A common emotional theme in the porn actresses I have interviewed is a love of exhibitionism. Yet if such a woman declares her enjoyment in flaunting her body, anti-porn feminists claim she is not merely a unique human being who reacts from a different background or personality. She is psychologically damaged and no longer responsible for her actions. In essence, this is a denial of a woman's right to choose anything outside the narrow corridor of choices offered by political/sexual correctness. The right to choose hinges on the right to make a 'wrong' choice, just as freedom of religion entails the right to be an atheist. After all, no one will prevent a woman from doing what they think she should do.
A Pro-Sex Defense of Pornography
As a 'pro-sex' feminist, I contend: Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically. It benefits them personally in several ways:
1. It provides sexual information on at least three levels:
a. it gives a panoramic view of the world's sexual possibilities. This is true even of basic sexual information such as masturbation, which seems to come less naturally to women than to men. It is not uncommon for women to reach adulthood without knowing how to give themselves pleasure.
b. it allows women to 'safely' experience sexual alternatives and satisfy a healthy sexual curiosity. The world is a dangerous place. By contrast, pornography can be a source of solitary enlightenment. Pornography allows women to experiment in the privacy of their own bedrooms, on a television set that can be turned off whenever she has had enough.
c. it provides a different form of information than textbooks or discussion. It offers the emotional information that comes only from experiencing something either directly or vicariously. It provides us with a sense how it would 'feel' to do something.
2. Pornography strips away the emotional confusion that so often surrounds real world sex. Pornography allows women to enjoy scenes and situations that would be anathema to them in real life. Take, for example, one of the most common fantasies reported by women -- the fantasy of 'being taken', of being raped.The first thing to understand is that a rape fantasy does not represent a desire for the real thing. It is a fantasy. The woman is in control of the smallest detail of every act.
Why would a healthy woman daydream about being raped?
There are dozens of reasons. Perhaps by losing control, she also sheds all sense of responsibility for and guilt over sex. Perhaps it is the exact opposite of the polite, gentle sex she has now. Perhaps it is flattering to imagine a particular man being so overwhelmed by her that he must have her. Perhaps she is curious. Perhaps she has some masochistic feelings that are vented through the fantasy. Is it better to bottle them up?
3. Pornography breaks cultural and political stereotypes, so that each woman can interpret sex for herself. Anti-feminists tell women to be ashamed of their appetites and urges. Pornography tells them to accept and enjoy them. Pornography provides reassurance and eliminates shame. It says to women 'you are not alone in your fantasies and deepest darkest desires. Right there, on the screen are others who feel the same urges and are so confident that they flaunt them.'
4. Pornography can be good therapy. Pornography provides a sexual outlet for those who -- for whatever reason -- have no sexual partner. Perhaps they are away from home, recently widowed, isolated because of infirmity. Perhaps they simply choose to be alone. Sometimes, masturbation and vicarious sex are the only alternatives to celibacy. Couples also use pornography to enhance their relationship. Sometimes they do so on their own, watching videos and exploring their reactions together. Sometimes, the couples go to a sex therapist who advises them to use pornography as a way of opening up communication on sex. By sharing pornography, the couples are able to experience variety in their sex lives without having to commit adultery.
Pornography benefits women politically in many ways, including the following:
1. Historically, pornography and feminism have been fellow travelers and natural allies. Both have risen and flourished during the same periods of sexual freedom; both have been attacked by the same political forces, usually conservatives. Laws directed against pornography or obscenity, such as the Comstock Law in the late 1880's, have always been used to hinder women's rights, such as birth control. Although it is not possible to draw a cause-and-effect relationship between the rise of pornography and that of feminism, they both demand the same social conditions -- namely, sexual freedom.
2. Pornography is free speech applied to the sexual realm. Freedom of speech is the ally of those who seek change: it is the enemy of those who seek to maintain control. Pornography, along with all other forms of sexual heresy, such as homosexuality, should have the same legal protection as political heresy. This protection is especially important to women, whose sexuality has been controlled by censorship through the centuries.
3. Viewing pornography may well have a cathartic effect on men who have violent urges toward women. If this is true, restricting pornography removes a protective barrier between women and abuse.
4. Legitimizing pornography would protect women sex work- ers, who are stigmatized by our society. Anti-pornography femi- nists are actually undermining the safety of sex workers when they treat them as 'indoctrinated women'. Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a professor of psychology observed in her essay "On Censorship and Women":
"These women have appealed to feminists for support, not rejection...Sex industry workers, like all women, are striving for economic survival and a decent life, and if feminism means anything it means sisterhood and solidarity with these women."
The law cannot eliminate pornography, any more than it has been able to stamp out prostitution. But making pornography illegal will further alienate and endanger women sex workers.
The Purpose of Law
The porn debate is underscored by two fundamentally antago- nistic views of the purpose of law in society.
The first view, to which pro-sex feminists subscribe, is that law should protect choice. 'A woman's body, a woman's right' applies to every peaceful activity a woman chooses to engage in. The law should come into play only when a woman initiates force or has force initiated against her. The second view, to which both conservatives and anti-porn feminists subscribe, is that law should protect virtue. Law should enforce proper behavior. It should come into play whenever there has been a breach of public morality, or a breach of 'women's class interests.'
This is old whine in new battles. The issue at stake in pornography debate is nothing less than the age-old conflict between individual freedom and social control.
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