Science, meet feminism. Feminism, science. Talk amongst yourselves.

So I’m getting really sick of hearing sexologists tell women, over and over again, that they should be ‘ok’ with their male partners watching porn. You know what? If you are ok with your partner watching porn then that is ‘ok’. If you are not ‘ok’ then it is no one’s job to tell you that you should learn ‘how to accept your boyfriend’s interest in pornography‘. Particularly not when you sell yourself as some kind of professional expert on sex and sex in relationships. I suppose it is too much to ask that those working in psychology/science-type fields have any knowledge or interest in feminist theory but GOSH would it ever be nice!

If you google (not to suggest that googling anything is the best way to accumulate good information and, rather, seems to be an excellent pastime if you enjoy being depressed and offended, BUT it is a good way to access the most mainstream of mainstream ideas and going ons) ‘boyfriend watches porn’ you are bound to find, not only an abundance of wee-brained men trying to reinforce the idea that their porn-watching is perfectly healthy and that, really, there’s just something wrong with you, lady-friend, if you can’t handle it; but you will also come across a myriad of articles written by sexologists who also want to convince you that you are the problem in this scenario. ‘What? It makes you feel uncomfortable?? Maybe if you weren’t so jealous and insecure, you could get over this. Maybe if you made a bigger effort to participate in your own oppression, please your partner, and play into his porn-molded sexual fantasies, you wouldn’t have all these problems!’ Never ever do any of these supposed ‘experts’ on sex and sexuality acknowledge the possibility that, perhaps, there may exist many very valid reasons a woman might feel ‘uncomfortable’ or even intolerant of her partner’s ‘interest in pornography’.

While I imagine that what these sexologists are trying to do is offer unbiased advice, the lack of acknowledgment that most mainstream pornography is, in fact, degrading and sexist and actually impacts the way that men view women and the way that men fantasize about women is, in fact, highly biased. This active normalizing of pornography as a part of every red-blooded man’s (sexual) life is, in fact, highly freakin’ biased. Not only does it reinforce the lie that every man everywhere is into sexist pornography, but it actively teaches women not to trust their own rational beliefs, feelings, perfectly intelligent conclusions, boundaries, ethics and politics and attempts to convince them that they are flawed for not wanting their partner to engage in, perpetuate and support sexist representations of women and women’s bodies. Yep. You’re pretty crazy, lady! Didn’t you know that the things you think and feel are silly? And that sexism is normal and fun for all men?

I am so sick of hearing these lies. Even Dan Savage, who I generally love, reinforces this same ‘all men watch porn‘ myth. Ok. You know what? I realize that many, many men watch porn. This is not the same as ‘all men watch porn’. This does not mean that women are crazy to expect respect from their partners. This does not mean that women who do not like porn and do not want their partners watching things that degrade them and impact their sex lives negatively should change, should tolerate it, or that they are the problem. The idea that there is something wrong, something that must be fixed or altered about a woman who feels ‘uncomfortable’ with their partner watching porn only works to normalize sexism and pornography as well as the idea that women are naive, irrational beings – ‘oh you are so STUPID!! Don’t you know that you have no choice but to tolerate the men you love treating women like empty vessels that exist in order to fulfill male fantasies?! Silly.’

This intolerance is almost always portrayed in the mainstream as being about jealousy and insecurity and never about women disliking, and being justified in disliking sexist imagery. Nevermind the possibility that some men actually don’t enjoy watching pornography (yes! It’s true! No matter how many times you say it’s not!) and that pornography could actually negatively impact men!

In fact, it seems as the only justifiable reason for a woman to have a problem with their partner’s ‘interest in porn’ is that she is insecure:

It would appear as though many sexologists have vested interest, not in the study of sex, but in normalizing misogyny as an innate part of male sexuality. It seems that it is much more likely for a sexologist to compare a male partner’s porn watching to ‘cheating’ than to discuss the possibility that there might be, in fact, a problem with the pornography and a culture that tries so very hard to normalize something that should not necessarily feel ‘normal’.

This sexologist skips right to the ‘sex addiction’ theory:

like it’s only possible for porn to be a problem if it’s ‘compulsive.’

The underlying assumption here is that a) it is normal for men to enjoy misogyny b) all normal men enjoy misogyny c) this fantasy misogyny has no impact on ‘real life’.  As Savage says: “The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates.” Why o why must we continue to repeat this ridiculousness? Why o why must we tell men that if they don’t watch porn it’s because they don’t have penises (read: aren’t ‘real’ men)? WHY must we insult women who have reasonable, rational, boundaries, like oh let’s say ‘I don’t want to have sex with men who are turned on by misogyny’?

The sexologist I linked to earlier attempts to calm a woman’s fear by saying this:

HEY, he told you it was ‘no big deal’ so what’s your problem?? ‘Help me….learn to feel better about this’??? No no. It is not she who needs to ‘learn’ to tolerate a partner who refuses to acknowledge that her feeling uncomfortable about his porn-watching is reasonable. It is a world that needs to learn that we are not immune to the images we see. Watching porn does have an impact on the way in which we see the world around us. Not only that, but when ‘experts’ tell us that something is ‘normal’, we tend to believe them.

This active blindness to any feminist analysis of pornography and porn culture is baffling. Whereas in other areas of mainstream culture, feminism appears to have seeped in (women do exist in some positions of power, language around rape and victim blaming is changing, slowly but surely), pornography continues to be a blind-spot in mainstream discourse. How ’bout it, science? Try a little feminist theory with your ‘ology?

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan 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.

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