Which is it?
On the one hand guys are getting sexually addicted to their computer screens. Davy Rothbart explains that the “fireworks and whiz-bangs” of extreme porn is to real women what an Imax 3-D movie is to a flipbook. (Though he thinks it’s a problem.)
And after a tour of college campuses, Naomi Wolf concluded that far from turbocharging women’s objectification and turning men into wild, raping beasts, Internet porn is turning men off real women.
But others have found young men becoming more romantic than their older brothers and fathers. Ninety-five percent of whom would prefer to have sex with someone they love over sex with a “hot” woman. Over half only want sex with someone they love.
What’s with the conflicting data?
When men view porn do they see women as mindless objects? Psychologist, Kurt Gray and his colleagues wanted to know.
Humans have needs, goals, emotions, the ability to act, and hopes and dreams for the future. Mere objects don’t.
So the researchers showed men pictures of women in various states of dress and undress and asked how much “agency” they had, meaning self control and the ability to plan and act. They also asked about their ability to feel fear, desire and pleasure.
The study focused on these two areas because research on the mind shows that that’s how we categorize humans.
Turns out, the more skin women reveal, the less they seem agentic, but the more they are thought to feel.
Cruising East Palo Alto in a ‘97 RAV4, rappers cussing through blown out speakers, I’m strung out looking for a fix. I need to get high. My body beaten, black eye and bloody lip. Stringy hair and lackluster skin. I need to get high. My insides are empty and dark. My spirit is long gone. I need to get high. I am looking for a lonely John who wants a cheap trick. I need to get high.
But I can’t get high anymore. I am trapped in a miserable hopeless cycle and see no way out. I have written myself off. I am destined to be a dope fiend and I accept my pathetic short life because the occasional bliss that copious amounts of drugs give me keeps me handcuffed. I have faint whispers of something different…
It wasn’t always like this.
Lovelace, staring Amanda Seyfried, comes out this weekend. Seyfried plays Linda Lovelace, a porn star who famously played a woman with a clitoris inside her throat. So she LOVES giving head in Deep Throat.
Nora Ephron checked out the film when it came out in the 70s, approaching it with an open mind. But when a hollow glass dildo was inserted inside Linda’s vagina and filled with Coca-Cola, Ephron felt both humiliated and terrified, worried the glass might break. Guys chided her for overreacting, calling the scene “hilarious.” So she asked Linda about it. Her response?
I totally enjoyed myself making the movie. I don’t have any inhibitions about sex. I just hope that everybody goes to see the film… (and) loses some of their inhibitions.
That was then. Years later Linda wrote a memoir that told a very different story, entitled, “Ordeal.”
Her ordeal began Read the rest of this entry
Some worry that the deluge of male dominance/female submission imagery in our culture helps to make sexism seem sexy, encourages women to crave their own submission and abuse, and spurs some men to abuse women.
Others are less concerned. Specifically regarding the Fifty Shades series one of my students — a fan – says,
To those feminists who are bashing the book and those of us who read it: Give us more credit! Women are not that easily influenced by a piece of poorly written fiction. At least not the women I know.
Or this from Feministing:
I’m not perplexed by (the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey). And I am in no way appalled. I am fully in support of anyone doing whatever (safe, consensual) thing that they want to do to get themselves off. Feminists for Orgasms.
Feminists for Orgasms. Pro-choice feminists. Feminists who think women have more sense than to be so easily swayed by a pornified culture that sexualizes male dominance.
And anyway, since male domination is rather of off-limits for feminists, that makes it that much more forbidden and O-inducing, right? Katie Roiphe, whose Newsweek piece on “Shades” was widely panned, has a point when she says,
What is interesting is that this material still, in our jaded porn-saturated age, manages to be titillating or controversial or newsworthy. We still seem to want to debate or interrogate or voyeuristically absorb scenes of extreme sexual submission. Even though we are, at this point, familiar with sadomasochism, it still seems to strike the culture as new, as shocking, as overturning certain values, because something in it still feels, to a surprisingly large segment of our tolerant post-sexual-revolution world, wrong or shameful.
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand sure, women should choose what they want. On the other hand, how much choice do you have when you’ve unconsciously internalized society’s way of seeing? Or, as one of my readers put it,
I find this post (on women learning to like torture) extremely frustrating because it points out an issue that bothers me so much. I have always struggled with the fact that morally (and in general) I am completely disgusted by degrading and torturing women, but when it comes to sexual fantasies, I feel completely differently. I think that this is a serious problem and needs to be addressed by my and the coming generations. I think it is perfectly fine to enjoy D/s if that’s what you’re into, however I do not think it should be subconsciously shoved into the minds of every girl growing up in our society.
And while many believe that we aren’t affected by our culture and the messages around us, we do seem to be. Sales go up for products that are advertised. Why else would companies spend mega-millions on a 30-second Super Bowl ad?
Or, a post from Feministing reads:
I am in no way surprised that many women, who have been socialized in a culture in which male sexuality is linked to domination and in which women are taught their sexual power comes from being wanted, have fantasies of submission.
And actually, “dominating men” is one of the few ways that men in our culture are eroticized at all.
Meanwhile, nearly 80% of young women have poor body image and can get distracted from sex by worries over what their bodies look like. The whole dominance/submission thing could help young women to get away from that focus and get into the sexy happenings they are engaged in.
Still, I don’t care to see abuse eroticized, whether based on gender or ethnicity. Or whether the target is children or animals. And I will continue to work against it.
But eroticized abuse is what we’ve got. And many women, including many feminists, find it arousing.
So I’ve given this a lot of thought.
While people do unconsciously internalize the messages of their society, we can also become conscious of them, which makes choice more possible. We may then choose to overcome the messages or, alternatively, compartmentalize them.
So, a woman could live an egalitarian and empowered life while keeping submission fantasies confined to the bedroom in order to neutralize the potential harm that comes from feeling — and becoming — “lesser than.” She could also do the BDSM-thing in ways that are not physically harmful.
Many who engage in D/s only do so with partners who respect them as equals and who see these “cut off from reality” moments as play.
Others keep the fantasies in their heads and don’t act them out. As one dominatrix put it,
In many cases people’s eyes are bigger than their stomachs and they prefer the fantasy to reality.
If anyone chooses to act out their fantasies I suggest avoiding anything that is actually harmful. Pain exists to warn against whatever is causing it. Those who lack pain receptors die young.
Others protest that some people deal with emotional problems by harming themselves. Like cutting. Again, cutting is not healthy. If you need that sort of release, seeing a therapist to deal with the underlying issue is healthier.
Finally, so that women don’t consistently act in ways that bolster an ideology that encourages them to submit, how about turning it around sometimes? Maybe he’d like to be dominated now and again. Or, maybe you could spend an evening with him serving your every desire.
Now that would be nice.
Do Fifty Shades of Grey, along with the deluge of violent and humiliating images that flood our consciousness, support patriarchy by making male dominance seem sexy?
Some worry that it might.
John Stoltenberg, a feminist activist and scholar, wrote a piece called “Pornography and Freedom,” observing that plenty of porn seems to promote oppression, whether a woman is pictured bound and gagged with her genitals open to the camera or whether lines from a book read, “The man wanted only to abuse and ravish her until she was broken and subservient.”
These sorts of images in both mainstream media and porn are mostly about women submitting to men.
In the eroticization, male dominance can seem sexy, he says.
If it’s sexy, who would want to end it?
A student of mine once asked why we should care about women’s equality when a lot of women (like her?) find male dominance sexy.
Two of my friends told me that they wanted to marry dominant men. One did and eventually divorced him because she didn’t like the reality of it. The other stayed married but had a lot of emotional problems.
I’ve mentioned Alisa Valdes before. She was raised feminist, and was even named one of the top feminist writers by Ms. Magazine. But when she met “the Cowboy,” she “embraced her femininity” and learned to submit: No back-talking; no second-guessing; no sarcastic, smart-ass remarks. She stayed monogamous and ignored her jealousy while Cowboy catted about. Her book, “The Feminist and the Cowboy,” suggests women will live happily ever after in orgasmic bliss if they just submit to controlling, misogynist men. In a recent post I described how her submission turned increasingly violent.
Still, my students often wonder “What’s the big deal?”
But what if the imagery were about race instead of sex? What if blacks nearly always had white lovers in real life, and at the same time nearly all of the “D/s” imagery depicted white domination and sadistic acts inflicted upon blacks? And what if some blacks came to crave submission and their own abuse at the hands of whites?
Would that be healthy?
Of course, once patriarchy sexualizes submission you can turn it around with “the dominatrix” emerging. Yet we are not bombarded with imagery that makes matriarchy sexy. So guys don’t go around wanting to marry dominant females who will boss them around in real life.
But a lot of people don’t want to engage this discussion. Repression and all that.
Prof. Robert Jensen, of the University of Texas, studies porn and says,
When I critique pornography, I am often told to lighten up. Sex is just sex… (but) Pornography offers men a politics of sex and gender – and that politics is patriarchal and reactionary…
There should be nothing surprising about the fact that some pornography includes explicit images of women in pain. But my question is: Wouldn’t a healthy society want to deal with that? Why aren’t more people, men or women, concerned? …
We should be free to talk about our desire for an egalitarian intimacy and for sexuality that rejects pain and humiliation.
I feel it is important to discuss things that are rarely discussed, and that make distinctions between what is healthy and what is not.
Next time I will turn to the other side of this question, looking at “pro-orgasm” feminists.
Men get much of their sex ed from porn, which has little to do with pleasing actual women (porn stars are acting ecstatic, after all, and the focus is often on pleasing the man). So WebMD asked reputed sex educators, Tristan Taormino and Lou Paget, to talk about some common mistakes men make. Go here to see the full text. We’ll also look at research from Cindy Meston and David Buss, who researched and wrote, Why Women Have Sex.
Men imagine that women feel something parallel to what they feel, says Paget, leaving a “huge disconnect” about what feels good to women:
When a man has intercourse with a woman, and his penis goes into her body, that sensation is so off the charts for most men, they cannot imagine that it isn’t feeling the same way for her. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
The vagina is actually less sensitive than the clitoris and the surrounding parts for most women.
And a vibrator can help. So don’t be insulted, thinking something is wrong if that’s what she needs, say the authors. “Some women can’t have an orgasm with less than 3,000 rpm, so think of a vibrator as your assistant, not your substitute.”
But many men continue to believe that women should be able to reach orgasm from vaginal penetration. Taormino says:
I still get letters from people who say things like, my wife can’t [orgasm] from intercourse unless she has clitoral stimulation — please help. I want to write back and say, ‘OK, what’s the problem?’
And then there’s the myth that bigger is better. It all depends. Length is great for women who enjoy having their cervix stimulated, say Meston and Buss. But the same stimulation can be painful for other women. And if the penis is too long, “it feels like you’re getting punched in the stomach,” Paget explains. “It makes you feel nauseous.” Still others feel neither pleasure nor pain—and often not much of anything.
Generally speaking, width is more important than length. But depending on the woman, some prefer larger and some smaller.
And men should not assume they know what a woman wants based upon what other women have wanted. Taormino points out that:
You develop a repertoire as you mature sexually, but you should never assume that what worked for the last person is going to work for this person.
So open the lines of communication and ask what feels good. But consider: If you constantly ask her if she’s coming, do you really think she will? The badgering can move her from erotic to just feeling pressured. So don’t overdo it.
And finally, let her know how gorgeous and sexy she is. That’s one of the biggest turn-ons a woman can get.
I’ve mused over why so many women want Fifty Shades of Grey. Some may crave a brief escape from the power and responsibility of their lives. Others may fetishize their own disempowerment. Random happenings may play a role. And certainly, a media blitz that eroticizes the degradation and torture of women can end up living in women’s own heads.
Some stick to fantasy and role-play. Others come to accept, or even crave, their own abuse.
Alisa Valdes was raised a feminist but eventually learned to submit when she met “the Cowboy.” What began as obedience turned violent, as when he:
dragged me down the hall to the bedroom, bent me over, and took me, telling me as he did so that I must never forget who was in charge.
The violence escalated and she eventually leapt from a moving truck, fearing he would kill her.
Or, I read this on the feminist blog, Jezebel:
“Hit me. Harder. Hard.” …
I slapped her as hard as I could. She made a noise, like crying but also like a hot intake of breath. She nodded. I did it again, a little less hard. I could see her face darkening and didn’t want to leave a mark. My hand stung. I assumed her face hurt more… As we fucked increasingly hard, she made noises I didn’t know. I took them as cues, so I would slap her as hard as I could, as hard as she seemed to want.
Another woman posted this comment on my blog:
However, as far as the violent sex goes, I will admit being one of those women who enjoys it.
I also know from experience, however, that violent sex is addicting and only induces more desire for increased violence, which almost became borderline physically dangerous sometimes.
We experience pain for a reason. It is a warning to stop whatever we are doing because it is harming us. People who lack pain receptors die young.
Does this eroticization teach women to crave their own abuse? Almost like a backlash to a movement that teaches men not to abuse and that teaches women they don’t have to take it?
A counterblast to a society that now provides women’s shelters, hot lines and mandatory arrest? Maybe we can get you to crave your own abuse, without complaint?
That’s one of my worries about the Dominance/submission trend, which includes the appeal of Fifty Shades.
In my next post in this series, I’ll look at how sexualizing male dominance keeps male dominance sexy. After that I’ll consider the other side: pro-orgasm feminism that wants women to cum, however they cum.
Every day, girls are kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. Stella Marr was attending Columbia University, working to make a good life for herself and escape the abuses of home. But the more she succeeded, the more violent her mother became. Her mom finally kicked her out of the house. A friend knew a friend who needed a roommate. But when she got to the apartment three men beat and raped her and locked her in a tiny room with no window. Next, they forced her into prostitution. Men bought her for sex, and some who knew she was enslaved didn’t care.
Not so long ago, even Osaka’s Mayor, Toru Hashimoto, excused sex slavery – at least in times of war — explaining that soldiers need “comfort women”:
When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort women system.
Then there are men who kidnap girls for their own uses. Like Cleveland’s Ariel Castro who was arrested last month for locking three young women in his house — even chaining them in his basement in the early years — while he emotionally, physically and sexually abused them.
And right now trial has begun in the Bay Area over the gang rape of a 16-year-old Richmond girl who was lured by a “friend” who saw her walking home early from a high school dance. The girl was “slapped, punched, kicked, robbed, urinated on, groped and raped by both people and objects,” according to a news report. As many as 20 men were involved. Some laughed and took pictures. The ringleader said he wanted to “pimp her out.” Her enslavement was more short-lived, but nearly fatal.
Do these men have no sense of women as human beings? Are they mere objects that exist to sexually satiate men?
Instead of living fulfilling, growing lives, developing their potential and creating bonds with family and friends, these women are kept in small, dark rooms, beaten and raped. They are denied health care. Some are starved. One of the women Castro kidnapped was starved and beaten to induce miscarriages — from five pregnancies. About three quarters of Japan’s sex slaves died, while survivors were often left infertile from trauma or from STDs.
Kris Mohandie, a forensic psychologist who works with long-term kidnapping cases says, “These are some of the most catastrophic kinds of experiences a human being can be subjected to.”
He also says that when a man abducts a woman for his own personal pleasure — and for her pain — he has “had longstanding fantasies of capturing, controlling, abusing and dominating women.”
And that, in turn, comes out of a pornified culture that objecifies women and ties eroticism to their abuse.
You don’t find sexuality and violence tied together in every culture. Indians of America’s east coast were free from that sort of violence when Europeans first arrived. The Arapesh still don’t “get” rape.
But inside of violent, objectifying porn cultures, some men both find violence against women arousing and enact their fantasies in real life.
All the more likely when women are seen as mere objects that don’t deserve empathy as a result of objectification.
Violent pornography is also correlated with both aggressive behavior and men becoming more callus toward women who are sexually assaulted, says Robert Johnson of the University of Texas.
But the whole culture has become pornified, so it’s not just pornography that’s at fault. As Slippery Rock University’s women’s studies director observed about the Ariel Castro case:
Sadly, in a world that endlessly replicates and sexualizes male domination of women, I am not surprised that this “fantasy” narrative has been literalized. Though there are doubtless myriad factors that contributed to this nightmare crime, I hope that one positive outcome is broader critical analyses of how pornography normalizes the domination and degradation of women in pervasive and damaging ways.
Some wonder why we don’t talk about this. Maybe because critiques of violent, degrading porn seem anti-sex. But there are plenty of non-violent and non-degrading ways to enjoy sex!
We should not ignore the effects porn can have on a man’s self-image. I knew a man who was unconfident because his erection was “only 17cm long” (around 7″) and he could last “only up to 20 minutes.” When I asked what he thought was normal, he said in porn everyone had a foot-long penis and could keep going for an hour on end.
I asked whether it had occurred to him that if a normal woman were penetrated for an hour by a foot-long object, she would most certainly end up in the emergency room.
He was dumbfounded.
That’s a blog comment from Natalie, to which a Mark responded:
It is absolutely true that if men are holding women to a higher level of expectation in sexual performance, men are also holding themselves to a higher level of expectation. Yes, men are also conditioned to think that they need to have a monster-sized penis and last for several hours without ejaculating.
A lot of men find themselves competing with porn stars and coming up short. Besides huge cocks men may have to compete with idealized physiques.
On the other hand, plenty of “ugly” male stars manage to get “perfect” looking women. The “ugly” stars are hired to help Average Joe feel like he really can get that girl on screen: “If she likes sex with him she’ll looove sex with me!” But when Average Joe can’t nab Miss Perfect he may wonder what’s wrong.
Upping the ante, porn stars come every time. What if Average Joe can’t? And what if his partner, Average Jane, can’t either? And when she does, it takes more time than expected.
And, why don’t the same moves that “work” in porn work on all of his partners? And why don’t they all love threesomes, orgies, anal, facials, swallowing, bondage… In porn women are always horny and just need a man to satisfy them.
Now add on guy-talk. As WebMd put it:
When men do talk, they often puff themselves up to their peers. Less apt than women to discuss their insecurities and more inclined to exaggerate their exploits, men paint distorted pictures of their sex lives for one another.
So it seems like everyone else gets more exciting sex, more often, and with more partners.
Most people want pleasure and connectedness from sex. But then feel short-changed if their sex lives aren’t porn-worthy.
Maybe we’d be happier if we remembered what we really want.
Cross-posted at The Good Men Project.