Hand In Hand Across The Bridge At Midnight



If you’re the type who likes arguing about sex on the internet — which you probably are, or you wouldn’t be reading this website to begin with — you probably saw this month’s now-infamous New York Magazine piece by Davy Rothbart about how internet porn has impeded his ability to become aroused by women in real life.  I read the print version, and thought it was a brave, honest, fascinating, and skillfully written examination of a legitimate problem affecting both men and (indirectly) women, mostly of the younger generations, but probably a smattering of folks of all ages. 

You’ve probably also seen at least a few of the pieces bouncing around the feminist blogosphere in which women respond to Rothbart’s article.  And by “respond to,” I mean “barely read, and then get mad about what they imagined it said.”  Here is a typical one. 

I don’t know why I bothered to expect anything else, but the internet's response has largely been to make fun of Rothbart, and to assess his problem as fear-based:  porn has made him “scared” of real women.  You know, just like how men who don’t want to settle down are “scared” of commitment, and how men who like video games are “scared” to grow up, and how men who disagree with something a feminist says are “scared” of assertive women.  Every time a man ever says or does anything that a woman doesn’t like, there is only one possible explanation:  he is “scared.”

shaggy and scooby
In our defense, these were 
our role models growing up.

Seriously, Feminism?  A guy brings up a legitimate problem in a straightforward, respectful way, and your response is to call him “chicken” like you’re a bully teasing Marty McFly?  If you think it’s a lame problem to have, fine.  Maybe it is lame.  But that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed rather than addressed.   

Porn aside, this speaks to one of the most problematic conundrums in feminist discourse:  On the one hand, feminism wants to effect honest, productive communication between the genders about gender issues, but on the other hand, it wants to reduce the battlefield advantage currently held by men.  Because of the second goal, the instinctive feminist response any time a man admits to a gender-related problem or insecurity is to mock him for it, but this is the very last thing they should do if they also care about the first goal.  If you’re going to make fun of us, we’ll just keep lying, thank you very much. 

I saw the truth of this firsthand in the response to my last couple of essays.  I thought they both involved valuable insights about gender and self-image, but in order to write them, it was necessary for me to admit to certain insecurities I’ve had to deal with over the course of my life (which shouldn’t have been all that shocking, since any writer who claims not to have any insecurities is a liar).  The response from male readers was largely positive, but I was dismayed by how many female readers reacted with sarcasm or even anger — not because they disagreed with any of my points necessarily, but apparently simply because they smelled blood in the water:  if a man admits he can be hurt, then quick, someone hurt him.

I understand feeling that way, but the problem is, the men who are admitting that they are capable of being hurt are the good ones.  Maybe not good compared to women, but at least good compared to other men.

Okay, back to porn.  The feminist response does “address” the problem so far as to say “stop looking at porn, you asshole.”  But there are a few problems with that, namely  A) We can’t, plus  B) Even if we could, we really really really don’t want to, and most importantly  C) The problem isn’t necessarily a simple matter of guys getting accustomed to porn.  I think in many cases, it’s a matter of guys getting accustomed to girls who like porn.

Now, this is going to be a difficult discussion to have with you, Internet Feminism, since your official position on girls who like porn is that they don’t exist.  Or that, if they do, they don’t count, since they’re not “real women.”  You should really be paying royalties to whoever thought up that tautology, Internet Feminism.  You’ve certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of it.  The last time I checked, fat chicks were “real women.”  Now it’s women who don’t like porn.  The only thing that all the different definitions of “real women” have in common, I guess, is that men like them less.  Come on, Internet Feminism, that’s not fair.  We don’t go around saying that guys with no jobs and small penises who live in their parents’ basements watching Three Stooges marathons are “real men.”

Jessica Rabbit
Once again: the expectations we’ve
grown up with are entirely reasonable.

Whether you choose to believe me or not is beyond my control, Internet Feminism, but women who like porn — and as a result, emulate porn, not just for the man’s sake, but because they themselves genuinely get off on doing so — definitely do exist.  I know because I have been lucky enough to date several of them.  A regrettable side effect of my good fortune, however, is that I am now basically bored to tears by women who aren’t like this. 

Is this really so outlandish or censurable?  I think any reasonable person is compelled to admit that it makes perfect sense.  Over the last several years of my life, I had four consecutive girlfriends who liked porn, to the point where they watched it to get themselves off even when no guy was around.  These girls — and bless them for it — dressed up in slutty outfits for sex, kept up a constant stream of filthy talk the whole time, and were into bondage, anal, facials, gagging, slapping, choking, etc.  Is it really so unbelievable that at this point, when I get with a girl who isn’t into all that stuff, she might as well be telling me that she wants to turn off the lights and do it through a sheet with a hole in it? 

Before you answer, I’ll remind you that when a woman gets “accustomed to” something, it means she gets half the guy’s money, so apparently being “accustomed to” something is, as they say on the internet, serious business. 

Let’s examine the reverse:  women talking about how masturbating with vibrators is better than sex with actual men is not only acceptable, but ubiquitous.  Hell, if you are a straight female stand-up comedian, you apparently have to swear a blood oath that you will make jokes about this.  But when a straight man implies that technology has improved upon sex with women, he is “scared.”  (Forgetting the fact that, when a man responds to a woman’s jokes about vibrators by saying that she is “scared,” it is condemned as misogyny of the highest order — and rightly so) 

Let’s take a step back here.  Does it make sense for a woman to get off harder with vibrators than from actual sex?  Of course, because a flesh-and-blood man cannot possibly make his dick do what a vibrator does.  By that same token, does it make sense for a man to get off harder from buffing the badger to internet porn than from actual sex?  Of course, because a flesh-and-blood woman cannot possibly transform herself into whatever the man happens to be in the mood for at any given second in the time it takes him to click a button — but a computer screen can.  If women can point out the first thing without being “scared,” then men can point out the second.

Listen, Feminism, it’s not like this is the first and only time that one gender’s expectations about the other changed significantly in a short time due to some seismic cultural shift.  Stuff like this happens constantly.  For example, a man whose attitudes and habits made him a “normal guy” in the 1950s would have stuck out as a sexist pig in the 1970s.  Why?  Because, in the intervening years, there was a sort of “sensitivity revolution,” during which women decided to drastically raise the bar marking the minimum acceptable level of male sensitivity in a relatively short period of time.  It is even debatable whether women consciously “decided” this, or were merely the instruments through which culture changed itself at a time when it was ripe to do so.

And, as with any change in the environment, the individuals best adapted to the new environment flourished, while those least well adapted suffered.  Sensitive guys grew beards, grabbed guitars, and got laid like madmen while Joe Sixpack complained.  Was this “wrong?”  Depends on where you’re standing:  to Joe Sixpack it was wrong, and to Strummer McBeard it was the greatest thing since sliced tofu.  But one thing is indisputable:  this was simply what happened to culture at that time, and it didn’t do any good to deny it or complain about it.

I think the so-called “pornification” of American culture is merely the last wave by.  Some ladies — the ones who would have been marginalized as “sluts” in the old culture — are adapting rather beautifully, while others are floundering in the dust, gasping nonsense about “real women.”

They're right to cry foul, because it’s not like what
constitutes a male sex symbol ever changes.

You might want seriously to reexamine one of the givens on which you’re basing your stance: namely, the idea that “pornification” is bad for women or for feminism.  Sure, it is always intimidating to the heterosexuals of one gender whenever it seems like the other gender is raising the bar in some way.  But feminism has been saying that porn is bad for so long that few stop to contemplate the fact that the mainstreaming of porn might actually help achieve a lot of feminism’s recent goals.  Consider: 

~ Porn stars are curvier than models or mainstream actresses. ~  For decades now, the mainstream feminist position has been that standards of attractiveness are culturally constructed, and that many of the prized attributes — thinness, for example — are actually about demonstrating status rather than pure aesthetic or erotic pleasure.  But how to test this?  If only there were some way to know what the average man finds most attractive in his heart of hearts, when he is not worried about the judgments of society!  Oh, wait, there is: porn.  And if you go to any major internet porn index — Freeones.com, for example (NSFW, obviously) — on any given day and look at the list of the most viewed porn stars, the majority of them are voluptuous.  I just went and checked the stats for the last 30 days, and of the Top 20 girls, only three could be described as “skinny” or “petite” on the level of the average TV actress.  The rest are curvier, and five of those are considerably curvier.  And this is — to remind you once again — the single most reliable indicator of what the majority of men find attractive that exists on the planet.  It’s not that skinny porn stars don’t exist; they exist, but they are just not as popular as the curvy ones.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women invoke porn when complaining about body image and eating disorders, but the plain fact is that this is demonstrably false.  Hardcore porn is actually far and away the most body-positive of any industry that is even remotely connected with the concept of female attractiveness.  That’s right, Feminism:  you could have conclusively proven over a decade ago that guys like voluptuous women better, if only you had been willing to actually go look at the porn that you spend so much time arguing about. 

~ Porn encourages women to vocalize their needs (a lot). ~  Before you object, yes, I realize that porn encourages women to vocalize their desires in a performative, absurdly over-the-top way.  But this is still a golden opportunity for women, because it is easy to sneak vocalization of your real needs into the over-the-top performativity.  And even if vocalization of your real needs is all you feel like doing, the obstacles to this that once existed are gone.  Once upon a time, women held back from coming right out and asking for what they wanted for fear of looking bossy or slutty.  But now you’re dealing with guys who have grown up watching internet porn, and regardless of any other problems this might cause, one thing is certain: there is absolutely nothing you can say in bed that will shock any man, ever, even a little bit.  Trust me. 

~ Porn is a godsend for women over 35. ~  Feminism has been justifiably complaining for years about how hard it is for women to get dates or actresses to get parts once they pass “a certain age.”  It wasn’t so long ago that men would only even consider dating women their own age or (preferably) younger, and women had to bemoan the fact that Sean Connery was sexy at 70 while women were washed up at 28.  But post-pornification, ask any strapping young college guy about his fantasies, and the answer is MILFs, MILFs, and more MILFs.  I am 33, and I regularly view women ten or even twenty years older than I am as potential sex partners worth pursuing — something that a guy my age would not have done before (fine, I probably wouldn’t marry them, but you weren’t complaining about young women wanting to marry Sean Connery; you were complaining about young women wanting to fuck Sean Connery).  Porn made this happen, porn was probably the only thing that could have made this happen, and this is something you have been saying for years you wanted to happen.  What’s the problem? 

~ Porn is chipping away at the glass ceiling. ~  This is going to be a controversial one, but I seriously think I have a point here.  Surf internet porn for a few hours and one thing you’re sure to notice is how many of the plots involve women in high-powered jobs.  Granted, they are women in high-powered jobs who go into a trance when the janitor pulls out his dick, but the fact remains.  Exploitative intent aside, guys raised on these vignettes are going to grow up to see women in positions of power as more “normal” than did previous generations of men.  (Just like how, cringeworthy as certain aspects of the show were, Amos ‘n’ Andy was the only show at that time where white TV audiences saw Black cops, Black businessmen, Black judges, etc.)  Yes, I realize it is stupid that acceptance of powerful women has to come via men cartoonishly eroticizing the idea.  But you know what?  We are going to cartoonishly eroticize every single thing women ever do, for the rest of time.  This is simply how we work.  The only question is whether we are going to cartoonishly eroticize things that are good for women, or things that are bad for women.  In other words, your options are bitchy businesswoman or horny housewife, so just go with bitchy businesswoman, because running board meetings in five-inch heels beats vacuuming in them.

~ Porn has made men obsessed with giving you orgasms. ~  Okay, I know you’re going to fight me on this one.  You’re going to say that porn has made men obsessed with fake female orgasms, and that the obsession is for the sake of their own pleasure as orgasm spectators rather than that of women, and that it has led to a cold, clinical overemphasis on number-of-orgasms for the sake of number-of-orgasms, as if points were being scored in a sport, as opposed to a holistic view of the entire sexual experience.  Objection sustained.  But first things first:  before pornification, there were a lot of guys who didn’t particularly care whether the woman got off, and now there aren’t.  Because of the influence of porn, a guy who doesn't give a woman orgasms is now a loser.  Modifying the way in which we care about this is certainly a worthwhile follow-up, but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good here.

You can get mad about what I’ve said here if you must, Internet Feminism, but please understand:  I am not telling you what to do.  I am merely stating facts about where the culture is going and trying to encourage you to look on the bright side, rather than taunting you (which is more than you did for poor Davy Rothbart).  You can ignore me.  You can call me a perv in the comments.  You can transform me into a stag and have me torn apart by my own dogs.  But none of that will change the fact that what I’ve said here is true.  Or the fact that, believe it or not, I’m trying to help.

There is no sense in denying it:  For anti-porn feminism, just as it was for newspapers, the internet was the Chicxulub Asteroid.  You can either get down with porn and become birds, or refuse and become fossils.

Long legs, big eyes, sharp claws...  There's no doubt about it,
birds are sexy. Wait, what was my point again?

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