Sunshine Recorder

Link: Antiporn Land

Antiporn activists target the medium rather than the economic structures that makes it profitable

“Are you ready to take on the porn industry?” Gail Dines asks to a rousing cheer. “Angry, organized women are very dangerous for the porn industry.”

There are close to 250 of us here, women and men, packed onto the second floor of a 1960s-style Brutalist office building in South London for the U.K. launch of Stop Porn Culture (SPC), an international feminist antiporn organization of which Dines, a British-born, Boston-based academic, is the executive director.  The walls have a childlike innocence, decorated with brightly painted trees and birdlife, but the energy within them is decisive and full of fervor.

“The SPC conference is not a place for debate,” an email to conference attendees warned a few days previously. “Our starting point is that pornography is harmful and has detrimental effects.” I am not here to take on the porn industry, however. I am here because I want to have my mind changed about antiporn activism and better understand the beliefs of people I instinctively disagree with. Like most of the other people in the room, I identify as a feminist, but my feminism is mostly of the “sex positive” variety. Antiporn arguments make me uncomfortable, but not because, as some of the antiporn activists I’ve encountered have suggested about their opponents, I’m an avid consumer of the medium. It is because the antiporn arguments I’ve encountered seem to be fixated on the worst-case scenarios, reducing infinite subgenres of erotic material to their most horrific, unsympathetic incarnations. In antiporn land, pornography is responsible for every social ill you can imagine, from sexual assault to pedophilia to the breakdown of relationships andbad sex. There is no hope for a nonviolent, nonsexist pornography, because the violence and sexism are inherent in the medium itself.

Waiting for the day to start, I feel slightly on edge, trying to catch snippets of the conversations happening around me (“terrible,” “no pubic hair”) and jotting them down in my notebook. I make small talk with the woman seated next to me, a social worker who has traveled down to London for the day from Birmingham. She expresses surprise when I casually mention my husband. Is he okay with me attending a conference like this? (“Yes, he knew I was capable of thinking for myself when he married me,” I respond brightly.)

I relax almost immediately when Lisa-Marie Taylor, the head of SPC UK, takes the stage. Introduced by Dines and dressed in jeans and a light-blue button-down shirt, her bright red hair pulled back into a ponytail, Taylor is equal parts strident and eminently reasonable, arguing that pornography cannot be discussed in isolation but needs to be examined in social and political context. “This so-called sexual revolution is happening against a backdrop of unprecedented inequality and within a capitalist and patriarchal system,” she says. “Clubs where men strip for women are not the norm — it is women as a group performing for men as a group. We need to question this.” Pornography, she argues, exists against a “backdrop of inequality,” in which women earn less than men and have less access to positions of power. “I, for one, refuse the label of ‘antisex,’ ” she declares. “We must not let people come along and tell us that the sexual exploitation of women is pro-sex.”

Taylor wasn’t always antipornography; she used to describe herself as “pro-porn.” Back then, she believed pornography was a tool for sexual liberation — an unleashing of pleasures that had previously been denied to women — and that it should be left up to the performers to decide what they wanted to do with their bodies. But she found herself growing increasingly uncomfortable with what she was watching and started attending a local feminist group, where she met women who had participated in and later left the porn industry. “Their story was not one of empowerment and liberation but of limited choice, abusive pasts and of drug addiction, rape, and distress,” she tells me later in an email.

Dines too is warm and engaging in person, in contrast with her adversarial, battle-axe public image. I find myself nodding along when, after the morning tea break, she talks about the slut shaming of pop-cultural whipping girls Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton, or about how teenage boys are taught that “being a man” requires disengaging from emotion.

Taylor, Dines, and I might use different labels to describe our beliefs — what they call sexualization, I have called objectification, and what they call pornification, I call “the contemporary sexual ideal,” a much larger construct of which porn is just one piece. But we share some common concerns: a rejection of a society in which a person’s value is determined by their “fuckability,” as Dines puts it, and of the way that money and power shape who gets to be the subject and who is relegated to the position of object. Our differences lie in how we see the cause-effect relationship: While I believe that sexism in pornography reflect sexist beliefs already present in society, antiporn activists like Dine tend to believe that porn is a primary source of those inequalities. “How does a person engage with the truth or falsity of the image?” Dines asks. “It seeps into your life. You can’t help it.”

Still, there are aspects of the SPC conference that make me uncomfortable, chief among them the lack of compassion in their treatment of their political opponents or anyone who doesn’t share their vision of what “good sex” looks like. I wince when, after noting the rise of BDSM-inspired imagery in Rihanna’s videos after Chris Brown assaulted her en route to the 2009 Grammy Awards, Dines pulls up an image of the pop star’s bruised and defeated face and declares, “This is the true face of BDSM.” I struggle to hide my annoyance throughout radical feminist Julie Bindel’s presentation on “the politics of the sex industry” — a succession of tabloid-style personal attacks on pro-sex industry activists, academics, escorts, and performers, complete with photos seemingly lifted without permission from their social-media profiles. In the afternoon, a representative from the Norwegian feminist group Ottar reveals how some of their members posed as sex workers on the side of the road, and when men drove by to negotiate a price, other members would jump out and douse them with spray paint. The audience is delighted, laughing and clapping. I am appalled.

***

Over lunch, the room is abuzz with talk of a protest that will take place outside that afternoon. Organized by sex worker and porn performer Renee Richards, the demonstration has SPC nervous. Our bags were checked when we arrived at the venue that morning, and while Dines signs copies of her book, a female security guard hovers to her left.

As we wait in line for food, a bearded 20-something asks one of the SPC volunteers who they expect to show up at the demonstration. “Will it be a bunch of men angry about having their porn taken away?” he asks, genuinely baffled. The volunteer responds that she expects there will be women there as well. The man’s confusion only increases. “Are they being paid by their pimps to come?” he says.

When the demonstrators do turn up an hour or so later, everyone crowds by the conference windows to see who is outside. As we do, one young woman turns to me, her brow furrowed in bewilderment. She doesn’t understand. “Why would anyone protest in favor of porn?” she asks. I suggest she refer to the placards they are holding. “Outlaw poverty, not prostitution,” one reads. An older woman in her sixties turns away from the window in disgust. “Talk about false consciousness!” she scoffs, walking back to her seat.

Dines and Bindel go downstairs, a plate of cookies in hand. When one demonstrator accuses them of trying to curb free speech, Dines demures, insisting that all they are doing is trying to develop “a public-health approach” to pornography — bringing together psychologists, sexual health workers, and other experts to determine what should be done about the problem.

But this doesn’t reflect the whole story. Dines is clear that in the current climate, a ban on pornography isn’t viable. “You’re not going to ban anything on the Internet in the Internet age,” she says when we speak on the phone a few weeks later. “It doesn’t map onto the world that we live in now.” But upstairs in the conference room, the desire isn’t to teach young people better media literacy or to draw more public attention to the conditions of porn performers. It is to make pornography illegal and eliminate it altogether. (Then again, some in the pro-porn movement can be just as disingenuous, glossing over porn’s sexist, racist, and violent aspects in an attempt to prove that porn is not the “big bad wolf” Dines and her ilk would have you believe.)

After the conference, I read Dines’s book, Pornland, and am surprised by how much I like it. Dines details how pornography has evolved and entered the mainstream over the past 60 years; how brands such as Playboy, Girls Gone Wild, and Jenna Jameson have positioned it as harmless popular culture, while others, like Hustler orMax Hardcore,have pushed the boundaries of what the public will accept. She writes, “The more [Hustler founder Larry] Flynt and [Penthouse founder Bob] Guccione pushed the envelope, the more acceptable Playboy looked, and the more Playboypenetrated the mainstream, the more latitude Hustler andPenthouse were given to move hard-core.”

Dines urges the reader to look at pornography not just as a medium but as a business, one whose chief concern is getting viewers to choose their website or video over the millions of others available and keeping them on site for as long as possible. And like many media businesses, it achieves these ends through novelty, sensationalism, and shock value. I am less convinced by her blanket depictions of porn as violent, sexist, and racist, but Dines’s arguments about the intersection of sex and commerce get me thinking about how I can be more nuanced in my own beliefs. I begin to wonder if, in privileging individual agency and sexual expression, younger feminists like me have failed to apply the same critical eye to pornography that we turn to other media like advertisements, glossy magazines, and Hollywood rom-coms. We accept that other media play a role in shaping our assumptions and even our behavior — is it such a leap to imagine that pornography might do the same? It is surely possible to acknowledge porn’s influence in shaping views on gender and sexuality without exaggerating its power and removing it from the pop cultural ecosystem of which it is a part.

Back at the conference, an Italian journalist asked Dines if she believed that porn could be reformed. Dines responded that asking whether porn could be reformed was “like asking can you go into McDonald’s and order French onion soup.” Having read Pornland now, I understand better where Dines is coming from: that modern porn is not just a type of media but an industry that is geared toward maximizing returns and that one of the ways that is achieved is by pursuing an “edge” that is often violent, sexist, or degrading. Dines’s point is that profit drives the sort of product porn is. Its content can’t be reformed to remove that “edge.”

When we speak on the phone after the conference, Dines tells me that she is “sex positive” too. “That’s why I’m antiporn,” she says. “There is nothing pro-sex about porn. When you look at the stories in pornography, they are very conservative,” she continues. “Porn says that sex is dirty and that women are dirty for having it. It’s a very right-wing, conservative approach to gender and sexuality.”

I ask her if she thinks it would be okay to make and sell a video of people have fun, consensual sex — whatever “fun sex” happened to look like to those people. Dines concedes that it might be. “But there are many, many questions you would have to ask first. The first is how that woman got there. I want to know her history and the choices available to her. If she gets HIV, are they going to pay the half a million dollars in health care to keep her alive? There’s this idea that somehow you can put a camera there and watch people having sex and that’s all there is to it. But you can’t erase the context around those choices.”

Throughout the SPC conference, there is a phrase that shows up again and again: “selling women.” It is a phrase that doesn’t sit well with me. After all, you could argue that all labor entails buying the worker on some level: the manual laborer selling their body and physical strength, the nanny or social worker selling their capacity to care, or indeed, me as a writer selling you parts of my brain in writing this essay. To argue that sex work is different to these other labors is to argue that sex cuts to our souls in a more meaningful and profound way than anything else that we do. And that is just as conservative an idea as some of the portrayals of sex in pornography.

After the conference is over, I still don’t have any desire to eliminate the porn industry, and I still don’t believe that pornography is harmful by definition. But I do believe there is room to examine the industry more critically, for a politics of porn that engages incisively with the content it produces while acknowledging the diversity of ways that people consume and respond to it — one that listens to people who work in porn without trying to crate them all into one neat “empowered” or “victim” box. And one that treats porn as the profit-motivated business that it is without disingenuously depicting it as a pop cultural Darth Vader.

Link: Hands Off

Why are a bunch of men quitting masturbation? So they can be better men.

Traditionally, people undergo a bit of self-examination when faced with a ­potentially fatal rupture in their long-term relationship. Thirty-two-year-old Henry* admits that what he did was a little more extreme. “If you’d told me that I wasn’t going to masturbate for 54 days, I would have told you to fuck off,” he says.

Masturbation had been part of Henry’s daily routine since childhood. Although he remembered a scandalized babysitter who “found me trying to have sex with a chair” at age 5, Henry says he never felt shame about his habit. While he was of the opinion that a man who has a committed sexual relationship with porn was probably not going to have as successful a relationship with a woman, he had no qualms about watching it. Which he did most days.

Then, early last year and shortly before his girlfriend of two years moved to Los Angeles, Henry happened to watch a TED talk by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo called “The Demise of Guys.” It described males who “prefer the asynchronistic Internet world to the spontaneous interactions in social relationships” and therefore fail to succeed in school, work, and with women. When his girlfriend left, Henry went on to watch a TEDX talk by Gary Wilson, an anatomist and physiologist, whose lecture series, “Your Brain on Porn,” claims, among other things, that porn conditions men to want constant variety—an endless set of images and fantasies—and requires them to experience increasingly heightened stimuli to feel aroused. A related link led Henry to a community of people engaged in attempts to quit masturbation on the social news site Reddit. After reading the ­enthusiastic posts claiming improved virility, Henry began frequenting the site.

“The main thing was seeing people who said, ‘I feel awesome,’ ” he says. Henry did not feel awesome. He felt burned out from work and physically exhausted, and his girlfriend had just moved across the country. He had a few sexual concerns, too, though nothing serious, he insists. In his twenties, he sometimes had difficulty ejaculating during one-night stands if he had been drinking. On two separate occasions, he had not been able to get an erection. He wasn’t sure that forswearing masturbation would solve any of this, but stopping for a while seemed like “a not-difficult experiment”—far easier than giving up other things people try to quit, like caffeine or alcohol.

He also felt some responsibility for what had happened to his relationship. “When a guy feels like he’s failed with respect to a woman, that’s one of the things that causes you to examine yourself.” If he had been a better boyfriend or even a better man, he thought, perhaps his girlfriend wouldn’t have left New York.

So a month after his girlfriend moved away, and a few weeks before taking a trip to visit her, Henry went to the gym a lot. He had meditated for years, but he began to do so with more discipline and intention. He researched strategies to relieve insomnia, to avoid procrastination, and to be more conscious of his daily habits. These changes were not only for his girlfriend. “It was about cultivating a masculine energy that I wanted to apply in other parts of my life and with her,” he says.

And to help cultivate that masculine energy, he decided to quit masturbating. He erased a corner of the white board in his home office and started a tally of days, always using Roman numerals. “That way,” he says, “it would mean more.”

For those who seek fulfillment in the renunciation of benign habits, masturbation isn’t usually high on the list. It’s variously a privilege, a right, an act of political assertion, or one of the purest and most inconsequential pleasures that exist. Doctors assert that it’s healthy. Therapists recommend it. (Henry once talked to his therapist after a bad sexual encounter; she told him to masturbate. “Love yourself,” she said.)

And despite a century passing since Freud declared auto­eroticism a healthy phase of childhood sexual development and Egon Schiele drew pictures of people touching themselves, masturbation has become the latest frontier in the school of self-improvement. Today’s anti-masturbation advocates deviate from anti-onanists past—that superannuated medley of Catholic ascetics, boxers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Norman Mailer. Instead, the members of the current generation tend to be young, self-aware, and secular. They bolster their convictions online by quoting studies indicating that ejaculation leads to decreased testosterone and vitamin levels (a drop in zinc, specifically). They cull evidence implying that excessive porn-viewing can reduce the number of dopamine receptors. Even the occasional woman can be found quitting (although some women partake of a culture of encouragement around masturbation, everything from a direct-sales sex-toy party at a friend’s house to classes with sex educator Betty Dodson, author of Sex for One).

Link: The Size of Porn Sites

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a fast internet connection must be in want of some porn.

While it’s difficult domain to penetrate — hard numbers are few and far between — we know for a fact that porn sites are some of the most trafficked parts of the internet. According to Google’s DoubleClick Ad Planner, which tracks users across the web with a cookie, dozens of adult destinations populate the top 500 websites. Xvideos, the largest porn site on the web with 4.4 billion page views per month, is three times the size of CNN or ESPN, and twice the size of Reddit. LiveJasmin isn’t much smaller. YouPorn, Tube8, and Pornhub — they’re all vast, vast sites that dwarf almost everything except the Googles and Facebooks of the internet.

While page views are a fine starting point, they only tell you that X porn site is more popular than Y non-porn site. Four billion page views sure sounds like a lot, but it’s only when you factor in what those porn surfers are actually doing that the size and scale of adult websites truly comes into focus. […]

The second largest porn site on the web, YouPorn, was kind enough to furnish us with some real-world facts and figures. You’ll be glad (or scared) to know that the estimated DoubleClick Ad Planner figures are actually quite a lot lower than reality.

YouPorn hosts “over 100TB of porn”, and serves “over 100 million” page views per day. All told, this equates to an average of 950 terabytes of data transfer per day, almost all of which is streaming video. This is around 28 petabytes per month, which means our 29PB estimate for Xvideos is on the low side; it probably serves 35 to 40PB per month.

It gets better! At peak time, YouPorn serves 4000 pages per second, equating to burst traffic in the region of 100 gigabytes per second, or 800Gbps. This is equivalent to transferring more than 10 dual-layer DVDs every second.


Hunter Moore Makes a Living Screwing You
The hated revenge-porn profiteer says he wants to teach a lesson with his web site. How long before the 26-year-old learns one himself?
Hunter Moore is the unrepentant founder of Is Anyone Up, a virtual grudge slingshot of a website that gleefully publishes “revenge porn” photos—cell-phone nudes submitted by scorned exes, embittered friends, malicious hackers, and other ne’er-do-well degenerates—posted alongside each unsuspecting subject’s full name, social-media profile, and city of residence. Over the past 16 months, the site has been a source of public humiliation for pop-punk bassists, a Maple Leafs forward, an Ultimate Frisbee champ, an American Idol finalist, and the founder of Dream Water. (“Obviously didn’t make Smart Water,” Moore zinged.) Should you mistake these targets for adhering to a code of heartbroken vigilantism or entitlement schadenfreude, let it be known that the only guides Moore follows are the law and Mark Zuckerberg's principle that the greatest online power is the people you know. “At the end of the day, people just want to see their friends fucking naked,” he offers. Now he posts nude schoolteachers, young mothers, American military members, little people, and, recently, a disabled woman in a wheelchair. It’s worth noting Moore often advertises with the tagline “Pure Evil.”
Naturally, Moore has spawned a legion of enemies. After posting images of the daughter of a major GOP campaign donor, strangers tried to climb over his home fence. Last spring, Bamboozle organizers threatened to arrest him if he stepped on festival grounds. In July, a San Francisco–area woman stabbed the Sacramento native in the shoulder with a pen, a wound that required surgery and left a caterpillar-size scar. Facebook instituted a universal ban on the site; Moore enjoys telling everyone that he responded with a picture of his dick. Anonymous has targeted his site, as have other savvy hackers; he now pays a security firm five grand a month to ward them off. And there is a steady stream of death threats, which has Moore mulling over moving back to New York, where he has lived in two separate spells. He could really use a doorman. “I’m scared I’m going to get fucking murdered in my sleep if someone finds out where I live.”



And this is why you don’t take naked photos of yourself.

Hunter Moore Makes a Living Screwing You

The hated revenge-porn profiteer says he wants to teach a lesson with his web site. How long before the 26-year-old learns one himself?

Hunter Moore is the unrepentant founder of Is Anyone Up, a virtual grudge slingshot of a website that gleefully publishes “revenge porn” photos—cell-phone nudes submitted by scorned exes, embittered friends, malicious hackers, and other ne’er-do-well degenerates—posted alongside each unsuspecting subject’s full name, social-media profile, and city of residence. Over the past 16 months, the site has been a source of public humiliation for pop-punk bassists, a Maple Leafs forward, an Ultimate Frisbee champ, an American Idol finalist, and the founder of Dream Water. (“Obviously didn’t make Smart Water,” Moore zinged.) Should you mistake these targets for adhering to a code of heartbroken vigilantism or entitlement schadenfreude, let it be known that the only guides Moore follows are the law and Mark Zuckerberg's principle that the greatest online power is the people you know. “At the end of the day, people just want to see their friends fucking naked,” he offers. Now he posts nude schoolteachers, young mothers, American military members, little people, and, recently, a disabled woman in a wheelchair. It’s worth noting Moore often advertises with the tagline “Pure Evil.”

Naturally, Moore has spawned a legion of enemies. After posting images of the daughter of a major GOP campaign donor, strangers tried to climb over his home fence. Last spring, Bamboozle organizers threatened to arrest him if he stepped on festival grounds. In July, a San Francisco–area woman stabbed the Sacramento native in the shoulder with a pen, a wound that required surgery and left a caterpillar-size scar. Facebook instituted a universal ban on the site; Moore enjoys telling everyone that he responded with a picture of his dick. Anonymous has targeted his site, as have other savvy hackers; he now pays a security firm five grand a month to ward them off. And there is a steady stream of death threats, which has Moore mulling over moving back to New York, where he has lived in two separate spells. He could really use a doorman. “I’m scared I’m going to get fucking murdered in my sleep if someone finds out where I live.”

And this is why you don’t take naked photos of yourself.


I Like Vintage Erotica
 A reader asks if fantasizing about now-dead people is “creepy.” We ask Dan Savage and other experts to weigh in.



Dan Savage says that it’s creepy to fantasize about people who have died. Because it is not possible to ever actually … you know. I may agree with him about the recently deceased, but I like vintage erotica, and sometimes I do fantasize that I’m making love to the women in those naughty French postcards — the lingerie, the beds, the divans, the pillows on the floor … it’s all so soft and warm and pre-Raphaelite. When the Internet happened and all the porn became available, like most lesbians, I didn’t like any of it — until I found the porn of pre-WWI Europe. Finally! I have a genre. What a relief. I’ve noticed that modern photographs that re-create vintage erotica do nothing for me. Women in the costumes with the period props are just silly. There’s something about knowing that she lived her life long ago and left only these beautiful glimpses of her sexual expression that captures my erotic imagination. But. She’s dead now. And there’s no possibility of meeting her. 

Read more.

I Like Vintage Erotica

A reader asks if fantasizing about now-dead people is “creepy.” We ask Dan Savage and other experts to weigh in.

Dan Savage says that it’s creepy to fantasize about people who have died. Because it is not possible to ever actually … you know. I may agree with him about the recently deceased, but I like vintage erotica, and sometimes I do fantasize that I’m making love to the women in those naughty French postcards — the lingerie, the beds, the divans, the pillows on the floor … it’s all so soft and warm and pre-Raphaelite. When the Internet happened and all the porn became available, like most lesbians, I didn’t like any of it — until I found the porn of pre-WWI Europe. Finally! I have a genre. What a relief. I’ve noticed that modern photographs that re-create vintage erotica do nothing for me. Women in the costumes with the period props are just silly. There’s something about knowing that she lived her life long ago and left only these beautiful glimpses of her sexual expression that captures my erotic imagination. But. She’s dead now. And there’s no possibility of meeting her. 

Read more.

Link: My Hard-Core Porn Obsession

I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in New York, where the Old Testament was believed to be the literal word of the Almighty God and where we obeyed, as closely as we could, all 613 commandments elucidated within its holy pages. To us, God was not simply a concept, but a very real, everyday presence in our lives and our community. Which is to say, I know pornography. Hard-core, graphic pornography. My father had it buried beneath his mattress. My brother had it hidden under his dresser. Pornography, like God Himself, was everywhere. Sex was dirty. Pornography was worse.

The really bad news was this: God, my rabbis told me, could only grant me forgiveness for the sins I had committed against Him; sins I had committed against my fellow humans could only be forgiven by them personally. If they didn’t forgive me, my rabbis said, when I died and went to heaven, God would cause me to suffer in the exact way I had caused them to suffer. At the time, though only 14 years of age, I had already tired of the porn magazines I found in my house and decided it was time for full-motion video. I went to Times Square, where a group of women stood outside a porn shop, protesting and carrying placards. On one placard was a picture of a naked woman tied to a bed. She had a ball gag in her mouth and clamps on her nipples. I ducked into the store, spent every dollar I’d stolen from my father’s wallet, hurried home, and hoped the videos wouldn’t work. They worked. Fuck. 

I wondered what was wrong with me. I wondered how many gang bangs I would have to suffer in heaven. Was it like an eye for an eye—a gang bang for a gang bang—or was it some sort of eternal gang bang that never ended? Would I be anally violated? Would I be spanked? Did they have ropes and ball gags and Ron Jeremy in heaven? I decided to watch them again. If I did, and they didn’t work for me, surely I would be forgiven. I watched them again. Fuck.