Looking back, it's hard to remember the paranoia that existed over porn in certain segments of the left and the right just ten years ago. Where did Women Against Pornography go? Did they finally go inside the adult theatres that they used to picket? Certainly there never was a Malcolm XXX, but porn seems to have become one of those things like masturbation, a close cousin, that nobody either opposes or owns up to anymore. Every now and then, someone will still point out the high percentage of prison inmates who have seen porn, although nobody ever points out that the same percentage of the general population is familiar with the stuff. Porn is everywhere. It's no coincidence that organized feminist anti-porn campaigns ended in the late 90s, as the Internet was gaining widespread use. With porn out of the peep-show shadows, it suddenly seemed a lot more fangless than it used to.
If anything, porn is simply strange. It portrays the most emotionally-charged event in most people’s lives in a completely unemotional way. Frankly, much of it gives me the creeps- like watching a woman give birth without registering any feelings. The most offensive aspect of porn is that it seems dedicated to the idea that sexuality absolutely must be stupid. The idea of a porn film showing an intelligent conversation is as odd as PBS showing penetration, but why? Is there any topic that has been so meditated upon as sex?
Meanwhile, because the anti-porn activists were more heat than light they tended to turn off anyone who saw free-speech issues as fundamentally different than, say, Nazism. There is no doubt that pornography can paint a bleak portrait of human beings, but the answer, as always, seems to be to make pornography that celebrates human beings. With the advent of the Internet, plenty of people have done just that. Instead of wall-to-wall rape fantasies, there are countless websites in which husbands and wives celebrate their sex lives with each other. It’s nearly wholesome. When offended by art, create art that speaks for you.
The anti-porn side was doomed to lose because porn itself is nowhere near as horrible as it has been made out to be. Also, as often as we veer towards censorship in America, we still tend to believe strongly in consumer’s rights. Give me Big Breasted Nurses Vol. 3, or give me death. Ultimately, we hate the idea of any group telling us that we can’t buy something that we see nothing wrong with.
Of course, there are troubling aspects to porn. One imagines a young man who was exposed to nothing but commercial porn would have very sad ideas about what women look like, how they behave, how little they think, and what standard of behavior they should be treated with. But, only an Andrea Dworkin would be warped enough to imagine a young man being exposed to nothing but porn.
I would say, however, that certain porn aesthetics have become mainstream. When I was in University, I was startled by the ways that a sort of alternative “morality” had asserted itself in lieu of the old one. Most sex acts were accepted, and even expected, and I didn’t hear a girl called a “slut” in four years. Yet, there was something strangely taboo about unshaved pubes, and the slightest emotional attachment could be seen as “stalking”. In fact, while the feminist establishment has decided that their role in the discussion about sex should be teaching upper class white women to use the word vagina in polite conversation, and the rest of the country has gotten so spooked by sex that a pop star’s nipple sends them into paroxysms of fear, a sort of hyper-sexual porn mentality seems to have permeated the culture. Today, I’d say the biggest taboo about sex is that it has some innate emotional content, or that it may be inherently irrational.