Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

When is a sex act degrading? January 12, 2012

Filed under: pornography — magicalersatz @ 6:19 pm

Jezebel has an interesting article on whether facials are degrading (it’s here – but be warned, it’s probably NSFW. Unless your workplace is a lot more interesting than mine.)

I suspect there’s no person- and context-independent answer to the question of whether something like a facial is degrading. But I thought a particularly problematic part of the article was this:

A lot more straight porn features women happily accepting facials than reacting with disgust and evident humiliation. That acceptance may be feigned, but it suggests that the primary turn-on about facials for men isn’t the desire to degrade women.

Porn routinely features women ultimately enjoying all sorts of things – including rape. That doesn’t mean that such depictions aren’t misogynistic.

 

26 Responses to “When is a sex act degrading?”

  1. magicalersatz Says:

    And while I’m at it, I hate – I mean really, really hate – the term “sex-positive feminist”, at least as it’s often used (basically, to mean “feminists who like porn”). You can be sex-positive without being porn-positive.

  2. Hm. Never tried facials.
    As a guy, I am not sure I would enjoy it as much as the alternatives.
    Maybe I can raise the issue with my wife one day (when we will have a really good night).

  3. PJ Says:

    @ Magicalersatz – THANK YOU! I could not agree more or be happier that another feels the same as I do! Its good to feel you are not alone :)

  4. Marianne Says:

    I am a woman, and I must admit I LOVE facials. They are pretty awesome, and turn me on. I would cum in a mans face if he goes down on me, so why shouldn’t he be allowed to cum on mine?

  5. Matt Drabek Says:

    This is a surprisingly careful and thoughtful discussion of pornography. Thanks for posting.

    I agree with magicalersatz that sex-positivity shouldn’t be confused with being pro-porn. But I disagree that people who labeled themselves as ‘sex-positive feminists’ were taking that to mean ‘pro-porn’. I suspect that people who chose that label were doing so because of their impression that anti-porn feminists were opposed to any and all pornography or that they were gerrymandering the definition of pornography to only include things that were misogynistic. And a review of the literature gives some pretty solid bases for these impressions. I really like A. W. Eaton’s discussion of this issue in her piece on ‘sensible anti-porn feminism.’

  6. redeyedtreefrog Says:

    I describe myself as a sex-positive feminist and I have to say I like the term. I do think these issues are complicated. I’m not sure it’s useful to think of any sex act as inherently ‘degrading.’ What counts as degrading varies from time to time and place to place and these associations are bound up in culture and tradition. Indeed, part of what makes a particular sex act exciting for particular people may well be those associations. The real issue here is consent and genuine desire. It might also be useful distinguish particular sex acts as portrayed in porn from the sex acts themselves. But either way, from a moral point of view I don’t think we can talk about ‘degrading’ sex acts without talking about consent.

  7. the entire idea behind porn made for men is to let them thing that woman like and enjoy the most depraved acts. Thats the idea. A woman will enjoy it, no matter what it is, she will ” eat it up “…. whatever. Tats the point. Real woman centered porn is not easy to get/see, not much made, real women enjoying sex with a parter who respects them, “sorry lady, wont sell”

  8. yes consent is important, but in porn she is consenting because she is being paid, or because she is drugged, or working for her next fix. I agree nothing is degrading if the folks doing it enjoy it and no coersion is involved. I am kinda suspicious of men who say ” my wife loves ——,”
    Perhaps she does, but perhaps she is also dependant on him for support, or not ????? just lets not think that every woman who is having things beyond the pale done to her is happy about it.
    That said, I am also sex positive, and enjoy some kinks too. But yes I do enjoy them, I’m not just playing along to please someone else, or keep my meal ticket

  9. magicalersatz Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Matt. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that the original intention of the label (or, for that matter, its usage in academic discussions of feminism) was to pick out all and only pro-porn feminists. I should’ve been clearer – sorry about that. What I mostly had in mind is the use of the term in popular discussion and contemporary journalism – like the one linked to above. My impression is that many casual writers use “sex-positive feminist” to mean “pro-porn feminist” (or at least see being pro-porn as an entailment of falling under the label “sex-positive”). And that’s really soured me on the term.

    Also, it makes me think of STDs. But that’s no one’s fault but mine.

  10. s. wallerstein Says:

    All of us are sex positive, unless tampered with. It’s built-into the basic factory model.

  11. magicalersatz Says:

    S. Wallerstein, I’m not sure what you mean by your usage of “sex positive”, but there are a lot of people who self-identify as asexual. It certainly isn’t the case that all (or even most) of these people have been somehow “tampered with”.

    http://www.asexuality.org/home/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asexuality

  12. s. wallerstein Says:

    Magical:

    Thanks.

    I’m not sure that there is a “lot of people who self-identify as asexual”, but I read the link that you sent and I learned, to my surprise, that there are some.

    Obviously, their right and their desire to be accepted as they are should be respected.

  13. Rachael Says:

    I’m with redeyedtreefrog on the sex-positive feminist thing: I consider myself one. It’s not because I “like porn”, though–my personal preferences are nobody’s business, and politically, I think being anti-porn and being pro-porn are both overly simplistic attitudes. Growing up in the US, I encountered a lot of thinking about sexuality that was some mixture of shame-based, heteronormative, and transactional, and I think there needs to be a specific word for a way of thinking that picks that thinking apart and develops a better alternative.

    swallerstein, I don’t think that experiencing sexual desire is a sufficient condition for being sex-positive. Having an appetite doesn’t prevent people from having screwed-up and negative attitudes about food, and having a sex drive doesn’t prevent people from having screwed-up and negative attitudes about sex.

  14. Aaron Boyden Says:

    I think that the interpretations of porn are much too quick to dismiss the fact that porn actresses are usually presented as enjoying themselves. The rape apologist story about how rape victims are “asking for it” or how they somehow really wanted it is never actually even in the ballpark of being sincerely about the women’s desires; women “ask for it” to rape mentality not by having any genuine desires or agency at all, but by being, supposedly, stupid, corrupt, and deserving of having bad things happen to them. Most mainstream porn, while admittedly usually a bit lacking in the acting department, does tend to try to present women as sincerely enjoying themselves, and is thus a completely different thing from the rape apologist narrative. I find it troubling that so many people seem to equate the two.

  15. Michel X. Says:

    Not to derail anything, but Liz Holt Levitt, I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone who is drunk, drugged, or suffering from severe withdrawal consents. For one thing, AFAIK those states do not meet the legal definition of consent.

  16. thiskissbelongstome Says:

    I think I’ll pass on agreeing with much that Hugo S comes up with.

    The only experience i’ve had with a guy who wanted to come on my face was a guy who very obviously watched tons of porn. Everything he wanted to do was from porn.

  17. Matt Drabek Says:

    Aaron, my sense is that you’re right about how porn actresses are usually presented. That said, I’m not sure there’s any empirical literature out there to support the claim. It would be nice if there were. One of the main problems I tend to have with critics of porn is that they often criticize pornographic works that seem to me to be very unrepresentative of the sort of pornography that most people are actually watching. For example, post #7 strikes me as very off-base in the claims about porn and depravity…and my guess is that most pornography is actually rather boring and would cause most people under the age of 40 to giggle or quickly lose interest. But in the absence of empirical literature to that effect, it’s difficult to know for sure.

  18. k Says:

    “my guess is that most pornography is actually rather boring and would cause most people under the age of 40 to giggle or quickly lose interest.”

    If you really believe that then either (a) you’ve never seen any porn, or (b) you’ve never met anyone (especially a male!) under 40, or (c) both.

    I do not have “empirical literature” to back that up – it is true – but I have something much better: very,very hairy palms, and I’m under 40.

  19. magicalersatz Says:

    Rachael, I absolutely agree that there needs to be a term for the attitudes/approach to sexuality you’re talking about. I just worry that “sex-positive” has too much baggage and too many unhelpful/misleading connotations to be that term.

  20. Jean K Says:

    I agree with magicalersatz.

    Facials. Is that where you go to the mall and somebody massages your face with 50 different products for an hour? Fantastic, not degrading at all.

  21. To me, any time you display a sex act for public consumption it’s degrading to both men and women because I feel sex is something between two consenting adults not 2 + thousands of other people. But hey, that’s just me.

  22. james Says:

    how about 5 consenting adults?

  23. Polyamorist Says:

    4 consenting adults is OK, but 5 is over the top.

  24. tramky Says:

    Porn has nothing to do with degradation, at least not what I call straight pornography. I have no problem with straight pornography–by that I mean porn that does NOT simulate rape, or involves anal sex. I can enjoy porn that involves straight intercourse, blowjobs & handjobs. The one aspect of porn–well, really my own sexual proclivities–that I found a surprising turn-on is porn involving transsexuals, trannies. The idea of a ‘woman’ being given a blowjob as a sexual turn-on was unexpected. Is it a woman with a cock, or a man with breasts?

    I don’t see facials as degradation of women, any more than I view porn in general as degrading of women. I just don’t get that viewpoint. But I don’t see the thrill of facials, either. It seems kind of silly. I suppose there are some porn producers who make those kinds of depictions, and I am aware that there are what I would consider to be extreme porn that I find disgusting–gaping, fisting, evacuation porn, bestiality, watersports, rimming. I don’t see ANY of that as a turn-on, just fairly disgusting.

    But I don’t care for lesbian porn, and I don’t care for gay porn. And, thank god, I have NO interest in child porn. Children are just not sexual objects for me in any way, a nice fact that keeps me away from the worst of the porn Web. The idea of grown men having sex with 9- or 11-year-old girls is just abhorrent; I don’t get it.

    The amazing thing to me about porn on the Web is that so many beautiful young women seem to do those shoots–where the hell do they come from, and why do they do it? And why did I never meet them when I was a young man?

  25. FST Says:

    All sex is degrading. All sex requires thoughts of a sexual nature. Thoughts of a sexual nature involve viewing other human beings in a sexual manner, by definition. These thoughts, no matter how well-controlled, no matter how “feminist” one tries to make them, cannot escape being at least a little objectifying. You can’t avoid it. Thus, no sex is free from objectification and degradation. The whole problem with women as a sex class would disappear if people just stopped having sex and thinking sexual thoughts.

  26. Human beings have great ability to make both their individual and their collective existence what they want it to be,but they don’t realise all the abilities they have.Life is what you make of it.That doesn’t mean that on any given day,at any given moment,in a given city,each individual walking the streets can have the kind of weather they wish to have.But if people believe that sex is degrading,they will make it so for themselves and everyone else they manage to influence.The aetiology of modern porn is not difficult to get to know.The very naming of the phenomenon early on re-enforced the repression and perversion of sexuality by the Roman Catholic Church.By naming porn,and giving porn a bad connotation,expression of the aesthetics of the human body and erotic/photographic art became vilified.This has scarcely helped improve the sex practices of people who are influenced by the vilification of sex.It has hardly affected the ability of the rich and powerful from enjoying aesthetics and erotics to their hearts’ content.It only caused the perversion,epigenetically re-enforced,of the state of mind of people who do not understand how they are controlled by Abrahmic religion and the attendant politics.One can be certain that the rich and powerful have not escaped the effects of the vilification of sex,but the rich and powerful have different ways of expressing their sickened and perverted state of mind.They not only manipulate the body and mind of their sexual partners,but the bodies and minds of people under their religious,political,ideological,commercial and economic control.The manipulation of people’s minds through sexual repression and perversion for exploitative purposes is most advanced in the West,but the use of sexual energy and its expression in order to effect a transformation to a higher order of understanding and cultural expression has been well-known for thousands of years.This knowledge is passed on in traditions known to the West as religion,but is really the science of mind and,by implication,the science of everything.Female feminists have never bothered to get to the bottom of the porn phenomenon.They have wanted to change the world,but they shun self-transformation like the plague.Self-transformation and understanding go together.People are obviously banging on about porn without understanding what makes people tick.Few want to know,because it means they have to look into themselves.


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