Why Criticizing Porn is Difficult in a Sex Negative Culture

Emma Lindsay
Oct 21, 2016 · 4 min read

So… I wrote a thing about how porn makes men bad in bed, and I got some contacts from people who, I think, enjoyed my piece because it reinforced their own desire to shame (other people, themselves?) for watching porn. I don’t want to do that.

One of the big problems feminists have had with critically analyzing porn, is that there is a parallel anti porn, anti sex movement from people who believe sexual desires are shameful. This does have historical roots in various religious traditions, but that’s not really important now. The important thing, is that for many people, feeling deeply ashamed of their sexual feels “natural” and “correct.” The important thing is, many people will instinctively want to perpetuate these feelings of shame, and shaming people for their porn use is another way of perpetuating that.

But, I disagree with it. I don’t think there’s anything shameful about watching porn, the same way I don’t think there’s anything shameful about eating only Ho Hos and drinking Mountain Dew. I just think, if all you eat is junk food, you’ll end up pretty unhealthy. Similarly, I think for many people, the vast majority of the sexual activity they have involves porn consumption. I really liked the last psychiatrist’s analogy between porn and junk food. (On a side note, I really miss the last psychiatrist. Definitely used to be a regular reader.) So, if porn is like junk food — sure, a little bit won’t kill you, but a lot of people aren’t consuming just a little bit.

However, unlike with junk food, we have deep rooted cultural moralistic overtones around porn. We have a culture of keeping people from knowing their true sexual selves, by telling them that their sexual desires are wrong and bad. To many people who have been shamed for non-standard sexual desires, porn is a safe haven. It’s mere existence provides evidence that they’re not alone, and it effectively functions as a low risk space to explore what things might bring them pleasure. The problem, in a way, is that it’s too low risk. Watching porn is a lot easier than connecting with other people, and it allows people to solidify things in their head with very little real world experience.

Sexuality is, on some level, the urge that drives humans to connect with other humans. Porn gets in the middle of that. Especially porn that dehumanizes people. When I was younger, I didn’t really think twice about people watching a lot of porn, but as I got older I noticed that men I dated who were renown for their excessive porn use treated me worse. They were more likely to view me as an object to their own sexual ends, rather than being curious about who I was as a sexual person. It’s possible that the causality was backwards on this; men who are bad with women probably watch more porn. However, I am convinced that many of the objectifying patterns they learned they at least partly learned from porn because they often wanted things from me that they had seen in porn (which, was sometimes expressed as open request/preference and sometimes expressed via behavior.)

Porn brings false knowledge where there should be curiosity. Adolescents, understandably, are curious about sex and sexuality — but they seek to know themselves through porn, which is misleading. Porn, in its current manifestation, has a disproportionate preference for misogynistic and phalocentric performances. Sure, probably if you search hard, you can find “good” porn, but this isn’t the porn that’s most accessible. Most people will just choose the least bad from what’s available. It’s like asking “does Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represent your political views?” For many people, the answer is “neither, but I’m going to pick the best fit.” Many people will pick what turns them on the most from a fairly horrible set of choices, then assume that’s what their sexuality is — especially if they are lacking in real world experience.

But, wanting to know yourself isn’t wrong. This, often religious, push to keep people from knowing who they really are is a way of controlling people. If you can keep people in perpetual shame about their sexuality, you can also control them by offering the path of “forgiveness” or “righteousness.” However, porn functionally controls people through a similar means of preventing true self knowledge. If porn keeps you disconnected from other people, unaware of what you’re really needing but also giving you something that’s good enough, you’ll keep coming back to buy more porn. Ultimately, the economic drive in porn is to have you keep buying porn. The ideal porn consumer never gets laid, and only watches porn.

The most successful porn will, implicitly, design itself to disconnect you from real people so that you purchase more porn. This will not necessarily be conscious on the part of the designers; just of all the porn that is released, the porn that will be the most successful in the marketplace will tend to have the trait of getting people to come back for more and more. More of this type of porn will get funded, because it’s the most profitable, and a viscous cycle continues.

So — anyway, I’m not trying to get moralistic. I don’t believe people should feel shame over their sexual desires, no matter how strange because you can’t help what you feel. On the other hand, I think porn is negatively effecting how people relate to each other. I think it is bad for intimacy. I think it neglects female sexual desire as a legitimate force. And, just ignoring the negative effects of porn because it’s a culturally accepted thing now is creating a whole other stream of problems. Porn was important, perhaps still is important, in helping people see parts of themselves and moving on from sexual shame. However, it causes newer deeper problems even as it mitigates old ones.

Emma Lindsay

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