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Porn, Sex Positivity And The Left--It's 'Complicated'

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Anti-porn activists may have had a bit of a point. Is there a healthier middle ground between today's violent sexual exploitation and 'ethical' porn?

Man's dirty hand crushing a Barbie doll head
Photo by Isabella Quintana on Pixabay


“For fuck’s sakes, don’t pick up men on Tinder,” I thought unsympathetically when I read experience pieces by women on Medium about meeting up with men on the notorious pickup app, and suddenly finding themselves the recipient of rough, violent sex. 'What’s up with the choking, slapping and hitting?’ they’d ask and I’d wonder, “What’s up with going to a strange man’s house to fuck him? Are you trying to get murdered?”


I didn’t understand how common violent sex had become, or where it came from. Most of the last twenty years after my Big Breakup has been an endless conveyor belt of coffee dates. If men had gotten more violent in bed, it flew under my radar, since most men were too boring for more than a single Tim Horton’s. I didn’t know how pervasive porn had become, and how much more violent and misogynist, than when feminists protested Hustler depicting a woman in a meat grinder.


Learning about the 2000s mainstream Porn Revolution showed me those Medium gals’ experiences weren’t just young women being dumbasses.

The left would rather not talk about what garden variety violent porn means for women, lest we come across too much like the cross-bearing sourpusses of yore.


Naked woman and devil in a sexual embrace while hovering over fire
HellFireLove by rstreeter on DeviantArt. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


But did the right, maybe, just sayin’, have at least a bit of a point?


Man, we loved to make fun of Bible-thumpers back in the day.


The Religious Right had risen like the Zombie Apocalypse to ruin our orgasms.

Anti-porn zealots ran amok chasing everything they deemed inappropriate for children under 80. Ronald Reagan appointed Attorney General Ed Meese to investigate and document what they believed were the harmful effects of consuming pornography - which back then was magazines, strip clubs, catalogs, and Blockbuster rentals. Big cities offered famously seedy neighborhoods like New York’s Times Square where you could anonymously view ‘peep shows’ and wank in peace to Patti Porks Peoria.


We liberals hooted and hollered at porn critics and laughed at Meese’s sexophobic and inaccurate report. Before its release it blackmailed convenience stores and other porn purveyors, threatening to name them in the report if they continued to retail raunchy reads.


Retail store magazine racks filled with porn mags and covered with a board with a sign that says You May Go Blind
Although this rack of racks is from 2007, this is a close approximation of what the 7-11 magazine rack looked like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. CC0 2.0 Generic image by Opus Moreschi on Flickr

It found, unsurprisingly, what it was commissioned to find. Porn was harmful to human relationships. Man, those stiff-necked uptight stick-up-the-butts couldn’t handle some good old-fashioned healthy filth!


But still…


Maybe the Meese Report was stupid and inaccurate and rife with scandals and errors, but today’s porn ain’t yer grandaddy’s porn.


It’s been an evolution from Larry Flynt, who fought for First Amendment rights in multiple obscenity trials to the increasingly violent porn today’s hardened consumer requires to—stay hardened.


Today’s sex-trafficked, often highly illegal porn is the other side of the First Amendment victories we once cheered.



The object of one’s desire

I resist turning into a harridan for either side of the porn debate: Neither a Meese anti-sex fanatic nor an All sex is rape, women are uniformly brutalized feminist extreme.


The 1960s Sexual Revolution was imperfectly implemented at a time when ‘patriarchy’ was only the barest shadow of comprehension in feminist brains, so the Revolution was run and guided by men, for men. Women slowly claimed, or reclaimed, their lost sexuality and to exercise more choice and control, aided by The Pill, and later Roe v. Wade. Women were empowered to explore their own sexual desires, fantasies, and to challenge the notion that women who sleep around are ‘whores’ and men who do it are ‘studs’ (the parlance of the day).


I viewed porn like every other ‘70s teenage kid - we ‘borrowed’ my best friend’s dad’s magazines and read them in her bathroom. I saw a few porno movies in college, at the end of its ‘golden age’. Is it inherently wrong to want to see naked people having fun?


We delude ourselves thinking only men objectify, and only objectify women. Men objectify themselves and other men, as exemplified by all the super-ripped mostly naked male bodies in action movies that customarily draw more men than women.


As for saintly women, who aspires to those rail-thin bodies and big Kardashian butts they see in the media? Like, is anyone holding guns to their heads and forcing them to pass up eight meals in a row? Or jamming silicone bags into their chests in a back alley? One of my male friends a few years ago was furious when he commented on Facebook that he thought some female Canadian politician was attractive, and his female friends feministed all over him, complaining he was ‘objectifying’ her. A few months later those same women went all oogly-googly over famous world hottie Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister.


Because, you know, only men objectify.


In 2015, Barack Obama came in second to Trudeau in a Top Ten of the World’s Hottest Leaders. Sorry, Mr. President, eh?


You know what would be awesome? A BARACK OBAMA AND JUSTIN TRUDEAU MÈNAGE Á TROIS!!! Bow-mow-mow chakka bow-mow-wow! Oh shoot, I’m objectifying, aren’t I? But hey, politics just got more—exciting!

Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama looking slightly to the right
“Hey Justin, isn’t that Nicole over there? She is so hot!” “Oui, Monsieur, and she’s both American and Canadian! SHE’LL DO US BOTH!” Bow-mow-mow….Public domain image by Lawrence Jackson on Wikimedia Commons


Does porn necessarily have to be degrading?


Here’s the crux of what I see as the essential problem with porn: Eroticized domination, lodged in all human brains.


Porn depicts men dominating women sexually, as does the popular female version, spicy romance novels. Although I’ve never been a fan of the genre, I’ve read enough bodice-rippers to know that being dominated by a hot, spicy man is, well—bestselling.


Humorous fake romance book covers from the World of Longmire website


Women’s view of erotic male domination differs. In romance novels, sex and romantic love are intertwined; in porn, romance is about as welcome as Jesus and your mom standing beside your bed. Rape is ‘gray rape’ in romance novels; she wants him, can’t give ‘it’ up to him for some contrived reason, he overpowers her and ‘forces’ himself on her when in fact she really wants it. It’s the classic exoneration card for women compromised between being a slut (wanting sex) and being a virgin, i.e., a ‘good’ woman. She certainly doesn’t suffer PTSD from the resulting sexual act.


In porn, rape is depicted as - or actually is - a violent rape, devoid of emotional commitment, consent, or any sexual desire on the woman’s part. The victim has zero control over what’s happening, unlike the romance novel heroine who is usually strong or competent or spit-fiery in some way to keep the hero, a decent if imperfect man, in abeyance.


It’s the very nature of the force and humiliating conquest violent porn aficionadoes get off on. Which leads me to ask: Why would a ‘good’ man want to watch that? Even if it’s just a fantasy? What would we think about him if he confessed he liked faked videos of animals being tortured, but he loved animals and would never harm them? Would we want to date him?


Whether certain male consumers have demanded more violence or pornographers delivered it to keep consumers from getting bored or jaded by more pedestrian sex (at some point those badly-acted secret egg beater parties and ‘spontaneous’ suburban orgies begin to look all the same), the sexual domination of women by men is where the eroticism—and the malevolence—happens.


Is erotic domination always wrong? Would sex be dull without it? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. I find ‘bodice rippers’ troubling too. I suspect they indoctrinate women with desires for a strong, powerful man that may well not match his real-world counterpart, where hyper-masculinity often connects underlying insecurity expressed via violent physical abuse. In my admittedly limited experience, I don’t remember any romance novel heroes whacking the heroine around and getting rewarded with sex and love, but more experienced readers are welcome to correct me.


And so I wonder why others have to be harmed and victimized for someone’s sexual pleasure, and whether watching violent porn indoctrinates men to believe women want rape, want abuse, want to be dominated and humiliated. Given that 30% of Pornhub’s accounts are women’s, perhaps they’ve been indoctrinated to believe that’s what they should want. In Nancy Jo Sales’s book Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno, she details how a man shows her women’s ads on the very app Sales met him on. Young women claimed they wanted to be raped, choked, slapped or threatened during sex.

Is this a female kink, liberated by our evolving ‘sex positive’ culture, or have they never been properly exposed to loving, gentle, mutually satisfying examples of sexual pleasure?


‘Sex positive’ liberals, conditioned to be inclusive, accepting, and never question others’ ‘freedom’, must somewhere wonder deep down how free we are if we’re still entrapped in the undeniable appeal of violent masculinity.


Maybe my friends and I were weird or vanilla back in the day, but in our late-night jam sessions we didn’t talk about secret desires to be treated violently. In fact, we laughed at men who wanted anal sex or a threesome. “What’s up with this bisexual thing?” one would ask. “The way to kill the ‘threesome’ idea,” I observed, “is to say, ‘Sure, great! I’ve secretly wanted to do you and your best friend!”


Sales theorized that perhaps one element driving the high alcoholism rate in Millennial women is getting drunk enough to deal with the shitty, painful sex they got from hookups. Only 40% of them experienced orgasm in sex - most got it from their vibrator later.


Stripping human sexuality down to raw animal lust, as porn does, treats women—fellow human beings—as things to be fucked, disposable sex toys, beneath one’s contempt when done filling them with sperm (or jizzing on their faces), the very definition of toxic masculinity. Porn has always been primarily for pleasing men, and many don’t need that romantic love crap interfering with their desire to just fuck like bunnies without consideration for their partners’ pleasure, feelings, or even their essential humanness.


This is where we’ve arrived, fifty years after the first cum shot fired over the bow-mow-mow of the Sexual Revolution.


This is where the backlash happens, when feminism demands greater maturity, accountability and emotional understanding of one’s sexual pleasures.


But on the more sex-positive porn side, a male friend once sent me an amateur porn he thought I’d like based on conversations we’d had. Which was that what I mostly disliked about porn was how degrading to women it was.


“You’ll like this one,” he emailed me. “It’s an older groupie having sex with a cute young rock musician.” I have to admit, it was pretty hot! Just two people enjoying each other and treating each other well.


I bet it’s not very high-ranking.



‘Ethical’ ‘healthy’ porn - can it even exist?


I wrote a little about ‘ethical porn’ a few years ago.


Everyone in ethical porn is paid fair market value, and the actors and actresses agree to what they’ll do, without pressure. The sex is genuine, the female orgasms are real, and there’s a lot more of the f-word than you get in regular porn films—foreplay. What might this teach men about what a real female orgasm sounds like? Ethical porn is created for women as well as men. The sex, from what I’ve read, is joyful and playful.


The downside is it’s usually not free. Ethical porn is like Whole Foods groceries or fair trade coffee—it costs more to produce, so you have to pay for it.

It also offers more body varieties and diversity - young, old, trans, queer, folks with disabilities, different races, different body types. Everything is clearly consensual, and yes, you can even get ethical kink at kink.com. Beat me, hurt me, and we’ve got safe words unlike those filthy wankers at YouPorn!


My gut feeling is the concept of porn doesn’t have to be degrading or humiliating, and we should be able to get off without other human beings getting treated like shit.


What if ethical porn introduced healthier practices, mutual (real!) sexual pleasure, and introduced certain men to a whole new arena of sexual pleasure they’ve perhaps not experienced before—sex with someone you like or care about, even if it’s just ad hoc?


I won’t argue for a return to the sexual puritanism of yore. The traditional conservative approach to sex was as deeply disturbed as the anything-goes, let’s-not-analyze-what-we-consume-too-closely willful blindness of the modern world. Back then, people got married as much to have sex as they did because they were in love—and if they were in love, they didn’t question why, and whether that person could make them happy.


Another ugly truth the puritans don’t want to acknowledge: Human beings can’t all be pigeon-holed into lifelong monogamous unions. They aren’t all content with missionary marital sex, as exemplified by all the Republican and ‘Christian’ politicians caught having the gay sex they rail about on C-SPAN. The spectrum of human sexuality must also embrace a variety of partners and sexual practices, which is where ethical polyamory comes in: Where everyone agrees to and abides by the rules. And if anyone really wants to enjoy pain during sex, it’s BDSM with their own rules and especially ‘safe words’.


That’s where ethical sex and ethical porn meet, where I’m more willing to concede that a person who likes a little pain, degradation and humiliation may simply be exploring parts of their psyche that don’t necessarily mean they need a shrink.


In a world of eight billion people it will be many generations before patriarchal domination addicts will let anyone pry it out of their cranial folds. But it’s something to think about.


Working toward a healthier, more civilized, more mature world starts with vision. The left rightly regards itself as sex positive, but it can’t visualize a less violent, less patriarchal world without closely analyzing today’s porn and asking uncomfortable questions about what’s being produced and why, how much criminality feeds the machine, and how many enslaved human beings, including children, are suffering unspeakable horrors for someone who considers themself a ‘good’ person, who would never hurt another human being, so s/he can jack off to it.

Stern-faced woman with glasses pointing her finger at the camera
“It’s none of your business if I like sadistic egg beater orgies!” Public domain image by PourquoiPas on Pixabay

We ain’t there yet


The United Nations reports that misogyny is on the rise globally. Does graphic porn contribute to that? Experts have debated the content question for decades. Maybe it’s not that porn drives sexual aggression, but that the sexually aggressive are driven to consume it. We’ve debated video games, television, comic books and ‘penny dreadfuls’. And we still can’t agree.


Censorship is something everyone dislikes, yet excuses. Most (perhaps not NAMBLA) agree child porn is horrible and should be illegal. Does child porn drive pedophilia or are pedophiles attracted to child porn? Does anybody care? Jail them all, we say!


If you wouldn’t trust a guy to pet-sit who thinks fake kitten torture is fine only to watch, can a grander world vision include treating women like garbage to get one’s rocks off? Pornography traps liberals between a rock and a hard-on place. We worship the First Amendment, even if today’s porn looks creepily close to real-world violent assault and misogyny.


Even if we magically eliminated all porn’s human trafficking, would a woman truly be free to consent to getting forcefully penetrated in all three of her orifices if she’s desperately poor? Do we give misogyny a free pass for wanting to see something like that because now she’s ‘consenting’—well, sort of, but at least getting paid?


Porn, sex positivity and the left.


It’s complicated.




Did you like this post? Would you like to see more? I lean left of center, but not so far over my brains fall out. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a post!





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