men, masculinities and gender politics

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Feminism is not a sex aid for men

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As a child of the early 90’s, internet porn grew up alongside me. Most American homes had dial-up modems on my thirteenth birthday; by the time I left high school, we were all but completely wireless. Pornhub and Xtube didn’t exist in 2005, yet they were two of the ten most popular websites on the planet on the day I turned eighteen.

My generation entered the last decade with Playboys under their beds and left it with Facial Abuse on their phones. But despite the sea change, any serious male response to porn lagged a good ten years behind its explosion into the mainstream. Growing up, I never once encountered a critical male voice beyond my father’s. Even the other young men I knew online seemed incapable of seeing anything wrong. For a long time, neither did I.

It’s different now. The last few years has seen more and more men identify themselves as explicitly anti-pornography. The vast majority of these men are religious conservatives more concerned with denouncing lust than patriarchy. I don’t expect much from them. Unfortunately, the secular, even ostensibly pro-feminist anti-porn movement is even more disappointing.

In the last five years, I’ve seen more men write articles about pornography’s role in their inability to maintain erections than its role in the global subjugation of women. Entire communities on popular websites like Reddit and Facebook exist to support men in their efforts to avoid masturbating to porn – not because by doing so we contribute to the abuse and exploitation of other human beings, but because that abuse and exploitation has made our dicks soft.

Even larger, professional organizations like Fight the New Drug shy away from mentioning patriarchy or feminism, those dreaded words that might turn off young men worried more about disappointing women sexually than oppressing them politically. Their comparison between pornography and an intoxicant or addiction firmly centers male health as the singular focus. But a woman, unlike a handful of pills or a line of cocaine, is a living thing. If pornography is a drug, what you’re grinding up and snorting is another human being.

To their credit, FTND is quick to point out links between pornography, human trafficking, and rape. But without a link between all three and the larger structure of male power, what’s the point? Perhaps none of this would be so frustrating if not for the obvious pillaging of feminist theory. The links between sexual violence, pornography, and prostitution weren’t first drawn by men afraid to name male power. They were exposed by women who based their entire framework on the idea of men as oppressors and women as oppressed. For us to take that feminist scholarship, sanitize it, and demand it share equal concern with an epidemic of too-soft dicks is a tremendous insult. 

Male activists who speak out against pornography from a firmly feminist angle certainly exist; many are close friends of mine, men who I respect deeply and among which I hope to be counted. But they are being drowned out by a competing mass who have transformed women’s liberation into a sex aid, men for whom feminism’s greatest accomplishment is helping them figure out how to reach orgasm more effectively.

Porn is not a moral atrocity because it makes us unable to fuck women. It is a moral atrocity precisely because, after consuming it, so many of us go out and do fuck women – brutally, without care or concern. Even those who don’t will still internalize the endless stream of misogyny, racism, violence, and cruelty that defines pornography in the 21st century. And you can act that out on women limp dick or not.

The new focus on erections and sexual health in the pro-feminist movement is a desperate attempt to find a self-interested reason for men to eschew pornography. But beyond one’s own humanity, there is nothing we stand to gain from renouncing our abuse. Rape, battering, incest, prostitution, and pornography benefit us. As men, our lives are better because of them. To see an end to male violence against women, pornography included, is to see an end to the profit violence brings.

Men abandoning pornography to avoid sexual dysfunction is no more honorable than whites dropping out of a klan march for fear they may sprain an ankle. Our struggle against pornography, and the vicious system of male power that it represents, must go far deeper than a self-serving desire to protect our sexual practices – especially when those sexual practices are themselves too often the sight of masculine oppression and violence towards women.

The truth is that feminism, far from facilitating male sexuality, should be deeply unfriendly to it. As men, we have developed our eroticism in a position of power. To believe that the political movement against that power will somehow leave our sex lives unscathed, let alone improved, is a bizarre bit of fantasy. If your opposition to pornography is rooted in a fear of losing easy sexual gratification, you need to stay far away from the anti-porn movement. Real feminism won’t give you ED, but it’s likely to take away quite a few of the orgasms you hold dear.

[Reprinted with permission from Gender Detective.]