Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference
A Feminist and Gender Studies Course
Bryn Mawr College, Fall, 2002

Archive 12: Pornography and Fear

For previous postings, see course forum archive

Name:  Maggie
Username:  mscottwe
Subject:  porn and more porn
Date:  2002-10-03 17:32:16
Message Id:  3104
First, I would like to say that I'm really impressed with Emily and Lauren being able to create their own porn AND bring it in to class. Not only were the pictures good -hehehh- I think it took a lot of guts. Way to go, guys = ).

The porn that I was originally going to bring to class was a paragraph from Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. But then I decided that the love scene between the two women wasn't pornographic enough. It is descriptive, but not explicit or 'dirty'. I have since changed my mind again. I think that anything, classic art, high-quality literature, playboy magazines, etc, can be pornographic. The problem is that WE give pornography a negative connotation. Without that connotation, I think that porn is anything a person experiences that is not something done physically to their own bodies and that evokes sexual feelings. In my opinion, this includes visual art, written words, songs, etc. But I think this means that I'm ignoring the category of 'erotica' and just lumping it all together as pornography.

The only 'fear' that I think I had about looking for porn was that I didn't want to see something that I would find disgusting. I understand and accept that porn depicts acts that some people find sexually arousing, and I think it should be legal. But personally, I don't WANT to see pictures of huge penises, or people having sex with animals. This is similar to the fact that I don't like scary movies. It doesn't mean I think that they should be illegal, but I, personally, don't like them.

I agree that as long as the people in porn are acting, it should be legal to show any actions. But I have problems with saying that people acting out rapes should be allowed to create that for other people to get off on. That is extremely disturbing to me. But can we say people can't show rapes for sexual pleasure as long as we still let people show them for entertainment in mainstream movies? Which is worse? Rape as entertainment or as pleasure? I guess in my opinion, pleasure is worse, but I don't think that there is enough difference to draw a legal distinction between them.

Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  Pornogra-tea
Date:  2002-10-03 20:35:46
Message Id:  3106
Just a quick thought on fear and cultural influences of said fear.

Every year the women's center and Rainbow Alliance throw a Pornagra-tea. Now the idea may sound odd, but usually entails women sitting in a room watching porn, coloring in pictures from The Cunt Coloring Book, eating, and making arts-and-crafts projects with condoms. I remember freshmen year this whole idea baffled me...and i was so concerned that someone would label me if i ended up going (living a rather sheltered adolescence, i was quite curious). So i didn't go...then last year...i went. and oh my goodness....i think it was the first non class credit, group sponsored activity i went to where there were like 50 women at...i was blown out of the water. I mean the whole concept is so odd and new to a room watching porn with other people, not even in the privacy of your own home....and i remember talking with people afterwords, like some people are totally into it, while others are like gagging in the corner of the room, and yet others are laughing hysterically...the reactions of everyone i feel were more culturally driven then one may think initially. Everyone was reacting this is true, but how many were reacting the way they did, because they didn't want their roomate next to them to think they were gay (by enjoying the gay porn) or their Hall Advisor to think they were "sick." Everyone was there for presumably the same reason, but at the same time....there was an overall sense of fakeness in the air...

what if someone saw me look interested? what if i didn't look interested? what if i squeamed? would that make me somehow less a woman? what if i laughed cause thats what everyone else was doing?

maybe i will write my thesis on this...hmm...

Name:  Monica Locsin
Subject:  Porrrnn!
Date:  2002-10-03 22:34:29
Message Id:  3107
I never thought that I would be this open in a class. I feel great though! Sharing the porn we brought to class was a fun and informative experience for me. I was too shy to print the picture in "Guild", "Dalton","Canaday" or "Carpenter", so I asked my friend to print it out for me. I was embarassed to print this out because I knew that people would think of me differently and probably remember me as the "porn girl". Now thinking about it, who cares if they think that of me or say that of me. I really dont know why I was so conscious about it. I mean it's not like no one knows what porn is. I guess the reason why I reacted the way I did was because "porn" is not exactly an open topic and is not accepted in the open public. Porn has always come with this "let's go in a room and masterbate while watching porn" connotation. It has never been classified as a subject to be spoken about in the open. People tend to drop their jaws when they first see porn or make remarks, but yet they want to look some more. This just shows how people are CURIOUS but are scared to express their feelings because they might be perceived in a different way. Props to Emily and Lauren for being original and artistic:) You guys rock!

Should porn be legal or illegal? Hmmm.. well let's face it, anyone has access to porn. I mean look at all the porn websites online and there is a possibility that older boy siblings share with their younger brothers (Middle school/high school age) even though they are not of age to buy porn. I know that porn is for pleasure and there is nothing wrong with having pleasure. Who doesn't want to be pleased? Even though I agree with these, I personally feel that porn should not be legal. Yes, I am outgoing but still a conservative at heart. I don't want porn material being used in teachign sex ed to my children. I mean if it is legal or if it is not legal, that does not bother me at all. But if I had a choice, I would not want it legal for the sake of children.

I told my boyfriend today about our class and he was appalled! He could not believe that such a class existed. For some reason he sounded uneasy when I spoke about porn. So I just dropped the subject. I think people should be more open with this because it's not like it doesn't exists.

Name:  LH
Subject:  ramming a penis into a vagina???? is that so bad??
Date:  2002-10-04 15:01:42
Message Id:  3120
I had a great deal of trouble dealing with the McKinnon article. It pretty much freaked me out. I suspect that she has never enjoyed sex, if she has ever had it. I really cannot deal with feminist who think heterosexual sex is submissive and violent. Though vaginal penetration may not always be the most ideal form of sex it can be highly enjoyable for many women and she doesn't seem to recognize this. Some women enjoy the submissive role in bed. Some enjoy the dominant role. So what does she want? Does she want women not to have sex? Or not have sex with men? I don't think its just pornographic sex that she hates. Also, does she think it's easy for men to film a porno? They have to keep it up for hours. Though I don't know what that feels like, I can only imagine its difficulty. The only message I get form this article is that we should hate the penis. Also bothersome to me is that she seems to only refer to pornographic snuff films. There is a big difference between snuff films and porn you get at TLA. Yes snuff films are violent. It's because they are illegal. They usually involve tricking or kidnapping women or men to make and that's a big difference from getting paid to have sex on film.
Name:  Emily Teel
Subject:  that's right...PORN
Date:  2002-10-04 21:33:55
Message Id:  3126
The Battnicks are at it again, talking about sex on a Friday night, sitting around studying, and doing preliminary planning on a Masturbation Tea. WHO would run it? Where on campus? Imagine the advertizing possibilities! You're all invited :-)

Anyway, I was speaking with one of my housemates about our porn discussion, about how we remove "porn" from all other forms of media, regardless of it's presence in so many forms: art, literature, photography, cartoon, and film....I made the decelaration that when I had my own little space complete with television & VCR, I planned on having lovely feminist porn right there on the shelf with Forrest Gump, Amelie, and Strictly Ballroom. Why censor it and tuck it away in some dark little closet? Perhaps my collection could serve as a conversation piece during dinner parties...If I have children, I'm not going to encourage them to watch it, but if my 12-year-old is curious, who am I to say no?
One of my housemates [not in our class] made the point that by hiding away images that we connect to, we hide a part of ourselves that we find shameful. And one should never be ashamed of what she loves, any more than she should be ashamed at who she loves....If you need to hide that person, or that part of yourself, perhaps it's time to turn around and take a good long look at what it is that you are afraid of and how you came to be where you are.
chew on that for a moment...

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Fear
Date:  2002-10-05 10:43:30
Message Id:  3129
All our talk of "fear" (in particular, fear of expressing our sexual desires) on Thursday put me in mind of the by-well known passage Nelson Mandala used in his inauguaral address:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darknesss, that most frightens us....As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  The Public Domain
Date:  2002-10-05 10:59:50
Message Id:  3130
I was also thinking alot, after our class on pornography on Thursday, about this matter of "public" and "private," and the degree to which pornography involves what we think of as "private activity" into some sort of "public sphere." Perhaps some of you have taken Jonathan Kahana or Jane Hedley's CSem on "Public and Private"; Jonathan passed on to me a fascinating article by Richard Sennett, called "The Public Domain," which speaks to these matters:

In the last four generations, physical love has been redefined, from terms of eroticism to terms of sexuality. Victorian eroticism involved social relationships, sexuality involves personal identity. Eroticism meant that sexual expression transpired through actions--of choice, repression, interaction. Sexuality is not an action but a state of being, in which the physical act of love follows almost as a passive consequence, a natural result, of people feeling intimate w/ each other...because of the way ideals of intimacy color the modern imagination, there has also been a reaction against the idea that physical love is an action people engage in, and like any other social action might have rules, limits, and necessary fictions which give the action a specific meaning. Instead, sex is a revelation of the self. A new slavery is therefore substituted for the old.

Sexuality we imagine to define a large territory of who we are and what we feel. Sexuality as an expressive state, rather than an expressive act, is entropic, however. Whatever we experience must in some way touch on our sexuality, but sexuality is. We uncover it, we discover it, we come to terms with it, but we do not master it. That would...put sexualtiy on an equal footing with emotions we attempt to mold rather than to submit to. The Victorians, who viewed sex in this latter way, could therefore speak of learning from their erotic life...We do not today learn "from" sex , because that puts sexuality outside of the self; instead, we unendingly and frustratingly go in search of ourselves through the genitals.

Think, for instance, of the different connotations of the 19th Century word "seduction" and the modern term "affair." A seduction was the arousal of such feeling by one person--not always a man--in another that social codes were violated. That violation caused all the other social relations of the person to be temporarily called into question; one's spouse, one's children, one's own parents were involved both symbolically through guilt and practially if discovery of the violation occurred. The modern term "affair" tamps down all these risks because it represses the idea that physical love is a social act; it is now a mater of an emotional affinity which in esse stands outside the web of other social relations in a person's life. It would seem illological now for a person conducting an affair, whether inside or outside the bounds of a marriage, to see it innately connected to parental relations, so that whenever one makes love to another person one's status as someone else's child is altered. This, we would say, is a matter of individual cases, of personality factors; it is not a social matter. Among freer spirits the same argument would be made of an affair in relation to a marriage. The very word "affair"--so blank, so amorphous--indicates a kind of devalution of sexuality, as an image which can be socially shared through speech. In rebelling against sexual repression, we have rebelled against hte idea that sexuality has a social dimension."

Name:  michelle
Username:  mmcgrath
Subject:  mckinnon, desire, rape
Date:  2002-10-06 01:19:10
Message Id:  3142
I wanted to agree with most of what lauren said about the Mckinnon article. I also really wished that we would have had more time to talk about it in class. While i am sympathetic to concerns about the exploitation of women in pornography, McKinnon takes this concern and uses it to further victimize women by treating them as passive subjects with no control over their situation and certainly without sexual desires.
Yes we must wonder how much "choice" a woman has when it is between allowing one's children to starve or to get paid to make porn, for certainly some pornography is made by women in this situation. Yet outlawing porn will clearly not fix this problem but merely drive it underground without regulation, futher hurting the most deperate of women. If she is concerned about the coersion of poor women then mckinnon ought to work towards changing the systemic conditions which create poverty, rather than bandaging a symptom of that poverty.

Furthermore there are parts of her argument where she uses snuff films as an example of something that has been protected under free speech. Her arguments here are blatantly misleading and in this case outright wrong. As for porn that borderlines simulation of rape for pleasure... is this really legal? I'm not going to take catherin mckinnon's word for it since she also seems to think that snuff films are legal. I'm not sure how i feel about rape porn. Although i would like to point out that i do think it is very different from a rape scene in a movie. In a movie the rape would usually be placed in the context of a storyline, there would be develped characters involved, and it is likely that in context the movie would show the rape as damaging or immoral or in the very least use it to make some larger point. In rape pornography the rape would be showed purely to illustrate that rape is a pleasure-filled experience and would be generally out the context of the two people's lives. Of course there are likely exceptions these generalizations, but i believe that on the whole they are accurate.

that's it, i hope that we can spend at least a few more minutes discussing this article.

Name:  Nancy
Subject:  Am I a Porn Star?
Date:  2002-10-06 13:14:10
Message Id:  3154
I live in Pem West, on the first floor, on the side of the hall that faces the road. Every day, hundreds of people walk past my room. I bet someone knows where this is going...
Generally speaking, when I change clothes I don't really worry about whether or not my shade is down. It just isn't something I think about. Every now and then someone comes into my room and asks "where on earth do you change your clothes?" and I say that if someone doesn't want to see me, they should't be looking in my window in the first place!
This all changed, however, after our porn discussion. If at night, when my bedroom turns into a giant fishbowl, someone walks by and sees me and gets aroused, does that make it porn? Does that make me some kind of unwilling porn star? Or willing, because I know the possibility exists? I still dont know what makes porn porn. Is it the intention of the participant(s), or is it the audiences' reaction?
I think until we figure this out I'll change behind my door, or maybe not...
Name:  elisa
Subject:  Dorothy Allison
Date:  2002-10-08 10:15:29
Message Id:  3200
A couple of us from class went to see Dorothy Allison tonight at Giovanni's room. I am sure that Emily, Nancy and Lauren will agree with me in saying that it was awesome seeing her speak and how fortunate we were to get to listen to her answer some questions and discuss her writing. :)

She read excerpts from "A Lesbian Appetite," which is a story in her book Trash. All four of us in the class echoed that the story reminded us of Nia's example of describing sex through food.

So, I recommend that if Nia or any one else wants to read further on this subject, Allison's story serves as a strong example of how people describe sex through food or sex using food (you'll see what I mean).

Also, there is a book about this subject in our library. It is called Carnal Appetites: Food Sex Identities by Elspeth Probyn. Here is the description from the book jacket (that can also be read on Tripod) and the call number: (enjoy!)

BD450 .P635 2000

"Probyn moves from analyzing eating as a social concern to eating as a new way of looking at power." "Why is there a new explosion of interest in authentic ethnic foods and exotic cooking shows, where macho chefs promote sensual adventures in the kitchen? Why do we watch TV ads that promise more sex if we serve the right breakfast cereal? Why is the hunger strike such a potent political tool? Food inevitably engages questions of sensuality and power, of our connections to our bodies and to our world." "Carnal Appetites uses the lens of food and eating to ask how we eat into culture, eat into identities, indeed eat into ourselves. Drawing on interviews, theory, and her own war with anorexia, Probyn argues that food is replacing sex in our imagination and experience of bodily pleasure. Our culinary cravings and habits express the turmoil in gender roles, in families, and even in the world economy, where famine coexists with plenty. Probyn explores these dark interconnections to forge a new visceral ethics rooted in the language of hunger and satiety, disgust and pleasure, gluttony and restraint."--BOOK JACKET

Name:  ngoc
Subject:  Porn
Date:  2002-10-08 12:58:39
Message Id:  3204
although i don't think porn should be banned, i do believe it should be regulated somehow. i think that the question of what harm porn can bring to its audiences depend on the audiences' attitude and belief about responsibilities as human being. because people are living in a society where our action will produce a certain consequence or outcome, we need to be aware of what these possible consequences are. awareness, in case, is a responsibility. when we are aware of things around us, we will more likely to act with more thoughts and purposes...which may allow for more room to care others who may be effected by our actions.
Name:  michelle
Username:  mmcgrath
Subject:  tidbits
Date:  2002-10-10 08:51:29
Message Id:  3242
I am really glad that we were able to discuss mckinnon more in class on Tuesday. Some more issues were brought up that i think got glossed over before. To the people doing media - can we do a bit of a discussion on porn vs. erotica b/c that something that would be very useful to know and also give a bit more perspective on mckinnon.

I won't be in class today so i'll let you all know what is going on with my field placement. Orgionally i was at the attic but then i heard that the red light project (through prevention point) needed more help. I'll be working with lauren and katherine, doing research to put together information and eventually a hotline for sex workers in north philly.

Have a great break all!

Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  Sex/Food
Date:  2002-10-10 09:15:30
Message Id:  3243
a fun quote

The bed is now as public as the dinner table and governed by the same rules of formal confrontation.

Angela Carter (1940-92), British author. The Sadeian Woman,"Speculative Finale" (1979).


Name:  Jess T
Subject:  oldly enough...
Date:  2002-10-10 12:44:25
Message Id:  3248
Hi everybody,

I just read an article on yahoos' oldy enough section (they usually have very amusing short stories). This article was about the effectiveness of using lemon juice to kill sperm and the AIDS virus. I don't know how much I trust the info (personally I'd do a lot more research before I started using fruit juice as contraceptives). But the article also mentions that historical lemon juice has been used as a contraceptive and I was thinking that this is an interesting idea that either the people in history or anthropology group could look into. What did people use a contraceptives before modern medical contraceptives? (How effective were they or were they just "wives tales"???)

Here's the link to the article...

Sex with a Twist ... Lemons Provide Protection?



Name:  Emily
Subject:  cosmic happenings
Date:  2002-10-11 16:39:10
Message Id:  3264
Hi everyone-
It was strange for me to re-read my last posting about our need to hide porn or hide someone or something that we love for fear that s/he or it will not be accepted, and then to contrast it with the Mandela quote from Anne: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darknesss, that most frightens us....As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
To imagine being afraid of our own sexual power when sex acts, performed so casually in back seats, bedrooms, and middle schools across the country become elevated (or were they already elevated?) to a sort of cosmic dance of light and sound and energy...How does one go about liberating oneself from this fear? Why is it there in the first place? and of all the things to get mixed up with, why on earth did it have to be religion?
It's deeply reassuring to think of sex this way, as something so powerful that we cannot even comprehend it, so we make it base and assign guilt to the desire for touch. In doing so however, we make the task of explaining it through language nearly impossible....
I'm hoping that our further discussions can shed more light, until then:
everyone concieve of whatever sexual guilt or frustration you have (and I know that there's plenty of the second one :-) and push it until it becomes not so horrible. Parcel it off in your mind as energy, however that makes sense to you, and look at it as something powerful, full of light and potential. What does that do? And is it a good idea to do more? How do we share it....?
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Sexuality and the City
Date:  2002-10-13 22:25:04
Message Id:  3269
Another book report, from this Sunday's (10/13/02) New York Times Book Review, of "Rereading Sex: Battles Over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in 19th C. America," by Helen Horowitz (who wrote both MCarey Thomas' biography and "Alma Mater," about the founding of the 7 Sisters...). Those of you doing the section on Sex and History might want to check this out:

"she has established 4 frameworks w/in which people could imagine sexuality 'from a distinct cultural perspective.' ... a vernacular tradition rooted in oral culture; an evangelical Christianity suspicious of sex; a 'reform physiology' committed to spreading accurate information about sexual functioning, including birth control; and a view that 'placed sex at the center of life,' and whose proponents ranged from Mormons to women's rights leaders--became the basis of furious debates, scandals, witch hunts and crusades."

The reviewer's "only real disappointment is that Horowitz gives such a sketchy sense of what her research has led her to think about the ways in which these 19th c cultural battles still reverberate in our ears." Something for us to talk/think about....

while holding Emily's amazing invitation in mind!
Have a great break--

Name:  lauren h
Subject:  archive 12: additions
Date:  2002-10-29 10:46:21
Message Id:  3409
Archive 12: pornography and fear:
So I actually already posted here. But I had something to say in response to Michelle's comments about victimization and porn.
I kind of see pornography as a more high class (whatever that means) kind of sex work. It's not like selling yourself on the streets for money to feed your kids. But this is just some vague impression I have of porn. I've seen a lot of documentation and read some about porn and those involved seem much happier with their work than a street sex worker. But I don't really know. I was under the impression that porn was for people who tried and failed to make it acting.

But absolutely condemning porn is a band aid. Let attack poverty. Right on.

Name:  Lauren Friedman
Subject:  A random tidbit.
Date:  2002-11-06 12:19:50
Message Id:  3560
This doesn't have anything to do with anything (except, well, sex), but I thought the class might be interested in it.

I stumbled across this interview (with a writer of erotica, Mitzi Szereto) in 3 AM Magazine. Szereto discusses a number of interesting things including how she went from getting a B.A. in journalism to writing erotic fiction, her thoughts on the important distinction between erotica and porn ("erotica seduces the reader, whereas porn masturbates the reader"), and whether erotica is explicitly pro-feminist or anti-feminist.
Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  Strippers
Date:  2002-11-11 00:39:50
Message Id:  3652
ok so this past weekend i was at a party, that happened to involve a stripper later in the night. my first inclination was to leave. Upon further evaluation of my situation i decided that a) it was my friends birthday and b) it would be a new experience. So i stuck around..and eventually i found myself "thinking sex," i mean the class. Sitting there watching this event unfold i couldn't help but think criticially given the circumstances.

****the following contains descriptions, not meant to offend, but may, so use descretion*****
the room dark. the birthday girl in the chair. the blond flowing hair stripper comes in with silver glittery heels and a red, white and blue, american flag thong and bra are soon revealed. the stripper mounts above mentioned birthday girl, making her touch her all over. hands rubbing up and down the strippers body. eventually this whole ordeal leads to the stripper taking off everything at one point or another. Such activities included what may be deemed strong acts of foreplay, definately meant to arouse the birthday girl. included the touching of breasts and genitals to say the least...portions of the activity included spectators putting money on body parts of the birthday girl they wished the stripper to pay attention one point a dollar bill on the mouth of the birthday girl was followed by the stripper rubbing her vagina on the dollar which served as a barrier during the action (makes you wonder about where money has been...)
****end description****

this brought me to question several notions about sex, power and money.
1) i found it amusing that there was a male escort, who escorted the stripper making sure she was taken care of. He was responsible for picking up the clothing that had been taken off (as well as handing it back to her when he thought appropriate), collecting the money as it was offered during the course of the evening, and i guess making sure the crowd was under control. I guess this would be important if the crowd was all men, i didn't seem to think a bunch of girls was a huge threat, but i could see where it may be. I thought it interesting to think of this guy watching night after night, this woman stripping for others and "performing."
2) the transference of money during the course of the evening, is just interesting to talk about. Money used as a barrier from actually performing oral sex on the stripper, a cultural message that sex/women's bodies, for the right price, may be purchased.
3) i was kind of expecting a rules or introduction, what was allowed what wasn't. But as far as i could tell, everything was "free" game. At what point is a stripper a stripper and not a prostitute. If the 1$ had slipped and the girl ended up making contact or penetrated the genitals, was the stripper then a prostitute? Such sexualized practices lead us to question what is sex REALLY? who decides?

I am doing a survey for another class of "freshmen's attitudes towards sex" and one question asks them to indicate which women are virgins lesbians using sex toys, straight couple vaginal penetration, blow jobs, cunnilingus, hymen broke by horseback riding, woman who masturbates ect. I am still in the process of going through my findings, but preliminary, so far every woman taking part in those sex acts has been indicated as being a virgin. It is thus clear that such terms as virginity and sex have become much more fluid in todays society then it has been in the past.

Not sure how others feel, if others have had similar experiences or not, but i think it was rather interesting to be able to look at the situation from an educational perspective and thought it might spark interest in others...

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