Some men getting worried about porn

Interesting article from the Guardian about a group of men who have set up a website “grounded in feminist principles” to press the case that there is something wrong with pornography, something about which men should be concerned. The article mentions or discusses a wide range of arguments against pornography — that it degrades women, that it leads to sexual violence, that it shapes how men think about women, that the industry is abusive, and so on. As a self-contained summary of the issues and arguments, it’s very neatly done. Some of the discussion below the line is also worth wading through (some of it, naturally, is bilge).

The website itself, The AntiPornMenProject, seems thus far to consist in a mixture of porn-related news, anecdotal articles about the adverse effects of porn on men and their behaviour, and useful summaries of links to further discussions on the subject. I should think that, as it grows, it will become quite a useful resource for people teaching the topic, particularly to classes with a high proportion of men. It’s also, of course, something that seems worthwhile in its own right, and I’m glad it’s getting press attention.

On the subject of teaching about pornography, and going back to the Guardian article, I found two things particularly interesting. First, there was this quotation from Michael Kimmel:

What also strikes me is that young men seem utterly unapologetic about their porn use. It’s like it’s so ubiquitous – what’s the problem? And they expect a similarly casual approach from their female friends.

Second, there was this passage concerning the pseudonymous subject of an interview by Gail Dines for her book “Pornland“:

Dan… is worried about his sexual performance with women, and tells [Dines]: “I can’t get the pictures of anal sex out of my head when having sex, and I am not really focusing on the girl but on the last anal scene I watched”.

I recently covered pornography in a second-year class on feminist philosophy. The class has a healthy proportion of men. The Kimmel quotation sums up the attitude of not just the men, but the entire class, to the issue, and hence to most of the arguments we discussed. Both men and women were unimpressed with Mckinnon-style arguments (“silly”), empirical arguments about links to sexual violence (“exaggerated”), and arguments about the industry (“circumstantial”).

The one suggestion that really seemed to engage them was the idea that pornography could be bad for their own sex lives. Now on this, there was a gender divide in the class. The women were very ready to agree with the idea that pornography normalises a range of sexual behaviour which should perhaps be the subject of explicit negotiation rather than of assumed consent. But the men were less willing to accept this, on the basis that they (if not other men) were too enlightened to assume consent to slapping and facial ejaculation and all that. The second quotation above provides a slightly different tack on this argument. OK boys, perhaps you’re too smart to actually do these things; but the more porn you watch, the more they’ll be on your mind; the more they’ll be on your mind, the worse your sex life will be; so the more porn you watch, the worse your sex life will become. QED.

I don’t mean to suggest that the other arguments against pornography aren’t good, or worth discussing; but this is certainly a tactical move I’ll bear in mind for when I next teach the issue to a class of sceptics about the other arguments.

Porn on the NHS?

There’s been some recent attention directed to the news that the NHS provides pornography to men at IVF clinics when they’re required to produce some sperm. I say “news” — I thought this had been happening for ages. But a recent report has highlighted the practice, and the Sun and Telegraph have both published stories following up.

The two newspapers concentrate on the waste-of-public-money angle. The original report uses this argument, and also briefly gives some general anti-porn arguments, and a couple concerning how the NHS particularly is morally obliged to refrain from exposing its staff and patients to pornography (the “report” is a short and easy read).

Against this, Ben Goldacre points out in the Guardian that the average amount spent on porn is £21.32 a year per NHS trust. More seriously, he argues that there’s a reasonable amount of evidence suggesting that providing porn increases the quality of sperm produced, and thus the chances of successful IVF, and that this might be more important than moral scruples.

And against Goldacre, Kat Banyard writes to the Guardian to argue that all pornography is harmful — indeed, “a public health crisis” — and shouldn’t be provided in clinics, no matter what the benefits. She cites a Ministry of Justice report as evidence. I’m not sure which MoJ report she’s referring to, but I’m guessing it’s this one (direct link to pdf — not a short and easy read), which is concerned with extreme pornography. So it’s not clear to me that it or the meta-analyses it contains can support her general conclusion about all pornography (though I can only identify two of the three meta-analyses she mentions; is there a different report that I’ve missed?).

Anyway, some engaging to-and-fro, and some interesting issues — I’d never considered a possible increase in the motibilty of sperm as an argument in favour of pornography.