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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Pornography/Erotica=Good? or Bad?

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Author Topic: Pornography/Erotica=Good? or Bad?
kluekozyte
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Some people would argue that any portrayal of nudity or sexual activity intended to cause arousal (whether you call it erotica or pornography or art or smut) is damaging to a young person's development/body-image/sexuality etc. Some might even argue that it is bad for everyone.

I'm curious as to what people think about this. Is it possible for pornography to actually have positive effects on it's viewers? on society as a whole?

I'm especially interested to hear what Miz Scarlet has to say, given that she has experience in the world of artistic erotica and youth sex education. A question specifically for Miz Scarlet: has anyone questioned the propriety of you (as an erotic artist/writer) teaching young people about sexuality? If so, what do you say to those people?

That was a lot of questions, I know, but I'm very interested to hear what kind of reponses you all will come up with.

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Heather
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This is a pretty complicated question for me to answer per myself, specifically (especially on my first cup of coffee!), but here's the jist.

I'm not a Jenna Jameson, a Ron Jeremy or a Nine Hartley, in a word. Heck, a lot of the work you see/read in fashion mags is more porny than what I do.

The work that I do and have done is grassroots, literary and artistic, is NOT always intended to create arousal, often contains nudity but is not always about sexuality (and just as often is about sexuality, but doesn't contain nudity), is done in and from a feminist context and has always been intended for women. The work that I do and have done is not done intending profit, it's very personal, and I have never intended most of my work to BE pornography, though if someone wants to call it that, I don't get in a huge snit, because I accept the fact that once you do work, then oput it out there, you can't really control how it's received or seen. But there's some of my work -- such as, say, a photo series exploring my rape trauma -- which I'd be very upset to learn it had been used as pornography, if it had. But over the years, it's been pretty clear via what I hear back that most of my owrk is NOT used as pornography: it's stuff people hang on their walls and talk about over dinner. People who hire me to do photo work of them hire me for portraiture, for body image work, to explore certain issues -- they don't pass it off to others as porn, or resell it as such. I've had people email before asking if I'd take photos of them for things like SuicideGirls, and I decline.

I think it's...eh, a misfire to suggest that we can very easily lump art and pornography in the same pile. MOST pornography is made specifically for profit, specifically for men, specifically to NOT be in any way artistic, specificaly to provoke a very specific, predictable, intentional response, not to pose questions, explore ideas, as any sort of personal expression. Not only do most of the makers of porn not intend art, they generally are very specific that it in no way resembles art, because art doesn't sell like porn sells. And likewise for those seeking to create art: generally, a lot of thought and time is given to be making something that is different than most pornography, it's not accidental. So, I don't think it's as simple as what someone calls it: ten years ago, I thought a little more in line with that, but you know, you have a lot of exposure, you work a lot in a given genre, you obsrve all of this stuff over a long period of time, you get asked questions, you ask questions: your experiences change your views.

Given all of that, I may not be the most apt person to ask about this per me having a role in porn or the production of such.

That said, yes: now and then, I have had it suggested by some people (not very many, and again, I think this laregly has to do with the nature and intent of my work specifically) that the work I do/have done makes me unsuitable to work with young adults in sexuality education. Heck, just having worked in areas of ADULT sexuality EDUCATION closes some doors for me, silly as that is (since all of you will grow into adults, and if I didn't know about adult sexuality too, it'd make me pretty UNsuitable to be giving anyone sexuality advice). Having worked in ALL of this, including at Scarleteen alone, shuts the door in my face per ever going back to teaching Kindergarten again.

How do I answer that? Depends on who's asking and what they're suggesting, but for the most part, I point out that artists have been working with sexuality and the nude since there have been artists and writers. Usually, I invite those adults to really look at my work, and consider for themselves what I seem to be saying with it, consider the context I make it in, WHY I do that work (especially given the stigmas and the lack of income which I could remedy if I did very different work or resold it to be shown in a different context), in the hopes that they can see that the whys, hows, and whats of what I do in that genre are really very much in line with the other work that I do: about body image, about expression and communication, about ethics in sexuality, about feminism, about examining sexuality critically and/or creatively.

Personally, I don't think that most pornography has any capacity to have positive effects on culture, or specifically positive effects on the individual user/viewer. Per the latter, I think it's often just benign, a wash. I'd say that in some cases, it can be profoundly negative for the individual, for culture as a whole (and for those exploited in making it); in some cases I'd say it could be profoundly positive. But for the most part? Eh. As an industry, it's a really crummy indutry which even when not abusive or exploitive (and it often is), is not especially kind to those within it -- and if it's not kind to those within it, you've got to ask yourself how it could be beneficial to everyone. For what, let's say, 90%+ of it is per how it portrays women, how it portrays and commodifies sex, how it misrepresents sex and sexuality in general, and so forth? Not positive stuff.

But, there's another 10% out there that isn't that way, in material and media both intended to arouse, and that which may be about sex, about bodies, about sexual identity and so forth that is prettyb positive, or has the capacity to be pretty positive, but it isn't very visible, because it's not the stuff that rakes in the cash, and it's not the stuff *most* people are using as pornography.

But I certainly don't agree that ANY portrayal of sexuality, and especially nudity, is "damaging" to young people, especially when you consider the scope of what sexual expression is, especially when you consider that nudity does not equal sexuality (despite the fact that our culture sexualizes the female body nude, dressed and anything in between profoundly, and to the great complaint of women). I think there's an oversaturation in media in general -- not just porn, but ads, videos, TV programs, movies, etc. -- of not even sexuality, but a certain sexual hegemony that can be and clearly often is damaging, but that isn't about all sexuality and all nudity: it's pretty specific.

[ 07-05-2006, 02:14 PM: Message edited by: Miz Scarlet ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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kluekozyte
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Wow. I was expecting that you would have a lot to say about this, and you certainly did...

Here's a quick summary of what I think:

The porn industry has a very poor record of treating its workers with dignity and respect, portraying sexuality honestly and positively, and depicting women (and men) as more than sex objects. The public, for the most part, extends their negative perception of 'pornography' to include even the minority of erotica that does not disrespect women or healthy human sexuality.

I think this is unfortunate, because there are some people (of which Miz Scarlet is one) who are producing erotica and sexual/nude art for very good reasons, and this small, grassroots, positive porn industry (if you could call it that) often gets hurt by the legislation and general negativity aimed at the mainstream porn industry.

This is what I think is the most important point: The mainstream porn industry does not have to exist as an exploitive, negative force in our society. But erotic art, writing, and thinking is certainly never going to go away, and it shouldn't. And that's where Positive-Porn comes in. It answers the human need for sexual satisfaction without damaging humanity in the process. It's not just a solution, though; It's a whole new direction, with the potential to make positive change in the world. I envision a positive-porn revolution of sorts.

Of course that is exceptionally ambitious, because the negative concepts furthered by mainstream porn are just as present in mainstream television, advertising, magazines, and... well... our American society in general. So it will be a big fight, but I'm hopefull that there can be some positive change in this area.

What do you think?

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Heather
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I think you're one seriously optimistic little bugger. [Smile]

Here's the thing: the AIM of the porn industry is to make BIG, big bucks. And guess what? Just like The Gap wouldn't make the hgue profits without using sweatshop labor, the same goes (and all the more so) for mass production of sexuality media.

You also have to beat in mind that the majority of the stuff out there, the absolute crud? is what people BUY, and a lot of why it is what it is is that over time, it's been shown that that IS what is bought. Big shocker: in a sexist, misogynist culture, sexist misogyny is what sells, it's what gets most buyers of porn off. Not everyone, no, but the majority of porn consumers? Aren't complaining. They aren't complaining about the content, they aren't complaing about the treatment most porn actors/sex workers get: even those who know or suspect the facts JUST DON'T CARE.

I also think it's tricky to present pornography as a "human need for sexual satisfaction." Yes, to some -- MUCH smaller -- dgree, there has always been sexuality in art, and for a long time, some forms of porn out and about in the world, for centuries and centuries. But to present it as a given "need?" Eh, iffy.

And I hate to rain on anyone's parade, I do, but the direction things have been taking? Do NOT show "positive" movements in this direction. Ten, five years ago, a WHOLE lot more people were trying to make more ethical sexual material, a lot of alternatives, and most of those folks have withered away, primarily because it's a simple matter of supply and demand that just isn't there, and which, IMO, I'd say is there less and less.

quote:
The mainstream porn industry does not have to exist as an exploitive, negative force in our society.
Thing is, I don't know how it could be anything else. It's a large, capitalist industry built to make as much money as possible for those at the least risks, and that's it's intent.

(One personal nitpick? I'm not an industry, nor am I part of any one I know of and/or would choose to associate myself with. Quite the opposite.)

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bi_arcray
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I heared that pornography has helped clinical pcychologist to help couples having problems in satisfying their sex life or partner. But this excludes materials that objectifies women and children as center of sexual desires rather than human beings. I feel sad because there has been a lot of this mayterials that depicts unsafe and unhealthy forms of sex ( among such is necrophilia). But surprisingly the production of materials has been an industry now. You could hardly stop it or checked it cause a lot also demands for it. And as we know it, if the demand for the product is high a lot will try to provide the supply.

Going back to the topic, pornography can only be suitable to adults who is capable of understanding the whole picture and is mentally and emotionally ready for it. It is not suitable for the young for it may trigger their curiosity and may perform what they happened to see.

I guess the government must also try to be selective and monitor porn production company especially to the countries where they allow such business to operate.

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kluekozyte
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I may sound overly optimistic, it's true, and I'm sure I am. I hope I'm not blinding myself to reality though.

quote:
The direction things have been taking do NOT show "positive" movements in this direction. Ten, five years ago, a WHOLE lot more people were trying to make more ethical sexual material, a lot of alternatives, and most of those folks have withered away, primarily because it's a simple matter of supply and demand that just isn't there, and which, IMO, I'd say is there less and less
What I'm talking about, when I say that I think there has been in increase in this movement for positive porn, has a lot to do with the internet. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that pre-internet porn HAD to follow the strict rules of supply and demand, market forces, etc. which tends to limit small producers and create more capitalism and commercialism (obviously).

But I think the internet has allowed people with less resources ('resources' being connections to the porn industry, massive amounts of capital, etc.) to create content on a smaller scale, with less commercial pressure to succeed.

The costs of running a website are significantly lower than the costs of running a video or magazine production and distribution company. That means that people running erotic websites can pay less attention to the bottom line and more to ethics, quality, and society as a whole.

I've noticed many many small porn/art/erotica projects online that COULD NOT exist in any other medium. This is what I mean when I say that there has been an increase in grassroots, small-scale production of erotica, and therefore there is now a greater potential for the growth of positive porn/erotica.


quote:
You also have to beat in mind that the majority of the stuff out there, the absolute crud? is what people BUY, and a lot of why it is what it is is that over time, it's been shown that that IS what is bought. Big shocker: in a sexist, misogynist culture, sexist misogyny is what sells, it's what gets most buyers of porn off. Not everyone, no, but the majority of porn consumers? Aren't complaining. They aren't complaining about the content, they aren't complaing about the treatment most porn actors/sex workers get: even those who know or suspect the facts JUST DON'T CARE.
Maybe I have more trust in humanity than you do, but I think (total speculation here) that a lot of porn consumers- the ones buying the 'absolute crud' are buying it not because it is bad, but despite of it; because they don't know that there is stuff out there that is just as erotic or more so without being bad (i.e. negative).

quote:
I also think it's tricky to present pornography as a "human need for sexual satisfaction."
I agree. What I meant is there is undeniably a human drive for sex- not only to have it, but also to talk about it, sing about it, paint it, draw it, photograph it, etc. And pornography is a manifestation of this drive. For this reason, eroticism (let's call it that; not pornography) always has been part of the human existence and always will be.

quote:
I'm not an industry.
I called you an 'industry' with complete sarcasm, don't worry. In fact my point (however poorly communicated) was that this 'positive-porn' thing I keep talking about it the opposite of an industry. It is a movement of individuals: an 'individustry', you could call it.

So I think the key to loosening mainstream porn's grasp on society is in education-- spreading the word that pornography doesn't have to be bad to be good, if you know what I mean.

I know there's not going to be any revolution anytime soon, with people marching in the streets and all, but I do think there is the possibility of a gradual growth of these positive, grassroots forces in the world of erotica, with the effect of pushing some of the market share away from the exploitive, money-grabbing type of pornographer.

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kluekozyte
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quote:
Going back to the topic, pornography can only be suitable to adults who is capable of understanding the whole picture and is mentally and emotionally ready for it. It is not suitable for the young for it may trigger their curiosity and may perform what they happened to see.
I just realized I haven't said a single thing about the original question "Is porn damaging to the development of children?" The obvious answer to that question is "of course it is."

And I think that answer is right for the most part.

But I also think that seeing as most kids with a computer are going to end up seeing porn whether they want to or not, (and this is a very difficult problem to address) it would be much better if the porn they happened upon (or sought out) did not depict women as sex objects, show only cosmetically altered bodies with bigger breasts and penises than the vast majority of humans actually posess. But if the porn they find shows real women, real men, real sex, and real information... I don't know. I think that's a lot less damaging, certainly, but perhaps there is still potential for harm if a child who really isn't ready for that information finds it.

Sites that show non-sexual nudity, however, I think are harmless.

In previous generations, kids found out about sex and the anatomy of the other gender through hushed schoolyard conversations, older siblings and worst of all, trial and error. Now a lot of kids are introduced to sex through pornography and mass media. Neither way is very good. The best solution? Sites like this. Education.

The question is how to route kids looking for sex information away from the commercial pornographic misinformation and toward educational communities such as Scarleteen. I don't have an easy answer. I'm sure there isn't one. But minimizing the internet footprint of negative mainstream porn somehow would certainly help.

But how do you do that without throwing out the grain with the chaff; the baby with the bathwater. I'm running out of answers. Any ideas?

[ 07-05-2006, 09:50 PM: Message edited by: kluekozyte ]

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Heather
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Just a few words on some of what you've said here, then I have to draw a few lines with this topic. Namely, given this site is intended for a group of an age for whom, legally, this is a non-issue, I just don't want to delve into it too deeply. Plus, I have a boundary issue with some of this.

I think, though, that some of where you're coming from in your hopes here comes from not understanding how the whole industry works, online or off.

For a person to, for instance, make a pornographic site of any substantial size or scale, the costs are yes, less than those for say, a video production or a print magazine, but not THAT much less. Site producers still have models/actors to pay. bandwidth costs for adult sites are more expensive than those for non-adult sites. Often video still has to be produced, because most porn consumers want that. Webmesters and site designers have to be paid. Copywriters have to be paid. Lawyers and accountants have to be paid. Web "amateurs" often still (and that wasn't the case with most at the start of that, but over the years, it has become so) -- and here comes "supply and demand" again -- get breast implants, facial surgeries, all the trappings of mainstream porn. Why? Because the consumers do generally want this stuff.

quote:
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that pre-internet porn HAD to follow the strict rules of supply and demand, market forces, etc. which tends to limit small producers and create more capitalism and commercialism (obviously).

But I think the internet has allowed people with less resources ('resources' being connections to the porn industry, massive amounts of capital, etc.) to create content on a smaller scale, with less commercial pressure to succeed.

Sites which need money to sustain themselves still operate by these rules. And people still need to pay their bills: this is WHY most people go into sex work, to get paid. Very few people would do so otherwise, because for very few people is DOING the work (rather than looking at it), an enriching, feel-good experience much of the time. Are there some who say it is for them? Yes. But not very many in the whole honkin' group, and those numbers decrease the longer a given worker does the work.

quote:
Maybe I have more trust in humanity than you do, but I think (total speculation here) that a lot of porn consumers- the ones buying the 'absolute crud' are buying it not because it is bad, but despite of it; because they don't know that there is stuff out there that is just as erotic or more so without being bad (i.e. negative).
That isn't about a lack of trust in humanity on my part. It's about plenty of long-term friendships with sex workers, talks with indie and mainstream porn makers, and reading a lot of what porn consumers have to say. There are SOME consumers for whom what you are stating above is the case. But that is not the case with most, and thus, we have issues like, for instance, the fact that adult actors who will bareback DO get paid higher amounts, because the majority of porn consumers do not want to see condoms in their porn, and not because they don't know it endangers the health of the actors (especially the female ones). Because they do not care. Most consumers buy the porn they want to buy because it is the porn they want to buy: offered alternatives, most do not want them. One of my oldest friends runs the biggest adult website review site out there, and if you asked her, she'd tell you that over the last five years, it has become HARDER for her to find better material and more good indie sites, not easier.

In a word, the trend you're hoping for/suggesting is happening did seem to be happening a handful of years back, and mostly petered out, and does NOT seem to be happening now. In other wordsw, the independents seem to be following the mainstream trends far more than forging new ground.

quote:
I also think that seeing as most kids with a computer are going to end up seeing porn whether they want to or not, (and this is a very difficult problem to address)
Actually, it's really very easy to address: it's far more complicated to deal with the issue of seeing porn on billboards or on television. Per computers, it is relatively easy to set up screening devices which parents can arrange in any number of ways to filter out porn.

[ 07-06-2006, 12:40 PM: Message edited by: Miz Scarlet ]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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kluekozyte
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quote:
Actually, it's really very easy to address: it's far more complicated to deal with the issue of seeing porn on billboards or on television. Per computers, it is relatively easy to set up screening devices which parents can arrange in any number of ways to filter out porn.
I disagree. Parents can set up filters and blocker programs to try to keep their kids away from porn, but it is not nearly as simple and easy as you suggest. I have friends who have such programs installed on their computers, and they have some unintended effects: non-porn sites that discuss sexuality (such as this one) may be blocked as well. And some porn sites will inevitably get through- especially non-English ones (of which there are many). So it's not so easy to solve the problem that way.

I think opt-in content rating systems such as ICRA offer a better solution, although they have problems as well. The main problem, of course, being that they are opt-in. If governments legislated that all adult sites had to be labeled as such, and in different levels of explicitness, that might be a good step.

quote:
this is WHY most people go into sex work, to get paid. Very few people would do so otherwise, because for very few people is DOING the work (rather than looking at it), an enriching, feel-good experience much of the time. Are there some who say it is for them? Yes. But not very many in the whole honkin' group, and those numbers decrease the longer a given worker does the work.
True. But there are definately some individuals for whom it is a positive experience, although many of them might not consider what they produce porn at all, rather erotica, art, etc. When I say 'positive porn' I am refering to this category; not the majority of sex workers who are not benefited in any way (quite the opposite, in fact) by their occupation.

quote:
Given this site is intended for a group of an age for whom, legally, this is a non-issue
This will probably get some people mad at me, but I don't think it's a non-issue, because despite the legality or illegality, lots of minors are consumers of porn, and this is a fact that NEEDS to be considered, not looked away from. I know very few individuals (male or female) between the ages of say 14 and 18, who claim to have never looked at any pornography. It's the reality, whether we like it or not.

A question: do you (anyone) think that there should be a law against under 18 purchase of 'adult' material? I don't think having a number representing adulthood makes sense. But probably there is no way around it. You can't really have a law that says "It is illegal to sell material to persons who are not mature enough to view said material."

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Heather
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You know, I don't particularly CARE, to be frank, if you don't think it's a non-issue. You aren't the one who can end up on the recieving end of a class action suit, or with more teens being able not to access the site because it's bringing up intensive discussion on the business of pornography.

So, like I said, this is not an extensive discussion I want to continue here.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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