing on one's monitor or laying there on the printed page. The experience of any particular piece of porn is the same *every single time*, while the experience of a particular person can be different and ever-changing, even if only in small ways.


Anthony, I won't dispute your experience. If all men were as you are, my friend, the porn industry in this country might not be wrecking lives and making the fortune that it does.

Victoria, I don't like that sort of bumpersticker either. Men who are porn users will rarely react well to that kind of challenge. But they may be willing to consider honestly the impact of porn on their own lives when approached thoughtfully and respectfully. And you're right -- anti-porn crusaders are often woefully unconcerned with the real stories and lives of women "in the industry." It's why I never claim that all women in porn are "victims" or in need of rescue (though the stories of abuse are legion indeed). I like to think of myself as "pro-sex worker" and "anti sex-work".

Troy, thanks for the validation.


While you make some interesting points here, I think you're conflating pro-feminism and monogamy to an extent that I, for one, am uncomfortable with. While feminism can certainly be used to justify the claim that one should be respectful of one's sexual partners and treat them as human beings, I'm not sure it follows that "seeking novelty" is anti-feminist-- IMO, your secular feminist argument against porn is much stronger when it focuses on the potential to contribute to the objectification of women than when it focuses on "oh, you won't be satisfied with your wife/girlfriend." The two arguments aren't identical or interchangeable-- wanting new experiences with new people doesn't automatically imply disrespect for anyone involved, just as staying with the same person doesn't automatically imply respect for that person. If the real gist of your argument is that pornography threatens monogamy (and that monogamy is the only way to avoid treating women as "disposable"), I can't say that has much to do with my perception of secular feminism.

I know this isn't really the main point of your post, and that you've made it clear in the past that you think monogamy is the ideal condition for a relationship; still, I can't help being bothered by the implication here that the only "real relationships" are monogamous. You're free to have your preferences and opinions about what's best, of course, but it seems awfully disrespectful to the preferences/opinions of others to proclaim that relationships that don't conform to your ideal standards aren't real.


Though I have problems, as a Christian, with masturbation

Why should a Christian have problems with masturbation? (If you've explained in an older post, you can just give the link.)


Keri, frankly, I'd argue that porn could have the same distorting impact on polyamorous relationships.  If a man is committed to three women, and masturbating to images of three hundred, the problem is still surely the same.  But to seek endless novelty (from different people) is inherently anti-feminist because it devalues the humanity of the woman or man who is no longer "new."

I can't help but think of the Tori Amos song, "Tear in your Hand."  The famous lines directed to a man who has moved on in his search for new flesh:

"All the world just stopped now
So you say you don't wanna stay together anymore

I think it's that girl
And I think there're pieces of me you've never seen
Maybe she's just pieces of me you've never seen well"

But you're right, I do conflate monogamy and feminism much of the time, probably indicating the degree to which my faith continues to inform my understanding of sexuality.


Here you go, Allison.   My position is nuanced and conflicted to the extent that I don't see masturbation as a major sin -- but I do think it falls short of God's best.  Most of my reasons are in that post.

Victoria Marinelli

"However, when it comes to real women..." [emphasis added to Anthony's comment - VM]

OH MAN. And without so much as a trace of irony! That says it all right there.

Yes, women are only "real" until they are A) naked, and B) on the business end of a pornographer's lens. Poof! Instant "non-real" women!

Amazing: that anyone even questions whether pornography is objectifying.

Not as amazing: that it was this same Anthony, an "amateur photographer" according to his website, who recently opined, right here on your blog, that

Perhaps teenage boys need a counterbalance to the "ghetto" version of masculinity propagated by popular culture these days, but those of us who grew up when musical culture wasn't so misogynist don't need what you're offering.
To which response your was quite apt:
You mean back in those glory days of egalitarianism when the Stones sang "Under My Thumb" and "Brown Sugar"?
*exasperated sigh*


I know there are plenty of women who use porn. Not the topic of this post.

Except that you talk about "porn", full stop, not "mass-market porn targeted at and almost exclusively used by heterosexual men"--which means that your generalizations about that kind of porn may not well fit any other kind.

I really get the strong feeling that "Billy" has never bothered to look at a romance novel. He might be in for a surprise about their explicitness.

David Thompson

Ask any man who uses porn -- does he want to see the same pictures over and over again of the same women? No.

You flogged this point pretty hard. I very much enjoy going back to the old stuff even though I haven't seen some of it for 20 years, and some of it I've never seen at all.


David, that's the point -- if you you haven't seen it all, it doesn't matter if it was produced in 2006 or 1976 -- it's new to YOU.


Thanks for the link -- off to read, with me.


Hi Hugo, this is (I think) the first time that I've commented on your blog.

Firstly, can you define what you mean by "porn" for us? Some people use the term to refer to any text that is designed to be sexually arousing (whether it be writing, a drawing, a photograph, a video etc). Some people distinguish between "porn" and "erotica," based on a variety of different standards (one of which is that "porn" is by definiiton misogynistic), while I've known people who consider photographs and videos of real people "porn" but not any other erotic material. It's a bit difficult assessing your position without a definition. :)

Also, I have a problem with the following statement:
To be a pro-feminist man, I submit, is to see women as precious and valuable rather than disposable.
I don't think this is an effective definition for feminism or pro-feminism, because there are plenty of anti-feminist men and women who do see women has highly precious and valuable, in the same way that a diamond necklace is precious and valuable. Personally, I find that this attitude is still just as degrading, because it still makes us objects and possessions. While this might not be your view, I think you need to come up with a better definition of what it means to be "pro-feminist" or you're simply not distinguishing yourself from men who do simply treat women as precious objects. I suggest something like "to be a pro-feminist man is to see women as full and complete human beings."


I have no problem, Beppie, with the notion that pro-feminism ought to embrace women as precious and valuable human beings.

I'm referring largely to the visual porn industry that offers photos/videos/computerized images of women and girls.


" I like to think of myself as 'pro-sex worker' and 'anti sex-work'."

As respectfully as possible, I'd like to know how this works. To me, it sounds like "pro-selling cocaine" and "anti-buying cocaine."

"Yes, women are only 'real' until they are A) naked, and B) on the business end of a pornographer's lens. Poof! Instant 'non-real' women!"

I doubt that's what he meant. By "real" I think he meant "someone you know and with whom you are in contact regularly," not "an actual human being, unlike the non-persons whose pictures you see in pornography."


Hugo, if men didn't want to see "the same women," porn stars wouldn't have fan followings. Bettie Page would have no name recognition.

Of course novelty is part of the attraction of porn; it's part of human sexual attraction. It's not the only part, as every happily married couple can attest.


b, buying and selling sex are not comparable activities. We ought to have the right to do with our own bodies as we please -- but we do not have the right to do with other's bodies as we please. An exchange of cash vitiates real consent.

Practically, outlawing buying but permitting selling would ideally dry up the demand for prostitution. But it would do so in such a way that allowed prostitutes to seek protection from the authorities without risking arrest.


Hugo, I've never commented on you blog before so here I go (whee!).

I get where you're going, and I like the idea of bringing fresh perspective into the porn debate, but I gotta say, I have a problem with this sentance:

"Porn says that happiness is found by having the same experience over and over again with lots of different women; true eros says that happiness is found by having different experiences over and over again with the same person."

Why are those mutually exclusive? As a woman in a open relationships with another woman, I've never found that having lots different sexual experiances with lots of diffferent men and women has ever diminished the happiness I get from having lots different sexual experiances with the love of my life. And I've never felt that her different sexual experiances with lots of diffferent women has ever diminished the happiness I get from having lots different sexual experiances with her. I don't see why this has to be a zero sum game where the gain of other partners (in real life or in porn) is automatically a subtraction from other partners.

It just seems like your opposition to porn doesn't really work unless you buy into a monogamy=best framework and it kinda leads into me feeling like you would think that polyamory and porn are the same thing and both bad.

David Thompson

"it's new to YOU"

Except that it's NOT new to me.


I have no problem, Beppie, with the notion that pro-feminism ought to embrace women as precious and valuable human beings.

With the "human beings" on the end, it's all well and good. My point was that seeing women as "precious and valuable" can't effectivley define pro-feminism or feminism because plenty of anti-feminists also see women as "valuable." Please understand that I wasn't accusing you of treating women as objects, just noting that your terminology didn't distinguish you from those who do. :)

As far as the porn issues goes, this is a tough one for me right now. I believe (or perhaps hope) that it's possible for erotic images to exist that don't harm women, because I feel that we represent just about all aspects of our lives in texts, and don't think that sexuality should be any different. However, you have to admit, that when 90% of the internet is porn, that's way out of proportion in terms of the importance that sex has (or should have) in terms of human experience. When 99% of that porn is totally misogynistic (and certainly not representing anything positive about female sexuality, suggesting instead that our sexuality should be defined by men), is there really room for the other 1% to be interpreted in any other way? Sadly, I think it's overwhelmingly the case that the idea of "men using porn" pretty much always equates to men thinking about women in a way that is degrading, and men defining their own sexuality (not to mention defining women's sexuality) in a way that is degrading to women. Part of me still really wants to cheer for the other 1%, but well... if you had a bunch of cells, and 99% of them were cancerous, would you simply sit around hoping that the other 1% of cells would start having a good influence?

As to how this relates to pro-feminist men and porn-- if you had a person who, say, claimed to be heavily involved in the conservation of the environment, then you went to their house, and discovered that their bookshelves were full of books that were 99% "I hate the environment," "The joys of fossil fuel," "The glory of George W. Bush's environmental policies" and "The myth of global warming," and if this person had anti-environment posters up all over their house, and this person claimed that he really enjoyed reading these books and looking at these posters, because it helped him relax, you'd think that something funny was going on. I find it hard to believe that most pro-feminist men who use porn aren't refering to mainstream misogynist porn, and if this is the case, you have a man whose (figurative) sexuality shelf is filled with titles like "Women are Objects" and "Women are there to Give Men Sexual Pleasure" and the walls of his mind are plastered with posters that say "Women enjoy it when I use them" and "Sex is better with big titties."

I do believe that there are very rare erotic images that don't give these messages-- but I very much doubt that this is what the vast majority of "pro-feminist porn users" refer to when they discuss porn-use (though many of them may be blind to the misogyny in most/all porn-- depending on how you define "porn"). Its doubly scary when you think that in terms of mainstream porn, there is really no way of telling whether or not the women involved were really consenting, and furthermore, if they were consenting, if they only did so out of desperation. If you're pro-feminist, why even risk getting pleasure from an image that could easily be an image of a rape?


(That "you" is hypothetical, obviously, as I know that you Hugo don't use porn. :))


Sarah, here's where the experience of heterosexual men may be vastly different from those in the polyamory community. To me, porn and relationship are in a zero-sum game; the more energy I put towards the former, the less I will have for my spouse.

To use the Greek words:

Agape is not a pie, meaning the more love that one child gets the less another does. Philia is not a pie. But eros? Eros has always been understood in the Western tradition to be a pie, and if one is parceling out pieces of one's sexuality, the bigger a slice I give to porn or fantasy the less that will be available for my partner.

I am convinced that for most folks, porn use is a zero-sum game indeed.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

I really get the strong feeling that "Billy" has never bothered to look at a romance novel. He might be in for a surprise about their explicitness.

Except for those that aren't. The extremely chaste variety was the only kind I had the opportunity to see as a teenager, so for years I thought that super-chaste heroines who finally kiss the hero for the first time on the last page were a hard and fast rule of the genre.

Of course, most of them are racier than that, and some of them are very racy indeed.


Careful, Hugo.

Sarah, here's where the experience of heterosexual men may be vastly different from those in the polyamory community.

I assume you meant "monogamous heterosexual men."

Eros has always been understood in the Western tradition to be a pie...

As a feminist historian, you should know better than anyone that just because an idea has a long history in the Western tradition doesn't make it true.

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