The Good Men Project recently decided to run some excerpts in Penthouse Magazine. Some people are upset. Here’s the comment I posted on Tom Matlack’s defense of the decision.
As a female, I see not one thing wrong with pictures or videos made for sexual titillation. I probably have a bigger porn collection than most commenters here.
But I understand why some (ok, lots) of pornography bothers people. Some of our worst social inequalities and anxieties tend to be projected in porn. Racist porn? Check. Misogynistic porn? Check. There is nothing new about this and even a cursory glance at porn from the way back machine will demonstrate this phenomenon. I have a small collection of books with very graphic porn etchings from the 18th century and I started to notice the social theme of the time: religion. Nuns banging monks, young cloistered women greeting winged penises with hoisted skirts, and acts of religious penance (flagellation) being used sexually. I think this was one way for people to channel social anxieties about debates over secularism vs. church power.
What I want people to think about is that naked people sexing it up in front of a camera is not inherently evil or exploitative. However, it’s important to note that the only place where women consistently outrank men in pay is performing in porn or for sex work, industries usually controlled by men. That is what I find exploitative.
So what kind of porn is Penthouse? Lots of faux lesbian slumber parties, kind of silly premises, tons of naked women solo shoots, and a refreshingly hot cast of male characters. (As a woman who watches porn, the amount of unattractive and unkempt men having sex with hot women gets on my nerves. Gay porn is the only place I’ve seen reliably sexy men.) Going through their site I found one video with a questionable title (“Choke on it Bitch” ) that was probably about deep throating. Not my bag, but toying with power dynamics and engaging in rough sex in this way is a huge turn on for some people, regardless of gender.
What I don’t see in Penthouse that I see in some other porn: the message that women enjoying sex are some alien breed of female. That the only way we can describe them is as unabashed no-good slatternly creatures because no respectable woman could enjoy deep penetration, anal sex or oral sex. I mean, we’re only in it for the babies, right?
And this is where people decrying porn as inherently negative collide with porn that is negative: assuming women cannot really be into any of this. That the only reason a woman would have sex in front of a camera for money is drug addiction, low-self esteem or some other social malady. This isn’t to say that doesn’t happen, but this is not the whole story.
I agree that the images are pretty homogeneous but offering slight variations on a theme is what successful porn brands seem to do. Also, large and financially successful brands are hesitant to change anything about their established formula. The answer is not to tell these porn companies to bring in a wider array; the answer is to support porn companies that represent something outside of the mainstream. They’re out there, just use your internet to find them.
So, now that some people are past the knee-jerk reaction of Good Men + Porn = Error, think about the huge benefit of a magazine reaching outside of the bounds of its constituency and singing to the streets instead of the choir. Maybe with enough conversation and reflection about rape culture and the ways we sexualize certain populations, public taste in porn will start to change.
And to Tom: I’m sure the outrage and reactions are difficult to deal with concerning your decision, but it’s hard to reach across the aisle and step outside of thought communities. Big ups.
EDIT: The Good Men Project deleted my comment. Was I too late to the commenting party? Techie glitch? Did I say something offensive? This makes less sense than a bunny wearing a pancake hat.
UPDATE: Tom Matlack was a swift responder: “We switched servers and have yet to copy everything over” Mystery solved!