sexuality

SEX & PORN

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PORN SEX & REAL SEX!

 

I found this video while reading this Huffington Post article recently. Obviously, this video is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek look at the differences between ‘real sex’ and porn sex, but it also underscores a very real and serious problem in our country:

A severe lack of sex education.

As Nina Hartley says in the aforementioned HuffPost article, “Pornography is a paid, professional performance by actors. It is a fantasy, it is not meant to be a rulebook and guidebook or a how to as a general rule. And it goes to show how poor our sex education is in this country that people are reduced to looking at an entertainment medium for information about the body.”

I could not agree with Ms. Hartley more. In fact, if you’re already following the MFB Facebook page (good for you!) then you probably already know that I am the biggest advocate of education in general (it’s only the best tool in the shed for rebuilding this old house we call ‘Merica!), but sex education is of particular importance to me— largely because a lack of it engenders some specifically unique consequences. One of these unique consequences stems from its inevitable interconnection with porn.

What teen or young adult in this country isn’t looking at porn, if not for “educational purposes,” then out of pure curiosity? And guess what— I’m not even here to slam porn as some of you may be expecting at this moment. Oh, no… I’m just here to talk about sex, much in the same way that Salt n Pepa once did: “Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…” Sex can be great. And so can porn. However, modern-day “mainstream” porn has brought with it an onslaught of problems:

  • People will look to it for sexual guidance (i.e. what to do and how to do it)
  • People will judge their own bodies against the bodies they are viewing, often castigating their own bodies as “wrong,” and believing that they should, instead, look like the ones onscreen— hairless, bleached, six-pack abs…
  • Women are consistently portrayed as passive sexual actors, with even the woman on woman sex scenarios (I hesitate to use the word “lesbian” here, for obvious reasons) usually centered around male pleasure
  • HETEROSEXIST ANDROCENTRISM, pure and simple.

Now, the first two bullet points mentioned above are not directly the fault of porn, per se, but rather, are inescapably bound up with our lack of education regarding the human body and human sexuality. But on that same note, porn could be a useful tool in displaying and promoting bodily diversity, yet, sadly, mainstream porn does not. Now as for the last two points…

Androcentrism is the key word here as far as I’m concerned.

Mainstream porn is no doubt heterosexist (i.e. biased towards heterosexuality), and it is also highly androcentric. Whether literally, as in, the movie itself revolves around a heterosexual male and/or his fantasy, or behind the scenes, as in, it is being written, directed, and produced by heterosexual men.

This lack of authentic female sexuality (and it’s representation in porn) is evident in what artist Sophia Wallace calls our society’s lack of “cliteracy.” As she said to Creem magazine earlier this year, “It is a curious dilemma to observe the paradox that on the one hand the female body is the primary metaphor for sexuality, its use saturates advertising, art and the mainstream erotic imaginary. Yet, the clitoris, the true female sexual organ, is virtually invisible.” “Even in porn, the clitoris is treated as this optional, kind of freaky, ‘wow he’s doing her this huge favor’ thing,” she told HuffPost, adding that women often feel “embarrassed” to ask their partners to pleasure them. “It’s insane to me that this is still happening in 2013.”

Can you hear my applause for Ms. Wallace right now?

Yet another interesting facet that Wallace hints at with this last quote (ahem, “embarrassment”? Read: “body conscious”) is the issue of physical insecurity, and guess what— it isn’t just for women and girls anymore. Take the following statement from writer, Phoebe Baker Hyde:

“A cultural anthropologist shared this observation with me: Pornography consumption on campuses is changing because women can now access porn privately and anonymously on the Internet. While this can lead to butterfly Brazilians and “designer vaginas” in sexually active young women, it also gives these women considerable performance expectations of their sexual partners. It’s hard to imagine a man showing off his fake orgasm over a pastrami sandwich the way Meg Ryan did in When Harry Met Sally, but it seems that young men are becoming more self-conscious and body-conscious during sex, so we may be headed in that direction.”

It is here that I must stop and reiterate: Porn is not evil. It is not a social ill, nor is it comprised of, and/or made by ill-minded people. Moreover, porn can be a really progressive and feminist and overall awesome thing. And sometimes it actually is. Plenty of other sex-positive feminists like myself like porn. And as one article very rightly observed: “Porn never goes away when it’s banned.”

In fact, in the article referenced above [CLICK IT!], the author gives a lot of wonderfully thought-provoking insight on the conflation of mainstream porn, everyday sexism, and ‘real sex.’ What makes her contribution on this topic all the more interesting: the backdrop for her analysis is her experience of YALE SEX WEEK. Here’s an excerpt:

“Censors which stigmatise one type of pornography as ‘bad’ implicitly elevate the alternative, ‘acceptable’ porn. And far too often, that ‘normal’ pornography conveys images of passive femininity that are more easily absorbed into everyday life: artificial conventions of beauty in porn are as dangerous to real women as movies that reveal, astonishingly, that sex and power are linked.

Start banning anything that comes close to a rape scenario, and you’ll block out feminist attempts to reclaim or experiment with centuries-old erotic traditions. You’ll even block sado-masochism that has women on top (does it degrade men, this time? Or does it degrade women, because the dominatrix is still sexualised for male lust? It’s all too confusing!) Gothic images are obviously fantasy (how many castle-owners can afford the metal-polishing costs on gleaming dungeons, nowadays?), but impossibly curvaceous cheerleaders ‘consensually’ putting out for the football captain do a far better job of masquerading as ‘real sex’ guides for today’s teenagers.”

And thus, I am right back where I started. (see what I did there?)

Porn serving as ‘real sex’ guides for today’s teenagers…

I shudder to think of the many boys and girls out there right now thinking that they are “learning” a thing or two from porn (ahem, and probably plenty of grown men and women, too). The many girls trying to comprehend this ostensible link between sex and power, and the many boys absorbing insidiously sexist images and messages. Ladies and gentleman, can we please stop thinking that porn is the same thing as real, regular ol’ everyday people sex? Because it’s not. It’s a movie, it’s part of the entertainment industry— it’s a farce. If you want some real talk, check this out (warning: it really only applies to the straights and lesbians) or, I don’t know… find a cool coloring book to begin your journey of learning about yourself and the wonderful world that is ‘real sex.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Vindication of the Rights of Pin-Ups

hilda

“America’s Forgotten Pin-Up Girl,” Hilda

 

I am really feeling the sting of woman on woman deprecation today.

And in the name of feminism no less!

First there was the article on how straight feminists hate lesbian feminists, (which, thankfully, was sufficiently rebutted by others’ comments) and then almost immediately after, I came across this post condemning women that are fond of pin-ups and/or like to dress up in the pin-up style. The following words are in response to the currently trending popularity of this pin-up character from the past, “Hilda” (pictured above).

 

Here’s what the post said (taken from this article):

“We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.

That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.

When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.

This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.

If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.

Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.”

 

I think it goes without saying that I do not like this attack on pin-up girls/pin-up culture.

More importantly than what I do, or do not like, however, is the fact that saying, “talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony,” ignores the very multi-faceted world of pin-up culture as well as the individuals participating within it— which is relevant. (Since when is talking about the parts of a picture irrelevant to the picture as a whole?) While the author’s critique invokes the rhetoric of “hegemony,” he or she is creating a hegemonic feminism of their own, in which all other feminists who like to participate in and enjoy pin-up culture are castigated.

The feminism I learned about was more accepting than this. While I do understand the perspective from which this author is writing (I did study gender politics at Berkeley after all), I choose to not make such sweeping generalizations about people, or groups of people (except Republicans, of course… Just kidding! I actually do really like Meghan McCain, so there). To imply that just because someone likes to wear pretty dresses and curl their hair, they “have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression” is extremely insulting.

For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant the ability to see through such cultural patterns and influences, actively resist them, and perhaps even become self-definitional if such a thing is possible. Just because I indulge in pin-up fashion on occasion does not mean that I don’t know the history behind it, nor does it mean that I don’t understand the gendered, sociopolitical implications of it. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one (okay I know for a fact that I’m not). As a matter of fact, there is a vast array of modern day pin-ups out there that take the original concept of pin-up beauty and culture, and turn it on its head, thereby subverting the entire set of traditional notions behind it— the very sexist “white enterprise” that the above author is citing. Just look at the Suicide Girls (started by a woman and still largely run by women) which, may I remind you, began as a counterculture of “alternative” beauty.

Moreover, my brand of feminism is about choice. Just as I’m not going to castigate any woman, feminist or not, for being a stay at home mom, I’m also not going to do the same to a woman that chooses to delight in her femininity through replicating pin-up looks. Not only does it not, in my opinion, seem in keeping with the basic tenets of feminism (though, yes, I know, there are a myriad of different feminisms) but honestly, it’s also just not polite.

 

 

PLAN B (a.k.a. “Hussy Pills”)

plan b

Big news this past week:

Plan B, also known as the “morning after pill,” (or in the words of pseudo-conservative, Stephen Colbert, “hussy pills”) will now be made available over the counter—no prescription required—for girls and women, ages 15 and up.

Naturally, according to conservatives, this just means society is practically pushing young girls into having sex.

Ok, first of all, if anything in society is pushing young girls into having sex, it’s the media and our visual culture’s sexualization of girls and women. Moreover, this line of thinking fails to acknowledge that a young woman may actually be capable of possessing her own sexual agency. I know teenagers are crazy, with their hormones flying all over the place, and they often think they know everything, when as we all clearly know from hindsight, they don’t…. However, it is a point in time during which many are figuring out their own sexuality, and learning to be their own sexual agents (God willing!). So, with that kind of thinking in mind, the old “this is encouraging promiscuous behavior!” rhetoric is really rather patronizing. Plan B isn’t going to “encourage” unprotected promiscuity any more than abortion “encourages” unplanned pregnancies.

Not to mention, this brings up the most glaringly contradictory flaw contained within any and all Republican/conservative, pro-life arguments against contraception:

If you’re so anti-abortion, you should love contraception. You should want more of, and increased access to, contraception. It actually prevents abortions. Guess what, conservatives and Republicans— it’s thanks to Planned Parenthood that I, and many other girls and women out there in the U.S., have never even had to consider abortion. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, and access to contraception. It will never cease to amaze me how pro-life/anti-abortion politicians seem to conveniently leave out of their arguments the fact that contraception is actually essential to their cause. (That and sexual education, which is another thing they are often illogically against.)

And if they want to argue for abstinence or some other such farce, well, that leads to the biggest caveat of all:

TEENAGERS HAVE SEX. Overwhelmingly, regardless of your opinion, or your morals, or what you choose to believe, the fact of the matter is: TEENAGERS HAVE SEX.

A few facts, taken from the Guttmacher Institute website:

  • Although only 13% of teens have had sex by age 15, most initiate sex in their later teen years. By their 19th birthday, seven in 10 female and male teens have had intercourse.
  • On average, young people have sex for the first time at about age 17
  • A woman who is sexually active and not using contraception has an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within a year.
  • Each year, almost 750,000 U.S. women aged 15–19 become pregnant. Two-thirds of all teen pregnancies occur among 18–19-year-olds.
  • Overall, 68 pregnancies occurred per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008. The 2008 rate was a record low and represented a 42% decline from the peak rate of 117 per 1,000, which occurred in 1990.
  • The majority of the decline in teen pregnancy rates in the United States (86%) is due to teens’ improved contraceptive use; the rest is due to increased proportions of teens choosing to delay sexual activity.
  • Despite having declined, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate continues to be one of the highest in the developed world. It is more than twice as high as rates in Canada (28 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2006) and Sweden (31 per 1,000).
  • Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned; teens account for about one-fifth of all unintended pregnancies annually.

[Read more from the Guttmacher Institute’s Fact Sheet on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health Here.]

Finally, I heard a new one here:

According to Conservative Columnist, Francesca Chambers, “Repealing the age restriction to buy the morning after pill will encourage young women who are too embarrassed or afraid to talk about sexual abuse to bypass the authorities. Terrible men who deserve to go to prison could never face charges, allowing them the opportunity to continue feeding their sexual addiction. Despite the way many pro-choice advocates are attempting to frame the issue, this is not a women’s health or a women’s rights issue.”

Wow. I have never heard of access to contraception as something that could, or would, “encourage young women…to bypass the authorities” when it comes to rape. Once again, I am encountered with ill logic. Have we ever relied on pregnancy as an indicator of sexual abuse? Moreover, she is either unaware of the conditions that actually do engender girls and women keeping quiet about rape, or she is aware, but chooses not to disclose that information. Let’s see: Threat of death, humiliation, no one believing you, ostracization, and now, apparently you could get kicked out of school… And then there’s this:

Why Will Only 3 Out of Every 100 Rapists Serve Time?

And ultimately, Ms. Chambers, this IS a women’s health AND a women’s rights issue. It has to do with our—specifically, women’s—sexual and reproductive health. It doesn’t get any more logical than that. (Maybe she’s never heard of a uterus or a vagina? Then again, if she’s a conservative, probably not- those words are dirty!) To try and argue otherwise is like trying to argue that contraception and unplanned pregnancies have nothing to do with each other.

Having my cake and eating it, too.

That’s right-

I’m a lipstick-loving, romantic comedy-watching, fashion forward, yet card-carrying feminist.

(But no, we don’t really have cards. It’s just an expression. Though if we did, that’d be pretty fun. I’d probably want mine to have a pinup on it. Actually, individual cards would be really fun, because then we would all end up having such wildly variegated cards, showing the very multi-dimensional and diverse nature of feminism itself! This woman, however, would not get one. But I digress…)

Who said we couldn’t have feminism and lipstick too?

Look, I know there have been centuries of social conditioning of women to look a certain way for the visual pleasure of men (i.e. women being socially constructed by, within, and for “the male gaze,” if you wanna get all sociological about it) BUT, there also happens to exist in this wonderful world the sociological concept of gender fluidity. That is to say, there is femininity, masculinity, and a number of other nameless categories in between. As a former professor of mine used to always say, “Gender is fluid,” meaning it is NOT, as many of us are used to thinking, dichotomous (i.e. masculine/feminine). It is not discrete, but is continuous. It is not black and white, but contains within its spectrum many shades of gray. (And no, I haven’t the read the book, so don’t think I’m trying to hint at it with that analogy!)

Here’s the deal: I, personally, delight in femininity. I spent years of my life being a self-loathing misogynist (can you say, “internalized oppression”?) and ironic as it may sound, it was a job in fashion many moons ago that ignited the feminist within me. Working for a certain eccentric but longtime established female designer, with her uber-flirty, fun, and feminine designs, in an atmosphere of female camaraderie I had never before in my life experienced (or thought possible) changed my life forever. Everything about this experience turned my once sexist perspective upside-down. It not only paved the way for my own self-acceptance as a woman, but allowed me to relish in my femininity if I wished to do so as well.

*Disclaimer: To be clear, this does not mean that being feminine equals being a woman, nor does it mean that being a woman means being feminine. Hell to the no. That’s called a logical fallacy, people, and there are tons of those out there, especially with regard to gender and sexuality, so beware!*

This designer’s signature use of the word “girlfriend” (know who I’m talking about yet?;) almost drilled the concept of sisterhood into my head in a way. It made me see myself and other women as, well, “girlfriends.” As in, we’re all women and we can be friends (and in fact are), so what’s with all the self-hatred, competitiveness and sexism anyway? Us women were, and are, so much more than the dresses we sold or the makeup we wore (or chose not to wear for that matter). We were an amalgamation of queer, straight, Mexican, White, Black, Native American, poor, and privileged women.

We loved fashion and makeup, quoted The Big Lebowski on a daily basis, and probably passed around about as many dick and fart jokes as any fraternity. (Not that that’s a great thing, but I’m just sayin’- it sort of undercuts traditional notions of femininity, does it not? A bunch of high-fashion wearing women belching loudly and talking about farts?) We did not fit into neat, discrete gender categories, in spite of our physical appearances (“physical appearances” meaning looking very “girly”).

I suppose what I’m getting at with all of this is, there can exist women who like lipstick and feminism (same goes for men, too!). You can simultaneously subscribe to fashion and feminist ideals. If you have a predilection for all things feminine, there is nothing wrong with that- you can still be a feminist, too. I am!

After all, wouldn’t it be antithetical to feminism to denounce as feminists all women who like expressing what we know as traditional notions of femininity? If they are down with the feminist cause, who cares about their sexuality or how they choose to portray their gender? And really, isn’t that a large part of what feminism is all about- accepting and loving ourselves as women and having the freedom of choice to be butch or femme, a feminine lesbian, or androgynous heterosexual, etc.?

I’m having my feminism and wearing lipstick, too.