Naomi Wolf has penned a rather humorous analysis of how pornography has affected relations between the sexes. She doesn’t intend to be humorous, but that just makes it funnier.
Just the idea of someone writing yet another essay on “how pornography has destroyed civilization” made me check the date on this current essay. October 20th, 2003. Hmm. Should I laugh or cry?
Pornography happens to be one of my hot buttons (no pun intended) in the context of relations between the sexes and its relationship to human sexuality and sexual politics (if there is such a thing).
Normally I don’t comment on specious trash like this, but Wolf makes a number of claims and assertions that she doesn’t back up with any meaningful evidence, and which directly contradict my own experience as a woman and a consumer of pornography.
I encourage reading Wolf’s entire essay, but here I will excerpt portions of it for discussion.
But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as porn-worthy. Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.
I feel stupid even pointing this out, but I don’t think it’s especially flattering for a man to comment that a woman is “porn-worthy”. Among other things, a lot of women (and men) are extremely turned off by the pencil-thin, ribs showing, boobs-defying-gravity kinds of women that typically show up in porn aimed at straight men.
Speaking for myself, I’m not interested in trying to hold the attention of a man who is so shallow that he would rather stay home with a magazine and his own hand than go on a date with me.
Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They cant compete, and they know it. For how can a real womanwith pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond More, more, you big stud!)possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumers least specification?
The assumptions being made here are interesting. 1) Young women want to compete with porn women. 2) All men want women who say ridiculous things like “More, more, you big stud!” all the time. 3) All men want a woman who will arrive and vanish at their least whim. 4) All men like “utterly submissive” women and prefer it to other dispositions. 5) All men would prefer a woman who is physically to their taste, regardless of her other qualities, over a real woman who may have other traits.
The reader may wish to digest this information for a while.
I can say from experience with many men I’ve met (and the one I married) that there are lots of men who hate submissive women. They want a partner who can challenge them intellectually and/or physically. They don’t want a servant. They want an equal.
I can also say with a fair degree of certainty that the vast number of men I have encountered truly enjoy women who have their own sexual needs. It’s a turn-on for most men to have a woman enjoy herself at their hands, to be able to give a woman pleasure. Even to have her demand more is, at least, an ego boost.
For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women.
I dispute the claim of “substitute” here. Specifically, I think that erotic images have a role of their own as objects of admiration and pleasure. Are there not many famous paintings and sculptures of nude women (and men) that are magnificent in their own right, and for which a real human being would not be an acceptable substitute?
For the first time in human history, the images power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.
You mean they have a lousy soundtrack and grainy production quality? Obviously you are unfamiliar with the many niches of pornography that feed into the desires of real men and women consumers. There is a significant market for “fat chicks” (aka “gonzo”), “average lookers”, “amateurs” (aka “home movies”), “mature” actors, and other non-Playboy-like material.
When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up. Your boyfriend may have seen Playboy, but hey, you could move, you were warm, you were real.
Um, yeah. That’s a really positive, women-empowering, feminist ideal to look up to. “Hey boys, look over here. I’m naked and I’m willing to fuck any of you who asks. No previous relationship required.”
Thirty years ago, simple lovemaking was considered erotic in the pornography that entered mainstream consciousness: When Behind the Green Door first opened, clumsy, earnest, missionary-position intercourse was still considered to be a huge turn-on.
Is it not still? And anyway, I think a lot of you folks were pretty stoned a lot of the time back then. That may sound like a flippant remark, but your comments above suggest that you were into that whole “hippie flower child free love” scene, and the moral benchmark there was pretty skewed.
Well, I am 40, and mine is the last female generation to experience that sense of sexual confidence and security in what we had to offer.
That’s a rather insulting thing to say, considering that you know nothing about my generation. I have the innate certainty that I am entitled to be a sexual creature. Unlike previous generations of women in the 20th century, I didn’t have to fight for it. I was born enjoying the fruits of the labor of real feminists who made society a place where I can work on my car, get a job, own guns, vote, wear pants, take the lead in bed, cut my hair short, speak my mind at a conference table, and not have anyone think it’s unusual.
Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough.
I never felt the need to compete with porn when I was dating boys and young men in the 80’s and early 90’s. The kinds of boys who interested me (and who were attracted to me) were more enthralled by real femininity than the hollow shell of porn.
Now you have to offeror flirtatiously suggestthe lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene.
We do? First I’ve heard of that. A woman with any self-respect won’t stoop to such tactics just to get a man’s attention, nor does she have to. And what about the non-sexual period of courtship, anyway? That still exists, you know.
Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini waxjust like porn stars.
I’m not buff. I’m not tan. I don’t have surgically altered breasts, nor do I have a Brazilian wax. The most you could say for me is that I trim my pubic hair, but that’s for my own comfort and not anyone else’s. I didn’t have trouble getting dates.
(In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled.)
You spend a lot of time looking at the pubic hair of women in the locker room? Sorry, cheap shot. You were saying?
Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up. By the new millennium, a vaginawhich, by the way, used to have a pretty high exchange value, as Marxist economists would saywasnt enough; it barely registered on the thrill scale. All mainstream pornand certainly the Internetmade routine use of all available female orifices.
What exactly is your point here? That other orifices are inappropriate? That a vagina is a form of currency in a sexual barter economy? Theoretically the entire thrust (again, no pun intended) of your position is that women are not commodities, and yet you persist in referring to them as such and lamenting the “off the lot” depreciation of their body parts.
And I feel compelled to remind the reader that porn is not addictive. That issue is settled and I don’t beat dead horses (much).
The porn loop is de rigueur, no longer outside the pale; starlets in tabloids boast of learning to strip from professionals; the cool girls go with guys to the strip clubs, and even ask for lap dances; college girls are expected to tease guys at keg parties with lesbian kisses à la Britney and Madonna.
Most of the men and women I know consider Britney and Madonna to be vulgar, trashy, attention whores. Girls who try to be like them are similarly viewed. Perhaps like attracts like, and such girls draw exactly the kinds of men they deserve. A girl does not go looking for a serious life partner at a strip club or a keg party.
The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want; and that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy.
What kinds of modern, liberated women are these, anyway? What a bunch of whining losers! “I can’t get a man, I’m not sexy, I’m not allowed to ask for what I want in a relationship.” Bah! I thought the point of the feminist movement was to give women power, not take it away!
The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn, and how it is not helpful to them in trying to figure out how to be with a real woman.
They could, you know, read (or maybe not, considering the state of public education these days). There are a zillion and a half books on this subject that men could turn to. Talking to a real women might also prove enlightening. What woman would turn down the chance to educate a man this way, even if purely platonically?
Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they dont know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.
Boo-frickin’-hoo. Welcome to college. College kids are lonely. They’re scared. They’re idealistic, ambitious, and poorly prepared for the real world (largely because of people like you). Does it occur to you that the people who attend your lectures are a highly self-selecting, biased group?
. . .a conversation I had at Northwestern, after I had talked about the effect of porn on relationships. Why have sex right away? a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone, he said. I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know its going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.
Isnt the tension kind of fun? I asked. Doesnt that also get rid of the mystery?
Mystery? He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: I dont know what youre talking about. Sex has no mystery.
You talk to one doe-eyed, ignorant bozo at a lecture and suddenly he’s the embodiment of his whole generation? Supports your thesis nicely, but it isn’t valid or relevant. This boy is obviously missing out on a lot of the fun of courtship, and that’s his loss. But can we blame pornography for this? That is the equivocation you are trying to make, right?
If this is the best that Naomi Wolf can do, I remember now why I don’t usually pay any attention to her or her colleagues.
Find something new to talk about, Naomi. This horse has been dead for two decades.