Women in Pornography and the Culture of Pornography

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Women in Pornography and the Culture of Pornography

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Using the resources in this week’s module, discuss pornography and the culture of pornography. Specifically, MacKinnon refers to the “violation” of women. Frame this within the re-exploration of sexual history in the Chapter 2 reading. Feel free to talk about examples from your own personal experience or to bring in your own opinions. Engage with group members to foster a detailed and thought-provoking discussion. Even if you already have two posts, you can always reply more!

Some things to consider while you discuss:

When women sell their sexuality is it empowerment or objectification? When is it either, neither, or both?
Consider recent trends of body positivism and self-empowerment, taking agency over your own sexuality, as well as disturbing trends of revenge porn. Take a look at the Recommended readings to familiarize yourself if you want to expand the discussion.

In Time’s current cover story, “Porn and the Threat to Virility,” Belinda Luscombe writes, “A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic—more prone to permanent change—than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.”

Most concerns about radical change strike me as sensible.

I’ve been pondering what the Internet is doing to our brains since Nicholas Carr tackled the subject in 2008; I’ve wondered what screens will do to children’s brains since Hanna Rosin raised the question; I commend to you this James McWilliams essay on the need to humanize digital life. A generation growing up with hi-def video porn is fraught with many of these same unknowns. Will it shrink attention spans? Rewire brains? Affect the ability to flourish in relationships?

Only time will tell.

Now, I’ve just cast the subject in terms of public health. But among social-conservative bloggers I follow, there is a deeper alarm at the Time story and what it portends.

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Denny Burk, a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, argues that what Time frames as a mere public health crisis is, in fact, a civilizational crisis with moral underpinnings that cannot be safely ignored. “This article is the latest evidence of our diminishing ability to speak about sex in moral terms,” he writes. “We are at a place in our culture in which sexual morality has been reduced to consent. Our society has embraced total sexual license. If anyone suggests any other moral norm beyond consent, they are dismissed as a puritanical, repressive throwback.”

That overstates the supremacy of consent.

Prostitution remains illegal in most of America, and has critics on the left and right, in academia as surely as churches, who are unmoved by the idea of consent as king. Two years ago, I suggested in this space that Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative might serve as a bridge between the sexual ethics of American Christians and secularists, and no one dismissed me as a puritanical, repressive throwback.

That said, many do believe consent ought to be the lodestar of right-thinking sexual morality, a proposition I have defended at length. And the surrounding debate came back to me as I read one of Burk’s subsequent claims.

The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure,” he wrote. “It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting.”

Let’s give this notion its due. In theory, it’s easy to see how ubiquitous pornography could lead more men to “think of women as objects to be used and abused.” There is no human relationship with the person onscreen in a porn video. He or she is as easily dismissed as pressing a remote control or closing a laptop lid.

What’s more, no one knows what today’s unprecedented porn environment will do to the children growing up within it. It is strange, if you think about it: People would be shocked by parents who filled their 9-year-old’s bookshelves with all the “great books,” a wall of reference volumes, and a selection of hardcore BDSM orgy scenes, but it’s perfectly normal to give them a smart phone connected to the whole Internet. I do not mean to suggest that traditionalists who regard that as madness are wrong.

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