“The Atlantic” Explores How The New World Of Porn Is Revealing Eternal Truths About Men And Women

by • January 19, 2011 • Psychology, SocietyComments (0)3875

It wasn’t that long ago (i.e. not even 15 years ago) when porn films were actually difficult to watch.  That seedy curtained-off room at the video store, the germ-ridden XXX cinema, etc.  It was the realm of dirty old men, and a few dirty old women.  With the advent of broadband, however, everything has changed, and an innocent young student can hide behind her propped-up Hello Kitty binder and watch God only knows what on her smart phone during math class. Nielsen ratings showed that in January 2010, more than a quarter of Internet users in the United States, almost 60 million people, visited a pornographic web site. That number represents nearly a fifth of all the men, women, and children in this country—and it doesn’t even take into account the incomprehensible amount of porn distributed through peer-to-peer downloading networks, shared hard drives, Internet chat rooms, and message boards. In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, journalist Natasha Vargas-Cooper explores the effect of this easy, 24/7 porn access on our society.  Here are some excerpts:

Porn’s new pervasiveness and influence on the culture at large haven’t necessarily introduced anything new into our sexual repertoire: humans, after all, have been having sex—weird, debased, and otherwise—for quite a while. But pervasive hard-core porn has allowed many people to flirt openly with practices that may have always been desired, but had been deeply buried under social restraint. Which means that men now have a far easier time broaching subjects once considered off- putting—for instance, suburban dads can offhandedly suggest anal sex to their bethonged, waxed wives.

Consuming Internet porn, then, mimics many of the sensations found in sex. It’s overpowering and immediate; it is the brute force of male sexuality, unmasked and untethered. Martin Amis, in his fragmented fictional meditation on male depravity, Yellow Dog, depicts the delirious and uncontrollable effects of viewing porn. Amis writes: “He slithered around in his chair and made a noise intended to drown something out—my God: pornography turned the world upside down. You gave your head away, and what your mind liked no longer mattered; now the animal parts were in the driving seat—and tall in the saddle.”

The manner in which one physically, and emotionally, contorts oneself for sex simply takes sex outside the realm of ordinary human experiences and places it in the extreme, often beyond our control. “Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness,” Susan Sontag wrote in Styles of Radical Will. Yes, it’s a natural, human function, and one from which both partners can derive enormous pleasure, but it is also one largely driven by brute male desire and therefore not at all free of violent, even cruel, urges. At the heart of human sexuality, at least human sexuality involving men, lies what Freud identified in Totem and Taboo as “emotional ambivalence”—the simultaneous love and hate of the object of one’s sexual affection. From that ambivalence springs the aggressive, hostile, and humiliating components of male sexual arousal.

Pornography, with its garish view of male sexual desire, bares an uncomfortable truth that the women’s-liberation movement has successfully suppressed: men and women have conflicting sexual agendas. The new neo-feminists (it’s difficult to keep track of whatever wave the current “movement” is riding) argue that the primary obstacle to women’s gaining greater equality in the political and economic sphere is today’s “hypersexuality,” and specifically the spread of online porn.

In her 2005 review of a documentary about Deep Throat (a movie that in today’s world of porn might be rated PG-13), Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis compared porn to science fiction: “Like sci-fi, porn replaces existing realities with wild alternative universes (against which to measure the lackluster, repressive world we’ve inherited).” But instead of a sexual ecosystem populated by an overheated species of Amazon women and ponytailed men, the Internet porn aesthetic verges on unvarnished realism.

Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, frets that the overwhelming exposure to emotionless, rapacious sex on the Internet will socialize men to find degradation of women sexually arousing. She writes, “Porn is actually being encoded into a boy’s sexual identity so that an authentic sexuality—one that develops organically out of life experiences, one’s peer group, personality traits, family and community affiliations—is replaced by a generic porn sexuality limited in creativity and lacking any sense of love, respect or connection to another human being.” Dines, however, ignores the fact that men behave differently than women. It wasn’t just Ward Cleaver–type stuffiness that prompted generations of dads to warn their daughters not to get into cars with boys. Dads are grown men, and they know that when it comes to sex, most men will take every inch a woman yields.

Even the crudest of online porn captures only a slice of the less-than-uplifting aspects of the sexual experience, because porn not only eschews but actively conceals this singular truth: the most brutalizing aspects of sex are not physical. This is made plain by the great, filthy, but far from pornographic Last Tango in Paris, which Pauline Kael described as the “most powerfully erotic movie ever made.” What makes Last Tango so devastating and resonant is not the sex acts, for which the movie is often remembered, but rather the common but annihilating emotions that fuel them: desperation and loneliness. It’s the clash between vulnerability and indifference that transpires after sex that is so savage. This is what Kael called “realism with the terror of actual experience.” The most frightening truths about sex rarely exist in the physical, but instead live in the intangible yet indelible wounds created in the psyche. Go try to find that on the Internet.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is the author of Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America. To read the entire lengthy article you can visit The Atlantic‘s website here.  WARNING: THE FOLLOWING VIDEO CONTAINS EXPLICIT PORNOGRAPHIC MATERIAL WHICH MAY BE CONSIDERED OFFENSIVE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED – PLAY THIS VIDEO AT YOUR OWN RISK.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/18925628[/vimeo]

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