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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Porn for Us

It seems like everybody’s on one of two “Fifty Shades of Grey” bandwagons right now: they love it or they loathe it. I’m driving the latter truck. I hope you’ll hop aboard with me.
The Rosetta Stone of Romance
rosetta.stone by Eisabeth.Skene
In a former life I consumed books of erotica (the industry innocuously calls them “romance novels”) with the appetite of a fire ravaging a paper mill. I considered them innocent guilty pleasures. I got the vicarious thrill of being swept off my feet and seduced by an honorable highwayman in the wilds of eighteenth-century Ireland; by a rakish duke spying for king and country on the high seas and in foreign ports; by a mysterious, ronin samurai haunting the palaces and bamboo-covered mountains of old Japan.
You’ll note that the love interests in these stories are never plumbers or teachers or actuaries, unless they are merely disguising their true heroic identities for some noble—or ignoble—objective.
I think there previously existed an idea that romance novels, erotica, and pornography were somehow three different things. With the viral explosion of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, however, the deceptive nature of those distinctions has been obliterated. We have, in E. L. James’ literary proffer, a sort of Rosetta stone between pornography, which has traditionally been viewed as unique to men, and romance, the province of women.
In terms of the effects of both men’s visual pornography and women’s verbal pornography, they are one and the same.
Porn for Them. Porn for Us.
Photo by dancer Dallagio
You’d have to be an ostrich or a naïf to remain unaware of the widespread and pervasive proliferation of pornography, especially via the internet. Researchers have discovered that, just as athletes and dancers train themselves to have muscle memory, wherein they practice the same exercises over and over so their bodies will respond without conscious thought during performance, so men who have saturated themselves with pornographic images have trained themselves to be unable to respond sexually to actual women. (“Internet Pornography Destroying Men’s Ability to Perform with Real Women, Finds Study”. The Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, Ltd., Web. 16 Feb. 2015.)
I would argue that the same phenomenon occurs in women who use erotic literature to satisfy cravings for romance: they become increasingly unable to accept and develop intimate relationships with actual men. A woman can hide her dysfunction more easily than a man can hide his, but the depression, dissatisfaction, and disappointment that one’s partner can’t be more-this, more-that, or more-the-other-thing is equally real and debilitating.
Photo by Stephen Coles
The Rape Fantasy Fallacy
Another weighty issue related to pornography, which deserves better and greater attention than I can give it here, is that of the rape fantasy. While certain genres of visual pornography actively portray actual and/or enacted rape, some detractors of women’s romance literature argue that erotica also depicts rape, which therefore indicates that deep-down, women truly want to be violated.
I find both of these suggestions to be in grave error. My argument draws from the difference between rape as it is defined, and depictions of “coerced” sex in women’s romance literature.
Rape is a violent sexual act forced upon a person who does not want to engage in it. The intercourse portrayed in romance novels always involves a woman who is physically and emotionally attracted to the man with whom she is becoming sexually involved. Her mind or will, however, wants to reject him for whatever reason the author contrives. He, in turn, knows that she really does want him, despite her protests to the contrary, and he seduces her, engaging the eventual consent of her body over that of her mind. He sensually convinces her to abandon her better judgment; but never does he rape her.
Photo by Mat Che
Two very dangerous fine lines twisted into every romance novel include the man’s ability to read the mind of the heroine and know what she really wants, and the woman’s conflicted feelings about the hero. An author constructing such a story, who has access to the inner thoughts and experiences of her characters as well as knowledge of all the past, present, and future events which occur between the covers of the book, can weave and dance and play around these lines with impunity. Real people in real relationships, without omniscient access to each other’s thoughts, cannot.
The end of the matter is that no real man can be to a woman what the hero of a romance novel is to the heroine, just as no real woman can be to a man what is portrayed by the carefully constructed, Photoshopped images of women’s bodies portrayed through traditional pornography.
The Bottom Line
It’s all about the money. Romance/Erotica is the publishing industry’s top-selling, top-money-making literary genre, generating $1.44 billion in revenue in 2012. (The number two genre, Crime/Mystery, came in a faraway second at merely $728.2 million.) People write erotica, because people buy erotica, which encourages more people to write more erotica. I got a C in college economics, but even I can clearly recognize the law of supply and demand in operation here.
So, what is one to do?
Photo by khrawlings
If you are not bothered by the blurring of the lines between rape and romance, sex and love, wildly contrived fiction and wildly fulfilling reality, then do nothing. Read the stuff if it gives you a fleeting rush, watch the rubbish if it gets you off one more time, contribute to and propagate the behemoth that deceives men and women about each other at the most fundamental levels.
But if any of the above saddens you, angers you, or has damaged you in any way, the fix is pretty simple. Put the toxic drivel back on the shelf. Buy a ticket to a different movie. Vote with your feet.
I did so a couple of decades ago, and I haven’t missed a thing.

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