November 22nd, 2009

Speaking for Myself…

As I mentioned in my last post, on Tuesday of last week Ms. Violet Blue appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the topic of which was women and pornography and erotica. A few days ago Alison Tyler linked to the comments on the episode at the show’s website. I read said comments, and while there are many things that could be commented on (there was much talk about “porn addiction,” pornography “destroying families,” its being the “leading cause divorce in America,” etc., etc., etc….sigh), I am commenting here on one particular theme that I noticed not for the first time.

A lot of people seem to want to talk about “most women’s experience” working in porn (apparently men’s experience is not relevant). In this specific instance, featured guest Jenna Jameson’s experience, for example, was hailed as an “exception” to “most women’s experience” in porn. Well, indeed, Ms. Jameson is an “exception” in that she’s arguably the most famous porn star in the world. Just as Michael Jordan is an “exception” in his profession as one of the most famous basketball players in the world. That’s great. But the reason people seem to be pointing this out in Ms. Jameson’s case is to claim the generalization that most women’s experience working in porn is degrading, exploitative, harrowing, etc.

I wonder how many people (women, presumably) these individuals know who have worked in porn? Or how else it is that they think they know this? Sometimes there have been exposes or stories told via the media about people working in it or who used to work in porn, but it has seemed to me that what is reported by the media in general (on all sorts of topics) may not be representative of the majority of experience. Why is it that some people seem so certain about the experience of the majority of women who have worked in porn — have they met most of the people about whom they are speaking? Are they familiar personally with a vast number of porn performers?

Incidentally, this type of widespread assumption seems to extend to people (usually women) working in almost any facet of the sex industry. I recall having a conversation with a former co-worker of mine at my last full-time day job a few years ago. I was explaining that I supported the decriminalization of prostitution, and he said he didn’t understand why and/or whom that would benefit since “no one does that job voluntarily.” I asked him how he knew that. He stated that it was “obvious.” I asked him how many whores he had known from whom he had apparently gleaned this understanding.

Guess what his answer was.

Anyway, back to porn, it’s not even that I am out and out disagreeing with these naysaying individuals, because I don’t know a whole lot of porn performers either, especially professional ones (in my time working in porn I only met one). But I have been a porn performer myself (amateur porn rather than professional — a loose description of the difference may be found here), and when I read or hear generalizing comments like this, I have experienced the odd feeling of someone’s seeming to speak for me to whom I have never spoken about this aspect of my experience—as well as that of my experience being virtually unacknowledged or, if it is, dismissed.

Working as a pornographic performer did not seem to me like some big scandalous/radical/shocking embarkation. It seemed like something interesting and appealing to me to do in line with the interest I felt in working in the sex industry. I appreciated the opportunity and in general enjoyed the work I have done therein. It doesn’t seem strange to me to imagine that I wasn’t some major exception in feeling this way and that a number of people may similarly have freely chosen/choose to and enjoy working in porn. What does seem mystifying to me is how many people seem to think they know what “most” women’s experience working in porn is or that this experience somehow tends to be homogenous for women in general. How exactly is it that they think they know that?

I would like to digress here for a moment and say that on the referenced episode of Oprah’s show, I did find the comments from Steve Hirsch (CEO of Vivid Entertainment Group) about condom usage—that they weren’t part of people’s “fantasy” and that porn featuring condoms just didn’t sell as well—considerably disheartening. For me condom usage was unquestioned. I respectfully insisted on condoms for all vaginal and anal penetration, and it was simply not a point of negotiation. In my experience working in amateur porn, I very rarely encountered resistance to this. On the occasions I did, there was no hesitation in me to simply decline that job.

There are things I myself personally don’t appreciate about the way some pornography is made and (especially) marketed, sure. The things I have not liked about pornography, however, for the most part have seemed to me reflective of societal propensities and not the inherent fault of pornography—the graphic depiction of sex with the intent to arouse—as a genre. Incidentally, it also seems to me that to say that pornography is inherently “degrading to women” is to say that sex is inherently degrading to women and that when they partake in it they are being intrinsically objectified (whereas men are not). I not only find no merit in that position but moreover see that contention itself as what is degrading and oppressive to women.

I do not at all purport to speak for everyone in the pornography industry here any more than I assent to other people’s speaking for me in that context. I know what my own experience working in porn has been, and I am happy to share/discuss it. That which I have discussed in this post simply brought to my attention once again what seem to be some automatic/unquestioned assumptions prevalently applied to working in and workers of the sex industry. Those assumptions seem to me indicators of underlying societal attitudes and conceptions we may do well to examine.


“How dare you say that my behavior’s unacceptable, so condescending unnecessarily critical…”
-Maroon 5 “Harder to Breathe”

9 Responses “Speaking for Myself…”

  1. Very interesting post, Emerald. I’m not knowledgeable at all on the porn industry, but it seems to me, it’s like any business, with good and bad elements.

    But it is at the center of a maelstrom, toward the forwarding of a certain set of social values.

    Stories like that of Linda Lovelace are gripped firmly as the norm by those who wish to dictate through generalization.

    The question becomes, is the seedy side of some sex related businesses a result of the sexuality or of the intolerance of society? I’ve often pointed to prohibition as an example of how administration of a moral code actually empower the negative element.

    I think this example is relevant here too.

  2. Emerald says:

    Yes, I completely agree Craig. I also have often said that the forcing of the sex industry “underground” or at least below a “respectable” level is what seems to me to result in things like sub-par presentation and quality as well as affecting the environments and atmospheres around the industry.

    As I remember commenting on Robin’s blog months ago, it seems to me that porn (and the sex industry in general) has been forced “underground” in a way for such an extended time that its context has been affected. We seem to notice that porn seems (sometimes) poorly made and of sub-par quality, (some) strip clubs seem “sleazy,” prostitution seems surrounded by crime…. Well, we criminalize prostitution, degrade stripping as a profession, and have tended to respond collectively to explicit depictions of sex in a judgmental, embarrassed, or shame-filled way so much that much of the populace feels hesitant to even admit to partaking in it. And then we wonder why the contexts of these fields seems less than stellar? I have frequently wondered why this does not seem more widely recognized (or obvious, as it does to me).

    Thank you for coming by, reading, and commenting, Craig!

  3. Erobintica says:

    Another thoughtful post, Emerald. It’s my belief that whenever generalities are invoked (for anything), all sides are short-changed. This is a complex world we live in, and when we seek simply solutions to its problems, we tend to, as often as not, make things worse.

    Craig’s point that prohibition of something helps it get pushed underground, is well-taken. Shame too, brings its own set of problems. And we’ve been beat over the head for so long that “porn is bad” (for the people making it and the people consuming it) that even the idea that it isn’t necessarily bad is considered radical.

    I know that years ago I thought porn, and even erotica, was something “bad” or “shameful” – because I was sure my interest in it was bad and shameful – because that’s what society told me. And society is always right? Right?

    Now I find myself at odds with that kind of thinking. And I’m trying to formulate my own thoughts because I know that at some point I will have to argue the point. Thanks for this post.

  4. Justine Elyot says:

    This was a fascinating read, Emerald – thanks for posting. It frustrates me that many people can’t get past the orthodox belief that ‘ALL porn is exploitative of women’ – which, as you know, isn’t the case. SOME – perhaps even A LOT – is, but this does not mean it’s a given. Still, I’m pleased that Oprah is airing this debate sensibly – it has to be a step forward.

  5. Emerald says:

    Hi Robin. Thank you for coming by and for your comment. I know just what you mean about even the idea that porn isn’t “bad” seeming radical. I also relate to what you said about the way you used to experience the subject. In the past I experienced conflict around porn as well both from a personal/sexual perspective as well as a feminist one.

    Thanks again for coming by.

  6. Emerald says:

    Thank you so much Justine. Yes, I find the distinction between finding specific porn or certain ways it’s made or marketed demeaning to certain factions and the idea that pornography itself is inherently degrading of profound import. The latter seems to me to imply something I find both utterly false and deeply disturbing.

    Thank you so much for coming by!


  1. […] I found this a beautiful memoir piece in addition to one I appreciated greatly from an advocacy perspective. I especially liked the perspective offered about whether or not performers in porn were abused as children (“I’m not sure why this is important to you, or why it sounds so much like an I-told-you-so when it comes from your mouth”) and the section right after that about what it seems to indicate to say that women are being intrinsically exploited when they do porn (on which I’ve written myself). […]

  2. […] not find porn inherently degrading as a medium by a long shot—quite the contrary, really, and I have detailed on this blog why I find that postulation problematic. I had not, however, considered examining the current porn […]

  3. […] or somehow decrease the quality of sex in any of the depictions of sex I offer (including in video porn) as well as the simple reality I have experienced of the connection between condoms and partnered […]

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