Hive Mind

An open mind with a strict door policy

A Short Word About Porn: Good

Making sense of pornography

Karnataka Carvings
We never had any of this flith in the good old days
The myth of the coy female.

Cats are out of bags. Chickens have come home to roost. Genies have escaped their bottles and are unwilling to be coaxed back inside. This just in: Women are not coy, passive, recipients of male sexual ardour. They are active creators and managers of their own sexuality. How do I know this? Porn. Oodles of it. Made by women.

Any links illustrating this would be very clearly not safe for work. However, perhaps you have an idle curiosity about the phenomenon? So, can I suggest—and I can’t emphasise the not-at-work aspect enough here--Googling as a starting point Our Porn Ourselves? Other good things can be found in the work of feminist pornographers like Petra Joy or Anna Arrowsmith. This latter film maker appeared on BBCs flagship current affairs program, Newsnight last night discussing this issue and inspired this blog post (1).

Goat love
Has pornography become more extreme? You be the judge
British Museum
The internet is a window into human nature. We are being given the chance to get much closer than we would have guessed to reading one another’s minds. As a student of human nature—this makes my job all the more interesting. Is what we see in there always nice? No. Some would like to ban fantasies—hide them away. Some even make a spurious connection linking fantasy to reality. We had better all hope that this is not true. Think about how many times you have fantasised about killing your boss. Did you do it? Did you appear to know the difference between fantasy and planning? Are you happy about others policing those thoughts?

The horror! The horror!

Pornography is fantasy. Are some fantasies disturbing? You bet. The internet has afforded us an insight into how others see the world and their relationship to it. What some people, apparently consensually, allow to happen to them can be stomach churning. Brace yourself: Justin Bieber was not the creation of some evil Machiavellian record company executive. The truth is far more horrific: Bieber was the result of grass roots opinion from tweenagers sharing him and his drippy non-threatening mulch. Because--they individually liked him. Apparently, Justin Bieber is what is naturally found inside a tweenager’s head. Think about that for a second. Shudder. Even a hardened researcher into human nature sometimes experiences a chill down the spine. But, down these mean streets a scientist must go.

Bottom up.

Similar grass roots support generates much of the massive amount of pornographic content on the net. Frankly, I am amazed that anyone manages to make money at it given the amount of amateur content. Fifty Shades of Grey was originally fan fiction about the Twilight characters and there is an awful lot of that stuff out there. Slash fiction—starring famous folk (usually men) in highly sexualised encounters is written almost exclusively by women (2). Objectification? Read what this lady (3) would like to happen to the cookie monster—and he is an actual object.

Liberal access to porn is good for society in general but particularly so for women. There are many studies about this but I am just going to mention one because it gives us the closest we get in social science to a controlled experiment. In the Czech Republic, after the fall of communism, the iron grip of authority was relaxed. This also meant more liberal access to porn as well as laxer crime suppression generally. Crime rates in every single area except sex crime—all types of them-- increased (4).

It is highly plausible that fantasy can function as an outlet for desire. Steve Pinker (5) has recently documented how violence—including sexual violence--has been decreasing across the board. Has consumption of violent fantasy decreased? Quite the reverse. Violent video is everywhere but violent crime has gone down. Now, as we all dutifully teach our stats students, “correlation is not causation”. Sure, but it’s highly suggestive all the same. We should think long and hard about what the consequences of trying to ban fantasy might be given that porn and rape are inversely correlated (11, 12).

Safe, sane and consensual

And at the same time, we really need to stop thinking that we automatically know what is good for others—especially when those others are consenting adults. I was on a panel discussion about porn with anti-porn activist Julie Bindel and porn actor Ben Garrett earlier this year (6). Bindel simply could not fathom how some folk could enjoy the things that were depicted in some of the porn she had seen. She thereby concluded that it must therefore be coerced. Suggesting to her that if she really believed this she should be telling the police, not a sex researcher and some students, did not go down well.

Merely having porn actors themselves telling her that these were consensual acts was not, apparently, enough. Well, we have to grow up. If I cannot understand how others enjoy something then it’s for me to change my theory of the way the world works—not for the world to bend around me. As Richard Feynman memorably put it about unpopular theories of the world, “if you don’t like it: go somewhere else” (7).

Is fantasy always good? Definitely not. While people can certainly learn things from porn it’s not typically a good place to learn sexual technique. I also wouldn’t teach a self-defence class using Jackie Chan videos. The problem comes when people cannot distinguish fantasy from reality and if our young people are going to porn for their sex education then we, the grown-ups, have let them down. The solution is for us to teach them properly—but that would mean owning up about ourselves—particularly our sexual selves. Are we ready for that? Some are clearly not. Cindi Gallup’s excellent Make Love Not Porn campaign speaks to this need (8).

“Like so many contemporary philosophers he especially enjoyed giving helpful advice to people who were happier than he was” (Tom Lehrer)

Well, the puritans are back. It’s a myth to think that sexual liberalisation is always steadily increasing. I think the likely technical reason for this is that humans are always running interference on one another’s sexual strategies, and no set of strategies is in a completely stable equilibrium. The puritan sexual strategy is to try to control others sexuality—typically through guilt, fear, and misinformation. Sometimes, mutilation is used as well—more on this in a subsequent blog. Puritans always start with the same old cry “won’t somebody please think of the children?” and then move on to spurious claims about harm to others or society. Eager to noisily display their particular sexual strategy to the world the puritan is willing to make up harms--as documented in exhaustive detail by the excellent Brooke Magnanti (9) and Maggie McNeil (10). If the puritans were serious about harm to children they would spear-head proper realistic sex education. They won’t. Don’t be fooled.

Women—don’t let them take your fantasies away.

 

1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b038m8yb/Newsnight_14_08_2013/ Newsnight programme interviewing many pornographers.

2) Salmon, C., & Symons, D. (2001). Warrior lovers: Erotic fiction, evolution and female sexuality. Yale University Press.

3) http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8579786/1/Cookies-Like-Crack fan slash fiction starring cookie monster

4) Diamond, M., Jozifkova, E., & Weiss, P. (2011). Pornography and sex crimes in the Czech Republic. Archives of sexual behavior, 40(5), 1037-1043.

5) Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature: The decline of violence in history and its causes. Penguin.

6) https://twitter.com/SammyJRyan/status/306846765129269249/photo/1 Picture of the porn panel with Benedict Garrett, myself and Julie Bindel. The porn star is the one on the far left.

7) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0E7I6pRb8U Richard Feynman: If you don’t like: Go somewhere else

8) http://makelovenotporn.com/ Cindi Gallup Make Love Not Porn campaign

9) http://belledejour-uk.blogspot.co.uk/ Brooke Magnanti’s excellent blog where she debunks many of the common myths about sex. Her book goes into even more detail

10) http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/ Maggie McNeil's excellent blog from the frontline of sex work

11) Ferguson, C. J., & Hartley, R. D. (2009). The pleasure is momentary… the expense damnable?: The influence of pornography on rape and sexual assault. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14(5), 323-329.

12) Kendall, T. (2006). Pornography, rape, and the internet.

 

Robert James King, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork, in Ireland.
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