Thursday, November 30, 2006

Naomi Wolf - The Porn Myth

I found this old Naomi Wolf article on one of the social networking sites, from 2003 in New York Magazine.

She is arguing that porn has reduced the desirability of actual flesh-and-blood women. Personally, I can't comprehend her argument, but then unlike the young men she is talking about, I was not raised on internet porn. When I was a kid, Playboy just made us want to know what a REAL woman was like. The mystery of her presence was what we dreamed of, not the variety of sex acts she might perform for us.

Here is some of the article:

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?

For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.

For two decades, I have watched young women experience the continual “mission creep” of how pornography—and now Internet pornography—has lowered their sense of their own sexual value and their actual sexual value. When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up. Your boyfriend may have seen Playboy, but hey, you could move, you were warm, you were real. Thirty years ago, simple lovemaking was considered erotic in the pornography that entered mainstream consciousness: When Behind the Green Door first opened, clumsy, earnest, missionary-position intercourse was still considered to be a huge turn-on.

Well, I am 40, and mine is the last female generation to experience that sense of sexual confidence and security in what we had to offer. Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough. Now you have to offer—or flirtatiously suggest—the lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene. Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax—just like porn stars. (In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled.) Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up. By the new millennium, a vagina—which, by the way, used to have a pretty high “exchange value,” as Marxist economists would say—wasn’t enough; it barely registered on the thrill scale. All mainstream porn—and certainly the Internet—made routine use of all available female orifices.

Since I am the same age as Wolf when she wrote this, and essentially of the same generation for the most part, I don't feel that I am one of the men she is talking about. But I can see her point, how she is viewing the problem.

I am certainly no prude and would never dream of saying men or women should not be allowed to watch or do anything they want as long as it does not harm anyone. So I generally see this as a developmental issue, and/or a result of the puritanical stance this culture has taken on sexuality. The more taboo it is, the more it becomes something to devour in as many ways as possible.

In a developmental sense, when a person moves beyond the egocentric stage, where fulfilling personal need or desire is predominant, the expression of sexual interest will become more about the sharing of erotic experience with an equal, and the emotional context will become as important as the physical. Eventually, assuming a person continues to develop, the spiritual or soul-level experience will also become an important context for sharing.

This might sound stuffy to those who are still at the egocentric stage, but you can still have a down-and-dirty quickie with soul, or a spiritually exciting animal-like encounter with your partner. But that is the key word, partner -- you're not likely to have the trust and safety with a stranger that you have with someone you love and have a connection with. You might have some great sex, but it probably won't be the rich and deep experience that is possible when it is more than physical gratification.

That is the argument Wolf should be making.


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