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Filter? I hardly know her

| Friday, November 2, 2018

I have again been summoned from the hole in the ground where I reside, festering with my left-wing thoughts about women’s rights and equality because of the number of Observer columns and Letters to the Editor recently published about one of my favorite topics: porn! Let’s start with the logistics of a total porn ban. From my minimal knowledge of computer science (and this chain on Reddit), Notre Dame would have to block the heavy hitters — like Brazzers and PornHub — but also extend this block to proxies, torrents and social networks like Tumblr, Reddit and 4Chan. OIT would also be tasked with making sure that this cannot be evaded through the use of VPNs or Tor. This is all to say that a full block — or even the suggested block of the top-25 pornographic sites — would require effort, which I would personally prefer to be used to make sure all of campus can access decent WiFi, or perhaps that my emails to other ND accounts do not get sorted into spam (a genuine problem I had at the beginning of this year).

Of course, pornography addiction does exist. If you struggle with this, absolutely go to the University Counseling Center or Campus Ministry and talk about it. Counseling does wonders! But, as Notre Dame does not ban cigarettes on campus or betting on the ponies, a porn ban would be bizarre and unlikely to do much concrete good. Given too that people can always send nudes, read vintage playboy, pop in a DVD or just use their cellular data, this seems like a lot of work for a publicity stunt destined — and according to “the women of ND,” expected — to have mediocre success at limiting the porn consumption on campus at best. Moreover, the purpose of this block is misguided. The proposed goal of this block is to, as “the men of Notre Dame” say, “send the unequivocal message that pornography is an affront to human rights and catastrophic to individuals and relationships.” But is it, really? As a gender studies major and obvious feminist, I would say no.

The women attempt to  argue that pornography is often related to violent behavior given FBI records, but I would say this is more than likely an example of correlation without causation. According to a 2017 study, 84 percent of men and 54 percent of women in Australia have viewed pornography. Because of its prevalence, you could claim that porn consumption can relate to anything. This study also found that overall, only a small portion of people reported negative effects. This is not to say that porn is perfect. Rather, it is necessary to understand that porn does not work in a vacuum. Pornography can be bad because culturally in America, especially at Notre Dame, we tend to have an unhealthy relationship with sex, especially with the idea that it is something that women do and enjoy. Ask any ND student what “hooking up” means and you will discover that we are the only college campus that considers it something other than sex. Though we may blame this on being sexually inexperienced Catholic school students, we study at a place where sex happens, so we owe it to ourselves to be realistic. The problems with pornography echo the problems in real-world sexual encounters: a lack of communication, the exploitation of power and unrealistic expectations.

All of these can be resolved without blocking the top-25 pornographic sites. We just have to start by being willing to have honest dialogue about sex. We have to have conversations about what we and our partners expect from each sexual experience and what we like and are comfortable with. In a recent Viewpoint column, there is a confession that the author has “been married over five years to the love of my life and it still can be awkward at times to talk about sex with her.” This is deeply saddening and should not be common. A baseline for whether people should have sex with each other is if they are capable of having a conversation about their likes and dislikes. This can help to make sure all parties enjoy the experience and also are able to give consent. If you cannot or do not talk during or about sex, it is difficult to say “I like this” or “Do you want me to try this?” or “Can you move your hand two centimeters to the left?” when in reality you should be able to say these with the same amount of reservations you have about asking someone to pass the salt. The solution to this is to be honest with yourself first so that you can be honest with your partners.

Moreover, the problem with porn is the power struggle, both on screen and off. For women who are underpaid, overworked or otherwise harmed by the industry, this can certainly be damaging to physical, emotional and financial well-being. Certainly in some scenes, there are uncomfortable situations, but these can often be attributed to bad scripts and actors not being treated properly. The solution to this? Be more careful about the media you consume. “Feminist porn” does exist. Do your research to make sure that you are supporting producers who ensure just treatment of actors like proper testing and aftercare, due compensation and avoid scenes which are needlessly degrading or harmful to personhood or identity, especially of women. As is the case with everything, good porn is a matter of doing the proper research to make sure that humanity is maintained for the duration of, and after, scenes. Ethical consumption is of utmost importance when any sort of physical labor is involved.

Finally, we cannot just blatantly combat pornography, we must combat unrealistic expectations. These can range from the definitely bad — like a lack of clear consent or protection — to the mildly bad — read: every lesbian sex scene produced by straight men ever — to the neutral and funny — like most porn scripts. This again can be solved by understanding more thoroughly what sex entails in the real world, talking about it and realizing that all pornography is produced and manipulated. Pornography is not sex. It is media.

Given this, it is also worth examining the idea that certain acts are always degrading. Because our Catholic viewpoint tends to focus on procreation rather than pleasure, the whole idea of consensual BDSM is entirely overlooked. The letter presented by the the women of Notre Dame lists sexual acts such as punching, choking, biting, spitting and verbal aggression as intrinsically and always negative. However, I would not suppose that these acts are created equal or that they are always bad. Punching is an extreme example that cannot be equivocated with acts like choking, biting and verbal aggression — incredibly common kinks that partners include in their sexual boundaries. Assigning moral weight to the consensual decisions that couples, or porn performers, make is not only useless, but supports a narrow-minded view of female sexuality. Female sexuality does not always have to be one of victimhood. Women who like a love tap or two are not necessarily being defenselessly led astray by the horrors of their partner’s fantasies. Women can and do enjoy the acts that the letter lists, and they can and do find their pleasure empowering rather than victimizing. Rather than judging these consensual acts, let’s celebrate that people are practicing consent and communicating openly with their partner (on screen or off).

This is all to say that we as a society and a campus need to develop healthier attitudes towards sex. Rule 34 is not going away anytime soon. To catalyze this, start by contemplating your personal relationship with sex. Do you think it is more about power or pleasure? Do you regard the people you want to, or do have sex with, as humans? Are you capable of having honest, frank discussions about sex? Are you happy with your current relationship with porn? If, after this, you want to watch porn, I hope you feel empowered to do so. If you still feel compelled to take action against the prevalence of sexual assault on our campus and in our country, do so in a way that is concrete, like calling your legislators, working for a campaign or petitioning campus to change our definition of consent to be up to par with that of other universities. Do not waste your time with a porn ban (but take a hint from the White Ribbon Against Pornograhy’s ever-so fortunate acronym and remember to WRAP it).

Anne Jarrett


Audrey Lindemann


Oct. 31

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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