The Dark Side of Pornography & the Price of Pleasure

Sex, Love, Liberation was created under the launch of Lady Porn Day, a week dedicated to heal the shame & unearth the curiosities surrounding women & pornography. Around this time last year, I was feverishly writing (& excitedly publishing) my personal encounters with porn for Rachel Rabbit White’s project.

My first article about porn acted as a lavish confessional for me, allowing me to come to terms with the fact that I, amongst many other women, enjoy watching other people fuck.

Through this admission, I began to explore using pornography as a way to get off & discover the hidden coves of my own sexuality: my fantasies, the thresholds of my desires, the vastness of my imagination.

In my work, I’ve found that women are indeed visual creatures (contrary to popular belief) & we desire just as much as men to be stimulated with erotic images. And we often feel shamed for it for no other reason than that they prompt us to feel guilt for stooping to a perceived lower level of sexual curiosity.

I saw the falsehood in that notion, & after Lady Porn Day I made it a mission to cut the ties that bind women (& myself) from enjoying visual, sexual release. And since then, I’ve proudly touted pornography as a healthy, harmless tool to enhance our erotic lives.

But then I watched a film called The Price of Pleasure, & every one of my views on pornography dramatically shifted.

It’s a documentary that dissects the nature, intention, & perception of modern, mainstream, & “top-rated” x-rated flicks & asks the questions:

How do these pornographic messages help shape our gender & sexual identities, & our relationships? And how did this industry, once considered seedy, become part of the cultural & economic mainstream?

This was one of those situations one goes into without fully knowing the way in which they’ll exit it.

I remember stumbling upon the film as I passionlessly searched through the instant-steaming library on Netflix. I read the description quickly, only focusing on the keywords sex & porn. I had little to no expectations about what I was going to witness or how it was going to affect me & my feelings surrounding porn.

I was simply curious (& slightly bored on a Saturday evening).

So I pressed play.

The film had barely started & I was immediately bombarded with images of the dark side of pornography.

This is what I saw:

I saw the commodification of tits & ass, the commercialization of sexuality, & the merciless objectification of women. I saw the glaring racism often found in pornography (e.g., the proverbial well-endowed black man & the whorish, animalistic black woman with ravenous sexual appetites).

I witnessed the glorification of the subservient, unresisting female that appears to fully enjoy degradation. I witnessed the utter disillusionment of women entering into sex work with the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” mentality.

But the one thing that resonated most with me was the dangerous presumption, spurred by pornography, that women actually want to be treated violently, that it’s part of a their nature to be man-handled & abused.

And as I sat through all of this, I felt this gnawing pressure to be this hypersexual, up-for-anything kind of woman in my sexuality. That if I don’t want to be partake in double anal penetration that I am less-than.

Now, all of this isn’t news. Anyone with a brain has a good understanding that porn can be malicious & depraved. Porn itself is not difficult to condemn, this I know.

Nonetheless, I walked away from the film with deep feelings of sorrow, anger, & repugnance for pornography, to the extent that I no longer understood the point of viewing it at all.

I certainly don’t think the film’s purpose was to deter people from watching porn. Rather, it was meant to pull back the layers of something extremely normalized in our society, something we very seldom acknowledge or question what we’re actually viewing in terms of erotic imagery.

The documentary gives you a high dose of the harsh reality of porn, & put me in a position to personally contradict every extolment I gave to pornography.

And now I’m really confused.

I wrote this post not as an antidote to the problem, but to reveal the personal inner conflicts I’ve been facing with pornography.

I know that ethical porn exists; I’ve seen it. But what about the dark side of porn?

What about the porn where the actor is being treated with violence & hostility? Is it okay to watch it if you know that s/he enjoys it? And how does one know if s/he truly enjoys it?

Is it still feminist porn if the actresses are getting the shit beat out of them for “pleasure”? What kind of messages do these images of depravity send to us as sexual beings? Where is the line drawn between fetish & cruelty? What is the price of pleasure?

I have so many questions.

And until those questions get answered, I’ll be staying away from pornography.

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Notable quotes in the film:

“Pornography takes the most intimate, the most private spaces of our lives — our sexual experiences, our connections to other human beings at that most basic level — & sells them to us.”

“When [a woman's] best choice is taking off your clothes & sticking toys in your cunt for money, I think there’s a real problem with the labor system.”

“I think we often make the mistake of thinking that pornography is just an image of people having sex. What pornography is is the world’s view, it is an ideology, it’s a way of understanding relationships.”

“How many men leave the pornographic world & seamlessly move back into the real world? That which is called a fantasy in the pornographic world is then experienced in the real world.”

“What’s interesting about porn or strippers or any other kind of sex work it’s women whose job it is to impersonate lust, or fake arousal. The idea that you’re going to get more in touch with your own authentic, personal, innate sexuality by imitating those whose job it is to imitate sexuality… I mean, you’re getting pretty far removed from the real thing.”

“The future of American porn is violence.”

“Pornography takes violence against women & it sexualizes it. And when you sexualize violence against women, you render the violence invisible.”

CLICK here to watch the trailer.