Lately I’ve been asked to do a lot of interviews. Sometimes they’re for magazines and websites, and other times they’re for students writing papers and thesis projects on the subjects of porn, feminism, queers and kink.
I love sharing my thoughts and am thrilled that students are creating dialogue about queer sex, pornography, and are questioning the interpretations of sexual media. And I love reading their final papers!
So from here on out, I’ve got a new approach to interviews with students. I’m going to post each finished paper that is sent to me with this permission by it’s author, and possibly share it with other queer/feminist academic sex sites.
The most recent one I’ve received is by Mikayla Dennis. Thank you for sharing your work and allowing me to post it!
Women and Pornography
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines taboo as “a prohibition imposed by social customs.” Every culture has its specific taboos. In Judaism, it is taboo to eat to pork. In Egypt , it is taboo to eat an entire plate of food; it is seen as impolite. Blowing your nose in front of others is a taboo is South Korea . Universal taboos do not exists, but a vast majority of cultures do not condone incest, murder, suicide, or pedophilia. Taboos change with time in the United States . What was taboo one hundred years ago could be widely accepted today? Divorce is an example of a taboo that has changed with time. In 1909, divorce was practically unheard of. Only 12 percent of all marriages ended in divorce in the early 1900’s. Today, 50 percent of first marriages, 67 percent of second marriages and 74 percent of third marriages in the United States end in divorce. Repression of female sexuality was very commonplace one hundred years ago. For women, sex was only for procreation purposes and those who yearned for sexual gratification were considered to be living outside the Will of God. Today, women are allowed to express their sexuality freely. As the sexuality of women continues to evolve, women’s influence in the pornography industry continues to increase.
Female sexual practices in the United States have also changed over the years. During the Victorian Era, it was believed that only men could derive pleasure from sexual activity. Women were not allowed to engage in sexual activity freely. Extreme lack of sexual fulfillment and understanding of female sexuality lead to many women being diagnosed with “hysteria.” Hysteria is defined as, “a condition of extreme excitement characterized by emotional disturbance, sensory and motor derangement and sometimes the simulation of organic disorders” (Company 517.) It was believed that nearly three quarters of all women suffered from hysteria. Symptoms of hysteria included a sense of heaviness in the pelvis, tendencies to indulge in sexual fantasies and “excessive” vaginal lubrication (Lerman 101.) Physicians would treat hysteria in women by giving patients vulvular massages. The goal of these massages was to achieve “hysterical paroxysm” also known as “sexual orgasm.” After treating numerous women a day for hysteria, physicians grew tired and began to seek assistance in achieving the desired results. By 1870, a clockwork driven vibrator was available for use by physicians to treat hysteria and by the turn of the century battery powered vibrators were available for private purchase. They were being used as masturbatory aides but were not marketed as such. Vibrators were marketed as a domestic appliance in periodicals. This lasted until the 1920s when they began appearing in pornographic movies.
Pornography is currently defined as the depiction of explicit sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual excitement. The previous definition of pornography related exclusively to prostitution. In 1857 the English medical dictionary defined pornography as “a description of prostitutes or prostitution, as a matter of public hygiene” (Dunglison 783.) Before the invention of the movie projector in 1876, pornographic material was only available through print (photographs and magazines.) Almost immediately after the invention of movie projectors, pornographic movies were created. The first sexually explicit movie was released in U.S. theaters in 1970. By 1982, movies were being produced on videotape. Videotape allowed viewers to watch sexually explicit videos in the privacy of their homes. Although the internet was invented in 1957, it was not accessible for popular use until the early 1990s. The availability of internet for home use allowed for even more privacy than videotapes. As of 2006, there were 4.2 million pornographic websites and 68 million pornographic search engine results (Ropelato.) The internet allows people to access pornography and remain anonymous. Research has found that 1 in 3 adults who access pornographic websites are women (Ropelato). Theresa Flynt, the vice president of marketing for the men’s magazine “Hustler” states that women account for 56 percent of their business (Blue.)
The roles women play in pornography have increased drastically since the 1980s. Before then, women’s roles in pornography were limited to on-screen positions. Over the past twenty-five years, women have become very active off-camera. One of the first women producer/director of pornography is Candida Royalle. Candida Royalle began her career as a pornographic actress but shifted her focus to director. In 1984, she founded the company Femme Production to “create materials that bespoke a more loving and healthy attitude toward sex and women” (Nagle 156.) Belladonna, Stormy Daniels and Devinn Lane are examples of additional female pornographic actresses who followed suit. As of today, there are over 50 female pornography directors and/or producers. Many of the films produced by women, focus on the sexual activity between the actors instead of the climax of the male actor, also known as the infamous “money shot.”
Some people and groups express negative attitudes toward pornography. The anti-pornography movement was sparked in 1969 when the Supreme Court decided that people can watch what they desire in their own homes. After this ruling, groups such as Women Against Pornography and Women Against Violence Against Women sought to educate the general public of the ways pornography harm women. These groups believe that pornography incites rape and other violent acts against women. Major players in the anti-pornography movement are Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem. In an interview, Catharine MacKinnon said she believes that pornography desensitizes people to violence against women (Jeffries.) In 1986, TIME magazine published an article titled “Pornography: the Feminist Dilemma”. The primary reason many people and groups object to pornography is because of the belief that pornography degrades women. Avid anti-pornography protester Jon Leo stated: “By its very nature it tends to degrade women and treat them as sexual playthings for men.”
This article did not mention pornography that depicts two women engaging in sexual activity. The anti-pornography movement has loss a substantial amount of support over the past ten years. The movement has made no impact on censorship.
As the anti-pornography movement began to fade, the support of pornography gained momentum. Groups such as the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task, Feminist for Free Expression and Feminists against Censorship Force publicly declared their support of it. Those who support pornography reject the idea that pornography harms women. The principal idea is that pornography demonstrated the sexual liberation of women. This approach to pornography became known as the sex-positive movement. The sex-positive movement advocates for the acknowledgement of individual sexual diversity. This includes the acceptance of heterosexuality, homosexuality, transsexuality, polyamory and masturbation. Gayle Rubin, Wendy McElroy and Carol Queen are several key players of the sex-positive movement. In her article, “The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era,” Carol Queen explains her view of sex-positivism.
It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent. (2008)
Before researching this topic, I considered myself to be in support of pornography. I firmly disagreed with those who presented the argument that pornography posed a threat to “traditional” family values and that it incites violence against women. While researching this topic, I came across information that cemented my initial belief. I also learned that women are more involved in pornography production than I originally thought. The involvement of women in the production of pornography has increased drastically over the past one hundred years and will continue to climb. The industry created by males for male enjoyment has grown to include women in every aspect of production. With 13 billion dollars grossed in 2008 alone, the pornography industry shows no sign of slowing down.