Homo Consumericus

The nature and nurture of consumption

Men: Reject Porn and Embrace 'Positive' Erotica?

Porn is bad. Positive erotica is good. Really?

Pornography is a “hot button” topic that stirs up heated debates. Some view it as nothing more than a commercially successful product that caters to evolved triggers of human sexuality, while others blame it for endless social ills (e.g., increased divorce rate, violence against women, hyper-sexualized adolescents, sexual addiction). Individuals who belong to the latter anti-porn group often propose that while hardcore pornography is inherently violent, sexist, misogynistic, and a manifestation of patriarchal oppression, positive erotica is an alternative and perfectly acceptable form of visual depictions of sexuality. Accordingly, such individuals propose that men ought to be “taught” to prefer positive erotica and in so doing reject the evil pulls of pornography. In today’s post, I tackle this pervasive position of the anti-pornography camp. Interested readers might wish to check out my earlier articles on pornography here and here. For another take on the pornography versus erotica issue, see a post by my fellow PT blogger Leon F. Seltzer here.

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Prior to delving into the topic, let me preemptively state that I am not a crusader for pornography. I don’t have a vested personal interest in the matter, rather this is a wonderful opportunity to discuss the false assumptions inherent to the blank slate premise (see Pinker, 2002), and how it manifests itself in the consumer context. Proponents of the tabula rasa notion view the human mind as an empty chalkboard on which socialization forces write the materials to be learned. Viewed from this perspective, hardcore pornography is a means by which men are socialized about “negative” sexuality. If the mind is a blank slate then prior “bad” learning can be erased and new lessons can be internalized (e.g., men could first unlearn their penchant for hardcore pornography and could then be taught to prefer positive erotica by the arbiters of taste and morality).

Pornographers are not in the business of creating products that seek to demean and denigrate people. They are also not in the business of engaging in “arbitrary and sexist” socialization regarding human sexuality. Their goal is to create products that make money. Products that are congruent with our human nature will prove to be commercially successful. Accordingly, to the extent that there are sexual dimorphisms when it comes to human sexuality, we should expect that each sex might find various sex-related products more or less arousing. Positive erotica (and romance novels) might be a highly successful product offering when targeting women but it is not the means by which men are maximally (sexually) titillated. A movie that consists of two hours of sensual discussion whilst looking into each other’s eyes (with Kenny G serving up the ambient music), that culminates in an aesthetically pleasing and artistic depiction of lovemaking is not what straight and/or gay men look for when viewing pornographic movies. Note that I referred to men’s sexual orientation in the previous sentence precisely because this dispels the notion that pornographers are part of a cabal of patriarchal gender oppression. Gay porn is no different in its structure, form, and content than its heterosexual counterpart (see Salmon & Diamond, 2012 for a content analysis of both genres of films). Hence, if pornography is meant to demean women then it must also be in the business of demeaning gay men. Of course, the veridical position is that that both gay and straight porn have one thing in common: they cater to specific aspects of male sexuality. The sex of the participants might be different across the two genres but the target audience in both instances consists of men. Interested readers might wish to check out my discussion of the evolutionary roots of pornography in my books The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature. See also my recent TED talk and Reason TV interview, both of which offer overviews of my work in the evolutionary consumption area.

People have a universal preference for rich foods, as this is a gustatory adaptation to the ancestral threats of caloric scarcity. This is why the most successful global restaurant chains sell fatty foods (e.g., juicy burgers and fried chicken) and not grass juice and raw celery. In the same way that people cannot be taught to unlearn their penchant for tasty rich foods and instead be taught to prefer raw tofu, social engineers cannot dictate the products that men and women should find sexually arousing. Human minds are not passive and infinitely malleable receptacles prone to any form of socialization and learning. Successful marketers are well aware of this reality. Ideologues, including some academics in the ivory tower, have much to learn!

I do hope that readers with an ideological bent against pornography will refrain from posting comments accusing me of being a paid consultant for the porno industry! Let’s stay civil, folks.

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Source for Image:

http://bit.ly/ogolpa

Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University and author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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