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Confessions of a Former Porn Hater
When my first boyfriend in college admitted he had watched porn before we got together, I cried.
It’s far from my proudest moment, but it happened. I was 19, unsure of my body, insecure in my desirability. I’d only ever watched about 10 minutes of porn. It was with a group of my girlfriends, huddled around a tiny TV in one of our college dorm rooms. We’d turned it off after the first anal scene, claiming boredom.
I’m fairly certain none of us was actually bored.
So I cried, my boyfriend at the time claimed he didn’t want porn anymore, and we never spoke of it again. Our relationship ended for a lot of reasons, but one of them was a lack of sexual compatibility and communication.
The irony was that, at the time, had someone asked I would have claimed to be very sexually liberated and open. I read Savage Love! I was willing to talk about birth control! I liked having a lot of sex! I mean, I knew I had some jealousy issues, but preferred to blame them on the fact that my high school boyfriend had cheated on me with a friend of mine. Never mind that I had cheated on him with a girl, too. Never mind that those things are utterly unconnected anyway.
Of course, along with porn, strip clubs were verboten, tantamount to cheating. I never quite hit the point of telling a partner that watching porn was cheating, but I did when it came to strip clubs. Another woman! Who was right there! Naked! Again, I am not proud.
Now, I’m not certain what my logic was. I don’t think there was much logic there, in truth. I know that when porn, strip clubs—any naked woman who wasn’t me, who was desirable and tugging at my partner’s attention—came up, I felt this red-hot pain in my chest. I know I felt ill. I know that I felt out of control, like the floor had dropped out from underneath me. I don’t know if there ever were logical thoughts—more a lot of “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO” and a physical reaction that I wanted desperately to stop.
So I called porn and strip clubs ”anti-woman” and “demeaning," told boyfriends that I should be enough for them. I caught myself giving the side-eye to pretty girls—girls who I would have flirted with. I found myself blaming not just men, but women for how I felt. I was a goddamn mess.
But then two things happened: I started watching porn myself, and I became friends with women who worked or had worked in the sex industry.
The first, watching porn myself, was born from being with partners who were not into the same things I was into, and from spending a full year being single. I had sexual desires that were going unfulfilled, and watching porn would placate those desires, if briefly. I didn’t watch a lot of porn, but I did read a LOT of erotica.
The second happened quite without intent. First, I met a woman through mutual friends who happened to work as a dancer in New Orleans. She also happened to be articulate, witty, self-assured, tough, creative, and intelligent. Not to mention poised and gorgeous. I recall being intimidated by her when we first met, not knowing a thing about her profession. And then I realized I thought she was pretty damn cool. Only after that did I learn what her job was, and by then I was already seeing her as this totally amazing woman I wanted to become better friends with. My brain didn’t even get the chance to judge her for her job.
Then, one after the other, I met and became friends with women who either were working as or had in the past been porn stars, dancers, pro dommes, nude/erotic/fetish models, all these things I had been so afraid of. And it will sound naive of me, but when I met these women outside of the context of porn or clubs or my oddly fearful imagination, they stopped being these monolithic threats of infidelity and became what they actually are—human beings.
As I talked to the girl who’d done porn about the hilarious absurdity of her on-set experiences, as I strip club hopped with my dancer friend, and as I chatted with one of my model friends during the lead-up to a shoot she was particularly nervous and excited about, my feelings about the whole sex industry began to shift. Here I was, among my friends, a group of strong, intelligent women. None of them needed me to save them. And as I had that realization, my jealousy began to drop away, bit by bit.
As all this happened, I was in a relationship with my ex husband who declared porn awful, an affront to feminism and to women when we first got together. At first, I’d breathed a secret sigh of relief. My opinions on porn certainly didn’t line up with his, but at least I wouldn’t have to navigate the murky waters of my shifting feelings through unexpected browser tabs and search histories.
But after a number of years, through a couple of internet-related incidents, it became clear that his actions and his talk didn’t line up where porn was concerned. By that time, I’d grown comfortable with the topic, and our sex life had seriously faltered, so I suggested we watch porn together. While the whole experiment ended absurdly (he picked out something kind of silly and terrible on purpose, and it ended up containing something that was a hard limit for me), I realized that even with the almost slapstick-level outcome I was glad I’d stepped across a line I’d be afraid of. I wasn’t in the least bit jealous. It was simply a funny story.
Now, I’m in a relationship where I’m lucky enough that my partner shares not only my feminism, but my sexual proclivities, my taste in porn, and my respect for sex workers. We’re incredibly open with one another. We share porn and we genuinely enjoy doing so. It makes us happy.
I’m not saying every couple should do this or that our way is the only way or even the best way for anyone but us, but I would urge women who have that reaction I used to when it comes to porn and the sex industry in general to examine the source of their feelings. Mine stemmed from a lack of trust, from insecurity, and a refusal to see other women has human beings with agency.
Does porn that is problematic from a feminist standpoint for me exist? Of course it does. And quite frankly, I don’t watch that porn, and certainly wouldn’t watch it with my partner. And there are, of course, strip clubs out there with unhealthy atmospheres for the women they employ. I would never deny that and this article is not meant to do so.
What I am saying is that my hatred of porn and strip clubs and the like stemmed not truly from those elements, but from an insecurity and a sadness within me. It stemmed from a lack of ability to see the women employed in the sex industry as the wonderful human beings that the ones I know truly are. By blaming those women for issues that were my own, I engaged in slut shaming, and knowing this, and seeing how that was wrong, gives me a whole lot of extra sympathy for Belle Knox and the horrible situation she has found herself in. It makes me want to defend her loudly and fiercely and publicly.
So ladies, don’t slut shame via porn hate. And ex-boyfriends? Sorry I was kind of a bitch about the whole thing.
Image via TreeHugger.com
***This piece first appeared in Luna Luna Mag and was republished here with permission. ***
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