Is Porn Hijacking Our Sexuality? (Part 1)

by Sarah Ditum

This week NLP is running a debate about the approach that leftists and feminists should take towards pornography. The debaters are Gail Dines, an anti-porn activist and professor and author of Pornland: How Porn is Hijacking Our Sexuality, and Sarah Ditum, a freelance journalist and writer on politics and culture, who is a critic of anti-porn feminism. We begin with Ditum's critique of Pornland, followed by Dines' reply tomorrow, and rejoinders from each later in the week. 


Here’s a wry contradiction to kick things off: the main problem with debates about pornography is a lack of explicitness. Anti-porn campaigners have plenty of ideas about what porn does. It advances misogyny, they might contend, or it encourages violence against women, or it dehumanises and debases its users and participants – Gail Dines’ book Pornland, which has proved astonishingly influential over the last 12 months or so, advocates all of these positions. What anti-porn campaigners generally do not offer is a clear definition of what porn is.

Maybe that sounds like quibbling. After all, most of us would know pornography when we see it. But there’s no definition of pornography in UK law: “obscenity” is covered by the Obscene Publications Acts (obscene material is defined as that with “tends to deprave or corrupt”), and there’s also the legal category of “extreme pornography”[2] (“grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character”) introduced in 2008. But these definitions are intended to be narrow, and there’s obviously a huge volume of material that is pornographic, and yet doesn’t fulfill the criteria for with obscenity or extremity.

The dictionary definition, conversely, is wide. Here is the OED’s most recent take on pornography: “The explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, films, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings; printed or visual material containing this.” Suddenly, the field of pornography is a vast and muddy place. Amateur-authored slash fiction – in which fans of a book, film or TV show invent non-canon relationships of varying profanity between favourite characters – is probably in, according to this definition. Shoots of topless girls in lad mags like Nuts or Zoo are in (but the magazines are not pornographic works as a whole, because they include sport and lifestyle features).

Photographer Terry Richardson’s work[3] makes stylistic reference to pornography in a way that elicits an aesthetic response as well as an erotic one (aesthetically, a viewer of his work in a fashion magazine registers that these pictures look pornographic); but when he photographs porn star Sasha Grey for porn mag Penthouse[4], does that make him a straight up pornographer? Footage of an amateur couple having vanilla sex for a webcam is pornographic, and so is footage of a male performer choking a female performer on his penis while she performs oral sex on him, but there’s a profound difference in character between the two. Does describing each alike as “pornographic” really tell us anything?

Slashfic, lad mags, high-end sleaze and gonzo hardcore can all be critiqued on various grounds – one thing I want to be clear about in this debate is that not all pornography is alike, and it’s possible to be an enthusiastic consumer of some forms while being ambivalent about others and thoroughly dismayed by others besides – but the point here is that these disparate artifacts of human sexuality all come under the rubric of porn. The obvious answer that an anti-porn campaigner would give is that all this is evidence of the “pornification” of culture, but that strikes me as cripplingly insufficient: is there a form of discourse that is sexually explicit, and design to turn viewers or readers on, but would somehow escape the implied criticism of being labelled porn? The question of what porn actually is, is especially critical for those who’d like to control it. We need to identify a thing before we can study it, never mind control it.

In Pornland, I believe that Dines’ comes up with the least useful and most dishonest definition available. While she uses the word pornography to discuss her target, and expands her argument in the broadest cultural terms (she enumerates the ways in which pop videos, HBO and Hollywood cinema have all contributed to the process of “pornification”), the material on which she bases most of her discussion is the sub-genre of video pornography known as gonzo. (From the introduction: “I want to make it clear that when I talk about ‘porn’, I am referring mainly to ‘gonzo’.”)

On page 88 – that’s several chapters into the case she has been building against porn – Dines finally offers what could be interpreted as her working definition of pornography. It is, she writes, “depictions of cruel acts that one group [ie men] is perpetrating against another group [ie women].” (It’s notable that Dines elects not to look at gay or lesbian pornography, thereby depriving herself on an opportunity to test her thesis about porn’s modelling of male-female sexual relationships by comparing it to the presentation of male-male or female-female relationships.) In other words, she has defined porn a priori as cruel.

This means that, while Pornland appears to be asking the question, “is porn cruel to women?” it’s actually and absurdly asking the question, “is porn that is cruel to women cruel to women?” The answer to that is transparently “yes”, but by fixing the debate in this manner, Dines is propagandising against all pornography, while telling us little-to-nothing about the way that the online explosion of accessible sexually explicit material has transformed our sex lives, our relationships and our culture. And that’s a shame, because she’s missed the chance to address one of the most interesting questions going.

The pornography industry has changed drastically over the last decade – so much so that, despite Dines’ insistence on talking about “porn industry” as though it’s some homogeneous, multi-erectioned entity, in some areas it’s barely correct to talk about there being an industry at all. While it remains possible to make considerable sums of money from the publication or transmission of pornography, the internet has helped to separate production and distribution abruptly. Whereas as formerly businesses such as Playboy or Vivid would produce pornographic material and then make money by selling it in physical form (magazine, video or DVD), the internet has changed that: torrent sites, tube sites and online communities can all turn substantial profits[5], but pornography production has experienced a drastic financial contraction.

Sussanah Breslin’s essay 'They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?'[6] is a stark, absurd and sometimes grim portrait of the porn industry in the San Fernando valley – once a money-churning production line, but where now most companies engaged in the production and distribution of pornography have suffered revenue falls of 30-50%, according to Breslin. She talks to porn director Jim Powers, whose previous credits include the Gag Factor series, focused on rough deep-throating. This is exactly the kind of material Dines believes to be in the ascendancy, and yet Powers’ assessment of his prospects is bleak: “The market is saturated with porn, the internet is pirating porn left and right, and the economy is in the shitter [...] Porn destroyed itself [...] It completely destroyed everything.”

In other words, when Dines describes how “pornographers (being the savvy businessmen they are) develop techniques to groom reluctant gonzo viewers”, she’s thoroughly out of step with state of the industry. The owners of, say, Xtube have no investment in the type of pornography its users want to watch: all it needs to do is offer enough material, of enough different kinds, to keep users on the site. Pornography is not free of abuse and exploitation, but nor are abuse and exploitation part of its mission statement as Dines suggests. A liking for cheesecake snaps does not put you on the slippery slope to downloading child porn (a contention that Dine’s makes, based on the self-justifying testimony of a small group of paedophiles).

The problem, again, comes back to that definition. If we accept that porn is ipso facto cruel, then it makes sense to ask whether porn inures its users to violence against women. But if we reject Dines’ synthetically narrow idea of what pornography is, then the causal relationship between porn use and misogynistic violence becomes more difficult to believe in. And if we look for evidence, it starts to fall apart completely. Dines claims in the text that there are “a slew of psychological studies to support [the] claim” that “porn does indeed help to shape the worldviews of men who masturbate to it”, and yet in the endnotes she only cites one review from 1989. This is poor scholarship, but at least it’s reflective of the general insufficiency of the whole field of study. As Dr Petra Boynton points out[7], “The evidence base on the effects of pornography is not particularly clear, given that many studies are limited by small samples; riddled with experimenter expectancy effects and demand characteristics; poorly designed and poorly reported lab-based research that often features male undergraduates who’re not representative of the wider population.”

Boynton continues: “It’s not to say all porn research is bad, but because the majority of studies are so flawed it’s very difficult to draw any clear conclusions from them – particularly around direct causal links between images and actions. Unfortunately this confusion leads to both pro and anti pornography groups cherry-picking particular studies to suit their respective agendas.” We just don’t know what the effects of porn are. And until there is some sort of sturdy evidence showing that porn as a whole is objectively harmful, I’d argue that campaigners like Dines would be much better off addressing the ideological faults of porn work-by-work (or at least, genre-by-genre) rather than attempting to portray the entire range of things-to-which-one-might-have-a-wank as patriarchal assaults on the culture. There are, after all, high freedom of speech stakes here: a more open culture about sex and sexuality has contributed greatly to sexual equality and the demise of homophobia, as well as often being helpful to individuals in negotiating their own relationships. It would be disastrous if a peremptory reaction to an unsubstantiated risk led to the rolling back of the important freedoms we have to talk about sex.

But Dines holds one particularly strong view which appears to make pornography anathema, and perhaps renders the idea of sexual culture repugnant to her. I suspect this view is not unique to her: I believe it forms the unspoken basis of many anti-porn arguments, whether they are made from a feminist or a conservative position. Dines frequently contrasts the ideal of “natural” sexuality with “porn” sexuality – the latter being phony or inauthentic, tainted by commerce and mass production. It’s quite a romantic, pre-industrial ideal. It’s also essentialist (this is a sexuality that comes from within and is a spontaneous emanation of relationships, rather than being shaped by outside sources), and consequently, it strikes me as profoundly anti-feminist.

Dines claims that porn portrays “acts that most girlfriends or wives would absolutely refuse to do” (pg 64), encouraging men to seek what she describes as “porn sex” involving “ejaculating on their partner's face or pounding anal sex” (pg 67). I don’t plan on claiming that these are universal features of women’s fantasy lives, but I am uncomfortable with Dines’ claiming that most women would absolutely refuse to do them. Some women actively seek these experiences, some heterosexual couples may be able to successfully negotiate them as part of their sex life, and in some couples, it might well be the woman ejaculating on the man’s face or performing pounding anal sex on him. In real-life practice, these things are unlikely to look much like they do in hardcore porn clips (and there are sex education courses, such as that provided by Bish Training[8], aimed at helping young adults negotiate the gulf between between what they see portrayed in pornography, and the actualities of non-porn intercourse). But the fact that something is a subject of pornography doesn’t preclude it from being a happy part of a consensual sex life.

Dines (pg 68) says that, “Missing from porn is anything that looks or feels remotely like intimacy and connection, the two elements that make sex interesting and exciting in the real world.” Once again, it’s necessary to point out that porn is too big and unruly a category for generalisations like that to stand – if you’re looking for “intimacy and connection”, Comstock films offers a series of “erotic documentaries”[9] in which couples talk about their relationship before having sex on camera. But it’s also important to point out how narrow Dines’ idea of sex is: novelty, transgression and performance are also things that make sex interesting and exciting. And it seems frankly unkind to insist that the only acceptable explicit material is that focused on relationships when, obviously enough, not everyone who uses porn is in a relationship.

Missing from Dines’ account of porn is any sense of women as consumers or creators of porn. For all the iniquities of the industry, pornography is not inherently anti-female. Dines complains about the way porn standards have spread through wider culture so that the hard-bodied, fake-titted bleach blonde has become a societal standard, but one thing that’s hard to miss while looking at porn is range of bodies represented, from gamines to BBWs to butches. It could be countered that this is simply diversity of objectification, but I find it genuinely cheering that pornography presents all these body types as desirable. And that is one thing that pornography in the age of the internet is able to reflect for perhaps the first time: the variety of libido. Porn in the internet age means we no longer have to masturbate to someone else’s ideal. If you can’t see what you enjoy – or if you simply get a bang from showing other people what you enjoy – then you can make your own, with nothing more sophisticated than a digital camera. Rather than “hijacking our sexualities”, as the subtitle of Pornland has it, pornography can be a tool for discussing and discovering our pleasures and preferences.

Until anti-porn feminists like Dines are able to define porn effectively, acknowledge its benefits as well as its faults, and admit to their own lack of evidence, I struggle to see why their arguments should be given the exposure that a flawed work like Pornland has received. And unless they can make a compelling and well-evidenced case, I trust that feminists like myself will be able to hang on to our political credentials without hanging up our intellectual faculties. In one way at least, Pornland’s success in penetrating public debate shows one thing: there’s a need and a desire among people to talk about how porn affects us all. (Also, it’s never a bad sell to put “porn” in the title and a sex boot on the cover.) The next stage is to take that debate out of the negative and dishonest framing that Dines has applied to it. Vast, messy, sometimes unpleasant and sometimes delightful, pornography deserves a better debate.











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First published: 02 April, 2012

Category: Culture, Gender equality

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23 Comments on "Is Porn Hijacking Our Sexuality? (Part 1)"

By Jim Jepps, on 02 April 2012 - 15:15 |

I think this is a very strong article in terms of taking down the very thin arguments of “anti-porn feminists”. I think there could be a much stronger anti-porn case but so often people refuse to try to construct it but instead rely on talking about a very narrow field of porn while making sweeping social generalisations that just aren ‘t backed up by their arguments.

While this isn’t a criticism of this article, because it’s good to keep a clear well defined argument, what I don’t think this does is answer the question on whether porn is hijacking our sexuality, which is actually a really interesting question.

As you say “the online explosion of accessible sexually explicit material has transformed our sex lives, our relationships and our culture” and I’m not sure how much real discussion there is of this that isn’t riddled with a priori assumptions or out of date or ill informed.

By Tom, on 02 April 2012 - 17:37 |

Fantastic article. I think a lot of the pornography created nowadays can perpetuate negative attitudes to sex amongst the people who view it, including things like “the Gag Factor series, focused on rough deep-throating” - especially nowadays when children from about 11 or 12 have access to all this stuff for free online and are seeing porn before they are taught basic sex education in school.

But like you say, an objection to certain kinds of porn should not mean the same thing as objecting to the idea of porn itself.

By Dominic Fox, on 02 April 2012 - 18:18 |

Why the focus on ‘gonzo’? I think because it’s not only cruel but outlandishly cruel, cruel in a way that seems to demand explanation. The explanation given, that ‘gonzo’ represents the current peak of a trend towards ‘extreme’ content driven by market pressures and the inevitable jadedness of desensitised consumers, has a borrowed plausibility about it: we know that competition sometimes produces outlandish things (like the peacock’s tailfeathers), and we know that addicts progress by degrees from the soft stuff to the hard stuff (‘I used to do a little, but a little wouldn’t do it so the little got more and more’). If you talk to people who have a problem with porn, such as wanting to spend too much time with it or wanting to hoard illegal material of the children-and-animals variety, that’s the kind of story they’ll sometimes tell you, precisely because of the kind of second-hand sense it offers to make of their predicament.

The problem is that this explanation misses the general thrust of gonzo’s sado-realism, which is that cruelty acts as an index of the real: gonzo is a special variety of fakery for people who want their porn to be somehow less fake. And all porn, gonzo included, is fake at least insofar as it is staged, performed, and bounded by contractual obligations: everyone’s there to get paid, and usually to get paid an agreed amount for an agreed performance. If you try to break out of the conventions bounding theatrical performance, you get the theatre of cruelty; if you try to break out of the conventions of porn, you get gonzo (the comparison isn’t meant to dignify the latter; although neither genre particularly stands on its dignity). But the theatre of cruelty is still theatre, not life; gonzo is still fake-ass porn, not sex the way you’d have it if you weren’t being filmed for money.

I wonder about the desire for novelty and transgression. I don’t think it’s universal, but I also don’t think it’s something implanted by the market dynamics of the porn industry. To me it seems a bit meta, as if sex were first of all about one lot of things and then one might on reflection become interested in novelty and transgression as ways of playing with that original material. But for other people it seems to be a primary motivation: sex for some is all about stimulation, excessive and uncontainable stimulation at that, and the thought of endlessly retreading familiar pathways to gratification may come to seem unbearably dreary. I don’t really understand what it’s like to feel like that, and I don’t think people who feel like that really understand what it’s like to not feel like that. This may be one of the reasons why people in the porn wars so often seem to be talking past one another.

By Jim Jepps, on 02 April 2012 - 20:38 |

Surely the problem with the focus on gonzo is not that gonzo isn’t “interesting” (as a phenomenon) but that it is used to signify all porn and then all kinds of generalisations are made from that when they are not justified by looking at one narrow genre of porn alone.

The point, i think, is that if you choose only to look at “cruel” porn in order to study whether porn is cruel you’re choosing your evidence to fit the conclusion you want to come to, not genuinely exploring the issues

By Nahema, on 02 April 2012 - 22:20 |

I find Ms. Ditum’s reversals to be simplistic. As an answer to the “money shot” of men ejaculating onto women’s faces she suggests some porn shows women ejaculating on men, as if they were anywhere near equal in either frequency or cultural content. To counter the obviously-porn-influenced demand from men in anal sex claimed by college women, divorced women newly dating, and prostituted women, Ditum suggests some porn shows women anally prodding men.

What I’m left with is the same feeling I get when feminists talk about rape and men feel it absolutely essential to remind us that 1% of all rapes recorded are committed by women. But 99% of rapes are committed by men (mostly against women but also children and men), and that’s worth talking about.

It’s disingenuous in the extreme to say an organized, global industry that made Larry Flynt worth 600 million dollars and Hugh Hefner worth 800 million dollars is too diffuse with “socialist free porn” made by exhibitionists to be considered a massive corporate enterprise anymore. The existence of one organic lemonade stand is irrelevant to 5,000 WalMart stores each having half an aisle of lemon-based drinking products.

By Dominic Fox, on 02 April 2012 - 22:33 |

Well, for some things you can sometimes find a great example that just condenses everything you want to say about all the other things of the same kind - some domains are compressible like that, you can pull their entire logic out of a suitable exemplar. So the interesting question is why Gail Dines would see gonzo as containing the entire logic of porn; and I think it is because it’s a sort of perfect storm of gross misogny, implacable market forces and the addict model of porn consumption.

I’m not convinced that porn is as intrinsically diverse as some of its defenders claim it is - I think you can identify some common ideological themes on which its many, many ostensible subgenres are really just playing variations. But I’m also not convinced that gonzo’s the right exemplar, because I’m not convinced the narrative Dines condenses around it is the right one.

By Barry, on 03 April 2012 - 05:48 |

If porn doesn’t distort people’s sexuality how come there is any kind of market for “sex education courses, such as that provided by Bish Training[8], aimed at helping young adults negotiate the gulf between what they see portrayed in pornography, and the actualities of non-porn intercourse”?

By Sarah Ditum, on 03 April 2012 - 07:06 |

I’m not trying to redeem the whole industry by pointing to a few counter-examples: this is not about “one organic lemonade stand”. It’s about defining our terms. Dines’ only stated aim is to “destroy the porn industry” but she doesn’t say what porn actually is and draws her idea of a porn industry wide enough to include banks and electricity companies – so what are we supposed to be destroying? A better strategy would be one that’s focused on the working conditions in the industry and remedying exploitative practices there, and I write more about this later in the debate.

The idea of a porn-driven increase in male demands for anal sex is hard to substantiate. I recall anal sex getting a lot of coverage in ‘90s lad mags (a related phenomenon to the porn industry in some regards, but not identical to it). There are important questions about how porn shapes users’ expectations about sex, which are being addressed by educators such as Bish – and while there are many portrayals of relationships in our culture, porn pretty much has a monopoly on portrayals of sex. 

However, it bothers me that Dines treats anal sex as an inevitably humiliating or shameful experience for women – it isn’t, and applying the “anal = misogyny” model applies a very stringent set of norms to other people’s sex lives. What matters is less the individual act and more the process of consent within couples. Anything that represses our ability to discuss sex (such as tagging all porn as shameful and harmful) also represses the ability of men and woman to negotiate their own sex lives, and that is a great ill.

By Dominic Fox, on 03 April 2012 - 08:24 |

The one thing I would say about anal is that in porn it is often represented as humiliating, and the implied humiliation is a component of the spectacle, deliberately included and emphasised. Which may indeed be very different from how people go about it in their non-porn lives. But anal *in porn* certainly is a vector of misogyny.

By Luna, on 03 April 2012 - 13:33 |

“The one thing I would say about anal is that in porn it is often represented as humiliating, and the implied humiliation is a component of the spectacle, deliberately included and emphasised.”

When you talk about anal being presented as humiliating in porn, are you referring to anal where the woman is portrayed as enjoying it too, or just where she’s portrayed as disliking it/being hurt by it?  And what’s your opinion on pegging (in porn)?

By Dominic Fox, on 03 April 2012 - 15:14 |

I mean where a part of the spectacle is the notion that it’s humiliating or unpleasant, or somehow an act of submission; even if eventually portrayed as enjoyable (since humiliation, submission, are also portrayed as enjoyable).

I have no opinion of pegging as such. If it’s portrayed as humiliating, if acting as humiliator/humiliated were invariably part of the performance, then that would tell you something about porn’s opinion of pegging.

By catface, on 04 April 2012 - 12:24 |

Why on earth should any woman have some cold human being ejaculate on her face so you creepy people can be entertained by it? If you think anal sex is so great why don’t you do it for a living and see if you don’t feel humiliated and victimised by it. Go and have a wank if you want to or perhaps have sex with your partner who doesn’t realise you are up wanking at the computer while they wait for you to come to bed. Why should women who are generally poorer than you and less educated than you and who have less choices in life allow themselves to be exploited and abused for your sexual pleasure. It is incredible to refuse to see the link between porn and young men expecting all women to submit to anal sex, that didn’t come out of thin air, just as the expectation that all women will trim their pubic hair didn’t come from nowhere. Even if you find some porn “delightful”, some poor woman, an actual human being is being fucked over in every sense for your pleasure. I’d like to know what gives you the right. 

By RevMossGatlin, on 04 April 2012 - 20:33 |

“A better strategy would be one that’s focused on the working conditions in the industry and remedying exploitative practices there, and I write more about this later in the debate.” - Sarah Ditum

As a Red, I very, very much agree. Most of Dines’s moral outrage sounds like the understandable but misplaced anger of a liberal, not—say—a serious anti-capitalist lefty.

And I’d like to ask: Is Dines against ANY depiction of a sex act between real people for prurient interest? Photo, video, painting, Etch-A-Sketch?

Because my beef with porn is limited to, you know, actual human suffering and exploitation. Not “mind crimes” and any subsequent erections, and certainly not “dirty pictures corrupt!” That’s just more sex-shaming crap the Anglophone world can do without.

Are women acting in pornographic movies made by the porn industry being exploited? Are they suffering?

Of course! And it’s fucking horrible!

Not only because, hey, this is American capitalism and they’re wage laborers forced to sell their labor in order to survive, but also because acting in porn is a pretty extreme form of exploitation, considering the health risks, physical pain, etc. even if it is ‘consensual’ or ‘contractual.’ 

And because—in the case of Gonzo and similar genres—their often violent exploitation and degradation is fetishized, unlike, say, the plight of Florida tomato pickers or warehouse workers isn’t.

And so there I’d just say it’s ONE MORE REASON why capitalism and wage labor must be abolished.

Not ‘outlaw cumshots!’

If we lived in a society in which people didn’t have to do degrading, exploitative shit in order to survive—let’s say some kind of socialism—would Dines still have a problem with people who ‘fucked on film’—whether with someone they’re in a ‘romantic’ relationship with or with someone they just met? Would she still have a problem with whomever watched said fucking and got off to it?

Well, if so, then perhaps she’s a bit of a sex-shaming puritan?

Let’s say we suddenly did find ourselves in such a post-capitalist society: Would there still be people who enjoyed fucking on camera and distributing it across the intertubes for others to watch? 

Almost certainly. 

Would men still be aroused by and seek out aural and visual depictions of sexual acts?

Of course.

What there wouldn’t be is a LABOR MARKET for pornography, i.e. thousands of young women forced to do exploitative degrading shit in order to survive. It’s this and this alone that should be the target of any serious leftist critique of pornography. 

Not ‘cumshots.’

By Daphne, on 04 April 2012 - 21:24 |

Defining porn? Just go on the internet and look for porn and you’ll quickly get a sample of what mainstream porn is:  male orgasm centered, teen girls lying on the floor covered in cum, teen girls having their anuses wrecked, women being called derogatory names, men keeping their composure and women acting theatrically stupid while faking orgasm from playing with cum….  what does not fall under these descriptions is more the exception than the norm (I am talking about heterosexual porn as this is what influences boys and girls in heterosexual relationships…). How is this promoting women’s sexual pleasure? What is there not to worry when we know that boys are looking (a lot) at this kind of porn, that this is shaping their view of sexuality, and girls as well as they will undoubtly feel pressured to replicate what is done in porn, thinking that that is what they need to do in order to keep a boyfriend. Haven’t you forgot what it is to be young? Sorry, I do not mind a mature woman who experienced with sex and knows her body wanting to try anal sex or double penetration, but a teenage girl?  What we need to talk about is not about how porn can be cool and good, nobody will censor porn, do not worry about that, it will not disappear, what we need to discuss is the numerous negative impacts it has on people, especially youth’ sexuality.

By aSocProf, on 04 April 2012 - 21:45 |

Ditum’s main quibble with Dines’ work is that porn is too diverse to be analyzed as a singular entity; in fact it is sooo diverse it can’t even be conceptualized as an ‘industry’ hence Ditum’s use of the quotes around “porn industry”. I have heard this pro-porn argument before…there is no “IT” when it comes to the porn industry—there is no industry.  How is a commerical enterprise with several trade magazines, annual trade shows, annual award shows, training seminars, technological development companies, credit companies, consulting companies, an investment group all specialzing in pornography and A LOBBIST GROUP dedicated to advancing the economic and ideological interests of “the adult enterainment INDUSTRY” on Capital Hill not an industry???!!! Those are the hallmark indicators of a capitalist industry!! The problem for Ditum and the pro-porn argument is that the existence of an industry challenges the very core of their argument. The argument that porn is sex education and/or a reflection of what we actually do in our bedrooms only works if it is independent of structures of control such as capitalist modes of production.  If it is an industry then we have to ask how are these images produced?  Where do the women in the images come from? How did they arrive at pornography as a means of subsistence?  If it is an industry, then we have to ask how are they treated as laborers?  How are profits/resources distributed?  In a given year there are about 14,000 porn films released, millions of porn clips posted on the internet and the shelf life of the average female porn performer is about 1.5 years…am I to believe that there are enough empowered American women with maximum economic opportunities seeking to explore their sexuality to staff all these forms of sexual commerce?  If not, then what Ditum is asking us to accept is that the existence of Comstock justifies the economic and sexual exploitation of marginalized women.  Furthermore, Google seems to have no trouble coming up with a definition of porn of which the first choice is where a “Big Titted Blonde Whore [is] DP’ed by Black Dicks”.  The “industry” has online discussions and training seminars at its annual trade show on how to structure their Google search to maximize the exposure of the porn industry thus obliterating the value of Comstock as, dare I say, a healthy alternative.  The transgressive value of public sexuality will not be realized if the repressive industrialization of sexuality is ignored.  Ditum’s ad hominem attack on Dines as a sexual prude is a standard ‘talking point’ of the pornography industry used as a scare tactic to silence its critics.  That Ditum repeats this standard industry line reflects a shallow read of Dines who is clear that her ‘beef’ is with the industry NOT individual sexual behaviors and, as a fellow feminist, I am disppointed when we use those same labeling scare tactics to silence each other.

By RevMossGatlin, on 05 April 2012 - 03:10 |


“Ditum’s main quibble with Dines’ work is that porn is too diverse to be analyzed as a singular entity; in fact it is sooo diverse it can’t even be conceptualized as an ‘industry’ [...]  How is a commerical enterprise with several trade magazines, annual trade shows, annual award shows, training seminars…”

Is all of “recorded music” under the umbrella of either Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, or EMI?

Is it not possible now (and even in the recent past) for musicians to record and distribute their own recordings for their own purposes? Or to just record a song and pass it around to a handful of friends?

Does the NBA control all basketball games around the country? Bunch of teenagers playing a pickup game out on a high school court…is the NBA in control of that?

So yes, there is porn outside of “the porn industry” as there’s always been. Someone takes a picture of a sexual act and distributes it to other people for prurient interest. Or just keeps it for him or herself to wank off to. Well, there you have it: porn!

By aSocProf, on 05 April 2012 - 12:35 |

Porn ‘outside’ the industry does not negate the power of the industry to shape how we view and understand sexuality.  Just because I make a hamburger at home does not negate the power of McDonald’s and the food industry to shape the content of that beef.  The boys playing basketball will mimic the rules/plays and players of the NBA; they watch the game for tips which they imitate on the field.  Sure musicians can record and distribute independently, but the industry uses its political and economic muscle to make it as difficult as possible by controlling the distribution chains.  Finally, to argue that an individuals exchanging sexual pictures with another for pleasure is the same as a billion dollar industry marketing products is like saying Walmart functions the same as a garage sale. 

The focus of analysis in all of these situations is the role of capitalism in reshaping human behavior for profit.  The theoretical problem with the pro-porn argument is that it conceptualizes the world of porn as an open free expressive cultural realm governed by solely by sexual desire and expression.  As appealing as that vision of sexual utopia is, it is not reality.  Even the so-called DIY tube sites Ditum cited as evidence of this sexual utopia are corporately owned and controlled; in fact the top 8 sites are owned by ONE company. 

I am not suggesting that the ideological goals of pro-porn argument are not worthy—sexual empowerment of the individual without stigma or shame is a goal shared by all feminists.  But we will not achieve that goal by denying the role of the industry in shaping sexual practices in our bedrooms!  The argument that porn is too diverse to speak of as a singular entity is akin to a divide and conquer strategy out of which the dominant ideology always comes out on top.  And in the world of sexuality, commericialized pornography is the dominant ideology…even Ditum agrees with this.

By RevMossGatlin, on 05 April 2012 - 17:30 |

“Finally, to argue that an individuals exchanging sexual pictures with another for pleasure is the same as a billion dollar industry marketing products is like saying Walmart functions the same as a garage sale. “

Of course not. But I don’t think you understand: Dines is opposed not only to the porn industry and the exploitation and degradation of the sex workers employed (A VERY REAL CONCERN), but “porn” entirely. She even said it herself! She makes no distinction! This is a psychotic, authoritarian and puritanical position.

So it’s not surprising that her actual scholarship—as Ditum pointed out in her latest entry—is beyond shoddy. Because she’s not a serious scholar nor is she a serious thinker, and I would question her supposed “Marxism.”

So with Dinesian logic applied to your examples, Walmart is bad because it involves a cash-for-commodities exchange in a marketplace, not because of its hideous labor practices. And thus, with Dinesian logic, a bakesale is similarly verboten.

Gail Dines is not a serious thinker. And, apparently, a terrible scholar to boot.

By Sarah Ditum, on 06 April 2012 - 15:41 |

aSocProf: I haven’t called Dines a prude, and I wouldn’t. There isn’t a line in this piece that is directed to Dines herself rather than the contents of Pornland. I appreciate that she has profound ideological objections to porn. I’d simply like her to define what she means by “porn” and to assess the standard of her evidence for deeming it harmful (and harmful to whom). Sadly, she does neither of those things over the course of this discussion.

Catface: how presumptuous to assume that no woman enjoys the sexual acts you find disgusting. Much pornography is consensually produced - that which isn’t, I think it is better thought of as documentary evidence of assault. However, you need to accept that there is good practice in order to discriminate against the bad. By the way, for all its shortcomings, you’ll see more muff hair, and more vaginas of all varieties, all presented as attractive, in porn than any other genre.

By Dominic Fox, on 06 April 2012 - 18:28 |

“Much pornography is consensually produced - that which isn’t, I think it is better thought of as documentary evidence of assault.”

I think this (consent) is a weak criterion for distinguishing between mutually gratifying sexual acts (which are presumably always consensual) and acts which are not enjoyed by both parties (which may nevertheless be consensual, inasmuch as I can formally consent to have something unpleasant done to me for money which I wouldn’t otherwise want to do). Formal consent is more like a legal waiver than a “yes please!”. I doubt many of the “yes pleases” in porn are sincere, for the same reasons that I doubt many prostituted women get much of a real kick out of servicing their clients.

By nw, on 08 April 2012 - 04:01 |

“So the interesting question is why Gail Dines would see gonzo as containing the entire logic of porn; and I think it is because it’s a sort of perfect storm of gross misogny, implacable market forces and the addict model of porn consumption.”

I think this is an important comment, and one that’s easily answered. Anyone who can use the internet can very easily see that the vast, vast majority of pornography - the most mainstream of the mainstream - could be classified as ‘gonzo’. I cannot understand the preoccupation of pro-porn feminists with the ‘but it’s not all bad!’ argument when even the most cursory of glances at the most mainstream pornographic material out there makes it glaringly obvious that the industry now takes misogynistic degradation of women as it’s starting point.

‘Alternative’ porn exists, but is so, so marginal - there’s no way that it’s existence should be used as a rebuttal to the overwhelming presence of openly misogynistic porn out there.

By Catface, on 30 April 2012 - 20:04 |

Boy were you not listening, I can’t think of any sex acts that I find disgusting when people give informed consent and are not having to sell their bodies to pay for their kids’ clothes so you can be entertained. It’s pathetic that all you can think of because I would like to put a stop to women being used and abused for other people’s pleasure by a massive industry that makes an incredible profit from it, is that I am some kind of prude.    

By BK, on 08 January 2013 - 18:10 |

Porn is woman-hating, Gail gets it. She gets that supporting porn supports capitalist industries that market human sexuality and thrive off the bodies of women. Liberalism fails to understand the structures and institutions that perpetuate women’s oppression. 

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