Does Pornography Promote Male Domination?

adults-only

I take it that the debate on pornography and its effect on society is at least a few centuries old. There have always been a certain group of people vying to define what is ‘good’ and to control what the others should or shouldn’t see. I’ve never given much thought to the matter, but have always leaned towards the ‘free expression’ and ‘free thought’ side. If a bunch of people want to see porn, then they must have the choice to do so, I used to think.

Until this weekend, when I watched a video that made me think a little. It speaks about how pornography affects our minds. Here’s the link to it.

I listed the ten main points that the speaker makes in his speech, along with short notes of my own feelings and opinion.

1. Porn changed my private fantasies. I agree with this. Though I don’t have a scientific study backing up this sentence, from experience, I can admit that my fantasies before porn were not as angry or as violent as they are now. Whether watching porn made the difference or whether it is simply an act of ‘growing up’, I’m not sure. But I’m willing to consider this as a strong possibility.

2. By watching porn, we feed the industry. There is no possible debate about this. An interesting thing I learnt from watching this video is that the word ‘pornography’ means ‘documented prostitution’.

3. Porn is about male sexual domination. Not all of it, I will admit, but the vast majority of it is. Even the mildest versions of pornography have elements of female subservience. There is some erotica out there – typically shot by women – that emphasize equality of the genders, but it’s extremely rare.

4. ‘Sex with no hands’ is not the natural way we fantasize. Once again, from a personal perspective, I agree. My natural fantasies before porn were ‘tamer’, had a strong sense of narrative, and resembled real life more.

5. The things we watch affect us. This is hard to sometimes accept, but it’s true. Even if it’s something that we don’t agree with or even like very much, continued exposure will affect the way we think. While I consider myself to be intelligent and able to ‘separate fantasy from reality’, I’m intelligent enough to admit that I’m susceptible to brainwashing.

6. The messages of porn. For men, it’s whether you’re well-endowed. For women, if you have to be worthy of love, first and foremost, you have to be worthy of sexual desire. And in today’s world, being worthy of sexual desire is to be ‘like a porn star’. This is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that we get most of our sex-ed from watching porn.

7. Wherever there is demand, there is supply. No debate here. When we watch porn, we create demand for it, and unwittingly breathe life into a multi-billion-dollar industry that thrives on human trafficking, rape and prostitution.

8. The concept of emotionally safe sex. We sometimes focus so heavily on physically safe sex that we forget our emotions. Sex needs to be emotionally safe for both (or all) participants. In an ideal case, neither of them should look back at the experience with negative emotions such as guilt, regret, anger, sadness…but at the very least, there shouldn’t be gender hierarchy in sex – the kind of hierarchy porn promotes.

9. The need to talk. Silence breeds silence. Talking breeds understanding, identification, awareness, and hopefully change. We shun talking because of two reasons: shame and the fear of conflict. These are not paltry fears, and it can be hard to rise above them. But we must, because the alternative is that none of us understand one another.

10. Fantasy and reality. A common response to ‘porn fears’ of this sort is that people are generally able to differentiate between fantasy and reality. That may be true for those of us who came to internet porn relatively late in our lives. But what of kids today, who go seeking it (with or without our knowledge) starting from age ten?

Here’s another video I watched, which spoke of how modern pornography is different to porn in the ‘Playboy’ era, among other things.

The big question, of course, is that besides taking a personal stance against pornography, do we have the right to police what our kids do and don’t see? On one side we have the argument that ‘they’re my kids, I will decide what they will see’, and on the other, there is the ‘free expression’ argument which says that you should expose them to everything and let them decide.

What are your views on the subject? Do you think there is something inherently ‘bad’ in pornography, in the kind of messages it carries? Or do you think that it’s freedom of expression and occupation, and that in the world of free markets, if there is a demand, it ought to be made?

Image Courtesy: Yenyewe

Comments

  1. I was nodding at every pointer you have mentioned here Sharath. SEX on the whole is actually a wonderful experience which I feel is showcased in a gory manner through porn. Also one of the points in which you mentioned that we cannot keep an eye on what one is watching but can provide free access and let children analyze the rest. Here I feel that every parent is well aware about the intellectual alias understanding level of their kids and hence can accordingly decide whether to directly allow access to them and let them analyze or sit down and have an open communication about this topic.

    Please correct me if I am wrong. I recently read a report by the American Psychological Research Institution who conducted tests on a group of people and studied the effects of watching porn on their pattern of intercourse with their partners. It was observed that these people followed a far more sensuous pattern of sexual activity before watching porn while they were more rigorous after watching porn.

    In the first place they were both mentally and physically attached in the exercise while in the second pattern they were merely trying to imitate porn actions which resulted in loss of interest in sex ultimately couples parting ways. Watching porn ain’t a crime however it depends upon every individual to refrain it from intruding in personal lives.

    And yes another point that truly hit me is about female subservience. Major of the porn industry prominently revolves around showcasing male domination rather than involvement of both sexes which is what people try to implicate in real lives and this is indeed harmful. Porn is a well established industry and has already strengthened its maze massively. Hence I feel proper channel and an open communication pattern will definitely help people in taking this in a healthier manner.

    Sorry for the long comment…but sincerely I loved this topic and the way you have put it across….

    Regards

    Disha Prashant.

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    • Hi Disha,

      Thank you for the comment. I didn’t realize I haven’t replied to this. I remember writing out something in response and submitting it, but it may have gotten stuck in the ether somewhere. Sorry about that.

      Interesting points you bring up about how watching porn affects our sexual behaviour. There’s no doubt that the things we watch affect our daily lives. If we were truly as good as some people claim at separating fantasy from reality, TV advertising would not be so expensive, and movie stars would not be so rich.

      I agree with you when you say the only way forward is to at least begin talking about the issue, especially here in India. We don’t have any formal sex-ed, and most of our education in this regard comes from media and pornography. Both distort real issues into fantasies in order to sell us stuff. The only way is to coach ourselves to ignore these images and strive to spread the message of sex needing to be both physically and emotionally safe for both partners.

      And don’t worry about long comments. All bloggers love long comments. I’m no exception 🙂

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  2. I do agree with everything you say here. And also to the above comment. Porn is a choice and there is nothing like good porn or bad porn. I remember an aunt of mine banning internet in her house just to be sure that her teenage son doesn’t watch porn. Also a friend’s house had the computer displayed right next to the TV in the hall so that the parents can see what their children are doing. It is all crazy, because home is not the first place where people would like to watch porn. Its the curiosity here and nothing. At a certain age, both girls and boys explore their sexuality. And porn comes as a break through.

    Male dominated porn is again very debatable. Mostly because it is men who watch porn and they like to feel superior when they see a woman succumbing to them. I am not not saying that girls don’t watch porn, but I’m sure the number is much lesser when it comes to the boys. I say this is debatable because the same guys then panic to approach doctors citing that the “size” in the video was much bigger then theirs!

    Imitating porn is something else all together. A show comes on TLC called ‘Sex landed me in the ER’, you should watch it 🙂

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    • Hi Soumya,

      Yes, my biggest worry is that in a country like India, twelve-year-old ‘curious’ boys and girls may be looking to porn for their sex education. If it has such a lasting influence on those of us who have come to it in adulthood, how much must it warp the minds of preteens who are trying to wrap their minds around concepts such as intimacy and sex? Can we afford to allow our children to be educated on such an important subject by such a terribly biased and unrealistic medium?

      But the on the other side is the ‘free expression’ argument, which says that anything that has a market ought to be produced and the consumer must be smart enough to choose well. If he isn’t, well, it’s his loss.

      The more I think about this, the more I’m finding myself leaning towards the ‘porn is bad, period’ side. If that sounds like thought-policing, well, so be it. Porn does thought policing too in its own way, doesn’t it?

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  3. > 2. By watching porn, we feed the industry. There is no possible debate about this. An interesting thing I learnt from watching this video is that the word ‘pornography’ means ‘documented prostitution’.

    You seem to be implying prostitution and pornography are inherently bad or oppressive or exploitative. Assuming everyone involved is participating voluntarily (if they are not then it isn’t prostitution or pornography – it’s slavery) what’s the problem?

    Porn/ prostitution are both industries which allow uneducated women to earn an income. Many young women (including western middle class women) put themselves through college by modelling (with or without clothes), doing webcams or working as prostitutes.

    There are far more opportunities and far better pay for women than men in these industries. In the sex industry (and modelling industry) women are literally valued (and paid) for just being women. Yet this is generally portrayed as exploitation or even oppression.

    Consider a woman working in a strip club. She values the (mostly male) cliental as a means to an end. To her they are little more than walking wallets. By contrast they value her as a woman, with desires and emotions and needs. They come not only to see sexy young women, but to see and interact with women who show a sexual and emotional interest in them (even if it is all act, as everyone is aware). Generally men are turned on by women who appear to desire them and that is why men desire eye contact. The thought of a sexy young women desiring a man turns a man on.

    So the question is in a strip club who is objectifying who the most?

    If the men were replaced by robots the stripper is not going to mind (as long as they pay up). But if the women were replaced with robots the men are not going to be as aroused and they will miss the human interaction and eye contact.

    These are subjects where the feminist narrative of ‘male oppression, male exploitation and objectification of women’ has dominated for decades. But when you actually think about these issues the truth often seem to be the opposite of what feminists claim.

    > 3. Porn is about male sexual domination. Not all of it, I will admit, but the vast majority of it is. Even the mildest versions of pornography have elements of female subservience. There is some erotica out there – typically shot by women – that emphasize equality of the genders, but it’s extremely rare.

    Do you understand the difference between domination/ subservience and oppression/ enslavement?

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    • Hi Curiosetta,

      Thanks for the comment. I get the point you’re making, that if prostitution is voluntary, what is wrong with it? I agree with that. But in the vast majority of cases, women are forced into prostitution due to various reasons. As the speaker in the clip that I shared says, no woman grows up wanting to be a prostitute. And there’s a lot of research backing up the claim that prostitution, in practice, is not about freedom of occupation or choice or expression, but about human trafficking and control of women.

      So in an ideal world where sex is just a commodity which can be traded between individuals for money, I have no problem with prostitution. But what happens in reality is far removed from theory.

      The way I see domination and oppression: when one group of people believe themselves to be superior to another group and begin to dominate over them, oppression/enslavement of the latter is the result.

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      • > But in the vast majority of cases, women are forced into prostitution due to various reasons. As the speaker in the clip that I shared says, no woman grows up wanting to be a prostitute

        I’m sorry but I don’t understand the distinction. Aren’t we all forced into doing various jobs due to various reasons? (ie the need to survive!)

        What man wants to grow up to be a garbage collector or meat packer or factory worker?

        What makes prostitution different to any other job? Lots of people hate their jobs and treat them just as a means to an end. Some people enjoy their jobs enormously, or enjoy certain aspects of their jobs, and choose their job over other job opportunities which are available to them.

        I think sex work covers all of these bases, some sex workers enjoy it, some hate it and some just prefer it to other work which is available to them. Like most jobs it is a mixture of pros and cons ….. and there are always better/ worse jobs out there.

        There seems to be this attitude that if a woman prostitute is only having sex because of the money she must be being exploited or oppressed.

        That’s like saying if the bus driver is only driving the bus because of the money he must be being exploited and oppressed.

        But most people would not do their job if it weren’t for the fact that they are getting PAID to do it. We are all prostitutes in this respect.

        > And there’s a lot of research backing up the claim that prostitution, in practice, is not about freedom of occupation or choice or expression, but about human trafficking and control of women.

        Human/ sex trafficking is just a more PC term for white slavery. White women have been the least enslaved and the most privileged group throughout history. Part of that privilege means being able to put your group’s comfort safety and security high on the list of ‘important issues of social concern’.

        And while human/ sex trafficking does exist (even if it is overhyped in the media) it is only made worse by confusing it with prostitution and keeping prostitution illegal, thus driving it underground. Even prostitutes argue against the whole human/sex trafficking hype (check out the blog The Honest Courtesan).

        > So in an ideal world where sex is just a commodity which can be traded between individuals for money, I have no problem with prostitution. But what happens in reality is far removed from theory.

        So any issue you have is with the ‘initiation of force’ (coercion, violence, theft etc), and not prostitution itself. That’s a perfectly reasonable attitude.

        But why only single out prostitution and not all the other occupations and transactions that are occasionally troubled by coercion and violence?

        Nightclub bouncers and security staff are occasionally assaulted, or caught in the crossfire. Medical first responders are occasionally killed, injured or verbally abused while doing their job – and they are at risk of contracting diseases and infections due to the intimate and often ‘messy’ nature of their work (as are hospital workers).

        Police and military workers are sometimes put in harms way and often forced to protect and serve the interests of criminals, mafias, tyrants and fascist regimes – often resulting in their deaths by the million.

        The reality of all jobs is often far removed from an ideal world, because the world is rarely ideal.

        Sorry, I do not mean to have a dig at you – I’m just noticing how these attitudes are so well and truly baked into our culture. I just find it interesting to deconstruct them.

        I think our default attitudes towards sex workers (which usually refers to women sex workers) says a lot about out attitudes towards women generally.

        (Female) sex workers’ health, happiness and wellbeing is definitely considered more important than that of miners, soldiers, firemen, police, factory workers etc most of whom are men.

        FWIW 20 men die a work related death for every woman, yet occupations which put men in danger (or actually harm men) are not made illegal.

        Sex work is one occupation where women have far more opportunities and earn significantly more than men for the same work, yet it is also the one occupation deemed the most exploitative and oppressive to women. How does that work?

        > The way I see domination and oppression: when one group of people believe themselves to be superior to another group and begin to dominate over them, oppression/enslavement of the latter is the result.

        My point was that (in the context of sex and relationships) domination/ submissiveness is consensual, whereas oppression and enslavement are violently imposed.

        To submit to a man (or a woman) is a voluntary act. It has nothing to do with being oppressed.

        In human relationships (as well as cliched kinky role play) when someone chooses to engage in submissive or subservient behaviour they force the other person to take the dominant role. That dominant role includes looking out for the interests of the submissive who has effectively become helpless and inert like a doll (an object).

        Thus making oneself weak, submissive, refusing to have agency and generally behaving like a precious doll or a delicate flower is an effective way of forcing the other person in the relationship to be perpetually alert to your needs and wants, and even to put your needs and wants above their own.

        For this reason submissiveness can actually be a very effective form of dominance. It is especially effective on men and it is a key component of the so called ‘patriarchy’ and feminism ….. which are really two sides of the same coin.

        According to patriarchy/ feminism women are weak, pathetic, submissive, victims with no agency and no power… whereas men are strong powerful, dominating and privileged and in control.

        One result of this narrative is we end up paying far more attention to women’s needs and wants than men’s. And we end up directing far more of our attention, sympathy and resources towards women’s comfort, wellbeing, safety and security than we do towards men’s comfort, wellbeing, safety and security.

        Statistically speaking, men are far more likely to die at work, be assaulted in public. Men commit suicide more. Men are as likely to be victims of domestic abuse as women and are almost as likely to be rape victims as women. Men have always been expected (and often forced at gunpoint) to die in wars by the millions…. etc etc. And yet the very idea of men as victims is for most people a rather alien concept.

        And whether a man pays a woman for the privilege of sex with her by buying her dinner/ jewellery/ theatre tickets or by leaving money on the bedside table on his way out the feminist/ patriarchy narrative insists woman are the poor second class citizens and men are the privileged and dominant group.

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      • That’s an excellent comment, Curiosetta. I found myself nodding along to many of the things you said. Let me give you short replies:

        1. I don’t think prostitution as a profession is bad. I did live for extensive periods of time in my life in two countries – one of them in which it was legal and the other in which it was illegal. The former had your argument, the latter had mine. Though I see the merit in your point, I think we must accept that the point of view I put across is also true.

        2. I agree with all the things you said about men’s rights being ignored in the feminist debate. I myself wrote a few posts called ‘Feminist Counterpoints’ where I voice the same concerns as you do here.

        3. You say women are considered weak and men are considered strong according to patriarchy. But there is one aspect in which men are truly strong and women are truly weak. Physical strength. An average man can in most cases physically overpower an average woman. And this overpowering can easily slip over into sexual territory.

        4. ‘To submit to a man is a voluntary, consensual act’. I agree with this too, but only in theory. What is happening in reality, I think, is that since women are considering themselves to be sexual objects, they do agree to men’s demands in the bedroom out of fear or insecurity more than enthusiasm. Not suggesting here that submission and consensual BDSM don’t exist, but I think what I said happens more often. Hence the point about ’emotionally safe’ sex.

        5. I take your point that no one grows up to be a cab driver or a garbage collector either, but someone has to do those jobs too. I see that you’re effectively saying that a prostitute’s disenchantment with her job is no different to a software engineer’s with his. That’s an interesting thought. I will have to go away and think about it.

        Thank you again for commenting 🙂

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  4. “Nudity is natural” isn’t it “Honor is wrapped” in dictated set norms? why to label or stereotype it, it’s a choice for profession or choice to watch. We have KS, Khujraho caves ancient work on issue on Human Sexuality.We regressed it, sex education & porn influences over Human Mind, it’s very complex issue to explore.We say western influences majorly, pornographic industry & over sensual media has corrupted young generations, offshoot of Human-trafficking etc like mentioned in above comments too is apathy.
    But if we are only discussing Human Sexuality, than don’t regress it within set parameters. Sexuality concept has gone beyond far from Homosexuality, Heterosexuality to Asexual trends.
    Reg your point here in the post, The Concept of Emotionally safe sex is a good mention.
    P.S. your blog posts are like sharpening tool for creative minds, to think, to deliberate & to profess.Thank you for that 🙂 Good Wishes.

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  5. Hi Ruchi,

    Thank you. Comments like yours also add to the discussion and ‘sharpening’. So please weigh in whenever something I write stimulates you enough.

    I think education on human sexuality is great. I just find it worrying that many people today are taking cues for real life sexuality from mainstream porn, which is not designed to be educational. Most of porn is created to titillate the male mind. There are elements of anger and violence to most modern pornography, which isn’t there (or shouldn’t be there) in most real intimate situations.

    I’m happy with KS and Khajuraho because it doesn’t preach domination of one gender over the other.

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