Are "Facials" Demeaning? Two Feminists Weigh in on Porn

When most people think porn convention or really just porn in general, the dominant image is men ogling haughty Barbie-like blondes with big implants and small IQs. But the truth is, plenty of intelligent, sex-positive ladies are not only making porn, but consuming porn. This may come as a shock, delusional men, but you're not the only ones deleting browser histories or stashing unmarked brown paper bags.

It's tough to find a reliable statistic in our anonymous YouPorn age, but Hustler claims 56% of its customers at video stores are women. And porn made by women for women is one of the fastest-growing markets (see: highly successful Candida Royalle). But is this a step forward for women? Or is female support of such an industry (forgive the pun) ass-backward? We asked leading pro- and anti-porn feminists their takes on facial cum shots, barely legal porn, boob implants, and more.


Meet the feminists:

Dr. Robert Jensen (yes, a man can be a feminist and we love them): a journalism professor at University of Texas at Austin, progressive activist, and author of  Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity and The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege.

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Dr. Patti Britton: a sex coach, leading pro-porn feminist, and host of over 30 instructional couples videos at LovingSex.com.

New Times: What's your take on porn, in general?

Dr. Jensen: In the commercial heterosexual pornography market, which is the bulk of material, the primary domination/subordination dynamic is male/female. In the past two decades, with the popularity of more extreme pornography, that dynamic is clearer than ever. At their core, all the sexual-exploitation industries -- pornography, prostitution, stripping -- are ways that men buy and sell objectified female bodies for men's sexual pleasure.

Dr. Britton: Porn can bring variety, role-modeling for pleasure, can show people how to do sex, how to be sexual -- not just sexy, but sexual -- and be an antidote for boredom. Porn can be your best friend as long as it's used properly to enhance sexual expression or a couple's sexual life.

Are "facials" demeaning?

Dr. Jensen: As pornography exhausts more routine practices to act out

the degradation of women in a sexual context, porn producers push the

envelope. The result is various kinds of multiple penetrations,

ass-to-mouth, etc. Given that pornography is, at its core, about men

dominating women, these practices should be disturbing but not

surprising.

Dr. Britton: Porn is fantasy, and just because you enjoy watching someone cum on a female's face doesn't mean you're going to carry that action into your real-life sex life. We never talk about how men are objectified in porn. There's this idea that women adult stars are all victims, they are women who are drug addicts, and they would be doing something else if they had an option -- most of that is a projection by the critique. The women in these films are consenting actresses. They are allowed to define what is degrading to them. And I see a burgeoning new trend... [actresses/directors with] a sense of porn pride -- empowered, very bright, and sometimes quite educated women.

[On the cum shot:] A colleague of mine did his dissertation on the psychological meaning of the cum shot. A lot of it is because men identify with the actors on screen. They see a man having sex with a babe and think that could be me or on a deeper psychological level, that is me... I'm projecting myself into that guy and I'm having sex with that beautiful woman, and the cum shot is proof of the completion of the sexual act. So there's a sense of finale, a sense of I did that.

Talk about the pervasiveness of "barely legal" porn.

Dr. Jensen: The power that adults hold over child is one form of domination that pornography sexualizes.

Dr. Britton: There have been [different cultures and times] in which adults having sexual interaction with teens was seen as a rite of passage and acceptable within that cultural context. Now that being said, of course, I'm not advocating for that, and it is illegal in the United States to have a sexual relationship with a minor. But these are adult actors role-playing. People who watch porn understand the difference between arousal material and real life.

What about the prevalence of plastic surgery in modern porn?

Dr. Jensen: A consumer-based culture is bound to be a shallow culture

with little sense of what is real, what is consistent with a sustainable

human presence in ecosystems. We now live in a world in which people

routinely mutilate healthy tissue to meet the culture's shallow beauty

standards. Pornography is a form of storytelling, and storytelling

affects how people think. So, pornography no doubt plays a role in these

matters, but it's only one part of a sick culture.

Dr. Britton: I have much more of an issue with popular media and magazines than I do with porn. We see natural people in porn over time. And that's not the same as a still image of somebody like Miley Cyrus, who is a teenager being photoshopped to look even better at 16 -- to look 12. There's something really scary about the infantilization, or the lowering of the age in popular magazines, to sell fashion. However, as a pro-porn feminist, I still have ambivalence about the idealized image of a very tiny woman with large implants. I work with a lot of women who feel toxic shame about their bodies, and it's one of the reasons women stop enjoying sex. I'm a fan and advocate for women directors to use real bodies.

What do you make of the rise in female porn directors?

Dr. Jensen: More women, especially younger women, are using pornography than ever, though the majority of consumers are still men. As the culture becomes steadily more pornographic -- as the norms of pornography become more accepted -- then it's not hard to understand the increased use by women. Whether that's a sign of progress and greater equality, well, people disagree about that. When women make pornography for the male viewer, it is indistinguishable from pornography made by men. Can there be feminist porn? I think the important question is why so many people seem to believe pornography is necessary for our sexual imaginations.

Dr. Britton: When the VCR was created, it changed the whole tide of where porn was seen. That's when men in raincoats going into peep shows and plunking quarters into booths stopped being the primary way that porn was distributed. Women started becoming consumers and becoming more demanding of quality of porn and of porn that related to them. So, as a feminist, this notion of porn being for men only really has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. [In the '90s], 40 percent of consumers of porn were women. And now we see an equal number of women and men. A lot of women who are directors today really have a sensibility about women, and they take great pride in their work, and they see themselves as advocates for women and for great sex.

Responses were edited for length.

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