The Anti-Porn Men Project

The Anti-Porn Men Project is a new “online space for (mainly) men to write about and discuss anti-porn issues.” And I really wanted to like it.

That statement may sound disingenuous coming from me. As a sex-positive feminist whose sexual identity is BDSM, I spend most of my time writing in favor of sexual freedom. I emphatically don’t support the censoring of porn, and I believe that many such calls for censorship arise from irrational grossed-out reactions and sexual fears.

But I do think that it’s incredibly problematic that very stylized mainstream porn is a dominant–perhaps the dominant–mode of sex education in America. This sucks particularly for women, since such porn is very rarely centered around female viewers’ desires.

I also think that sex workers’ rights are incredibly important, and that they’re often violated by mainstream pornmakers. Recently, I published an interview with an independent fetish-porn producer who criticized big fetish-porn companies for unethical, non-consensual practices.

That’s why I wanted to like the Anti-Porn Men Project. In their first post, they write that they intend to be not just “a source and platform for people who wish to speak about and explore anti-porn arguments and views”, but “pro-sex.” To this they add:

One of the reasons why we are anti-porn is because we are pro-sex. Porn is not sex, but in fact can play a very restrictive and damaging role in people’s sex lives and the forming of people’s sexuality.

Hey, sounds like we’ve got lots in common! I want to join the conversation! The authors present themselves as pro-woman and pro-equality. They describe porn, generally, as “sexually explicit material that is characterized in some way by cruelty, humiliation, or degradation of women.” For them, porn is in no way sex-positive, which is why they oppose it.

But I got more and more uneasy as I looked around their site. For one thing, there isn’t a single sex-positive feminist or sex-positive resource on their list of resources. For another, there is no indication that they are aware of, or care about, sex workers who like their jobs, or the pragmatic concerns of sex workers who don’t want to quit but are agitating for better working conditions. And thirdly, the site includes a section on “porn addiction”. Addiction? Really? People keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what they think it means. As  Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist Marty Klein writes:

Until about three years ago no one ever came in claiming to be a sex addict, or saying that his partner told him he was one. The number of these people has grown tremendously. Not the number of people acting out sexually—just the number of people using the magic words “sex addict” or “sex addiction” … The concept is superficial. It isn’t clearly defined or clinically validated, and it’s completely pathology-oriented. It presents no healthy model of non-monogamy, pornography use, or stuff like S/M. Some programs eliminate masturbation, which is inhumane, naïve, and crazy.

In addition, the sites’ moderators don’t acknowledge the existence of alternative porn. Not even relatively softcore, warm fuzzy films like those of Comstock Films. (Comstock uses the tagline “Learn through Love,” and their films feature committed couples who talk in-depth about their relationships before having sex on camera that’s just like the sex they’d have in private.)

Most importantly, I couldn’t figure out the Anti-Porn Men Project’s policy position. Are they actually interested in restricting porn access? If so, are they also inclined to restrict other supposedly “bad” sexualities such as BDSM? Would they go as far as advocating censorship?  I decided to ask these questions openly, and left a careful comment. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t out to have a big argument, but simply wanted to understand where they were coming from.

It took a couple of days for my comment to appear publicly on the site. One moderator, Bjorn, answered that the site had no clear policy agenda as yet, and that he personally is instinctively opposed to BDSM. I sighed internally and responded that as a pro-BDSM feminist, I hoped he would consider some pro-BDSM feminist perspectives. I acknowledged that sometimes it’s worth analyzing sexual power dynamics, but hoped they would make space for more complex narratives and multiple voices.

That was when I lost faith in the Anti-Porn Men Project. Because not only did Bjorn delete my response comment; he edited his own comment to remove his admission of being anti-BDSM.

If the Anti-Porn Men Project wants to encourage real thinking about porn and sexuality, then they ought to be acknowledging the complexity of these questions. They ought to put a wider spectrum of voices in their “Resources” section, including those of sex-positive feminists. They should either have a policy position or explicitly declare policy to be outside their scope. And they ought to be willing to acknowledge their own biases.  By blatantly erasing perspectives such as, say, mine–a feminist who enjoys power exchange, and finds potential for liberation within it–the Anti-Porn Men Project is refusing to acknowledge ideas that may be inconvenient for some ideologies, but which matter profoundly when trying to resolve important porn questions like consent and workplace ethics.

I hope that the Anti-Porn Men Project will come to reconsider its current narrow focus, as well as the appropriateness of pulling the rug out from under commenters like myself. I’m all for critiques of pornography–really! I just hope to see them discussed in an intellectually honest and respectful way.

Photo from Flickr user MoNewsHorizon under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. I suspect they have made a management decision to eliminate discussion of BDSM. Discussions of porn and sex work often polarize completely, and one of the reasons is the company various folks keep. Many antiporn activists are in the Janice Raymond/Shiela Jeffreys territory, folks whose ideology is hateful to BDSMers and trans* folks; and many antiporn feminists are allied with political and social rightists like Shelly Lubben and Donna M. Hughes, who have more common ground with James Dobson than with Susie Bright. Those views make it impossible to sell their anti-porn stance to people who don't already agree with them. Efforts by antiporn folks to reach out to feminists who are pro-BDSM and against transphobia have to have distance from those views. But there's a problem: They don't really have a lot of people in their coalition who have any distance from those views. There may be a few BDSMers who are lining up to cheer on Gail Dines, but only a very few. For the most part, being accepted in those circles means not voicing views that people like Clarisse and I are okay. The next best strategy for them, then, is simply to avoid saying what their broader ideological terrain looks like.

    • The next best strategy for them, then, is simply to avoid saying what their broader ideological terrain looks like.

      What I'm hoping is that the Anti-Porn Men Project is composed of people who don't actually intend to be dishonest or strategic in this way, but who merely haven't been exposed to enough alternate perspectives. The more time passes, the less likely that becomes, though.

      • They're called ANTI PORN for a reason, what makes you think you can change their minds?

        • "They're called ANTI PORN for a reason, what makes you think you can change their minds?"

          Um, because they might happen to be wrong?

          And in any event, there's a lot of people who *don't* have their minds firmly made up on this issue and can be reached.

        • Well, it's nice to see berryblade admitting to close-mindedness.

          There have been cases of anti-porn feminists evolving and eventually switching sides, Gail Dines' research assistant Beth being the most recent example.

  2. Monica Shores says:

    Clarisse! It is so exciting to have you here on the Ms. Blog. Thanks for a great post.

  3. This is a problem not just with this particular anti-porn project but with a lot of anti-porn movements or authors in general. You can't stop sexist porn by pointing out that it's sexist or by attacking it or trying directly to censor it. Without a demand for sexist porn, there will be no supply of it. The key to stopping sexist porn is creating and publicizing non-sexist porn that is an actual turn-on to heterosexual men while also retraining het men who use sexist porn to be turned on by a wider variety of porn. The typical approaches of anti-porn feminists seems to be "You may be actually turned on by this, but we are just telling you it is morally reprehensible, so don't look at it" or "Look at this great erotica that's made to turn on het women. Doesn't that turn you on, too?"

    • How odd. I have never encountered one of these "typical" anti-pornography feminists who would call depictions of egalitarian sexuality morally reprehensible. We generally call them erotica, as opposed to pornography (since pornography is not sex), though there are some who think egalitarian heterosexuality is impossible in a sexist culture. Now if you were speaking of religious fanatics like John Ashcroft who considered the Spirit of Justice statue obscene, your generalization might make some sense, but who would call him feminist?

      • "How odd. I have never encountered one of these "typical" anti-pornography feminists who would call depictions of egalitarian sexuality morally reprehensible."

        Well, then, Aletha, do encounter berryblade. See, she believes that all porn is morally reprehensible because women were harmed in the making of it. It does not matter if what is depicted in the porn is egalitarian or not.

        • Hah, hi again Aletha. Thought I might see you here. Thanks for putting words into my mouth Sheldon, you have a fantastic talent for that.

          ""…though there are some who think egalitarian heterosexuality is impossible in a sexist culture."

          which are my thoughts exactly, but naturally, pro-pornstitution pundits like Sheldon would like the readership here to believe that I think all porn is evil all the time.

          • Really? When have you ever stated that all porn is NOT evil all the time?

            If "egalitarian heterosexuality is impossible" in our current(sexist) culture, then how is any current heterosexual encounter NOT rape?

          • Sheldon, you may not be capable of conceiving how this is possible, but not everyone is a prisoner of this culture. We all have to deal with it, but we do not have to give it any credence. Egalitarian heterosexuality cannot coexist with the culture, but many things impossible within the culture are possible outside the culture. I could also say long-term human survival is impossible within this culture. Does this mean humans are doomed to extinction? If enough people do not break out of the strictures of this cultural box in time, many more species will go extinct, if not most, as the toxic burden surpasses the limits of adaptability, and personally, I do not see either party doing a damn thing about it.

            I have been sorely tempted to leave well enough alone on this blog since the moderators did not see fit to approve my previous comment, which was a response to your wisecrack here about Andrea Dworkin. If that happens again, I will take that as a sign I have worn out my welcome.

    • Porn is defined as "the graphic depiction of the vilest whores" – so I'm just curious, how can that not be innately sexist?

      "The typical approaches of anti-porn feminists seems to be "You may be actually turned on by this, but we are just telling you it is morally reprehensible, so don't look at it" or "Look at this great erotica that's made to turn on het women. Doesn't that turn you on, too?""

      Wtf?

      Anti-pornography feminists argue against pornography because real human beings (women!) were harmed in the making of.

      • "Porn is defined as "the graphic depiction of the vilest whores" – so I'm just curious, how can that not be innately sexist?"

        Whose definition is that? Andrea Dworkin's?

        The standard dictionary definition, to the contrary, is " the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement" (Merriam-Webster)

        • lonely loner says:

          you just have to google the word pornei to see that berryblade's / dworkin's definition is actually pretty accurate

          • Googling a word is not the same as the dictionary definition. If you just want to make up stuff as you go along, then meaningful communication is impossible.

            You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

  4. Hey Clarisse, cool to see you posting here.

    My experience with anti-porn men (and women) doesn't make me hopeful that they'll reconsider their biases.

    That whole debate is so polarized; it's great to see someone, by which I mean you, try to offer a smart pro-BDSM, pro-sex critique of the problematic aspects of porn. .

  5. I echo the others to say "welcome." I, too, am glad to see you writing for the Ms. Magazine Blog. Thanks very much for the link to The Anti-Porn Men Project. I appreciate your thoughtful analysis and, especially, your point that "they ought to be willing to acknowledge their own biases." I clicked over to see what was going on at the site. Their lead story right now is a link to a Gail Dines article. I won't rehash the problems with her arguments, but I will say that your insight is valuable and needed. We benefit from expanding our conversations about porn. Otherwise, a few people claim so much attention that they are hijacking the issues.

  6. Btw, I gotta ask, what do you mean by 'sex positive'?

    I'm assuming you mean 'PIV-Reinforcive'

    • I've written about my definition of sex-positive and my goals as a sex-positive activist in the following essays:
      * http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/02/02/the
      * http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/lib

    • Sex positive includes TIV – tongue-in-vagina as well as FIV – finger-in-vagina.

      You know what they say about those who assume…

      • But still perpetuating that vaginas are holes and need to be made whole by having something in them?

        • No. It's about pleasuring women, not 'filling a hole'. And while we're at it, let's make up some new acronyms to further enumerate the range of sex-positive practices – TOC (tongue-on-clit), FOC (finger-on-clit), TIA (tongue-in-anus), FIA (finger-in-anus). There are others as well.

          • Lonely Loner says:

            but still focusing on the idea that sex is something that's done to someone? if it's about pleasuring women why not just call it that? oh right, because it's not actually about that at all is it?

          • I did “just call it that” – read my October 29 post carefully.

            Just to say “pleasuring a woman” isn’t enough – what does that mean, precisely? So, I broke it down into examples of sex techniques and positions, because it was berryblade who first mentioned ‘PIV’. So, I was responding on her terms.

    • Julian Morrison says:

      PIV is hardly the only way to have sex. And it doesn't apply when you have two people with P (not necessarily men) or two with V (not necessarily women), or any three-plus people in bed at once.

      Seriously, this "PIV is the one true definition of sex" idea is pure patriarchy.

      • That's her point. Essentially, berryblade is telling me that I'm a tool of the patriarchy, but she did it in Advanced Ironic Feministspeak ;)

        • lonely loner says:

          if berryblade wanted to call you a tool of the patriarchy clarisse, i'm sure zie could have just done that, but it appeared that zie was actually asking a question.

          • I find that unlikely based on the tone. But, because this is the Internet and sometimes people misread, tone, including me, I nonetheless answered with the links above.

  7. Insurgence says:

    Wow. Your article really rubbed me the wrong way. I personally am a pro-sex anti-porn feminist with a heavy interest in BDSM from an early age. I have enjoyed reading your writings before.
    First of all, asking in your comment how they feel about consensual BDSM is completely irrelevant. I understand the need for society to understand that BDSM is safe, sane and consensual, but as the AntiPornMen site says: Porn is not sex. Asking this seems to me to be nothing short of inflammatory and has no context in judging the merit of the site.
    This whole article came off as a mix of being hypersensitive and elitist. All but one of your criticisms of the site were based on what they DIDN’T do or say. I agree that the best solutions consider all perspectives, but even having your comment removed didn’t seem to me to be with malicious intent, but rather just that it was a direction they didn’t want to go in.
    From the site: “Pro-sex. One of the reasons why we are anti-porn is because we are pro-sex. Porn is not sex, but in fact can play a very restrictive and damaging role in peoples sex lives and the forming of people’s sexuality.” This is feminism at its finest, and it’s a shame that instead of recognizing and commending them for this, especially when it’s so important for men to understand the harms of misogyny (which I don’t mean to imply in any way applies only to cisgender hets), you’re picking them apart for not meeting some standard.
    They have not claimed to be anti-BDSM or pro-censorship, and though I can’t speak for them, I am anti-porn. And don’t get me wrong, I was a regular user of hardcore pornography for years. I would never advocate any form of censorship, and instead would focus on recognizing its harms and eradicating the need for it. I wouldn’t be against promoting egalitarian porn, but I prefer to consider myself anti-porn because most (and the kind I prefer in particular) is of the degrading variety.
    To some, there may seem to be a conflict between enjoying (needing) to be submissive and being anti-porn, a feminist, and an anarchist. BDSM for me is a very personal thing, and all of its meaning and context is stripped away in pornography. I find my submission inherently more valuable and thus more liberating to give as I recognize and struggle for my autonomy in every day life.
    As your recent interview highlighted, you can never be sure if an act was truly consensual. And much of the easily accessible porn on the internet is gonzo. This gives absolutely no guarantee of any safety or willingness.
    … I have also felt the damaging effects of pornography in relationships and shaping our sexuality, where sex becomes more of a recreation of porn than an experience between individuals.
    I have found the reaction to an anti-porn stance to be hostile. Not watching porn is simple and it’s laughable to imply that there is no other way to masturbate than to do so. I find BDSMlibrary.com to be a wonderful site. And we could all probably stand to use our imaginations more.
    … I hate to see harsh criticisms of what I see as an honest and helpful initiative by men. We need positive reinforcement first before focusing on negatives. And I still look forward to reading your articles in the future!

    • I don't think any debate about any corner of sexuality can be complete, or honest, unless other types of sexuality are allowed into the discussion when relevant. Removing some voices of some forms of sexuality is stigmatizing, not to mention counterproductive. Would they have deleted my comment and changed their own comment if I'd been discussing heterosexual vanilla sexual dynamics, even if those dynamics were not directly relevant to porn? Of course not. It was stigma, plain and simple — and possibly concerns about where else I might bring the conversation. I mean, dear God, I might have suggested that some porn models aren't victims, and we can't have that.

      You say that their stance on BDSM is irrelevant — I disagree. I think that if they're willing to be flatly opposed to one form of consensual sexuality based on their stereotypes of it, then that needs to be examined. What's to say they're not opposed to porn based on stereotypes? What evidence is there that they're engaging in a real conversation about the power dynamics involved in porn, and not just squicking out and refusing to be honest about their triggers?

      And why is it reasonable for them to edit their own comments after making them, without even making a note of that? That's a huge red flag. If the real goal is honest conversation, then they could just tell me that they don't feel comfortable discussing these topics in their space. I wouldn't be happy about that, because — as noted — I do think that BDSM analyses of tropes and power dynamics could be really useful in this conversation … but I wouldn't have written a post calling them out either.

      I'm sorry my post came off as "hypersensitive and elitist", but I'm simply not willing to cut slack to a supposedly pro-sex initiative that silences sex-positive voices, doesn't use an honest debating style, and refuses to acknowledge the role of consent in sexuality that involves power dynamics. If that makes me hypersensitive and elitist, then I guess I'll have to embrace those labels ;)

  8. Excellent article, I came across that site a few days back. It really bothered me, especially the "What we hope not to be" section:

    What We Hope Not To Be:
    - A place to debate with organised or committed pro-porn activists.
    So they want a safe space to discuss their ideas where they won't be challenged or debated… not terribly intellectually healthy in my mind. Sure its nice to relax and chat with people who all agree with you, but its important not to mistake it for actual philosophical development.

    - Anti-sex. One of the reasons why we are anti-porn is because we are pro-sex. Porn is not sex, but in fact can play a very restrictive and damaging role in people’s sex lives and the forming of people’s sexuality.
    I really have to wonder how they define sex… and fantasy for that matter. Porn can be damaging, it can also be fun, an excellent way to explore your sexuality in a safe space (as is fantasy) and an opportunity to explore areas of sexuality you might not otherwise be able to.

    I too take issue with their definition of pornography. If they define porn as erotic material with harmful effects then of course they should be opposed to it, who wouldn't? What about erotica that doesn't involve cruelty/degradation etc. towards women? Or that doesn't even involve women?

    This said, other than the unwillingness to debate, I'm guessing that its a case of very poorly thought through definitions rather than an established consensus. Maybe they'll explore the issue further and redefine their position.

  9. I'm an anti-porn feminist and I'm just really relieved to see any men attempt to have some sort of conversation about the problems regarding porn- okay, so they have a LONG way to go, but at least they have got a start. They have probably been watching rape-fantasy porn since they were like 12…its such a sad and true state of things in the US and many other countries as well, pretty much every young adult man under 30 i talk to, including friends, admits to having started off at really early ages, some as young as 10, watching internet porn, and many have flat-out told me without me even asking that it was a major part of their sex education. Sad, yeah? And true. So, to see that there are men at all who would be so brave as to describe themselves as anti-porn (which is like suicide in this porn culture amongst other men….a man who wears a shirt that would say "anti-porn star" or something like that for example is going to get culturally killed- a woman would too, of course, though i have seen it be especially bad with men because of sexism in society, etc.)…..is really encouraging. And they aren't a bunch of crazy right-wing christians either. Yes you make really good points they do need to have more and better resources in their lists of resources and its really appalling that they deleted your comment. Overall good article and i do have a lot of problems with them but i also think we need to be honest and admit that it's not such a bad thing for them, your article makes it seem like they are pro-porn guys or something much much worse….im not saying we need to lower our standards but we should cut them a little slack these guys are probably pretty damn scared because of this pro-porn sexist culture we live in i mean how many average guys can you honestly say you can picture having any sort of anti-porn discussion whatsoever, especially young ones under like 35 (which it seems a lot oif not most of them are?)? Also give that guy a break for being instivtively anti-BDSM he didn't say he was outright against it just that his instinct is against it—-whoaaa if you want to help these guys don't shut them down like that. From an anti-porn young woman. Sorry if my spelling and grammar are horrible English is not my first language, I have dyslexia, and I'm still only a teenager so please cut me some slack too, yeah? Oh final note- I admire you for even bringing up anti-porn because my heart dies a little every day as i see more and more of my fellow feminist women (it feels like) who would never mention anti-porn, the problems with porn; some who call themselves feminists and participate in rediculously sexist porn (of course they were probably abused as children but still…you get my point….)….and then people assuming those of us who are anti-porn are basically anti-feminist crazy right-wing ladies and we are not we are like you know pro-choice and pretty much against anything else the right wing ladies would be for.

  10. I thought this article was going to be about the anti-porn men’s project. Instead, it is Clarisse Thorn’s unconvincing critique of it. False advertising.

Speak Your Mind

*