Relapse seems to be as common here as anywhere else.
I have rediscovered something strange about online porn. It had been quite a while since I last ‘used’, but a recent full-blown relapse means the best I can hope for at this stage is to present myself as a noble explorer of an ignoble pastime, rather than the grubby little prick that I have I mean I am.
“So what did you rediscover?” you ask, because, of course, you never use.
I have discovered a tendency in online porn which I had forgotten: namely, the prevalence of video-clips taken from TV shows. Currently trending on Pornhub is the recent Game of Thrones scene in which Arya loses her virginity to Gendry on the eve of the Battle of Winterfell. Pornhub is awash with scenes from Game of Thrones episodes. There appears to be so many Game of Thrones scenes on Pornhub, that Masie Williams, who plays Arya, must have been aware that her sex scene, although tame and tasteful by Game of Thrones standards, was inevitably going to end up there. It must be something of rite of passage for Game of Thrones actors by now. Maybe they have a whatsapp group.
Who watches this softcore TV stuff? Hardcore porn addicts? Probably. Hardcore porn addicts (as opposed to addicts of hardcore porn) probably watch everything anyway though, so they can’t offer much insight as to why these TV clips trend. Diehard fans of the TV show? Possibly. But what seems most likely is that many viewers are young teenagers coming across porn for the first time. How old are these teenagers? Fourteen? Thirteen? Not teenagers at all? Whatever the age, one can picture the scene: a young boy watches the TV show, he gets excited, he flees to his bedroom, he watches the scene again, only this time with one hand on his phone and the other hand on his something else entirely.
This speculative vignette tells us how far porn has come. It used to be the case that people had to work for their porn. Aside from actually having to pay for it, people had to go through the embarrassing rigmarole of loitering in a shop and peeling back a red curtain to get at the dirty section of magazines and DVDs. The world behind this red curtain – a world not as shy as the curtain had at first suggested; with big tits and hard junk ready to stare at people straight in the face – was destined to end up on the internet. While porn certainly didn’t shrink from the commercial opportunities the internet brought, by embracing an ease-of-access model it does seem to have lowered its own bar somewhat. Porn is no longer a luxury vice. Porn is a common pleasure. Like the once luxurious job of an airhostess; the glamour has seeped out of this job too.
Once the central characteristic of online porn became its ubiquity, and given that it then swelled with amateur home-videos and copy-pasted TV clips and lowest common-denominator productions, there was always going to be a backlash to it. The backlash itself is not surprising, but the nature of the backlash is. For as much as the people who hate porn can hate porn for many reasons, the main argument being made by porn-prohibitors seems to be this: that porn lacks glamour.
The anti-porn backlash in the US has been going on for several years now, with many states passing anti-porn legislation, but the backlash has now truly arrived in the UK. On the 15th of June, there will come into play an amendment to the 2003 Communications Act. This Conservative agenda will take a particularly hard-line approach to sex scenes which include: spanking, urolagnia, physical restraint, female ejaculation, strangulation, fisting, and facesitting. In other words, the non-glamourous stuff. This is all very suspicious because, and this is something that the religious lobby in the US should think about too, the more time you spend obsessing about particular types of ‘bad’ porn, the more one might suspect that you think ‘less bad’ porn exists.
Porn prohibition in the UK is not going to work. Nobody is going to buy the porn passport you will need to watch porn from your own server, when you can just use a VPN, which makes the whole thing impossible to implement and will make traffic congest in the darker corners of the internet. But we should not be surprised that this legislation doesn’t make sense, when the porn-prohibitor’s primary concern is not actually the impact that porn has. Unfortunately for the porn-prohibitor, there’s very little evidence to indicate that porn’s impact is harmful in the majority of cases (this is not to say that porn cannot be incredibly harmful in the minority of cases; the ‘incel’, or the person who never fumbles his way past his first bra-strap, can be severely damaged by porn, but it would be simplism to attack porn as the root cause of the incel’s problems).
When prohibitionist-types hone in on the specific types of ‘bad’ porn they move the goal posts. They resort to arguing about the aesthetics of porn because they have to. The impact porn actually has is a point they make only reluctantly, as neither neuroscience or psychology support their claims, although occasionally they can and will retreat to sociology – from which porn is said to be some sort of miasma which hangs over society like a misogynistic spectre. Porn – like with the literature of Martin Amis or Saul Bellow (perhaps not Updike though; sometimes, as with Nabokov, there are too many commonalities for the mind to be completely at ease) – is often wrongly diagnosed like this. The misogyny diagnosis is not wrong because, as the third-wave/fourth-wave types insist, porn allows for the subversion of power from male to female; it is wrong because porn has a lot to do with sex, and sex has a lot to do with things other than power.
Sex sometimes has something to do with things such as: love, self-discovery, tenderness, passion, relief, comedy, children, pleasure, and, occasionally, glamour. The 1960s wed sex with pleasure. It might be said that playboy, the prototype of porn which proceeded this period, wed sex with glamour. Hugh Heffner was one of the more important players in this field; someone who played with the idea of women as objects. Saying such a thing as this is likely to crease feminist foreheads, but trust that I do not mean ‘objects’ in anything other than an objective manner. We are all objects to each other, after all, and so we do objectify, whether we want to or not, and to objectify in this sense does not demean by definition. It would be demeaning to insist on it being demeaning, when we must allow for the possibility that behind each female object is a subject which might wish to be looked at, and, to the left and right of her, an even broader subject which might develop if allowed to do so.
Playboy was nothing if not glamorous. Its very form – that of the magazine – allowed it to be glamourous in a way the internet does not allow for. The hardcore pioneer F.J Lincoln, whose pornographic ascent coincided with porn’s shift away from glamour and towards such terms as ‘woodman’ and ‘starlet’, once described the adult video industry as “the adult sandbox.” As he continued to explain, the adult industry doesn’t have much to do with being an adult – it’s got much more to do with being a kid. This return to innocence in adulthood might be viewed as a liberating one, but we should ask ourselves whether it’s possible to return to paradise in so easy and costless a fashion. Surely ‘the adult sandbox’ was not something to which Heinrick von Kleist referred, for example, when he talked about ways humans could reclaim their innocence in his essay, ‘On the Marionette Theater.’ (If the ‘adult sandbox’ had been what he meant, then it would give new and devilish euphemism to: “Paradise is locked and bolted. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back.”)
The scene I described earlier, of a teenage boy slinking off to his bedroom with his pockets bulging with 21st century sin, is far removed from the idyllic moment a teenage boy (why do I insist on him being a boy?) gets his first-time hands on a ‘naughty mag’ and races off to his 20th century treehouse to find out how to use it. It would be stupid to romanticize the latter, but there might be something to pointing out the difference all the same. Back to context then, the dimwitted porn-prohibitors in the UK might be doing the work of porn-purists, but because they know nothing (John Snow) about porn, they bring with them all their ridiculous anti-porn instincts, such as labeling facesitting ‘life threatening’. If it is, so be it. If you’re going to go, you may as well go out in style.
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