Pornography and its morality has been a hot-button issue for decades, splitting feminists into camps based around a false dichotomy of good and evil. So obviously, today right now in this very column, we will settle the age-old debate with style and wit.

Let’s outline the basic argument against pornography first. Like most other sex work, porn is said to be aimed toward a straight cis-male audience. Videos are filmed of cis-women’s orifices being handled like inanimate sex toys, with activities geared toward furthering the ultimate goal of the production: the ejaculation of the cisgender heterosexual male, both consumer and producer.

Orgasms of people with vaginas are misrepresented, falsified and over-exaggerated to intensify the pleasure of the penetrator and his counterpart on the other side of the computer screen. Pornography, both violent and vanilla, dehumanizes women and commodifies sexual activity such that viewers are unable and/or unwilling to carry out a normal healthy sexual relationship with a flesh-and-blood partner. At the very least, young viewers are left with unrealistic expectations about sexual intercourse that damages psyches in a way similar to photoshopped magazine covers of inhumanly perfect celebrities. Viewed through this lens, pornography is yet another incarnation of sexual violence and a product of a patriarchy steeped in rape culture.

Alternatively, pornography allows people of all genders to explore their normal sexual urges through a seemingly infinite selection of genres of adult film. Fantasies of sadism only become a problem when enacted with a non-consensual partner, and strict regulations ensure that all participants in all erotic material are fully consenting adults. Cis-women (and everyone else!) choose to enter into the industry under no duress, and in fact reverse the narrative of slut-shaming by taking full control of their sexuality and displaying it for anyone who cares to watch. People work their way through college with money from sex work alongside actors who have chosen to make a career out of adult film production. One only needs browse the “amateur” section on any porn website to see fully consenting couples spicing up their sex life with the low-stakes voyeurism of a carefully-positioned camera. Only an uptight, sex-negative person with a stick up their repressed butt would have anything against tightly regulated, consensually produced erotic films.

Who’s right? Both and neither, as it so often happens in seemingly black-and-white arguments. It sure is getting difficult to find a wholly mutually exclusive binary around these parts.

Obviously, this being my column, the opinions expressed here are nobody’s but my own. As a personal consumer of erotic media and a wholly sex-positive feminist (surprise!), I am a big supporter of pornography. But not without qualifications. I think it’s important for parents to talk to their children about the fantastical nature of porn; the sex is no more realistic than the action scenes in James Bond movies. Without explicit consent, nobody has a right to treat anybody the way many porn actors are treated by their scene partners. Sex is a mutual relationship that involves pleasure for all parties in one form or another, be that orgasm or personal gratification from pleasuring the other(s). A lot of porn can be pretty violently misogynistic and scenes showing the actors giving and getting consent don’t play too well on screen. Viewers of all ages should consciously remind themselves that pornography is a fantasy that does not and should not translate to reality.

Strict production regulations, like the California condom laws, should be enforced to minimize harm for each and every participant. All activities in all pornography should be between consenting adults and, you know, it wouldn’t hurt to put a “this was consensual” interview with the participants at the beginning or end of films, as many producers have begun to include. The definition of “consent” when it comes to adult films should be analyzed contextually, however, as some participants in certain genres are certainly acting under duress. (For more details on this statement, check out Hot Girls Wanted, a documentary about young rookie porn actresses available on Netflix.)

Pains should be taken to consume media that is safely produced and a fun and powerful experience for all parties. Sex and sexuality should be celebrated, and I believe part of that celebration should include pornography, as long as the final product is a source of joy for the people in front of the camera as well. As sex-positive feminism infiltrates the mainstream, responsible and non-misogynistic producers of pornography are on the rise, committed to decentering penile ejaculation as the ahem climax of a given product. Responsible feminist pornography might just be the hottest kind.

Questions? Comments? Disagreements? Email me at dhawkins@macalester.edu but remember that it won’t be anonymous.

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