A critique of "Hard Core," an article by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

It's been a bit oversaid the last few years that internet has overexposed us to porn, and that it's not such a good thing. Anyone who did not have the luxury of internet porn in their adolescence could tell you about the length one had to go to to find any scrap of porn - how often it was sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time (a thrown out mag in the woods or the trash?), the power of hard searching (family you were babysitting for had a stash in their nightstand, maybe?), or you just knew the right people (your parents, older siblings, maybe your friend got a hold and was willing to share?). At any rate, it was less available before the internet, even if you were over 18 and could find it legally. I think it's fair to say that this is an uncomplicatedly true statement.

What is a bit more complicated is what that means exactly. This brings me to an article that Barnaby found and sent to me. It's called "Hardcore," found in The Atlantic Monthly Magazine and written by Natasha Vargas-Cooper. Check it out here. Charlie and Barnaby both read it, and we all had a good long talk about it (yes, it was a full on AnC pow-wow). I've read plenty of pieces discussing this porn overexposure and the desensitizing/dominance over women/unrealistic expectation effects it has on men and boys and the pressure to be sexy/sexually accommodating/sexually available in a particular way that porn forces upon girls and women.This article has a different take on the subject. Normally I would disregard an article like this because it is crawling with sweeping generalizations about the innate nature of humans - which is a huge pet peeve of mine. However, I felt like this article came from an honest place, and I feel like its harsh resigning tone is worth looking at.

The author asserts 3 things to begin with. 1. The content of pornography has become increasingly varied due to the ease of creation and distribution available on the internet. 2.What was once seen as deviant is now run of the mill (double anal, incest simulations, gang-bangs), and this variety has also become more common in the bedroom. She backed this by citing a study showing  increase in anal sex over the last 18 years. 3. Men's fantasies have always included this deviant behavior. It is just now since porn is so easily made and distributed that porn can reflect the depths of the male mind. This is counter to the more mainstream assumption that porn, being that it is a consumer product fueled by profits, has been pushed by producers to include ever more deviant actions. These depictions then affect what people see and understand to be sexual fantasies.

This 3rd assertion might seem a bit like splitting hairs, but the two viewpoints have a main difference. The mainstream viewpoint assumes that men create the specifics of their sexual desire and tastes largely through the experiences they have throughout their lives - consumption of porn would be one of these factors. So, in this case, our culture could create more men who are sexually respectful to women by changing how sex is depicted, taught, and experienced. The author's view assumes that male sexuality is inborn - there from birth, and that it has a domineering and somewhat dark aspect that our culture and particularly feminists are not willing to accept. She believes that a long world history of male sexual domination and aggression backs this up.

It's important to point out that Vargas-Cooper and most people who discuss this topic are coming from the notion that, although not true of all porn, there is a distinct element of depicted degradation of the female actresses in much of the hardcore internet porn. She sees this degradation as simply part of the innate male sexuality that cannot be eliminated. At best it can be partially suppressed through social moral standards, and internet porn has cracked wide open the standards that used to hold the floodgates of male sexuality.

"While sexual aggression and the desire to debase women may not be what arouse all men, they are certainly an animating force of male sexuality. They may be unattractive and even, if taken to extremes, dangerous, but they’re not, perhaps alas, deviant. Leaving aside for the moment the argument that some things that might be sordid and even ugly can also be arousing and satisfying, the main problem with the new anti-porn critics is their naive assumption that if only we could blot out Internet porn, then the utopia of sexual equality would be achieved. But equality in sex can’t be achieved. Internet porn exposes that reality; it may even intensify that reality; it doesn’t create it."

The rest of the content in the article is largely related to exploring this, in her opinion, more realistic


The Kim Cattrall / Samantha Split in All of Us

I was having a little trouble thinking of what to write for this week's blog. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes I'm blank. Then a 2002 book written by Kim Cattrall and her husband Mark Levinson that I browsed in a bookstore a while back came to mind: Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. What I remember from it was that she basically said that she is not like her character Samantha from Sex and the City. She says in reality her sex life, like many other women, has been less than awesome. The book she wrote is an advice book about real life sex. As I recall from my skimming, it wasn't bad. It was on par with most advice books. Now, that isn't exactly a compliment from me. I have serious problems with the state of certain aspects of the vast majority of these books, but it was fine and good and realistic in many ways. However, my point in telling you about this is that her book was focused on real life sex with a caring partner and she thought this was important for her specifically to write. The following is an excerpt from an interview with her - check it out here.

"Many of the roles I've played - usually sexually aware, no-nonsense gals - have had nothing to do with me or what my life is like," she wrote. "Quite frankly, these false images have, at times, interfered with my relationships and personal sexual satisfaction."
She and Levinson are no longer married. The moral of this story would seem to be: don't tempt fate by writing a book saying what a great sex life you and your spouse have. But Cattrall insists she doesn't regret writing Satisfaction. The only problem was that it welded her and Samantha even more tightly together in the eyes of the public.
"I did it because I thought women might find it useful. As I wrote, my life had not been like Samantha's. It had been like many women's - very disappointing sexually. I mean, I'm not a cougar. Nothing like one. However, it sort of backfired and I became regarded as this ... this sexpert."

For those who don't know, Samantha on SATC is the older of the 4 women and the most sexually voracious. She partakes in hot and powerful men all over New York, but rarely holds on for longer than a fleeting sexual encounter. She's bold, successful, beautiful, uncompromising and she loves sex.

Now, after resisting the series for years, I eventually watched every episode on DVD taking careful notes on each depiction of or discussion of female orgasm/sexual release. Samantha always comes (save for a couple episodes specifically surrounding her inability to), and of all the depictions of this type in SATC, hers are by far the most ridiculous. As someone who has made it my business to critique the cultural view of female sexual


The Alternate Universe Orgasm...Oh what if things were different...

Okay....Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe....Mostly things are the same except they extract eggs and sperm to make babies, and they think about sex a bit differently. Of all the sexual possibilities, what our universe calls sex is intercourse. In this alternate universe, when people say "sex", they mean that the woman's clitoris is grinded on the base of the penis (where it connects to the balls) - until orgasm. This is the general definition of sex in this alternate universe. But, grinding the clit onto the lower pelvis where it meets the penis or on the inner thigh close to where it meets the penis would also be considered sex - just different positions. Oral sex, manual stimulation, and intercourse all also exist, but are not the common type of "real sex" that is depicted and discussed so commonly in movies, TV, books, porn, and songs.

Okay, so in this universe a few things are common knowledge:
  • Women average 3 to 7 minutes to reach orgasm. Men average about 25 minutes.
  • Only about 20 - 30% of men on surveys claim to orgasm from sex alone. 10% of men have never experienced an orgasm.
  • Men on average watch porn less often, masturbate less, have fewer sexual fantasies, are less interested in one night stands, and generally have a lower sex drive
  • Men tend to need more romance and emotional connections to feel aroused and satisfied during a sexual encounter
 In the porn of this culture, often times the males don't have erect penises during "sex" but they still "orgasm" and very enthusiastically at that. People generally don't strictly associate an erect penis with a male orgasm.  Sex advice books for women are largely focused on how to please a man and advice books for men are largely focused on how to up his sex drive, find pleasure during sex, and how to orgasm. It is taken for granted that women need their clitoris stimulated to orgasm, it's as if you don't even have to say that. For men, the advice books always really emphasize the importance of the penis. In foreplay it should be manually or orally stimulated, and these could even be considered full sexual acts. However, these books also go on about the different positions that could make sex more pleasurable for him. For instance, if he's on top and she's rubbing against the base of his penis where it meets his leg, and at a particular angle, the penis is in a position to get more stimulation against her navel. Yay for him! Oh and by the way, what's great about that position is that it not only gives him some penile stimulation, but he can also put pressure on the inner base of the penis. Most people believe that the inner base of the penis  (the part that extends inside the body a bit) is the "K-spot." The idea is that the K-spot allows a deeper caressing of the penis that accounts for a deeper, more full bodied orgasm than the penile orgasm does. It is, of course, not an orgasm that all men seem to be able to achieve, although there's not much research on the subject. Most advice books will tell you that the majority of men need penile stimulation in order to orgasm, even as they sing the praises of k-spot stimulating sex positions.

Strangely though, if you really look into the research of this culture you would find that men can orgasm as fast and easily as women when they masturbate, and the way men masturbate doesn't look a lot like how they have sex. Also, there has been no scientifically and physically verified cases of a male orgasm (the defined physiological kind - not some oo-ey goo-ey emotional or spiritual definition of it) through "k-spot" stimulation, even though it seems like there are plenty of men - in porn and movies and stuff like that - that have them all the time.

If you think this alternate universe seems kinda blind and clueless, well.....we should probably look in the mirror.

I was chillin' and illin' at a bookstore recently, and was drawn towards the Sex and Relationships section as is my tendency. For years, while researching for this movie, I've always checked up on this section. I figure I should check up on what the current advice is the ol' s-e-x. Actually I've never been too worked up about most of the info in those books - most of it's probably fine. I just want to check the part about intercourse and female orgasms. That's where I thought of writing this post - cause sometimes I get a little frustrated. These books and any other media on the topic (save for a select few long forgotten 70's feminist writings - post Masters and Johnson's Human Sexual Response but pre The G-Spot and Other Recent Discoveries about Human Sexuality) just don't have the labe (that's may new favorite term - using labe as in labia instead of balls. Lips works too.) to make the bold and accurate statement about female orgasm that needs to be made.