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November 19, 2015

'The Economist' Asks: Can Porn Be Good For Us?-UPDATED

CYBERSPACE—On Tuesday, The Economist, the British newspaper and magazine that's been publishing continuously for more than 170 years, opened the "Debate" portion of its website to the question "Online pornography: Can porn be good for us?" and invited Cindy Gallop, founder of the MakeLoveNotPorn.com website, to take the "Pro" position, and well-known anti-porn zealot Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at UT-Austin and co-creator of the anti-porn "documentary" The Price of Pleasure, for the "Con." The forum is moderated by Economist International section editor Helen Joyce—and from the outset, it was clear that porn was up against some pretty heavy artillery. After noting in her Introduction to the debate that 4 percent of the world's million most-visited websites are devoted to porn—that's 40,000 sites, BTW; probably an underestimate—Joyce opines that, "It seems highly unlikely, then, that pornography can be stamped out." A person who didn't have any problem with sexually explicit material would probably have said, "It seems highly likely, then, that pornography is here to stay"—but perhaps we're reading too much into that. As it turns out, we probably aren't. After all, with Joyce recommending ignorant academic Dr. Gail Dines' Pornland as a worthwhile text for explaining the discredited idea that "pornography is inherently degrading to women," and later claiming that "a sobering fact" is that "compared with other common activities, the evidence on the impact of watching pornography is unusually poor. That is partly because it is almost taboo to study it," Joyce betrays her ignorance of the subject. Actually, plenty of research exists attesting to the minimal adverse effects that porn has on the human psyche, from the studies of UCLA's Dr. Neil Malamuth, UC-Santa Barbara's Dr. Constance Penley and Prof. Mireille Miller-Young, and UC-Berkeley's Prof. Linda Williams, to works like The Question of Pornography by Drs. Edward Donnerstein, Daniel Linz and Steven Penrod (written largely to refute the Meese Commission's deliberate misinterpretation of Donnerstein's previous work), The Porn Report by Dr. Katherine Albury and Profs. Alan McKee and Catharine Lumby, published by Melbourne University Press, and America's War on Sex by Dr. Marty Klein—the list goes on and on, showing that Joyce has done minimal research on the subject herself. Frankly, considering the wealth of pro-porn academics out there, it was surprising that The Economist chose Cindy Gallop, who's never been involved in America's largely L.A.- and NYC-based adult movie industry, to essentially defend that industry and its products—but that said, Gallop does a creditable job of pointing out, in her opening, that "Pornography can be used to help explore our sexuality, including what we like and don’t like; to discover that there are others who share our sexual tastes; and to reassure us that when it comes to the extraordinarily wide-ranging spectrum that is human sexuality, there is no such thing as 'normal'. But at the moment we don’t allow porn to work this way. Many of the evils that are blamed on porn should be blamed on society instead." Gallop's main point seems to be that people need to be better educated about porn—and sex in general. "Freely accessible online hardcore porn has become the default sex education," Gallop writes, "and not in a good way... But this is not porn’s fault; it’s because we don’t talk openly and honestly about sex in a way that would enable people to understand the difference between #realworldsex and porn, or to view the latter, which is a type of entertainment, from a position of knowledge about the former." No argument there... but then we find the phrase, "Now that children routinely stumble across porn online at frighteningly early ages"—why "frighteningly"? Don't they just require a knowledgeable adult to explain it to them? If they're too young, they won't understand it anyway, and the only way that would harm them is if an adult they trust acts all weird and judgey about the material. But Gallop does make some excellent points, including how adult businesses are discriminated against by mainstream society—"The small print always says 'No adult content'"—and how "When you force an entire industry into the shadows, you make it a lot easier for bad things to happen. Every bank, payment processor and business that refuses to work with honest, legal adult ventures shares responsibility for bad practices in the adult industry." (And what are those "bad things" and "bad practices"? Gallop doesn't say—aside from that she thinks there should be more women involved in the making and selling of porn—an argument that gets less creditable by the day.) Gallop's conclusion? "So don’t block porn—disrupt it," adding that if Brits would get that stick out of their asses (our formulation), they could have a porn-inclusive economy that would be good for everyone—even though it's unclear just how being more accepted by mainstream society in any way "disrupts" porn. But compared to Robert Jensen's less-than-coherent ramblings, Gallop is a pro-porn dream. In his "Con" article, Jensen makes the interesting (and, of course, false) claims that A) "the ethic of pornography is pretty clear: individual pleasure-seeking trumps all other values, and no one need pay attention to the consequences of either institutionalised male dominance or modern culture’s seemingly endless appetite for high-tech media that become more 'real' than our own lives"; B) "Much of [porn] is cruel and degrading to women, and some is overtly racist": and C) "When it comes to power, [porn] says that the domination/subordination dynamic of patriarchy is inevitable, because it’s how humans are designed. So get used to the same old hierarchy." (Did we mention that Jensen considers himself to be some sort of feminist... and that, of course, all true feminists are anti-porn?) Jensen clearly thinks he's making some sort of point about porn in posing the questions "What does it mean to be human?" and "What is sex?" In line with the former question, he states, "At issue are not preachy judgments about sexual behaviour, but how to reconcile humans’ yearning for self-realisation with the need for stable, respectful communities that allow individuals to fulfil [sic] their potential. Although it’s true that 'you can’t legislate morality', every position in the pornography debate is based on a sexual ethic." And for Jensen, that "sexual ethic" is stated in points "A" and "B" above, that everything in porn is about pleasure; everything else be damned, and that "patriarchy" wins over all. Well, yes, having sex is a pleasurable experience, one that some people are paid to do (though most actually like doing it, making it one of the better jobs young people—and a few oldsters—can choose a long career in) and others, many of whom don't get laid on a regular basis, take pleasure in fantasizing about through their porn. And it's true that, since most porn is aimed at men, men are often the initiators of the sex in porn, though plenty of movies feature strong female characters and much of today's porn is produced and directed by women, most of whom don't buy the 'domination/submission patriarchy" horseshit. A search of AVN.com for "women in porn" produces dozens of returns. Clearly, porn's "sexual ethic" is far from "individual pleasure-seeking trumps all other values," though its customers are clearly pleasure-seeking. Porn is not, after all, about which recipe for chicken tastes best, or how the conflict in the Middle East can be resolved. One problem with Jensen's thesis is that he seems hung up on porn's relationship to "self-realisation and stable, respectful communities"—but much as he might like it to be, that's not what porn is about. One might as well ask how movies like Die Hard or When Harry Met Sally or (to be more current) Spectre or Star Wars: The Force Awakens lead to "self-realisation and stable, respectful communities"? They don't—but that's not their purpose, just as that's not porn's purpose. Finally, Jensen gets as close to answering the topic's question as he seems willing to do: "A feminist critique of the sexual-exploitation industries analyses prostitution, pornography and stripping as ways of delivering objectified female bodies to men. Whatever one’s view of the role of intimacy and sexuality in society, it is difficult to imagine achieving justice when members of one group (women) can routinely be bought and sold by those of another (men)." This, of course, is complete horseshit. What Jensen describes as the "sexual-exploitation industries" are in fact the sexual entertainment industries: People accept money for various types of sexual services which they are willing to provide, and while their value to society in general, at least in Jensen's eyes, may be minimal, for many, those services are no less important than police patrolling neighborhoods to prevent crime, or postal employees delivering the mail. And in claiming that those activities are just "ways of delivering objectified female bodies to men," Jensen also ignores the fact that both women and men can be (and are) prostitutes and strippers, just as both women and men create sexually explicit images and videos. Are they about sex? Yes. Are they "exploitation"? Of course not. Sex is a natural human activity, and such a pleasurable one that most people want to do it, and when they aren't doing it, most want to watch others doing it. That Jensen doesn't like porn is clear, though his response to the debate's question seems to indicate that there is some type of porn somewhere made by somebody that he could like—he just never bothers to give any examples of it, though they must exist. Rather, he spends his paragraphs claiming that porn (as opposed to pretty much any other job) has some relationship to "justice" and that the reason that supposed relationship isn't "just" is because women "can routinely be bought and sold" by men. That idea is, of course, laughable to anyone who's ever been involved in the adult entertainment industry. People—women and men—are paid to do jobs, whether it's to have sex on camera (porn), have sex in private (prostitution) or tantalize people into imagining that others will have sex with them (stripping), but none of that involves the buying or selling of people—or at least not more than any other job where people labor and are paid for that labor. The latest addition to the debate is today's (essentially) "Con" article by Fiona Vera Gray, who, according to the website FeminismInLondon, "received her doctorate from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University in 2014, specialising in the impact of ‘street harassment’ on how women live their bodies," whatever that last phrase means, and has spent ten years working at the organization Rape Crisis South London—which we're sure, by some lights, makes her another non-expert expert on porn. Her contribution to the debate is about what you'd expect, so we won't go into detail here. The point is, The Economist will be dragging out this debate for about another week—and the comments section of the site is replete with so many anti-porn blatherers, undoubtedly egged on by the UK's equivalent of Morality in Media or Family Research Council or somesuch bunch of religious conservatives, that pro-porn voices will struggle to be heard. Hence, it'd be nice if someone reading this would go to the debate site here and click the "Yes" button that "porn can be good for us"—or better yet, post their thoughts on why they like porn, why it isn't another "sign of the apocalypse" and why the world is large enough that porn lovers and porn haters could actually live in peace... if one group didn't have a collective stick up its ass. UPDATE: Actually, the "debate" will have three phases, and after each phase, the yeses and noes reset, so if you're dedicated to people getting an accurate picture of how many like porn and how many don't, please click here to respond to "phase 2"—and look out for that third phase, which we think starts in two or three days, and vote again then.

 
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