Porn, criticism and dialogue

Posted at 01:00 on 14 Jan 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Adele Haze, Fairtrade porn, Gender politics, Kinkcom, Maggie Mayhem, making a scene, Politics

As some of you will have seen, this week has seen Kink.com come under scrutiny for the press release starting to be known as "Hymen-gate", in which the ceremonial deflowering of young model Nicki Blue was marketed using sexist and damaging language. It's been an enlightening conversation for all sorts of reasons. Here's the lowdown:

The offending press release, as reposted across the adult web.

Kink.com model Maggie Mayhem wrote a comprehensive and balanced critique of the press release, complete with educational material on vaginal anatomy and why these details are socially and ethically important. She has just published an inspiring follow-up post in which she credits Kink for responding quickly and positively to the criticism and talks about the ways in which small things can change the world.

The post on the Kink forums in which Nicki Blue announced her desire to experience her first vaginal penetration on video. It's interesting that Nicki seems to have initiated the problematic language about "taking her virginity" and "breaking her hymen" - either her forum post is deeply 'in character' of her virgin fantasy, or she could perhaps benefit from a little sex education herself.

Adele Haze explains why, although this isn't okay, it isn't surprising given Kink's track record with affiliate promos that are demeaning to women (which is weird, given this trend really isn't reflected in the scenes themselves).

Maybe Maimed roundly condemns Kink for their mode of porn-selling, if not their mode of porn-making; his post contains a number of links to other discussions of this issue, if you're interested.



This discussion has been fascinating for its revelations into Kink's workings. Like Maggie, they were one of the first BDSM websites I came across, and I always felt comfortable with the extremity of their scenarios because of their overt focus on consent, the enjoyment and limits of the models, and transparency. In the presentation of scenes on the site the promo text is usually "out of character" and praises the models' professionalism, courage, endurance, beauty and horniness. Even in the free previews you get a happy smiling post-scene shot, and the videos are supplemented by forum discussions and a lot of behind the scenes content. It's great to be reassured that this impression is upheld by outspoken feminist performers who have worked for them.

At the same time, the models who support them don't do so unconditionally. Being able to honestly and publicly critique a studio you hope to work for again is hell of a brave thing to do, and I'm full of respect not only for models like Maggie who are prepared to do so firmly and politely, but also for a studio that can listen, take the criticism on board and not take offence. That's got to be healthy, and it's the sort of dialogue I'd like to see between more models and producers in an open and respectful way.

This is why the internet has revolutionalised porn; because it facilitates exactly this sort of conversation. This is why blogging, online commentary and interaction between viewers, performers and producers will be instrumental to transforming the porn industry into the safe, respectful, thoughtful and sex-positive place we want it to be.

Comments

I have to admit, I'm very surprised that you took this angle regarding this event - especially given the fact that you express your sexuality in a way many feminists might have a problem with (the concept of being submissive, and of being phyiscally punished by others, most men.)

You wrote that Nikki's post was "either her forum post is deeply 'in character' of her virgin fantasy, or she could perhaps benefit from a little sex education herself."

I think that's a little demeaning to her. Surely it's her 'virginity' and her body and she can describe it and own it exactly as she wants - I really find it kind of hypocritical for anybody to start dictating to her how she's allowed to express herself or her sexuality.

I can see the point people are trying to make about how this reinforces false language and beliefs about what 'virginity' is - but she's making pornography, not a political statement. She's a willing and consensual partner in all this, so she has the right to own and dictate how it proceeds.

I'm sure you'll disagree - but I think I make a legitimate point. After all, the porn you produce is now considered illegal under some interpretations of British law because some people suggest it promotes violence and abuse. You can't rebel against others dictating how you express your sexuality and then do exactly the same thing as they're doing when another porn performer uses language and concepts you don't agree with.

I, too, must say that while I find certain aspects of the Kink.com press release disagreeable, I find the reactions in certain corners of the porn community even more disagreeable than that.

To begin with, I don't really know much about Kink.com. What I saw in their previews never looked interesting enough to me to really check them out. Moreover, I don't think that virginity is anywhere near the center of my kink. First-time spankings are interesting to me, also the concept of the "sacrificial virgin" in a CP fantasy scenario. but not so much the kind of physical virginity which this Kink.com scenario is centered around, and not in the way they present it. The "hymen cam" thing certainly sounds a bit daft to say the least.

That said, I confess that I fail to see what the huge outrage is about here. I read the offending press release and did not find it all that offensive or sexist. Not nearly as sexist as the "big-titted whores" adverts which Kink.com apparently uses all the time, anyway. So why do they get hammered about the virginity thing all of a sudden, the wording of which seemed positively restrained in comparison?

The best explanation I can come up with: "Hymen-gate" gives people who have a long-standing dislike of Kink.com and their mode of porn selling a new focal point. This is certainly true of Maybe Maimed, for instance, who admits that he always hated Kink.com, anyway.

Now, as for the actual "Hymen-gate" press release, I guess they are guilty of repeating some non-sensical myths about virginity. Which was, apparently, initiated by the model herself in her forum post. Alright, could have been done better. But is it really fair to say that the language was "sexist and damaging"?

Who, exactly, was damaged by the press release? The model? She didn't seem to feel that way. In fact, she used the language herself. Any other person in particular? It's hard to see who that should be. So, we are left with a very general, very non-specific, very vague interpretation of "damage". In fact, that seems to be the gist of the criticism - that, by repeating these myths about virginity, harm is somehow being done to "society" or "women" or "all of us" or whatever. Hmm. To me, that sounds rather like the mutterings of anti-porn prudes about how porn supposedly threatens the "decency of society". It is just as vague, and just as unsupported by any solid evidence.

Maybe Maimed in his post brought up an analogy with the Giffords shooting of last week. I understand where he was going with it - yes, language matters, yes, language can harm. But was it really necessary to bring up this particular analogy, extremely emotionally charged as it is, less than a week after the shooting? To talk about something Kink.com said in a fricking press release about a porn video? I thought if there is one thing to be learned from the current political climate in the US (which may or may not have influenced the Giffords shooting), it's that hyperbolic language and exaggerated comparisons (Obama as Hitler, etc.) are not conducive to rational, productive debate.

Hell, he even made a connection between the Kink.com press release and how, in some societies, women are still murdered by their fathers, brothers or would-be husbands over the matter of virginity. Which, in my mind, is just as much an over-simplification and a stretch of the imagination as suggesting that Jane Longhurst was murdered because of "extreme porn".

(continued)

Whenever BDSM is under attack by censorious prudes, we kinksters like to point out how it has never been demonstrated that pornography encourages violent actions, that people are far more complex than that, that porn is only one kind of cultural text people look at among so many others, that sexism and violence is far more prevalent in the mainstream media, and so forth. No, of course these consensual whippings or these consensual, fake depictions of death and dismemberment don't harm anyone! No sane person is going to be influenced by that! If they were, they must have been severely disturbed already!

And then, when a press release by Kink.com is concerned, we get alarmist about how relatively minute details of wording and depictions of female anatomy might send out the wrong message or even contribute to someone acting violently towards women? That does not seem consistent to me. We can argue that porn has a big potential influence on people's attitudes and behaviour, or a very minor one, or anything in between. But we can't cherry-pick and change our position between one case and the next.

I know a lot is being made about the fact that this concerns a press release by Kink.com and other affiliate promos of theirs. That these are "out of character" communications, that one should not use the same language there that one might use in character in the context of a porn scene. Fine, I understand the argument. But honestly, if we believe that viewers out there are too dumb to put press releases and advertising lingo into context, why do we believe that they are smart enough to put BDSM scenes into context? If they are liable to confuse fantasy and reality in one case, what about the other one? Do viewers always need a big fat disclaimer by the BDSM porn producers to explain to them that there isn't any actual abuse going on?

I agree that some of the "Hymen-gate" debate has been interesting, but some of it has also been rather shrill. Frankly, the tone of some of the contributions was far too self-righteous for my taste. This concerns other contributions more than it does yours. But I must say that I found your remark about "sexist and damaging language", and how you seem to take for granted the sovereignty of definition over these terms, somewhat grating.

@Roland:

she's making pornography, not a political statement […] I think I make a legitimate point. After all, the porn you produce is now considered illegal under some interpretations of British law

What cute self-contradictions, Roland. Don't you know pornography is a political statement? You seem to…. And remember, kids, you may not take an interest in politics, but politics will take an interest in you.

@Ludwig:

That said, I confess that I fail to see what the huge outrage is about here. I read the offending press release and did not find it all that offensive or sexist. Not nearly as sexist as the "big-titted whores" adverts which Kink.com apparently uses all the time, anyway. So why do they get hammered about the virginity thing all of a sudden…?

The best explanation I can come up with: "Hymen-gate" gives people who have a long-standing dislike of Kink.com and their mode of porn selling a new focal point. This is certainly true of Maybe Maimed, for instance, who admits that he always hated Kink.com, anyway.


You hit the nail on the head, there, my German friend! It wasn't necessarily any more sexist than the way Kink, Inc. advertises all the time. That's why my outrage is not really about this issue in specific (I'm pretty much always angry at Kink, Inc.) but rather the massive hypocrisy within the sex-positive community for calling out Kink, Inc. for this and not any of the other sexism they sell.

As for "a new focal point," sure, it's got attention, and I jumped at the opportunity to air my other grievances. My only regret in doing so is that people like you misunderstood my post and took it to mean that I was somehow a newly-christened Kink, Inc. detractor, when I have not merely disliked them, but been a loud, vocal critic for years. The only thing new about my post is my calling out the rest of the community, not this one very beloved company.

Perhaps you missed this nuance when you commented on my post?

I may be missing something.

Is the complaint here about someone making a video in which she has penetrative vaginal sex for the first time? Only I can personally testify that videos like that have been on sale for a very long time, certainly prior to 1992 when there was one advertised in the magazine some boys at my school got in trouble for passing round.

A search for "virgin porn video" gets 124 million hits, among the first being entitled "virgin gets it up there for the first time"

Just so I understand, why is this one getting so much attention when countless before it haven't?

Roland - Demeaning to Nicki? I don't know. I disagree with the ideas she has about what constitutes virginity and the language she uses to describe it. I don't know if that language represents her true understanding of her body or if she's performing, but if the latter I think it's reasonable that she should be accountable for her performance choices.

I accept that the reason she has those ideas is that she was raised in the South, where anything goes as long as penis doesn't enter vagina. That doesn't mean I have to like those ideas, and it doesn't stop them being pernicious and culturally harmful.

Pornography IS political, whether it tries to be or not. Someone consenting is one aspect of fairtrade porn, but it's not the entirety. A perfomer can consent to crass, sexist content - their consent makes it less ethically dodgy than if they weren't consenting, but consent alone doesn't exempt a porn production from all critique.

I do actually think there is a distinction between my BDSM acceptance argument ("violent porn has never been evidentially linked to violent crime) and my feminist porn argument ("porn should be more sex- and woman-positive if we want better porn and a society which treats women better and has a healthy attitude to sex"). I don't see those two positions as mutually exclusive.

Ludwig - I'm not quite sure that my response constitutes "huge outrage" so much as "this language sucks, please change it - oh, awesome, thankyou for changing it!" and then a comment on how healthy public criticism and dialogue is for the porn industry. Do you disagree with that point?

If you're criticising me for the outrage of other people, I'm not sure what that's meant to achieve. If you're holding me accountable for all the remarks made in the pieces linked by this post then you're being daft. For the record my position is closer to Maggie Mayhem's than Maybe Maimed - I quite like Kink's work - but I don't have to agree with someone wholeheartedly to find their contribution interesting or worth reading.

I'm not sure I agree that a straightforward comparison between the affiliates marketing language and this press release is productive. This isn't a competition about which is more sexist; it's a comparison of Kink's stated ethos and reputation for ethical, sex-positive, woman-friendly porn with some of their marketing materials. This press release kicked off a conversation which was fuelled by people's response to previous marketing materials - that's why I linked Adele's post; as I said in a comment to her, she articulated many of the things I'd been thinking in tying this press released into Kink's previous marketing, but I didn't feel the need to repeat her points once she'd made them.

I find the press release offensive and sexist because:
• it implies that inexperience of vaginal penetration is the sum total of virginity, which I disagree with, and which I think is a dangerous belief for all the health and social reasons explained so well by Maggie Mayhem.
• it over-emphasises the whole hymen thing, which is damaging for the same reasons.
• it buys into the idea that female virginity is worth more than male virginity, which is sexist. If the genders had been reversed in this press release I wouldn't have had a problem with it.
• the language of "sacrificing innocence" with reference to an experienced adult performer is stupid, inaccurate, and re-inforces that inaccurate and dangerous (for health reasons) idea that vaginal penetration = sum total of sex = loss of 'innocence' as if moral purity and sexual experience were mutually incompatible.

In short, it reproduces an outdated Christian idea of sexual purity which I find sexist, sex-negative and harmful. I would have responded the same way to a press release which was selling a Christian domestic discipline/wife-beating scene without separating the reality of the performers from the fantasy of the scene.

It's clear in this case that that language partly stemmed from the model. That doesn't, to my mind, excuse it. Kink has set itself up as an ethical, woman-friendly, sex-positive company. It's one of the few BDSM sites that has. Nicki Blue's beliefs are her own and if I'd read her forum post, I wouldn't have turned it into that press release. Why shouldn't Kink be held to its own standards?

See my reply to Roland on the challenge of inconsistency. I'm happy to discuss that more if you like but this comment is long enough already!

Michael - no, the complaint was about the language used in the press release. See my point to Ludwig about the specific things I objected to and the reasons why.

The fact that a porn scenario has seen a lot of use doesn't mean it's necessarily okay, or sex-positive, or ethical.

You're right that countless other similar scenarios and press releases haven't come under fire. I choose not to spend my life critiquing the myriad porn sites and porn marketing I find annoying, sexist, damaging or insulting. Instead, I think my time is better spent creating alternatives which are ethical, fairtrade, sex-positive, respectful to the performers and to women. I'd rather spend my time on a positive solution than negatively on criticism.

Kink has come under fire because they set themselves up as exactly the sort of alternative solution I'm trying to create. In this instance - not the first - they've fallen short of that ideal. I've reposted the incident because I found the way the conversation developed really interesting, and I think the whole public criticism, public apology, public change of approach demonstrated something positive about the porn industry, and illustrated a mode of operating which I think more studios - and models - could learn from. I wasn't really trying to join in with the "outrage" at Kink - that's been done more than enough already, although as it happens I do agree that this press release was an example of their tendency towards problematic marketing. My post was intended more to salute Maggie for her bravery in challenging them, and salute them for responding so quickly and positively to her challenge.

I still don't get it.

The press release is incredibly pretentious and would be thoroughly hilarious if read dramatically in the style of Brian Blessed, but I don't see how it gets to be offensive.

It would be quite amusing if after all this it turned out that her hymen wasn't intact after all, but I expect she'd already checked that. Likewise the idea of actually seeing an internal view of her sounds about as sexy as a brain scan. What next, anal videos including colonoscopy? Well, I'm not into anal so I couldn't say if that would make it more or less sexy, though I'd hazard a guess at less.

The term True Virgin is more ham. It doesn't mean anything but sounds important. Were this advert on the telly it would be shouted by someone who seems to have drunk way too much coffee recently. In fact it reminds me of something Minka once said about her breasts being real. They've been artificially enlarged but they're still her breasts.

Airtight sounds like playground slang for having a cock in every hole you can get a cock in. Actually, it sounds like you get one up your nose too but that might be difficult.

I don't see how you can say this places more importance on female virginity over male since it doesn't have anything to do with male virginity. I've seen videos purporting to show teenage men losing their virginity to women in their sixties before. Fortunately they didn't have to show any internal exams, they just took his word for it.

This is definitely taking a break from real-world sex, but so is most porn. One of the first porn videos I ever saw showed two people acting out having sex with their pants still on and obviously no penetration.

Given how offensive some of the other examples in your links are, I have to wonder if this one isn't just the common denominator. Enough people have been offended by *something* on Kink that when something else on Kink gets public attention they jump in to criticize the site in general.

@ maymay: No, I did not mistake you for a newly-christened Kink.com detractor. You were very upfront in your post about how your dislike of them goes back long before the current "Hymen-gate" affair, it was impossible to miss.

Regardless of whether we are talking about past or present grievances with them, however, I stand by my view that your analogy with the Giffords shooting was poorly chosen and that some of the wording was quite shrill, what with the metaphors about pollution, poisoning, cancer. Which stands out all the more in a post that raises the question of language and its potential consequences.

However, I think that your blog is the place where we should debate this, not here!

Again, I do not hold you accountable for what others write. I just mean to illustrate why I can't quite share the enthusiasm of your last paragraph:

"This is why blogging, online commentary and interaction between viewers, performers and producers will be instrumental to transforming the porn industry into the safe, respectful, thoughtful and sex-positive place we want it to be."

Well, I too hope that this is going to happen. I retain some skepticism, though. For one thing, in a community as diverse as the porn community, there will always remain significant disagreements about what "sex-positive" means, exactly, and about the acceptable borders of safety, respect and thoughtfulness.

I also see one danger, and I think it is the main reason for why the discussion about "Hymen-gate" leaves me with mixed feelings:

I think there is a danger that, somewhere down the road, we end up with a community where a circle of politically interested, politically motivated commentators (the self-described "activists") attain an effective opinion monopoly about what does and what doesn't constitute appropriate porn language, porn marketing, porn content (?), and where they start dicating this to the majority of the less politically interested and less politically astute.

I just said the community is diverse, but the danger I see is that those who do not have "activist" among their list of self-defining attributes simply give up on the discussion, because they do not have the energy and the persistence of the activists, or because, not being as familiar with socio-political theory and jargon, they can't express their position as eloquently or persuasively.

It is conceivable that this "movement", if we want to call it thus, towards sex-positive (fair-trade, ethical, feminist...) porn simply ends up erecting its own repressive taboos in place of the old ones when it comes to consenting adults expressing their sexuality. It would not be the first movement which started out to overthrow oppression and ended up creating its own version of it.

Perhaps I am painting a phantom, and I sincerely hope that I am. I have to admit that my initial reaction to every political movement is mistrust and skepticism, which is no doubt founded in me being German and our 20th century history. Obviously, I do not intend to equate sex-positivism or feminism with fascism or totalitarian communism! That would be nonsense. But even when there is a movement where I fully agree with the philosophy behind it and the outlined goals, I am always mindful of the inherent dangers that come along with political movements of any kind.

I think one thing that is very important in feminist / sex-positive discussion is that the charge of "sexism" does not become a lazy catchphrase to silence dissenting points of view, similar to how the German 1968 movement (which did some incredibly important things) eventually and lazily started calling everyone who disagreed with them about anything a "fascist".

In this regard, I am thankful for your elaboration on why, exactly, you consider the Kink.com press release to be sexist. I don't agree with all of your points, but now I understand them better. I plan to respond to that in more detail, but this comment is long enough already!

In the meantime, I have hopefully succeeded in illustrating my point of view better, and why I feel the way I do about the discussion.

@ Pandora: My "huge outrage" remark was not directed at your post in particular, but at the discussion in general. Some of the reactions were indeed outraged, including one of the ones you linked to. I was commenting on the perceived disproportion between this very strong reaction of some bloggers and the cause, a press release that, in my view, may have been problematic, but does not merit quite such indignation.

No, of course I do not hold you accountable for the outrage of others. Neither do I assume that you agree with every point in every blog post you link to. I did not mean to give that impression. Instead, what I meant to do was illustrate why a discussion which you seemed to experience as thoroughly positive and agreeable leaves me with mixed feelings.

Yes, it is great when people voice their disagreements in a forthright but respectful manner, when a model can publicly criticise a producer and work for them again, when producers take criticism on board, when awareness is raised about an issue some may not have been aware of. All these are positives we can take away from the discussion.

However, I have also seen some contributions that turned me off with their hostility and self-righteousness, one analogy with the Giffords shooting which I find at least as ill-chosen as Kink.com's language in their press release, some assertions that seemed to go by without enough examination (for instance, what constitutes language that is "demeaning to women"?), and some rather condescending remarks about the model at the center of the affair, Nicki Blue.

(Like Roland, I found your quip about how Nicki "could perhaps benefit from a little sex education" a tad patronising in its tone. Others were a lot more blunt: "[Nicki] seems as barely literate now as she may once have been 'barely legal'." Ouch!)

But is it possible to criticize Kink's promotion without also criticizing Nicky's fantasy of getting 'de-flowered"?
I mean, if the text "implies" and "bites into" old myths, so does her fantasy, no? And is it a fantasy more dangerous than that of submitting to CP?
Aren't we all playing with fire here? Dont we have the same distance now to the idea of the "vaginal virgin" as we have to punishment and submission?

rumors in a Kink forum today say she wasnt a "virgin" in the sense adevrtized...

Pandora - I do think there's an enormous gap in logic, defending 'extreme porn' as not being linked to violence (even though Parliament apparently believe it is) and then saying that 'Hymengate' is harmful to women when there's no quantifiable evidence to suggest that at all.

Both are consensual and based in fantasy, so I honestly think you calling out 'hymengate' is based more on the fact that you don't like the concept than you honestly believe it's actually harmful.

If you open that can of worms, it basically establishes that there is a line in the sand at which point sexual fantasy becomes subversive and it's pretty ballsy to automatically assume that you'd be on the right side of that line once it's established.

And I do think what you wrote about Nicki was patronizing and a little judgmental - the definition of virginity is a personal thing, so if she wants to equate it with vaginal penetration, that's up to her.

We've no more right to decide what 'is' and 'isn't' virginity than the people at Kink.com.

For example, when I was at uni, I was a 'technical virgin' and met my first girlfriend. We did a lot of stuff together to the point that I was confident in my sexuality and considered myself a 'non' virgin long before I'd actually had 'P in V' sex.

Somebody might disagree with me saying that I'd 'lost my virginity' before I'd actually lost it, but their opinion is irrelevant. It's my body and it was my virginity and I got to decide whether I was a virgin or not - just like Nicki does.

MayMay - equating 'Hymengate' to the Gifford's shooting is reprehensibly offensive - but perhaps entirely appropriate, actually. With the Gifford's shooting, a bunch of liberal idiots opportunistically leapt on the tragedy minutes after it happened and used it as an excuse to blame Sarah Palin, even though hours later it was revealed the shooter was a mentally-ill, registed democrat and had nothing to do with the tea party and there was NO link between what happened and what Palin said.

Likewise, you're using this to opportunistically attack Kink.com, even though your arguments collapse like a house of cards every time you build them up.

In short, you're the crown prince of hyperbole and just because you're shrill and make a lot of noise, it doesn't mean any of it is relevant.

Roland - I don't think I'm being inconsistent. Unlike people who criticise violent porn, I'm not trying to ban sexism in porn. I'm just trying to offer an alternative.

If I was trying to censor sexist porn, I'd be emailling every studio whose style I don't like and demanding they change their content. I'm not trying to stop anything I don't like from existing. What I am trying to do is broaden the scope of pornography. Male-gaze, stereotypical and even misogynistic porn will always exist; it may not be to my taste, but I don't have to look at it - IF there are alternatives. If there aren't alternatives, I'm stuck. So, I'm trying to create other options for people who share my taste.

The reason Kink came under fire is that they set themselves up as one of these alternative options. Brilliant - all power to them. But if they've described a set of values which they're trying to keep to, and if their user base is attracted to them because of those values, it's not hypocritical to expect them to stick to them.

Personally, I wouldn't have emailled Kink about that press release - I'd rather spend my energies making things I like than criticising things I don't like. But then, I'm not one of their models and I'm not affiliated with them based on their right-on approach. If I was, I might have spoken up too.

And yes, I do think that it's possible for porn, like any other cultural text, to be irresponsible and harmful. Porn isn't exempt from that. I just deny that the harm resides in violence per se; and I don't think outlawing anything is the answer.

Ludwig - In order to oppress someone you need to have more power than them, to be in a position of greater influence. It's daft to argue that the feminist porn movement has as much power, socially or economically, as mainstream porn; it's an underground, alternative movement. Of course that doesn't exempt it from criticism - subcultures and alternative movements are just as capable of mistakes as the mainstream. But to claim that we're in danger of oppressing the Hugh Hefners of this world is absurd. As Adele Haze so eloquently put it, it would be like a puppy attacking a mastodon. Once feminist porn has a monopoly on the industry - yeah, then I think you can accuse us of "dictating to the majority". Until then, we're busy, poor, few, and still trying to exist at all.

I am happy, however, to concede the accusation of being patronising towards Nicky Blue. I thought her remarks, whether or not they represented her actual opinion, gave the impression of ignorance of the complexity of virginity, or what sort of impact misleading definitions of virginity might have. I don't blame her for this, but if I'm patronising for pointing it out, so be it.

@ Pandora: Yes, obviously, there would only exist a danger of the feminist porn movement becoming a taboo-erecting power if it becomes the dominant movement in porn. That is why I was talking in future terms, about a potential danger I see "down the road" - that was the figure of speech I used.

All I am saying is, I see that danger, and I think it is important to be wary of it. I certainly thought that I was seeing flashes of the prerequisite mentality in the Hymen-gate discussion.

I am happy to concede that I might be over-sensitive about this. As I said, I have this initial skepticism towards movements in general, for cultural and personal reasons.

I think there is some validity to the challenge of inconsistency that Roland and I have brought up. In your defense, you point out that, unlike the "extreme porn" censors, you are not trying to ban anything. But I don't think that this is the point. The point, for me, is that you still use a similar line of argument, one that I view as problematic.

In both cases, extreme porn and Hymen-gate, a certain example of porn is declared to be "harmful" based on conjecture rather than any solid evidence, and a certain example of porn is judged to be unethical not because anyone was harmed during the production, but because of its alleged "cultural implications".

I found your objections to the Kink.com press release illustrative because of their wording: the press release "implies", it "over-emphasises", it "buys into the idea". Obviously, this is very much a matter of interpretation. I for one don't agree with all of them - for instance, I don't believe that the press release implies in any way that female virginity is more valuable than male virginity.

But even if, for the sake of the argument, I would agree with all your points, the fact remains that they are subjective interpretations based on what you "read into" the press release rather than on anything it literally says. If, however, we start judging whether porn is ethical or not based on what we read into it, we open a can of worms which we kinksters might not want to open.

The classical, orthodox feminist critique of BDSM porn is that it reinforces harmful sexist stereotypes, because it "implies" that women are naturally submissive to men, etc. I don't agree with this interpretation of (M/F) BDSM porn at all, but logically speaking, it is no less valid than your interpretations of the Kink.com press release. If we want to, we can read all kinds of "pernicious, culturally harmful" ideas into BDSM porn: that corporal punishment is an appropriate and effective educational method in schools, that violence is an acceptable solution to marital conflicts, that the witch trials were a great thing, and so on.

I think the ethical porn movement should concern itself primarily with the circumstances of the production of porn. Did all performers give their full and informed consent, is attention being paid to safe-guarding their health and safety, is the payment fair, and so on. Whether we should concern ourselves with the alleged "cultural implications" of certain porn scenarios is another matter, though. If we do it at all, I think we should be extremely careful about it.

I'm hesitant to enter into such a heated debate on a case in which I don't have particularly strong feelings. Still, I think I'll make a couple comments.

1) The following description by Pandora of her original post overlaps entirely with my reading of the post itself:

'I wasn't really trying to join in with the "outrage" at Kink - that's been done more than enough already, although as it happens I do agree that this press release was an example of their tendency towards problematic marketing. My post was intended more to salute Maggie for her bravery in challenging them, and salute them for responding so quickly and positively to her challenge.'

How that can be offensive, I have no idea.

2) I have to admit, I learned a thing or two about female anatomy in this discussion. And I'm no longer young and by no means uneducated. While I don't think I've ever been harmed personally by myths about the hymen, it seems absolutely absurd to me to think these myths aren't harmful in cultures in which the suspicion of adulterous behavior by women is subject to severe punishment.

3) I also see what we used to call "technical virginity" as an absurd and sexist concept. I used to find it ridiculous when a partner thought it was just fine for me to give him a blow job, but "sex before marriage" was out (that relationship didn't last long...)

4) Finally, a minor quibble, Pandora, with your characterization of the American South (I assume--haven't checked her country of origin). Would it not raise your hackles were I to say of a young girl from the northern part of the UK that "I accept that the reason she has those ideas is that she was raised in the North, where anything goes as long as penis doesn't enter vagina"?

Ludwig: According to your logic, no coverage of kink in the media by ignorant bigots can have harm either! Of course texts can cause harm. And in neither my anti-censorship argument, nor my defence of violent porn against the criticisms levied against it, do I argue that violent porn is never harmful.

My argumen is that a) how I measure harm is different from people who object to violent porn (for instance, I don't find depictions of bodily injury harmful by default; I do find misogynistic fantasies irresponsible when not presented clearly as fantasy in the marketing); and b) I object to censorship, full stop. I further disagree with the causation argument that violent porn causes violent acts. However, I do think that misogynistic porn can encourage misogynistic attitudes. (Perhaps violent porn causes violent attitudes - it depends on how you define violent. Watching caning porn certainly makes me more likely to want to be caned. What it doesn't do is make me go out and cane a random in the street.)

I think it's possible to make violent porn which isn't culturally harmful, just as I think it's possible to depict misogynistic fantasies in a way which isn't culturally harmful (see this post for more detail); my criteria are based on enthusiastic consent during production, and respectful marketing. Equally I think it's possible to make violent porn - or any porn - which is culturally harmful. I find such material offensive/tasteless, but I don't try to censor it. Instead I try to foster a critical dialogue about such material, and to create positive, respectful alternatives.

Indy - I'm sorry for the remark, you're right that it was thoughtless and I by no means think that anyone from your bit of the world would have those ideas! What I'm referring to isn't geographical but ideological; the myths about sexuality which are found in conservative Christianity. I do believe you're more likely to encounter those myths in certain parts of the southern states, just as you're more likely to encounter them in certain African countries which are dominated by that brand of conversative Christianity, but it's primarily a cultural idea. Apologies for the careless wording, and do correct me if I'm wrong?

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