The Pornography Industry Also Messes With Men's Heads

Douglas Haddow at Adbusters takes a look at the pornification of Western culture and how it affects men's views of sex and masculinity. You can guess that he doesn't think it's done any good.

He starts off describing his first experience with porn, at a sleepover in his early years.

Beyond the faint hum of the machinery, my mates' chuckles and gasps and the crunching sound of cheesy poofs, my ears are keenly attuned to the dialogue of the "film" that's got us so transfixed.

"Fuck my pussy doctor!" the nurse commands, putting an end to the corndog foreplay that I thought would never cease. She then lays herself out on the examination table and spreads her milky thighs wide open as the shot dissolves into a close-up of a mustachioed physician's abstractly penetrating gaze.

And so it began. My virgin eyes were submerged into an ocean of luma-chroma sex acts and the outrageous poetics of consumerist eros: turgid hard-ons mechanically harpooning seeping vaginal canals and gracefully spraying sperm streams atop mountainous titties with their omnipresent nipple peaks.

I, personally, am really hoping that "corndog foreplay" is a metaphor. His point, though, is that when he was younger, porn wasn't nearly as widely available as it is today and what there was of it was relatively less violent.

But fast forward a few years and, with the advent of the Internet, a virtually unlimited — and virtual — stream of porn was at every masturbation fan's fingertips.

Buoyed by this exponential growth and the backing of media conglomerates like News Corp, the production of hard-core video increased by 700 percent from 1992 to 2005, with worldwide revenues clocking in at nearly $100 billion. Porn had officially arrived, and its enviable profit margins forced "legit" mass media to gradually conform to the aesthetic of its fleshy contours.

As more people watched porn, it began to seep into pop culture, untill Haddow himself was hired to participate in it.

I walk into the makeshift studio and there are a number of naked and semi-naked porn "stars" (white dwarfs really) floating around like wandering livestock. After drilling back a couple vodka tonics, I follow the girls over to a cheap white-paper backdrop and we get to into it. "Spread your legs," I say. "Eat her pussy out, yeah, that's it, oh fuck yeah." I'm just regurgitating tired clichés but it feels natural, like swinging a bat or popping a jump shot. Hostile facial contortions and faux cunnilingus ensue. The producer is up to his eyeballs in blow, pacing back and forth, his teeth chattering up and down like a wind-up toy.

That sounds somewhat less than actually erotic, much like Haddow's description of his first Max Hardcore film that he watched for the piece, which disturbs him enough he quits watching.

Instead, he surfs to watch a Sasha Grey film as research for their interview. He contrasts that with Grey's view that pornography serves an important — and even educational — function.

The calm, thoughtful tone of her voice creates an unsettling sensual cocktail when mixed with the vacancy of her pixilated hazel eyes, an oasis of "the real" in a desert of unreality. Or perhaps it's just a mirage or a "lovemark," as marketing guru Kevin Roberts might say. The Sasha Grey brand is an ideal vehicle for the normalization of porn because she's a willing industry activist who genuinely believes that the consumption of her videos promotes a positive understanding of sexual health.

But has our outlook on sex become so pornified that we're willing to accept 20 minutes of vacuous anal sex as sex-positive edutainment?

Haddow also has a conversation with French author and filmmaker Virginie Depentes, who thinks that porn is somewhat less necessary for a healthy sexual outlook. She says:

"Pornography hits the blind corner of reason. It directly addresses our primitive fantasies, bypassing words and thought. The hard-on or wetness comes first, wondering why follows behind. Self-censorship reactions are shaken. Porn images don't give us any choice: here's what turns you on, here's what makes you respond."

Depentes is arguing — like Meredith Chivers' research into female sexuality shows — that arousal can be pre-cognitive, stimulating us without us being conscious of why... or even liking that it does.

But for all that, Depentes doesn't think that porn makes people more sexual. She told Haddow:

First,that the traditional anti-porn stance on how violent and misogynistic material incites rape and violence towards women is false due to an inaccurate analysis: pornography actually subdues rather than provokes. Consuming pornography does not lead to more sex, it leads to more porn. Much like eating McDonalds everyday will accustom you to food that (although enjoyable) is essentially not food, pornography conditions the consumer to being satisfied with an impression of extreme sex rather than the real.

Depentes believes that pornography doesn't add to one's sex drive — or one's education on or understanding of sex — but rather reconditions one into feeling that pornography is the appropriate or preferred release of that drive.

Both Depentes and Haddow think that the pornification of our culture is part of — and contributing to — what should be the evolution of society's views of masculinity, but isn't. Depentes says:

Second, unlike women, men have largely failed to re-evaluate their sense of purpose in the 21st century. Feminism as a social revolution resulted in the emancipation of the female and the displacement of traditional male roles. Rather than making a conscious effort to resituate "the masculine" in the context of rising gender equality, heterosexual men have in many ways fallen into a subconscious, anti-feminine counterrevolution.

Haddow adds the ways in which pornography plays into that.

Picture [a dude] sitting on a couch, in his underwear, at 2:00 a.m. His naked profile lit by the warm glow of a laptop screen. He's surfing the net, reading about how Hitler invented the first sex doll, which prompts him to play a quick round of Call of Duty. He's tossing grenades and sniping Nazis, but then he gets bored so he pops in a bukkake DVD and tosses off to the image of a female performer being submerged in seminal fluid. He's satiated and disconnected but in the virtual world he's still a dominant, violent, virulent alpha male.

And now I don't need to eat dinner, but the point remains: in the absence of any real conversations about what masculinity (and sexuality) could be in an era of increasing gender equality, men are reverting to a stereotype about what it was, violence, dominance and all. Porn, after all, is just (mostly) women performing for the benefit of the viewer, placing him or her in a position of virtual dominance.

But the increasing prevalence of porn is also, by Haddow's estimation, contributing to its increasingly violent content.

In order to compete with porn, the mainstream media appropriates the pornographic, which in turn forces porn producers and websites to create more vicious and chaotic content. The mainstream becomes porn and porn gradually edges closer to snuff.

Of course very little of this sexual media reflects reality in any way.

Who hasn't experienced a lover who thought that something he or she saw in a porn was the way it was supposed to go — from positions that don't feel that great in reality to face-fucking to poorly executed oral sex — and you just knew it was because they'd seen too much porn?

But Haddow has a plan.

As our surroundings become inundated with pornographic imagery aimed at keeping us plugged into the feedback loop, it's easy to get distracted from what's going on beyond all the hot pink noise. It's in this fog of fake fucking that man sleepwalks closer toward an abyss of genetic implosion, environmental destruction and total economic collapse.

But crisis can precipitate change, and what needs to occur now is the genesis of a new "masculinism" – a philosophy of man that embraces the achievements of feminism and strives to reconnect with the real.

I have to admit, it would be kind of awesome for dudes to understand that feminism doesn't exist in opposition to men, but to a society and a social structure that seeks to place both men and women into rigid, unchanging and inherently unequal roles based on gender. Well, and for more dudes to think this thought:

When watching hard-core porn, one is struck by the message it so desperately attempts to communicate: sex is boring. And the more violent the porn, it seems, the more anti-sex its message. But could anything be further from the truth? Isn't having sex with another living, human being the one thing that provides the most intense connection with the present moment?

Pornocalypse Now [Adbusters]

Earlier: What Women Want? To Talk About What Women Want