Porn, the “free love” movement of the 60’s and the more recent “sex-positive” movement are all the kind of “activism” that liberals and leftists of any degree can get behind. Seen as a rebellion against religious conservatism and the stuffy morals of the Victorian era, looser sexual mores offer an excellent opportunity for liberals to show off just how enlightened they truly are. But sexual liberals are mistaken if they think these viewpoints or their acceptance of porn is a sign of some higher understanding; if anything, it is the opposite.
What if the barriers around sexual behavior were imagined? For instance, some believe that women can demonstrate how sexually liberated they are by being constantly sexually available, allowing and even engaging in raunchy humor with men, and accepting/desiring anal sex. By being this way, women are transgressing the outdated, puritanical, “oppressive” sexual mores of the past. But what exactly is being transgressed?
Even sexually conservative ideals of women still have them remain sexually available; the only change is that these women must not appear to be so. Instead of being required to accept/engage in raunchy humor, women are expected to be disgusted by it and to play coy. The “rule against” anal sex is the ultimate sign of sexual repression and thus, the ultimate sign of women’s sexual liberation. The fact that women have no pleasure centers in their rectums or that anal sex can be painful, degrading, and lead to injury is not considered.
What we have here are essentially equal views of women’s sexuality. Women are expected to embody whatever the predominant male fantasy is at the time. Furthermore, male fantasies have not changed in that women are most desirable when they are sexually available to men, whether that be in the guise of the coy, “good girl” or the sexually “liberated” woman who enjoys raunchy humor and anal sex.
If we accept that these two ideals are actually essentially the same, what is it that’s being transgressed? Where is the liberation and from what? Men are still dictating the expectations and women are expected to comply, defend, and assume these expectations as their own. If the requirements have gone from explicit to implicit, women are still “doing what they’re told” but under the guise of “agency” and “freedom.”
It was Catherine MacKinnon who said:
If we knew the boundaries were phony, existed only to eroticize the targeted transgressable, would penetrating them feel less sexy?
Perhaps. But dominance and submission itself have been eroticized to the point where female submission to male fantasy is not only acceptable but desirable. This is one of the reasons consent becomes a sticky topic. Women and girls are being exposed to porn that teaches them it is a natural part of a woman’s sexuality to be submissive and accommodating to male whims in the bedroom. Furthermore, men on both sides end up working together to oppress women sexually–conservatives setting up “the rules”, and liberals “breaking them.” Women who value membership in either group will follow the dictates prescribed by the men of that group.
Sex itself is also a very powerful intoxicant. The chemicals released in our brains during sexually pleasurable experiences act as analgesics to pain and play a role in bonding as well. Anyone who is familiar with the dynamics of sexual abuse knows that it is normal for victims to feel pleasure and bonding during the abuse and that this is often used to the perpetrator’s advantage.
Ultimately, what we end up with, is a society in which people are “blind” to the power dynamics of sex and the oppression and abuse inherent in many sexual practices/relationships. The woman who wants to be “liberated” from the sexually repressed ideals of the puritanical past, is kept blind to her own oppression and the oppression and abuse of women and children through the integration and acceptance of abusive sex practices into mainstream culture. When articles encouraging young girls to engage in anal sex are printed in teen magazines, it’s seen as “sex-positive” and healthy instead of what it really is which is grooming for later sexual abuse.
With the proliferation of porn in popular culture, the sexual objectification and abuse of women and children can take place on a massive scale with the aid of addictive chemicals released during sexual acts. Porn culture is also propped up by a growing compendium of “scientific studies” supporting the idea that being penetrated by men in not only normal but healthy and if you don’t like it there might be something wrong with you.
In order to wake up from our chemically and culturally -induced stupor, we have to be willing to acknowledge that the real taboo when it comes to sex is naming it as a conduit for oppression and abuse. If you’re thinking that seems scary or undesirable because sex and porn are a pleasurable part of your life, this is exactly part of the problem. We become complicit in the abuse when we are not willing to even question it.