Naomi Wolf Talks Porn… Again

Naomi WolfA couple of years ago I expressed disappointment that Naomi Wolf had come out and declared “modesty” in the form of religious veiling to be feminist. Before that I was sick of her endlessly recycled article on porn.

Now she’s touring Australia and is once again talking porn, this time in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald. I waded in, begrudgingly and emerged with mixed feelings about what she had to say.

Put briefly, Naomi Wolf still thinks porn is bad, mmmkay. Her reason for this is that “it’s definitely affecting young women and men’s sexual development deeply, deeply, deeply.” She argues that seeing porn from an early age is changing the way young people have sex and that it is not encouraging women to embrace their sexuality properly. She bases this mainly on anecdotal evidence, tales of female students fronting up to doctor’s offices with anal fissures after a first date. She says: “Young women do compare themselves to pornography and they do have porn running in their heads when they’re in sexual situations. I’m not a prude, but I don’t think that’s good for their sexual confidence or confidence in their bodies.”

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I’m conflicted about these kinds of statements because I do acknowledge the concern there. Mainstream porn can send a lot of negative messages about body image and sexuality and we need to be talking to young people about it.

What I’m uncertain about is whether all these frightening anecdotal stories of girls being fucked over by ignorant porn-loving guys are true on a large scale. Are young people really imitating what they see in porn? Have anal and facials really become de-rigeur? Or are today’s young people actually more sex-, tech- and porn-savvy than that? Where’s the actual research?

One of the things that’s never mentioned during these “teens look at porn!” panics is the idea that, alongside all that easy access to porn is a simultaneous easy access to information. Girls in my day (and Naomi’s) weren’t able to find porn within a few keystrokes but we also weren’t really able to easily find information about sex. Cosmo “101 positions” articles and Dolly sex advice columns were about the best we could do.

Now things are different. Your average teen can easily look up information on any aspect of sex (type “sex advice into Google”). There is a vast amount of sexual information available on the internet, including sites like Go Ask Alice and Scarleteen that are specifically focused on young people. Add to that the many feminist sites discussing porn and sexuality and even sites like Make Love Not Porn which seeks to counter misconceptions about sex and porn.

So while I’m happy to acknowledge that it’s a problem if teens are using porn as sex education, I’m wondering if they’re really the startled ingenues everyone assumes them to be.

And I guess the question is: if we are worried about how young people use porn, what’s the response? I’m all for education and communication, talking about sex and the way that sex is depicted in porn and in society as a whole. Naomi’s solution, unfortunately, is abstinence:

Research shows that pornography desensitises; if you consume it a lot, you need more or more extreme or more and more intense images in order to get the same sensations over time… The best thing we can do is try to persuade young women and men that it’s not good for their sex lives, it’s not good for their self-confidence, and they’ll have better sex if they choose not to let this stuff shape their sense of sexuality.

My question is: what research? Are we talking the same research done by those earnest Christians who are out to prove that porn is “addictive”? Because their philosophical position and Naomi’s end up in a similar place: Porn is bad, mmmkay. (See my previous post on Dirty Girls Ministries to see just how similar their arguments can get.)

Naomi was asked about where non-mainstream and queer porn fits in. Interestingly, she acknowledges that some porn can be liberating and self-affirming but then she quickly skirts around the issue, returning to her main argument that it is desensitising. It’s not surprising she brushes past the topic because I think it’s one of the great sticking points in her case.

There are plenty of people who are enjoying non-mainstream porn and discovering new aspects of their sexuality through erotic imagery and writing. Porn can revive relationships and help women to orgasm for the first time. It can showcase different sexualities, different body types, different techniques and different experiences and this can be very reassuring to see. Porn like the films of Tony Comstock can also affirm the beauty of the sex act and the way it expresses love and intimacy. I simply can’t accept that fact that porn is, in essence, a completely negative thing that will always impact badly on a person’s sexuality. This assertion is just not true.

It really keeps coming back to the idea that porn is this giant, heterogeneous thing, something that only ever shows hetero sex where the woman is submissive or abused. Sure, there’s far too much of that out there and we do need to be talking about it and discussing its merits or lack thereof. But to dismiss the whole idea of porn as automatically damaging is far too simplistic an argument.

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5 Replies to “Naomi Wolf Talks Porn… Again”

  1. I remember back to the media tart Michael Carr-Gregg bleeting about anal sex being standard amongst 13 year olds during the filter furore.

    I think the publics aversion to talking about sex/porn/sexuality will hamper any sort of worthwhile evidenced based discussion on the subject.

    I caught some interviews with english consituents

  2. So… I take it Ms. Wolf has never watched a crappy slasher flick… or badly done sci-fi picture… or slob comedy? Is there sorry-ass content out there in all genres? Hell yes. Is porn infecting the minds of the young? Hell yes… and the not-so-young, too. Is porn responsible for massive amounts of young girls taking it up the old dirt road first time out? I kinda doubt it; seems to me that’d be more a case of being young, stupid and DENIED the necessary sex-positive, ethically-inclined sexual education teens need lest they make stupid calls like this.

    Does porn give people the devolutions? Probably about as much as the latest “reality” show… which I call HBB (Humans Behaving Badly). The issue isn’t whether porn is the culprit (it isn’t); it’s about the CHOICES we in free societies make. Nobody would make that crap if nobody watched it; if we CHOSE quality programming, then that’s what they’d deliver… but we don’t. Instead we turn on the stupidest waste of electrons there is out there and lap it up; the cruder and more lascivious, the better we like it. Same with porn – if we didn’t buy the crappy stuff, spending our money instead on the quality stuff… then guess what’d happen? That’s right – we’d get more of the good stuff being made and delivered to the marketplace where we consumers can part with our hard-earned moolah for their financial benefit.

    Are teens using porn as sex education material? Hell yeah – know why? Because Mommy, Daddy, Reverend Such-and-Such, Mr./Ms. Scout-leader/Teacher/Youth Counselor/etc. are all too FREAKED OUT AND IGNORANT about the entire subject themselves to be able/willing to give our kids the straight talk they need and deserve!

    Okay, Ms. Wolf and fellow travelers, you say porn’s screwing up our kids? How about this? How about you sit down and write a lovely book/shoot a video/give a series of lectures aimed at a teen audience that teaches kids how to have sex in a way that makes it what God surely intended – a beautiful and gratifying expression of affection and (dare I say) love? Keeping kids in the dark about sex is like not feeding a kid sugar; it’s doomed to failure simply because there’s far too much of it around… and sooner or later they’re going to get into it… so the ONLY way to keep kids (or anybody else for that matter) on the healthy side of the issue is to EDUCATE them about good and bad choices… and how to navigate the swamp around them without getting sucked in by it. You teach kids to stop, drop and roll if they’re on fire; you teach ’em not to run out into the street…. So, how come when it comes to one of the most potentially dangerous (even life-threatening with the prevalence of HiV) life situations they will ever encounter, you get a case of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell”s?!

    Choices, people; do we do right by our kids and teach them what they should know… or sit on our thumbs and blame somebody else for our failure to do what’s so clearly our responsibility?

    forestscribe

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