For (belated) Lady Porn Day: What are the experts saying?

02/26/2011 at 7:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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February 22 was Lady Porn Day, a blogging event organized by Rachel Rabbit Write. This is the same blogger who, last year, organized “No makeup week.” In this case, “Day” is something of a misnomer, as today is actually the last day of the week-long Lady Porn event. (A good thing, too, considering my recent writer’s block.) In an interview with the Huffington Post, Write said the purpose of Lady Porn Day was to, “Essentially to celebrate porn and masturbation. I’m inviting everyone to talk about their porn experiences, share stories and to ultimately share their porn recommendations. This is about not only opening up a dialog about how porn is good, but also how porn is hard, how it can be an issue for women, in terms of dealing with guilt or body image or their sexuality.”

What’s been on my mind for awhile and has finally been knocked loose by this event is the subject of pornography and sex therapy. I’ve been thinking about this topic because I’m seeing a conflict between sex therapists who embrace pornography as a healthy & valid part of human sexuality vs. those who view it as the source of all kinds of sexual problems. Sex therapy is a possible treatment option for some folks with sexual dysfunctions and problems, so clients could find themselves in the middle of a political, academic & psychological tug-of-war between experts.
I’ll show you what I’m talking about, but with a caveat: you must bear in mind that I myself have not had sex therapy and I have absolutely no desire to do so, to the point where I’m actually quite resistant to sex therapy as a treatment for my dysfunction.

Whether or not sex therapists and sex educators are pro-porn or anti-porn looks to me like it’s largely a function of their own personal politics.

Notable sex educators who have articulated porn-positive arguments include the following:

Dr. Marty Klein is a long-term sex therapist and author who is very much anti-censorship and who consistently defends the use of pornography. He does identify as feminist and is clearly pro-choice; however one theme I’ve noticed in some of Klein’s writing is that he is critical of feminism – or at least, select vocal feminists and feminist groups. Oh well, so am I.
Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a feminist sexologist who is highly critical of female sexual dysfunction and so spearheaded the New View perspective of FSD (a perspective which I myself am highly critical of,) likewise recognizes a valid place for pornography in women’s sexuality.
Jessi Fischer is a sex educator who you may know better as The Sexademic. She recently got into an academic debate about pornography, opposite Gail Dines and Shelley Lubben – two notable anti-porn activists. (Each side of the debate was joined by additional activists, so it wasn’t just Fischer Vs. Dines & Lubben.) The pro-porn side of the debate came out on top – the audience members voted on who made the more convincing argument and decided it was Fischer’s team.
Dr. Carol Queen, sex educator with GoodVibes, wrote a post in favor of porn and Lady Porn Day – which makes sense considering her involvement with instructional & graphic sex videos. Most porn is not for educational purposes, but there’s some out there that is.

Nonetheless, porn-positive activists can be critical of porn. Pornography can, and often does, have problems. Criticisms of porn from sex-positive therapists may consist of something like, “This element is good, that element is neutral, and if you will look over there there, there is the element is the inherently problematic one that needs fixing.” And the element that needs fixing may be something like, the marketing of porn rather than the content itself. A great example of this took place a few weeks ago when actress Nicki Blue elected to film her first vaginal intercourse experience for the pornographic website, kink.com. The initial marketing for Blue’s film shoot was highly exploitative and inaccurate.

But I’ve seen activists, educators and licensed therapists go in the opposite direction too, and come down hard against pornography. Often this stance against pornography is lumped with a warning against sex and masturbation addiction – which is another extremely controversial topic. However, I’ve repeatedly seen more acceptance of the term “Compulsion” instead of “addiction” to describe obsessive sexual behaviors, to the point where such behaviors interfere with someone’s personal or sexual life.

Dr. Mary Anne Layden is a clinical psychotherapist and Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy, part of the University of Pennsylvania. In 2004, she went before the US Senate to talk about the so-called dangers of pornography. In another interview with the Washington Examiner, she talked about the process of becoming addicted to porn when she said, “There’s always an escalation process. We don’t know what the threshold is, and those with addictive personalities will start it earlier. But I see a lot of people who didn’t show any psychological problems before [viewing porn].”
Jason McClain is a UK therapist who considers himself to be a former porn addict. He runs an organization, Quit Porn Addiction, and now he counsels clients who likewise want to break away from porn.
Dr. Alvin Cooper is a sex therapist and director of the San Jose Marital & Sexuality Center who contributed to a documentary, A Drug Called Pornography. According to the linked synopsis, this film’s thesis is that, “Pornography is an addiction. Its effects on users and their loved ones are just as habit-forming and destructive as heroin, tobacco, or any other addictive agent… The program features disturbing interviews with pornography addicts, many of whom are convicted sex offenders. They talk frankly about how pornography affects their psyches and systems, coloring all their activities and relationships.” And according to this Time article, Cooper also gives seminars about addiction to cybersex.

In addition, Googling search terms such as, “Sex therapy addiction” or “Sex therapy porn” brought up many, many more results for therapists and organizations that prominently feature treating sex and masturbation addiction among their services.

I am confounded, though not surprised, to see that sexuality experts with licenses, teaching jobs and more credibility than me have not come to a unified agreement on porn’s place in sex therapy. It’s not surprising that sex therapists haven’t come to a standard approach on how to deal with pornography, because there’s precedent for a lack of resolution: Pro-and-anti- porn debates in politics, academia and feminism remain unsettled.
But it is confounding, because who am I supposed to believe, and why?

Actually, I have been convinced by the arguments of the porn-positive side. I especially appreciated Violet Blue’s analysis of the for-profit agenda of major anti-porn activists. This analysis, and others like it, also note that anti-porn rhetoric is also often anti-masturbation – a healthy sexual activity. There are numerous other arguments in favor of pornography that I have heard which have contributed to my “Up with porn” POV… the only reason I’m not getting into them right now is because it will take too long to document everything.
Though I’ll also admit that most porn has problems which could and should be handled better (but won’t,) and, like just about any other tool, it can be used for the forces of good or for evil… and everything in between.
(Plus I’ll admit to some potential bias – I have a subscription to a porn site which I regularly check on. I have not noticed any ill effects from doing so…)

So there’s a couple of scenarios with regard to porn use that I envision as potential problems in a sex therapy setting. While I have no experience with sex therapy myself, I nonetheless speculate that these scenarios have probably come up before many, many times in clinical practice. So I would be surprised if practicing therapists and educators didn’t have tools in place to address such situations. How could such conflicts not come up?
The problem is, because so many google search results for “Sex therapy addiction” or “Sex therapy porn” result in facilities looking to treat addiction to porn & masturbation, I am not able to find out what these client-therapist conflict-resolving tools may be. The search results are too bogged down with stuff I’m not looking for. (Little help? Anyone?)

One of my concerns is with regard to pornography and sex therapy is that if you’re entering into a therapeutic relationship with a licensed professional, there’s inherently going to be a power imbalance. The therapist has probably had more exposure to educational materials, which may have their own biases & agendas. You and your therapist are probably going into that relationship with some ideas about pornography to begin with. If there’s a match between your beliefs and your therapist’s, then in terms of personality you may not have a problem, and you may be able to swiftly work out a plan of action. But if you and your therapist have conflicting beliefs about pornography as a tool in your sexuality, then you may have a problem.

So what happens if you are someone with a sexual problem or dysfunction who just happens to have a history of porn use? If you find a sex therapist who is anti-porn, will your previous or current use be zoomed in on as the source of your problems to the exclusion of other contributing factors?

Or what happens if, due to the conflict between you and your therapist re: use of porn in sexuality, you decide to find another therapist? That may be possible, depending on your geographic location. Finding a good therapist may take time and transportation, depending on where you live and what sort of resources are available in your area. Checking my own local area via the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Certified Therapists, I was surprised to find one licensed sex therapist! The next “Local” one, though, would be about 45 minutes away by car – not exactly the worst commute, but certainly not convenient, either. Finding Kink-aware therapists may be another option.
I’d like to imagine that sex therapy may be easier to provide now and in the future though, thanks to technology like Skype, though this is speculation – I do not know if there are any therapists willing to use this remote communication service with clients. But,  hypothetically, if I were very unlucky, then I might be stuck with a therapist I don’t agree with, or no therapist at all.

Basically, for Lady Porn Day, like many bloggers my concern is what happens to the porn users and their partners who are stuck in the middle of it all. This conflict between professionals is unlikely to be resolved  any time soon. The most neutral article about porn use in a relationship was this one from About.com, which says, in the end, “Whether or not pornography will add to or lessen a couple’s sexual enjoyment is up to each couple.”

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  1. “Sex therapy is a possible treatment option for some folks with sexual dysfunctions and problems, so clients could find themselves in the middle of a political, academic & psychological tug-of-war between experts.”

    This is so true for kink as well, and it’s super aggravating. Therapy needs to be tailored to the client, and for some people porn and kink may be bad but for others it can be a definite plus. If you can’t see this as a therapist because you can’t get past your ideological blinders, you probably shouldn’t be a therapist.

    Also, this: “Nonetheless, porn-positive activists can be critical of porn. Pornography can, and often does, have problems.” Yes, yes, yes!

    And don’t get me started on the problems with Kink.com :-/ I was actually confused that people were so up in arms over the Nicki Blue thing, because *so much* of their promotion is exactly like that! At this point I’m kind of wondering if it’s even possible to have ethical, large-scale pornography in a capitalist society… but that’s another discussion!

    • I think that there is a need for a separate set of guidelines to help clients find kink-friendly therapists in the first place is a symptom of a larger problem. (I expect that the kink-friendly therapists would be more open to as well porn but you never know.)

      I agree that if you are a therapist and you have a problem with consensual, though controversial, sex acts then maaaaybe you should reconsider your career… in the same sense that pharmacists & doctors who invoke the “Conscience clause” to refuse treating gays & women maaaaybe shouldn’t be in such a position of power over people’s lives & health in the first place.
      (Understatements.)

      I’m just like, right now clients & patients are caught in the middle of this controversy between professionals. It’s the people who have problems who are going to be used as fodder in this back-and-forth argument. I feel like it’s clients & people with problems who are getting used as cannon fodder in this fight!

  2. (BTW– I started writing this back when I first read your post, then got distracted by something else and came back to it periodically over the next few weeks. So it might read as kind of disjointed. I wrote something in here about fanfiction, for instance, before it turned out that your next post was about erotic fanfiction too, and I could probably write a pretty long ramble about how I first discovered it and my experiences, too, but… trying to keep this post to the topic at hand here. Also there’s some crude language in here that I’m… mainly using as examples, but you can feel free to edit it if you want, if it might cause problems with search engines or spam or something.)

    Wow, re: that Nicki Blue thing, ugh. Good job on that post writer’s part, though, pointing out the problems with the intercourse-centric and heteronormative language and assumptions being made.

    (Also, can I just add how much I hate the euphemism “losing your innocence”? As one of the commentors in that post pointed out, if “innocent” equals “knowledge of sex,” then an adult performer is definitely not “innocent.” Some people who have never done anything sexual in their lives know more about sex than some people who have been sexually active for years.)

    I’m at a point in my life where my thoughts about porn are… really difficult to describe. I’m at a point where I no longer feel as much guilt for looking at it or being turned on by it as I once did, yet paradoxically, I also feel like I understand more why some feminists object to it. I just don’t think the things that some feminists object to have to go hand in hand with making explicit material, and I also don’t think that certain topics have to be necessarily degrading and oppressing– I’ve met some women, for instance, who are very turned on by the idea of being “used” by men in the way some mainstream porn depicts. I think the ethical problems come in for me where… a woman who fantasizes about something like that knows it’s a fantasy, or might take place in BDSM scenes that enact it, but also knows that she doesn’t really exist just to be a sex toy for men to use. But I don’t think directors and marketers of mainstream porn are generally careful to make this distinction. Especially not in the marketing. There’s this chain from making to distributing, with any form of entertainment, and in mainstream porn it seems like disturbing attitudes are likely to enter that chain at some point or another. It’s like there’s this lowest common denominator that they seem to keep trying to appeal to.

    I know some people have tried to ameliorate the problems they see as existing in mainstream porn, by making porn that’s supposed to appeal to a female audience. The problem is that I really don’t get much out of most “designed for women” porn, from what I’ve seen of it, or at least the type that’s supposed to be appealing because it emphasizes romance and isn’t too graphic– it’s embarassing to admit, but generally, when I want to look at porn or erotica or whatever, it’s because I do want to see people graphically having sex and enjoying it. There doesn’t need to be a plot or romance; if I want to see plot and romance with sex, I am actually, um, more likely to read fanfiction. (Not to push the impression that fanfiction is all about sex or anything– I’ve been into it for way too long to think that– but, er, for what it’s worth, even when a lot of the writers are clearly amateur and their work could use some editorial polishing, some of the decent fanfic out there still manages to pull off the “plot and character development with believable sex” thing in a more satisfying way than a lot of commercial fiction does. For me, at least.)

    But I still do see what some people are talking about when they say it’s degrading or exploitative. Like… it’s not that women are naked, or having sex, or whatever. I don’t believe there’s anything inherently exploitative about a woman being naked or having sex on camera. It’s just that… there is this whole exploitation/objectification culture that seems to go along with marketing porn towards white, straight, cis men (which is most of the porn out there). Where it’s sold/promoted with this veneer of… treating women who openly enjoy having sex as sluts, and slut as something that makes a woman worthless for everything but sex. And objectification and exoticizing of women of color, trans women, and lesbians. That in particular is extremely bothersome to me, because it’s… so difficult to find any mainstream porn that doesn’t at least have some of that laid over it in the promotion and marketing. Sure, the busty white cis woman who’s starring in that movie might be perfectly happy to be in it, and the promotion for her might not be particularly degrading, but what about a woman of color who walks in just as enthusiastic to perform? Even if she’s treated well on set, it seems almost inevitable in a lot of places that some racial fetishism and exoticizing is going to go into promoting her eventually.

    And those “lesbian” scenes that are so ubiquitous in a lot of mainstream porn– okay, let’s face it, most of them are just designed to appeal to straight male fantasy. And the performers may be perfectly fine with doing them, but chances are that when they walk out of the studio, they aren’t going to end up worrying about whether they’re legally considered married in the state they live in, or whether they might be denied the ability to make decisions on behalf of an ill or incapacitated spouse because their marriage isn’t considered a “real” marriage. And I’m at a point where I kind of feel like I’m not even allowed to have an opinion on that any more, about whether it might be bad to continually treat lesbians as if they only exist to fulfil straight male fantasies, because I’ve been shouted down so often in the past in debates about it, by people insisting it was harmless and that if straight guys want their lesbian fantasy porn, end of story.

    Admittedly, I know a lot less about how trans women are treated in porn– just that the trans community in general is strongly opposed to the way they’re treated as “shemales” and existing to fulfil cis men’s desires. If anyone knows more about what trans women actually experience when working in the adult film industry, I would be interested to hear, since I am mostly ignorant about it at present and not sure where I could find reliable sources of information.

    But the whole chain of marketing thing… It’s like wanting to know where your food comes from, or your clothes– who might be exploited on the way from its origin to you. Is this website that’s hosting these movies/pictures I like also hosting exoticized crap about “hot Asian pussies” or “hot shemales”? And if it is, I can’t help but fear that I’m inadvertently contributing to this exploitation, just by giving the website traffic. And like with clothing and food, if you go looking for porn in most places on the Internet, it’s almost inevitable that somewhere, in the process of making it to hosting it, some kind of objectifying and exoticizing has taken place. Kind of like shopping at Wal-Mart. :p Even if the actual material itself is not degrading or objectifying, and those things are coming entirely from how it’s being promoted.

    I actually kind of… switched over at one point to looking almost entirely at amateur porn. Partly because it’s nice to see bodies that are realistic and not all… plasticky-looking, partly because when people are willingly making their own not-for-profit videos and pictures of themselves, you don’t have to worry about directors or studios being involved in objectifying crap.

    And I know there are professional performers like Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley who not only genuinely enjoy working in adult entertainment, but go to lengths to educate people about sex through their work too, and that the people filming them support them in that. The problem is that I’m pretty sure most performers don’t have the amount of control that they do over how their work is marketed and promoted. And I do know from what I’ve seen that many amateur performers, and even some people who do run pay websites, go to extremes to distance their porn identity from their “real life” identity. Which is understandable, but it also means, I think, particularly for amateurs, that you have little or no legal control over what happens to your videos or pictures once you upload them somewhere.

    And the whole hosting thing causes a lot of my ethical worries over looking at porn, because no matter what the intents of the people who made it were, it can still end up with objectification somewhere in the pipeline just because of the site hosting it. I’m thinking in particular of the various Youtube-equivalent porn sites that are out there now. My feelings about those kinds of websites are really mixed. I will admit that I look at videos on them from time to time, partly because they are free, have a lot of amateur stuff, and if you want to find a particular subject you can search for it. And I do get the impression that the vast majority of the performers are doing it willingly and enjoying it. The problem is that… no matter how much the people in the video enjoy it, if it’s uploaded to a site that profits from that objectification culture, accepting ads and popups and so on from companies which use objectification as marketing, or freely permit racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc comments on the videos, it’s still hard to feel like I’m not partaking of the objectification culture, or benefitting from it, if I watch it.

    People make things look more objectifying than they were meant to be, even– I’ve seen people do things like take videos from other sites and upload them with descriptions like “hot slut gets fucked hard,” where… I get the distinct sense that the word is being used in the context of any woman who enjoys sex = a slut, and an object for men to use. And gay videos are not necessarily that much better than heterosexual or lesbian ones, either. A lot of them still wave around racist exoticizing of “big black cocks” or similar, or “hot shemales” (apparently trans women still qualify as honorary men, to the people designing some sites, as long as they have penises).

    That, and many of those Youtube porn equivalent sites have a tendency to crash browsers, or leave nasty stuff on your computer. I scan mine for viruses, cookies, etc, every time I look at one, because I just assume by default that they are going to leave some kind of crap on my computer.

    But I still do look at videos on them occasionally. I really don’t know what to do about it, to be honest. If I try to “stay away,” I get to a point where I realize I’m mentally conceptualizing wanting to look at people having sex, in the same way as a lot of diets make you mentally conceptualize food. It makes you have an unhealthy relationship with something that you don’t, by necessity, have to have an unhealthy relationship with. But then I go back there and they still have the damn “see hot slutty women getting fucked in the ass!” and the exoticizing crap on the ads (which are often placed so that you can’t avoid having them on the screen with the videos) and so sometimes, just out of ethics, I have to force myself to stop and ask “okay, how much do I really want to look at this, and is there anything else I can look at instead.”

    I think that at least some people who find themselves having unhealthy relationships with porn do it for the same reason people end up with unhealthy relationships with food– it’s marketed as something desirable-yet-forbidden, and you’re constantly told from a variety of sources that you should not be looking at it. Then if you do go and look at it, you feel guilty afterwards, and might go through cycles of bingeing and abstaining. I mean, I can’t claim to understand what it’s like to be a person who considers themselves a porn addict, or has a serious problem with doing this repeatedly, but… it seems to me like a similar dynamic is going on in at least some cases, where the unhealthy relationship is created because of social attitudes and people have trouble finding a way to balance it with the rest of their life. (I might be completely talking out of my ass here, but… it just seems that Western culture has such similar “forbidden” attitudes towards both food and sex.)

    But I think, also, that sometimes people do see the objectifying attitudes that are inherent in how a lot of porn is promoted, and may feel as guilty about that as they do about looking at porn per se– it’s just difficult to disentangle the two because of that cultural baggage, often. And on the subject of therapy, I think it is a major problem if someone offering to “treat porn addiction” doesn’t see that these are actually two separate issues, or bother trying to figure out if the patient can disentangle them, and exactly what the source of their guilt is.

    • Sometimes, I can see where porn-critical feminists are coming from too. But then, sometimes there’s a few who are saying stuff that I can understand, but then take it to an extreme – something like condemning not just the marketing – but the actions that were depicted on film or in print. Both the marketing + the sex were bad. Or that pornography cannot be redeemed. Or else then I have run across arguments going far and saying that pornography in and of itself is the cause of sex addictions. That’s where I draw the line. (Also I think I’m much more interested in looking at an addictive personality – like, if it wasn’t porn, wouldn’t it just be something else? If we use such loose language like “Porn addiction,” does that also mean that other questionable addictions like “video game addiction” are legitimate things?)
      Other times there’s an argument like, how can sex on camera possibly be 100% fully informed & consensual when we are immersed in an environment that directs women to act a certain way… but if such pressure to perform sexually didn’t exist, that same woman *might* make a different decision?

      I’m not into a lot of the ‘made by women for women’ genre either, at least, not with the live-action stuff. There’s some women artists who draw stuff with a woman audience in mind. But I’ve seen some live action stuff made for women where, in a cis heterosexual scene, the guy didn’t have an orgasm. I wanted to see it.

      It also very much bothers me when people joke about “Porn for women” and it’s like a dude doing household chores. And nothing else. He’s not even in a state of undress. That isn’t porn. I think XKCD made a comic about that awhile back. Yes, that’s lovely, thank you dear, whatever, but it isn’t doing anything for me.

      There are at least two pay-for websites that I know of that are of the kind of porn I like, with the drawn stuff. With one of them, I saw an advertisement for it on a webcomic. The thing is, the advertisement for the porn was so starkly different from the marketing in other mainstream porn sites – I right-click saved the ad because I liked it so much. It just really stood out in contrast to much of the problematic elements laid out here.
      Still, once I signed up, there was some content on the site that I was a little uncomfortable with. Even though all of it (including the characters) are fictional.

  3. I am catching up on my blog reader, and as usual, I am way behind.

    I found some erotic for you, K!

    Best XXX ever – Mom Don’t Read! It has everything – text, familiar gaming characters, cartoon like drawings…oh wait, but no high quality writing.

    • My goodness but that certainly was an erotica, mm-hmm. I like your description, “Cartoon like drawings.” Indeed the drawings are… I guess that qualifies as, a drawing… that MIGHT HAVE BEEN a cartoon.

      (You know what’s terrible though, I don’t know if the editing of big websites has gotten any better since then but a couple of years ago when I was looking for good stuff, there was submissions included in archives that were just like this. Except for serious.)

  4. Whoops, *erotica*, not erotic.

    • Leave it! It’s funnier that way. “An Erotic” with nothing after.

  5. [...] For (belated) Lady Porn Day: What are the experts saying?: In which I feel like I’m in the middle of a tornado and the tornado is made up of different [...]


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