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.

About

Clarisse Thorn is a feminist, sex-positive, pro-BDSM educator who has delivered sexuality lectures and workshops to a variety of audiences, including New York’s Museum of Sex, San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, and a number of American universities. She created and curated the original Sex+++ sex-positive documentary film series at Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; she has also volunteered as an archivist, curator and fundraiser for that venerable BDSM institution, the Leather Archives & Museum. Clarisse recently returned from working on HIV mitigation in southern Africa. She writes about sexuality for a number of online venues; blogs at clarissethorn.wordpress.com; and Twitters @clarissethorn.