Beware sex therapists bearing books: When porn is the answer to your relationship woes

Shut-up and spread your legs. That’s the gist of some of the most recent advice offered by Australian sex therapist Bettina Arndt to the heterosexual women of the world in her series of books about what men want in bed and why women should give it to them.

Over the last few years, Arndt has variously suggested that men have innately higher sex drives than women; that wives should put out for their husbands, even when they don’t want to have sex; and that women should “stop banging on” about pornography and just accept that all men will use it, including their intimate partners.

There is nothing particularly new or radical about most of this. Such advice merely harks back to a time when performing your wifely duties and ‘lying back to think of England’ was the norm. A time when women were generally assumed to be a-sexual, and masturbating meant risking a referral for clitoridectomy; a surgical procedure to remove the clitoris.

Nor is there anything new in the claim that men can’t help themselves and are slaves to their hormonally hard-wired sex drives. It is this very idea that has often been used to excuse rape on the grounds of biological necessity. It is the same idea that underpins defences of prostitution which suggest we need a class of women to bear the brunt of male sexual violence in order to save the rest of us.

The concept of a completely biologically determined sexuality is reactionary. And Sexologists, clinicians and therapists have asserted pushed this concept now for more than a century, well, at least when it comes to men. In sexological thinking, women are not thought to be so susceptible to sexual urges and instead are seen as requiring helpful ‘advice’, detailing the ‘correct’ way to have sex.

What is new about this recent advice, however, is the acceptance and even praise of pornography. Arndt is not alone in promoting porn and admonishing women who are critical of porn use. A number of high-profile, practicing psychologists and sex therapists in Australia and North America take a similar approach.

Last year, for example, Sydney-based psychologist Raj Sitharthan openly condoned porn use, even endorsing it as “healthy”. He was quoted as saying: “If a male client is enjoying a healthy use of soft-core porn…then I’d probably advise him not to tell his girlfriend for fear of hurting her”. So there’s nothing wrong with porn use then, it’s just these troublesome reactions from girlfriends. Of course, it’s women that have the problem.

Indeed, a recent study found that about 1 in 3 sex therapists in the US actually use pornography as part of their recommended treatment to patients. The few academic articles available on what such treatment actually entails are illuminating. In one article: “Stimulation of the libido: The use of erotica in sex therapy” (erotica in this instance, merely being a euphemism for porn)  New York-based therapists Sharna Striar and Barbara Bartlik explain, not only that pornography use is acceptable, but that couples should actively incorporate it into their sex lives.

In addition, Striar and Bartlik claim that pornography is particularly useful for “couples with incompatible sexual fantasies.” They go on to extol the virtues of porn, explaining that: “it can be used to introduce a partner to a new mode of sexual experience that he or she might otherwise find distasteful or unacceptable”. This advice is often represented as radically liberating when, in actuality, it is outright repressive – it advocates, and attempts to legitimise, a form of sexual coercion.

Indeed, a lot of sex advice literature is deeply conservative and reactionary. Far from allowing an open and honest discussion about sexuality, it serves to shut down discussion altogether by citing spurious notions of biologically determined sexuality. In this view, there is no point in talking about what the joys of sex might be, as sexuality is simply delivered by the stork.

Fortunately, this idea is more fairy-tale than fact. Any sociologist, anthropologist or historian can tell you that sexual practices and norms differ enormously around the world and across time periods. The culture we live in largely determines our sexual norms and even conditions and shapes our own sexual desires, experiences and enjoyment.

Too often we believe that culture is only something that happens elsewhere, or is a remnant of bygone era but we do have a sexual culture in the West and pornography is an increasing part of that culture. It is sheer arrogance to believe that only in the suburbs of the Western world are we able to live out our biologically determined, ‘natural’ sexuality, unaffected by social surroundings.

Acknowledging that sex is a social act may be a challenging idea but it is also genuinely liberating. It provides the freedom to talk about the kinds of sex, sexual pleasure and sexual equality that are possible, rather than retreating to tired old notions of immutable urges. It also moves us forward from the repressive Victorian caricature of the a-sexual woman, needing to be ‘taught’ sexual response to the meet the demands of her husband.

Recognizing the role of the social in sex means that there is a point to “banging on” about porn too. Our sexual tastes and interests can change depending on context and circumstance, so the desire for pornography is no more or less biologically determined than the desire for a cheeseburger. Therefore, we can, and should, question what kind of sexual culture turns titles like Service Animals, Jenna Loves Pain and Meatholes into best sellers.

Those critical of pornography are endlessly accused of being anti-sex, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Porn narrows rather than widens our understanding of what sex is and can be. So if you would like to see a sexuality based on something more than multiple penetrations and watching people paid to fake their own sexual enjoyment, don’t shut up, speak out.

 

Meagan Tyler is a lecturer in Sociology at Victoria University, Australia. She is the author of Selling Sex Short: The  pornographic and sexological construction of women’s sexuality in the West. She tweets @DrMeaganTyler.

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • Hecuba

    Sexologists and sex therapists primarily preach the same misogynistic message – namely women exist to be men’s disposable sexual service stations. ‘Sex’ is all about females catering to men’s sexual demands and expectations and woe betide any woman who dares to say ‘no’ to a man’s sexual demands. Male sexual gratification is what Sexologists and Sex Therapists are preaching since women apparently have no sexual desires or wishes other than to serve the penis in whatever way men demand.

    As one man astutely said to female researcher ‘why can’t women do what men want?’ Indeed why can’t women just do what men want?

    I could never understand Male Supremacist claims that men are rational and far more intelligent than women when at the same time Male Supremacy claims men are ruled by their tiny penises. Can’t have it both ways boys.

    In mainstream filmed male sexual violence against women – aka pornstitution it is always males who are the ones penetrating women and subjecting women to sadistic male sexual violence. Men in mainstream filmed male sexual violence against women are not routinely subjected to multiple penetrations or fisting because that would mean the man (sic) is now a ‘feminised other’ not a real man.

  • http://rididill.wordpress.com Rididill

    great article. the premise is absurd. if sexuality is so biologically determined, then why exactly would sexologists and sex therapists even exist? shouldn’t we all be doing sex the ‘right way’ out of pure instinct?

  • Hypatia

    “They go on to extol the virtues of porn, explaining that: ‘it can be used to introduce a partner to a new mode of sexual experience that he or she might otherwise find distasteful or unacceptable’.”

    As a former DV advocate, this part made me feel physically ill. I can’t tell you how many DV survivors I’ve talked with who reported their abusers having done exactly this.

    • Sabrina L.

      Isn’t this sometimes called “grooming?”

  • CaoCao

    The only thing straight porn has ever done to me is fill me with revulsion, dread and a sense of inadequacy. I admit I also end up laughing at it’s stupidity once in awhile ( as I recoil in horror at the hairy, unkempt troglydytes they choose for the male leads).
    How the hell can that “enhance” anything in my life? Oh right. I’m just prudish and backwards. If I would just get with the program and commence being a brainless sperm receptacle at the beck and call of ‘my man’, my life would be so complete and happy! *And* he would help out more around the house!
    All these experts are doing is perpetuating the idea that women and men cannot actually, truly communicate with one another as independent, equal entities. If a man truly felt the woman and partner in his life was his equal in every respect, he would give a shit if certain things made her recoil in disgust, and not want that for her. Certainly, he would not want to “condition” her through brainwashing visual image repetition to learn to tolerate sexual acts.

    These experts are most likely filled with greed. Nothing rockets one to fame and money quite like stoking the male sexual ego and supporting the patriarchy.

    • Grackle

      I’m really embarrassed to admit this, but I actually saw a fair bit of porn that I liked–I mean, before I learned more about it and the industry and radical feminism in general and boycotted it all. It’s true that I was bored/bothered/grossed out/downright horrified by a lot of it for the reasons you brought up (and many others), but I did manage to find parts of plenty of videos that I enjoyed, and I know that what I saw did affect me deeply. I don’t know what that says about me as a woman or a person, exactly, but I can’t be the only one…right? :/

      Anyway I’m glad to be done with it.

  • http://exiledstardust.wordpress.com M.K. Hajdin

    Hear, hear.

    So sick of the knee-jerk accusations of “prude” and “anti-sex”, just because I have the nerve to object to the commodification of sex and the proliferation of rape culture.

    It’s the pornsick folks who are anti-sex. Porn is not sex, it’s rape in front of a camera.

  • http://turnwiddershins.co.uk Mary Tracy

    These people are neither therapists nor do they know the first thing about sex.
    They are just reeking in the money from validating people’s self-destructive and downright immoral actions.

    There are sex therapists out there, who are not fooled by the “pr0n” madness, but instead know it for the poison-filled Trojan horse it really is.
    Unfortunately these therapists never make it to the mainstream media because one of the greatest sources of revenue for the media is, you guessed it, pr0n.

  • http://bonerkilling.blogspot.ca Boner Killer

    There are so many sex therapists and only one meagan tyler — by that I mean, no one else has tackled this issue it seems, from a feminist perspective.
    I have heard things about porn in these sessions, but i’ve also heard of “therapists” advising women how to masturbate “properly” or how to “please” their man, as in, they actually “teach” them. So messed…
    But this was really hard for me to wrap my head around: “it can be used to introduce a partner to a new mode of sexual experience that he or she might otherwise find distasteful or unacceptable”. So basically, you SHOULD do things you find distasteful or unacceptable, because your partner might like it…um, rape culture anyone?
    Also, “couples with incompatible sexual fantasies.” LOL, where do they think these “fantasies” come from? The answer is PORN.I hate when people act like their fantasies should always be validated – as if they were “born” with these sexual fantasies, or they just *came out of no where*
    Sex therapy is just another way that sexuality and sexual activity can be commodified and standardized.

  • http://radfemway.blogspot.com The RadFem Way

    Just more “sex positive” crap for us to swallow I guess. http://www.radfemway.blogspot.com/2012/11/half-assed-feminism-sex-positive-kind.html

  • Lela

    We should never doubt our right to say “no” to porn. There is no consumer product on Earth that has automatic rights to be in our lives, or to influence the way we are treated. Especially the product of an industry known for its abuses of women, its extreme misogyny, and its treatment of women as cash-cows, pawns and as an obstruction to its profits.

  • CaoCao

    It occurs to me too, that these “therapists” and “ologists” stand a very high chance of psychologically damaging women for a lifetime. Especially since they stand to encounter any number of women who struggle with a multitude of mental health issues. I had an ex b/f send me to a medical doctor *and* a sex therapist once upon a time because according to him, only a wanton, perpetually horny nymphette who embraces pornography is “natural”. I was only 19, and I was in an abyss of depression as I was grieving a terrible loss. I didn’t have the mental faculties at the time to fight the manipulation.
    Of course, the doctor tested me for hormone deficiencies ( I was in perfect physical health), but still put me on Zoloft. The sex therapist absolutely ignored what *I* needed, or wanted, and tried to set me on a path where I could explore ( yes, through porn as b/f wanted) and defeat my “sexual inhibitions”. Obviously, if I think having a man buy a human saddle for me so he can ride me around the room while I fake a constant orgasm MUST mean I am “inhibited”. Yes. It was completely my failure as the poor, backwards female. I just wasn’t living up to my full potential and *it was hurting ME*.
    That whole shitstorm has permanently affected my trust of men, doctors, therapists, medication etc etc.
    The idea that we should be conditioned to watch things that repulse us, to coerce us, TRAIN us, to re-enact sexual scenarios we would *never* otherwise want to do, that we find revolting and degrading, cannot have a positive effect on our mental health or our self-esteem.
    It just can’t.

    • CaoCao

      lol taipo~ the saddle thing. * if I think it’s degrading* lol

  • Ivy

    These “therapists” are extrememly unethical….an ethical therapist would never suggest someone watch or do something they are completely uncomforatable with.

  • Vouchsafer

    I had a conversation with my female 13yr old babysitter the other day about porn, and I remember the look of shock on her face when I told her that in real life, real women do not allow those things to be done to them. She was flabbergasted.
    “They don’t?” she said. “But . . . ”
    I tried explaining to her that all porn is is someone trying to make money. I told her that the women in those images are faking enjoyment of those acts in order to collect a paycheque.
    The whole thing left me frustrated and reading this article only compounds it. There is currently a whole generation of youth growing up watching this shit and no one is telling them that it is all fake.
    The problem with porn is that it portrays women as animalistic. it leads to an impression that behind closed doors, all women are grunting animals without the self respect to oppose the ever-more-ludicrous and bizarre acts that the makers of porn come up with. porn is a HUGE culprit in the oppression of women, and for the record, my husband doesn’t watch it nor does he visit strip clubs and him and I have a rockin’ freakin sex life.

  • Rye

    I thought porn was supposed to be a visual stimulus to aid masturbation? So after masturbating to a picture of a naked woman, you put it away.

    But…

    I gather that now pornography frequently abuses and humiliates female actors? Furthermore, men want to watch such pornographic films with their female partners, or even act them out? Worse, 1 in 3 sex-therapists think that this is normal?

    To me, that looks like men are telling their girlfriends or wives that they are so unsexy that they need porn to get off. Then when women protest this, they get criticized by both men and sex-therapists. The hell?

    Am I understanding this right? I wonder, because it looks so psychopathic that I am completely shocked. Secondly, I don’t understand why a man needs pornography when he has a partner, or how he could be so insensitive to her.

    • Coromandel

      Let me help you to understand, Rye. Porn users rely on the same excuse you use to justify your use of prostitutes where you admit to knowing your actions hurt women but you like it so you’re going to keep harming women to achieve your pleasure.

      It’s exactly like that.

    • http://www.anemonecerridwen.net Anemone

      There’s another problem, too, in that men who masturbate to porn too much become conditioned to respond to porn and not live women (Pavlovian conditioning). Begin as you mean to go on, because everything you practice becomes more entrenched.

  • Rye

    Hi Coromandel. I do not wish to change the subject, but I think you have misunderstood me. In effect, I acknowledged that prostitution occurs in the context of patriarchy. However, I believe that violence is a contingent, not an inherent, feature of prostitution.

    From what I have researched of feminism, my guess is that prostitutes might experience violence because they are frequently “othered.” They are perceived as “dirty” and/or “bad women,” and therefore must be punished and/or considered available for satisfying even men’s sadistic urges. But I consider such thinking to be absolutely despicable. I could never harm a prostitute. Not only would that be despicable, but the sex makes me feel a kind empathic connection to her. Yes, I have empathy for the women I buy sex from. Thus, I treat them with the same consideration I would want to be treated with.

    So I do not hurt women because it gives me pleasure. I do not hurt women at all, and the thought of hurting them is painful. I buy sex from prostitutes because I have no other sexual options. This is because I possess few of the traits that are culturally valued in men, and women are offended with my disrespect for societal rituals such as marriage. Women RUN

    • Rye

      (I apologize, I prematurely clicked reply by accident)

      Continued:

      “Good girls” who give me a chance write me off as a lunatic as soon as I tell them something like “marriage is prostitution obscured by legitimacy and elaborate ritual.” So I “lost” my virginity to a prostitute, and have only experienced intercourse with prostitutes. Furthermore, many of my most meaningful conversations with women, outside of my family, have been with prostitutes.

      As a result of my experiences, I do not understand how I am behaving violently towards women, whether it is physically or psychologically. I agree that prostitution occurs in the context of patriarchy, but so does nearly all heterosexual sex. We can not escape out conditioning, and it seems the most a man can do is empathize with women. Secondly, I agree that prostitutes are frequently “othered,” but I don’t other them. Finally, I agree that many prostitutes are controlled by pimps, but I diligently seek prostitutes who “work” independently.

      So I can not relate to your examples, sorry. In my mind, both examples are completely different. One involves a man clearly having no empathy for the woman who is his partner, whereas I treat a prostitute with the moral status she deserves in virtue of the fact that she is a human being.

      • Grackle

        “‘Good girls’ who give me a chance write me off as a lunatic as soon as I tell them something like ‘marriage is prostitution obscured by legitimacy and elaborate ritual.'”

        I’m weirded-out by your use of the term “good girls”. Who in the world is that meant to refer to? It comes off as really, really skeevy. That aside, there are many women who aren’t interested in marriage for the exact reasons you aren’t, so while it’s irrelevant anyway in terms of justifying the use of a prostituted woman, it’s also pretty absurd for you to bring that up as an excuse.

    • http://www.anemonecerridwen.net Anemone

      Rye, I feel sorry for you, but at the same time I’m aggravated by your internalized ableism. You are assuming your height is an insurmountable obstacle to intimacy (and good sex), but I kind of suspect that the Little People of America (or any other disability rights group, for that matter) could set you straight on that. Also, one study on men who pay for sex found that they didn’t develop the relationship skills most people develop as they get older, and remained stuck in their adolescent mindset. For that I suggest the five stages of dating in Mars and Venus on a Date.

      PS Having to have sex for money is in itself frequently harmful, regardless of how well it’s dressed up. Money bends intimacy out of shape.

    • marv

      Rye, violence is an intrinsic feature of prostitution regardless of what you believe. Just because you are pleasant to your woman sex slave doesn’t alleviate the bodily and structural violence of the institution. Your thin disguise of empathy is evident as a cover for your hypocrisy. You should change youre name to “Wry”, meaning “twisted”. It becomes you.

      • MB

        .
        Marv, your rebuke of Rye is extremely unkind. Your insult to his character is despicable. If there was such a thing as a ‘judgement day’, I’m sure we would be judged on the full complexity of how we treat others. Reading the emails above, Rye sounds like a kind man, and you sound like someone whose identity is constructed around an ideology, and you are happy enough to bully others on that basis. And stupid enough to think that your ideology is the only way of understanding a multi-layered and human situation.

        • Lela

          If men want to be kind to women, MB, if they truly care about us, then they need to start proving it. They need to commit themselves to helping us find REAL economic self-determination, to ensuring that each and every woman has real options, real choices. Clogging up feminist blogs with self-serving, validation-seeking comments is not proof of this. Feigned naivety toward the extent of women’s suffering at the hands of men is not proof of this.

  • Vouchsafer

    that’s called natural selection, Rye.

    If you don’t have the traits that make women want to sleep with you, all things being equal, the onus to change would be on YOU if you want to have sex with women.

    All things not being equal, ie, the patriarchy, the option to purchase sex from women who are disadvantaged exists to you. that doesn’t make it right.

  • http://www.anemonecerridwen.net Anemone

    Reading this post makes me profoundly grateful for John Gray. I know some feminists don’t like the Mars/Venus stuff, but lately he’s been talking about how women need to get their oxytocin levels up to get in the mood, and you don’t accomplish that by being aggressive! Women need to feel supported or we often tend to shut down. I find it an antidote to this porn stuff.

  • Lela

    That prostituted women experience horrible violence, instigated by men, based on the way they are “othered” and perceived as “dirty” or “bad” is true. Feminists work hard to counter these harmful ideas. No woman is ever defined by having to sell her sexuality; this is the reason we use the term “prostituted woman” as opposed to “prostitute.”

    It is also important to note that many exited women speak of the act itself, the “sex,” as being the locus of violence; they must detach from their bodies to survive at all times. The reason that the feminists you’ve encountered are so resistant to your analyses is because, not only have we absorbed what is offered to us by exited women, we ARE women, and we are intimately aware of the realities of being female. A vagina is an organ, not a hole to be filled, with walls that contract when we are not sexually aroused, making “sex” in that situation extremely uncomfortable/painful (hence the use of lube in prostitution, which still does not compensate, and the extensive harms done by rape, i.e., fistula.) Our reproductive organs are subtle and complex and sensitive. Even with proper condom use, we are at great risk of falling prey to extremely painful urinary tract infections, for example. The way women’s sexuality is handled in patriarchal culture is appalling; the vagina is seen as a perpetually-receptive hole, and women’s actual physical experience of sex is minimized and belittled, whereas really it should be elevated and carefully considered and recognized for its profound effect on our bodies. Yet we are not even allowed to TALK about the real effects of PiV sex on women, and indeed, our culture elevates and promotes it to a ridiculous, unhealthy degree, and I’m not even going to get into the amount of flack that radical feminists receive for pointing this out.

    True empathy, Rye, would be giving these struggling women the money earmarked for sex with them, and not asking anything in return. Putting the well-being of others above your own perceived needs. (Women do this all the time.) Being satisfied simply by the idea that they are completely out of danger, if only for a short length of time, and free to simply be.

  • Rye

    @ Marv

    I do not see how I am being hypocritical, but I acknowledge I may be wrong. I understand why patriarchy is probably an intrinsic feature of prostitution, but would you explain how violence is?

    Secondly, I do not understand how slavery is an intrinsic feature to prostitution either. So far, the only compelling description I read from feminist research that put it that way seems bizarre to me. It described the transaction as the woman transferring temporary ownership of her body each time she sold sex. So according to the system’s twisted logic, the john is entitled to use her (his property) however he wishes for the amount of time he bought her.

    However, my experience does not support that description of prostitution. My understanding of the “contract” is that she consents to some sex acts provided I satisfy her conditions, which typically include her required sum, a shower before our visit and professional etiquette. It is also my responsibility to request her permission for a sex act and respect her answer. Additionally, prostitutes behave as though they expect such behavior from johns. Finally, internet conversations indicate that prostitutes typically consider it rape when a john uses them in a way they do not consent to. So, it does not appear that prostitution always occurs in the context of the prostitute selling temporary ownership of her body. Thus, it seems that slavery is a contingent feature of prostitution.

    @ Grackle

    I apologize, I didn’t mean to seem skeevy. I was referring to women who are complying with the rules of patriarchy, and thus aren’t perceived as “bad women” like prostitutes. Secondly, I provided that example to illustrate that women tend to be offended by my disrespect for tradition. Of course, there are women who are compatible with me, but those I’ve had the pleasure to meet were in exclusive long-term relationships.

    @ Anemone

    Thanks. Well, I am thankful I don’t have dwarfism. My height is just short for a man, and women easily beat me in arm wrestles often enough. My physical aspects mean that I am less valued by women as a partner, but they aren’t the only reasons. Other reasons include my personality (apparently undesirable), unusual interests, and impatience with inauthenticity and what I perceive as pointless social rituals. So in the rare event that a woman develops some interest in me, she loses that interest as soon as she discovers just how non-conformist my behavior is, like how I rarely attend family functions during holidays or don’t intend to marry. Finally, it seems women generally do not want a partner who has been with prostitutes.

    The stated conclusions from the study you mention largely apply to me. I have always had poor social and relationship skills. In particular, I have a poor grasp of relationship stages, which has led to many awkward experiences. So I will look at “Mars and Venus on a Date,” thanks.

    @ Lela,

    I understand that prostitutes commonly struggle with abuse, desperate economic circumstances or drug abuse etc, but I want a prostitute who has an acceptable amount of autonomy. From experience, I believe I have learned how to reliably identify which prostitutes have autonomy from those who have little.

    At present, I have exclusively frequented only one prostitute for months, and I believe she has nearly as much autonomy as a prostitute can have. For example, she is brilliant (which is why I enjoy talking to her), university educated and is now employed full time in a lucrative career. I assume she has technically exited prostitution because she has ceased advertising and took down her website, but she has so far been willing to continue seeing me.

    I can accept if you disagree, but I strongly believe her autonomy is more than sufficient.

    You raise a good point. Since I am not a woman, I can not experience sex the way women do. I see how the pain resulting from a lack of arousal during PiV sex could be a compelling argument against prostitution. At the same time, it would be a compelling criticism of how heterosexuality is generally practiced. However, I think I am going to have to ask some questions to women first to get a better understanding of what that experience is like.

    I admit I don’t like the possible implication that PiV sex should be infrequent or only occur in the context of reproduction. However, I agree that there should be public discussion of the alternative expressions of heterosexuality and to the experiences and risks women have during PiV sex without ridicule. For example, I am especially shocked by the number of people who have never heard of HPV, and to my knowledge I am the only male in my social network who has been vaccinated for it. Additionally, women seem to often have a hard time convincing men to use condoms.

    • Lela

      I don’t know where you’re getting this implication that PiV sex should “only occur in the context of reproduction.” Perhaps you’re confusing feminists with some elements in the religious right? What I am talking about is bringing it in line with women’s actual desire/arousal, and if that means it becomes much less frequent, then so be it. Do I need to repeat, yet again, that women are human beings and not service stations? Yes, women are sexual beings, too, and no, I am not anti-PiV “sex,” although I completely understand what might bring a woman to that position. The simple fact is that most heterosexual women are pressured to have sex that is NOT in line with our desire, and is porn-based, which means it can basically be the sexual equivalent of a beating, and we are discouraged from naming our suffering. This is considered normal. This is what I am arguing against. In case you have not been paying attention, PiV criticism IS meant as a “compelling criticism of how heterosexuality is generally practiced” AND a “compelling argument against prostitution.”
      There can be no empathy without a thorough understanding of what the other party is actually experiencing.

    • supasaiyen

      you poor poor baby. can’t get women to fuck you without paying them

  • supasaiyen

    Really, who are johns trying to convince us or themselves( pertaining to buying prostitutes). It doesn’t matter. there dicks are obviously more important.

  • marv

    Wry your definition of violence and slavery is liberal and therefore narrow. Violence also refers to the inequality among social groups which has crystallized into institutions. Slavery is violent even when the master is kind because of the inequality of the structured relationships. It follows that the institution of prostitution itself is socially unjust – violent – aside from any personal benevolence or aggression used by the more powerful social group (men) within it. Prostitution would disappear as a structural form if men and the affluent (generally the same people) did not have more power than women and the poor (usually the same people) as groups. Thus, the subjugated are enslaved by male political configurations not just by men’s individual behaviour. In short, patriarchy is violence.

    Moreover you are hypocritical because you are opposed to porn but not all prostitution. Porn is a form of prostitution. Consent is artificial in both cases given the above analysis which is based on reality not fanciful thinking, i.e. liberalism. You seem to be looking for exoneration for human rights violations. You are in the wrong place and an unwelcome intruder. I am certain men’s rights blogs would be ecstatic to accommodate you with their propaganda.

    • Lela

      It’s important that we look at both sides of the coin when it comes to prostitution; women’s experience and also systemic analysis such as you’ve just provided, Marv. The words of exited women are all over the internet, and are a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand this issue.
      And now some personal observations from growing up female in liberal culture. There is a sophisticated and very manipulative culture that exists around convincing women to sell our sexuality, and/or to rationalize the idea that other women are forced to. It seems to me that this is one of goals of so-called “sex positive” discourse. A general disconnect from, and ignorance of, established radical feminist critiques of patriarchal systems facilitates our training to be non-judgemental of the most heinously misogynistic sexual practices and to ignore that every fibre of our being screams otherwise. Anyone who chooses to make this connection is stigmatized as “anti-sex.” Ultimately, the logic goes, “Ladies! If you enjoy sex, then why not consider selling it?” It is not a great leap to take from that point. Porn and prostitution become an unproblematic expression of sexuality. The focus is always on women; our bodies, and what we “choose” to do with them, and not on the male buyer for whom this entire show happens. I know that a great many cash-poor young women grapple with this, as I did. So, am I surprised at accounts like Rye’s here? Hardly.

  • Me

    People are just crazy. When my wife started to have memories of early childhood sexual abuse, her sister who does not want to remember what happened suggested sex therapy for her. She had to really, because that’s the only explanation she could allow. That reminds me of mental health services, where if I remember right somewhere between four to seven out of ten inpatients have histories of childhood sexual abuse and the staff don’t seem to have any experience with “those kinds problems”, ahem…

    I think you’ve been much too kind to Rye here. I think women mostly are much too kind to men with heads up their asses, especially in cases where they seem to refuse to pull out.

  • Rye

    @ Lela,

    Ah, my mistake. Thank you for clarifying. I agree that women shouldn’t be pressured to have sex they don’t want or be silenced for protesting it. But, I have reservations about pornography’s influence on heterosexuality. I admit my experience of pornography is mostly limited to pictures, but it seems bizarre to me that men are commonly watching brutal and humiliating pornographic videos and want their female partners to perform the same sex acts. If true, then my opinion of my sex has sunk to a new low.

    However, I suspect that the experience prostitutes have of PiV sex with buyers is more nuanced. For example, a prostitute I frequented several times lubricated naturally early on in our appointments, so she never applied lube. Secondly, the prostitute I presently frequent taught me how to use my hands by her genital area, and I can feel her vagina lubricate on its own. Also, she doesn’t have to see me. She has found full time employment and has mostly retired from prostitution. So it seems strange that she would continue seeing me if she felt pain, now that she has the option not to.

    Thirdly, a prostitute’s blog that I used to read had occasionally informative rants. One such rant was directed at buyers who “rammed” her “like a jackhammer,” I’m not quite sure what that means but she said that it put her out of work for several days, put their fingers inside her vagina, or took longer than thirty minutes to ejaculate. Additionally, I have read other prostitutes complain about buyers who felt they could “go on and on” for the entire time because it made them sore. So it seems that prostitutes are only bothered by the intercourse when the buyer continues on for an unnaturally long time. Then again, I could be mistaken. But since it seems more nuanced to me right now, I believe I should first ask women questions before I agree with you.

    @ Marv,

    First, on slavery, I will just concede your point because it’s apparent you didn’t mean chattel slavery, as I assumed you meant from the particular argument I encountered. As for hypocrisy, I think it’s a reasonable compromise to have pictures of naked women in neutral poses, because it’s far too difficult to masturbate without a visual. However, it’s odious to watch video footage of women being brutalized and humiliated. It’s even more odious if women are expected to act them out. Although I am not sure how prevalent such pornography is, I support censoring such material.

    When I think of violence, I think of blood, bruises and intimidation. While some institutions like the state are maintained by violence, I don’t understand why structural inequality is necessarily violent. There are many other ways for a class to perpetuate its privilege, like controlling the important resources and inculcating the subject classes to accept the legitimacy of its property rights. It’s unequal and unjust, but I don’t see how it is necessarily violent.

    However, I agree that prostitution only exists because of gender inequality. It occurs because men have privileged control of economic resources, so women must surrender their bodies to access them. As a result, a woman’s value is assessed on how sexually exciting she is to men. Consequently, women are reduced to sexual commodities that are bought on the marriage or prostitution market. Moreover, a wife is reduced to a serf who performs domestic labor without just compensation and is pressured to have sex to satisfy her husband’s “needs.”

    This systemic oppression is morally repugnant, and I think men would generally benefit if women’s sexual desire was more authentic and less shaped by patriarchy. Sadly, sex is almost impossible outside the context of patriarchy. Which is why I think it is a double standard to judge all sex buyers with contempt, yet judge (apparently) husbands for their individual actions.

    • Lela

      You know, Rye, I have moderate OCD and it’s caused a plethora of problems for me in life, social problems among them. (This syndrome can include unusual preoccupations, lack of patience with social situations, etc.) But never would I assume, for lack of a sexual partner, that I could just purchase access to somebody. Why? I am not a male in patriarchy. You are. My value system does not include the idea that I deserve access to other people’s internal organs. Yours does. It’s that simple. So I don’t accept that prostitution is the answer to men’s social problems. Rather, it is something to hide behind, to avoid taking full responsibility for one’s own development.

      Sigh. It figures that the most vociferous defenders of the “sex industry” are those who claim to be the exception to the norm, while at the same time denying the true extent of the norm, and exhibiting no real initiative to fight the norm. Funny, that. Men need to start working with us toward REAL economic self-determination and real options.

      I am extremely skeptical of your purported level of naivete toward the behaviour of your sex. Come on now. As a john, in contact with other johns in your social circle, I find it really hard to believe that you wouldn’t be aware of the things men do to prostituted women, or of porn at large.

      In no other line of work are women (or men) asked to repeatedly sustain *internal injuries* and then come back to work again to experience the same. Because, in no other line of work do we give “customers” access to *our internal organs.*

      “When I think of violence, I think of blood, bruises and intimidation.” Then there are dimensions of violence of which you are unaware.

      “It’s far too difficult to masturbate without a visual.” Imagine the world’s tiniest violin, playing the world’s saddest song, for the supremely difficult lives of men.

      Yes, all sex happens “in the context of patriarchy” because we are *living* in patriarchy. But that does not mean it necessarily has to *contain* patriarchal mores, i.e., dominance and submission. This is a myth that often comes up in support of things like BDSM, prostitution, excessive PiV, and porn culture (which promotes all the aforementioned.) I don’t believe it.

      I’m not sure why husbands keep coming up. Feminists are thoroughly critical of the institution of marriage as well as the cultural practice of sex-buying.

      • Me

        Now, Lela, don’t be silly about internal organs and nobody else selling access to them, please! Kidney sales is a perfectly viable and legitimate business in my opinion!

        Honestly, the guy says “it’s far too difficult to masturbate without a visual.” What more does he need to say?

        I mean, I can pretty well relate to that. After consuming a lot of porn you tend to need “a visual” to Ejaculate. But Masturbation, as in a little Self-Loving, has got Nothing to do with it at that point. The guy can’t masturbate for crying out loud! It’s inherently a violation paradigm he’ll be in at that point, a violation mostly of others and on some level of himself. That’s probably on every single page of Dworkin’s Intercourse. And somehow, at every turn in literature and movies and culturally in a more broads sense, like in this discussion, guys always manage to make it as if somehow it’s about them, not the women they just murdered or tortured or whose dignity and life purpose they’re stealing. He’s not reachable, plain and simple.

      • Me

        Just to make it clear if I wasn’t clear enough already, I liked your post a lot Lela.

        • Lela

          Understood, and I fully appreciate the support, Me!

    • Grackle

      “But, I have reservations about pornography’s influence on heterosexuality. I admit my experience of pornography is mostly limited to pictures, but it seems bizarre to me that men are commonly watching brutal and humiliating pornographic videos and want their female partners to perform the same sex acts…Although I am not sure how prevalent such pornography is, I support censoring such material.”

      Translation: “My half-assed conjectures outweigh your lived experience and the mountains of evidence that back up your experience, and I won’t even take the 2 seconds to google ‘porn’ to see what comes up.”

  • marv

    Lela, you are divine. Your reflections are so sound and uplifting. I wish I had half of your consciousness. Please never go away. I was especially buoyed by your remark : ” Imagine the world’s tiniest violin, playing the world’s saddest song, for the supremely difficult lives of men”. Too many other marvellous excerpts to quote.

    Me, I have to agree with you that Rye/Wry is unreachable. His mindset is impervious to change. I take consolation in the “fact” that if he was living in abolitionist Sweden he would likely be arrested, tried, convicted , sentenced and have a criminal record. For now all we can do is ally ourselves with feminists to spread the abolition revolution to the ends of the earth. Thanks for your powerful astuteness and compassion.

    I have to admit that I also am a little deranged due to my reoccurring dream that might be symptomatic of my compulsions. In my vision I actually die but arise from the dead. I am invited among others by supernatural feminists to join their counter sexual terrorism strike team. We descend upon the earth and abduct all the johns, pimps and other powerful men (at least the ones who don’t resist; the fate of the combative is too unsavoury to mention here) and escort them to an off-world station for (he)habilitation. Maybe the current space station orbiting the planet has some useful purpose after all; it would have to be vastly expanded no doubt. Anyway for what it’s worth, I no longer fear death:)

  • Rye

    @Lela

    Yes, I’m Clueless:
    I have only two male friends, but one is asexual and the other is autistic. Neither of them have much interest in talking about sex. Although I spend a considerable amount of time with them, I try to stay as invisible as possible to mainstream men. If I don’t, I risk becoming the target of their jokes and pranks if they discover that my physical capacities or interests don’t measure up to their standards. Since most men are usually at least 4 inches taller and 80 lbs heavier than me, I want to avoid that sort of attention. Furthermore, I do not associate with johns, nor do I want to meet any of them for similar reasons I avoid mainstream men.

    Sex Industry and Policy:
    Actually, I do not support the sex-industry. First, pimps and brothel owners are scum because they offer very little to prostitutes while profiting off their backs. Second, I believe that prostitutes are more likely to experience addiction, captivity, psychological harm and violence (the blood, bruises and intimidation kind) than non-prostitutes. Third, I changed my mind and now support the Swedish model. I don’t support it because I believe it will eradicate prostitution, but because it will accomplish what regulation has failed to do. Additionally, over time, prostitutes would be women who prefer prostitution over other acceptable options, or do it on the side, and the majority of buyers willing to risk arrest would largely be socially inept or disabled men.

    It may seem mysterious why I support the Swedish model when it appears it would oppose my interests. But, I am not threatened by the Swedish model because law enforcement can not practically intercept established prostitute-buyer relationships. So I would be able to continue buying sex from my regular prostitute and there would be nothing law enforcement could do about it. Moreover, my conscience would be at peace knowing that she and millions of other women are safer.

    Morality of Buying Sex:
    I do not believe that buying sex is ever right. It is wrong because it reinforces and results from patriarchy. When I buy sex from a prostitute, I exercise male privilege and it is an unjust privilege. So I am not arguing that my actions are right or justified, because they aren’t.

    What I am Arguing About:
    It seems that the reason I appear to be unreachable and that my arguments about marriage are irrelevant is that there is a misunderstanding of what I am arguing for. As I stated in the above paragraph, I am not arguing that my actions are right or justified. Yes, I have challenged details, but that seems to have caused us to lose the forest for the trees. But, I think the apparent perception radical feminists have of buyers, which is that they are monsters who relish in the abuse, terror and humiliation of women, is unjust.

    I am arguing that:

    1. Patriarchy creates the options men have to satisfy their sexual wants. Generally, those options are marriage and prostitution.
    2. Marriage is not inherently less oppressive than prostitution, and therefore it is unjust to judge any given buyer more harshly than any given husband before assessing the facts. These facts include a buyer’s motivation for buying sex from prostitutes, how he treated prostitutes, whether he made a dedicated effort to avoid victims of sex trafficking, drugs and pimps, and how he reacted to meeting such prostitutes.

    • Lela

      A lot of feminists eschew marriage, myself included, for exactly the reason you describe. And, lo and behold, many feminists labour in domestic violence prevention, so husbands aren’t getting let off the hook in any way. One vital message that radical feminists tend to want to get across is that marriage, properly reformed, should not be perceived as a license that will ensure automatic access to your spouse’s genitalia at will; which is what buying sex DOES give you, even in the best of circumstances, even after “reform.” So marriage and sex-buying are not the same thing.

      This debate has been somewhat exhausting, so think that’ll be it for me. I mean, this could go on and on, but it shouldn’t. I’ve been scouring blog entries authored by brilliant Rebecca Mott for the proper quote, but can’t locate it…. she said something to the effect of: supporters of the sex trade will try very hard to overcomplicate something that is really very simple.

      The take-home message should be: men, go out and help women; it’s within your (considerable) power to make real changes in the way we are treated. Everyone has the potential to do good things.

    • Me

      That you seem unreachable is really not about what your arguments have been. Supposedly you’re here to learn how to live and act respectfully towards women and yet you refuse to hear what many of the women here are telling you.

      As a man, I’m telling you that if you want to respect women and want to be a different kind of a man, then stop using pornography and using prostitutes. So long as you’re addicted to that abusive behavior you’re not going to start to feel differently about women. Do that and then we can have a discussion.

  • Rye

    @ Lela

    I agree with the exhaustion. I apologize for making the debate more complicated that it needs to be. I am only recently somewhat familiar with the systematically oppressive world picture of radical feminism. More importantly, I feel lost when applying radical feminism to my ethical reasoning on the micro level. On the micro level, I feel like it’s impossible to avoid wrong action in patriarchy without meeting an impossibly saintly standard. Thus, I have to make ethical compromises, but the world picture of radical feminism isn’t very helpful for ethical compromises.

    Moreover, to me it seems that lesbian separatism is the logical conclusion of radical feminism, because it seems like no man can have intercourse with a woman in patriarchy and not rape her. Grrrr!

    That said, you have been very helpful and I want to thank you for taking the time to reply to me. In case you read this and don’t reply to me in the future, I wish you the best with whatever you do in life.

    @ Grackle,

    I concede your point. I could have at least done a brief google search. So I searched for porn on google, and I am not going to describe the details of what I saw. All I have to say is that “degrading” is an accurate description for most of the websites I sampled.

    @ Me,

    Yes, my arguments have not been that I am unreachable, but I think a lack of clarity on my part has caused me to be misunderstood at times.

    Sure, I would like to be respectful to women, but I feel lost in a storm of ethical dilemmas.

    Regarding pornography, are any visuals ok? Can I undress women in my head while masturbating? Or am I not allowed to think of women when I masturbate? Are non-pornographic pictures ok? If so, when is a picture pornographic and when is it not?

    • Lela

      There is nothing “saintly” about treating women according to a radical feminist ethic. It’s called “basic human decency.”

      There are many radical feminists who are lesbians, and many who are not, and some of us (self included) even love men. Hard to believe, I know.

      What happens in your head is your business. The problem is when this coincides with the way women are treated in reality and the kind of psychological environment that is created for us. When men’s fantasies, shaped and complicated by patriarchy, are collectively crystallized into real-life institutions like porn and prostitution, women are affected on many levels. As such, you can expect thorough and often combative feminist critique.

    • Lela

      Also, seriously, read some stuff written by radical feminists, books, blogs, etc. There is no way I am going to be able to explain anything to you here. Google is your best friend!

  • Rye

    @Lela,

    First, I apologize for taking over a month to respond. Previous drafts of this comment were kind of unintelligible because of the intellectual and emotional strings I’m trying to untangle.

    That said, I have noticed that radical feminists seem to have an aversion to theoretical speculation. I do not mean that radical feminists do not ever theorize, but their focus seems to be on “doing” rather than on “theorizing.” I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that, but it means I can not easily find the abstract answers to the macro/micro gap that I’m looking for. Of the relevant speculation I found, the content is often very controversial. Although, I’m relieved that it seems uncontroversial that a gender equal society would give assistance and compassion to men who are shy or socially challenged.

    The main maco/micro problem I am having is with my choice to buy sex. Although I realize the futility of justifying the institution of prostitution, two reasons make the wrongness of buying sex from the woman I currently frequent seem counter-intuitive. The first reason is that she enjoys a privileged position as a prostitute. For reasons I mentioned in previous comments, she would not sacrifice her middle class standard of living if she ceased prostitution. That is why she can afford to be exclusive with her “clientele” and negotiate appointments at her convenience. By itself, her privilege doesn’t make prostitution right because she is still profiting from patriarchy, but it doesn’t weigh heavily on my conscience.

    The second and most important reason is that my time with her has progressively become more intimate. Like other prostitutes, she was emotionally inaccessible at first, but we had a conversational chemistry that I never experienced with a woman before (and still do). Then subsequent appointments just progressed to humorous chatter and we shared intimate details about our personal lives. I don’t want to get too detailed, but now I pleasure her with my fingers and we cuddle and, since recently, kiss. Honestly, I feel great affection for her, although I hesitate to call it love. For example, it makes me happy to just to watch her peacefully rest while I stroke her hair and pleasure her with my fingers. And unlike the obviously fake words such as “oooh it feels so good…” that I heard many times before when buying sex, it pleases me to see her enjoying herself in ways that just seem so authentic.

    Maybe I’m delusional or very confused. But all I know is that I feel attached to her. For once, I feel a kind of intimacy. I feel as though I found something special with her, something I can not experience with another woman. Even though prostitution is so wrong, it intuitively feels so right with her. Admittedly, it is an unsettling paradox I can not solve.

    As for pornography, I agree that pornography largely abuses women today. As a matter of fact, I found a thread on a prostitution board where a buyer asked prostitutes why women lose interest in sex. One prostitute replied with a list of reasons that included how being left alone was a fair trade after trying out uncomfortable sex acts seen in pornography. And she made a big point out of that particular reason. However, I don’t understand how masturbating to erotic and neutral (not degrading) pictures of women, especially if such pictures are of a man’s sexual partner, is abusive to women.

    • Me

      Do you think _she_ would call what you have love?? Would she want you in her life if you didn’t pay? Come on. You’re just rationalizing what you know is wrong but don’t want to feel that way, that’s all.

      Re the pictures thing, I would not let my wife take pictures of me to masturbate to (not that that would even occur to her!) I would not want anyone to separate myself from the act of making love with me. I don’t want to do that to others either.

      I would go so far as to suggest that taking nude pictures of your partner for the fun of taking those pictures is not necessarily healthy. Edward Weston took “wonderful” nudes, and her partner-models were always hurt by how they wanted to love him, but he only wanted to love the photos and the shooting and did not care for the women as real persons. I think that’s why it’s correct to say that photos are typically “taken”, not so much made or given, unless what you do with them is about giving, and frankly masturbation doesn’t count. ;P