The Problem With Pamela Anderson’s Stance On Porn

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.
Ice cream is good for you. It lights up the pleasure centers in your brain. If you’re not feeling 100%, treating yourself to your favorite flavor can be the best self care imaginable, generally speaking. For some, a delicious creamy scoop is what makes life worth living.

Ice cream is also bad for you. It’s not particularly nutritious. If you stuff your face until you’re bloated every time you’re depressed, ice cream can become a crutch. Without balance and self control, too much dependence on ice cream can hinder your ability to self-soothe.

Like many people out there, I fucking love ice cream. I like to treat myself.
I think of my love of porn in much the same way.

I like to watch porn as a reward after a hard day at work. Porn is perfect for the lazy afternoons when I’m horny and feeling like thinking about nothing but sexuality. I pop in an old DVD or login to a membership site and just enjoy other humans having sex.

That’s all porn is, after all. People associate porn with all kinds of negative things — sexism, racism, transphobia, to name a few — some of which can be accurate, depending on the particular porn in question. But in order to really put it in perspective, you have to break it down to the simple, secular truth: Overall, porn is a type of media that provides a consensual, entertaining way to satisfy sexual curiosity.

This is why I was so disappointed to read the anti-pornography op-ed written by former Playboy model Pamela Anderson and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for the Wall Street Journal last week. In the piece, the co-authors argue that porn is “a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays” — and they use Anthony Weiner as proof. As a lover of porn, an avid sexter, and a retired sex worker, I scoffed my way through the piece, which calls readers to “take the pledge” to avoid porn. I’ve heard all of this baseless fear-mongering before, of course, but it never ceases to amaze me when mainstream publications print moralizing sermons where critical journalism is supposed to be. (And for whatever it’s worth, I certainly wasn’t the only person who felt outraged by the narrow-minded, shaming assertions made in the piece.)

Anderson and Rabbi Boteach’s op-ed inexplicably conflates all commercially produced porn with Weiner’s specific sexting boundaries, which is kind of like calling for a ban on the ballet because some people puke when they go out dancing.

“We are a guinea-pig generation for an experiment in mass debasement that few of us would have ever consented to, and whose full nefarious impact may not be known for years,” they write. “How many families will suffer? How many marriages will implode? How many talented men will scrap their most important relationships and careers for a brief onanistic thrill? How many children will propel, warp-speed, into the dark side of adult sexuality by forced exposure to their fathers’ profanations?”
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Anderson and Rabbi Boteach’s op-ed inexplicably conflates all commercially produced porn with Anthony Weiner’s specific bad sexting boundaries.

They call names in a racist and childish manner. The children of people who enjoy porn are "crack babies." Porn consumers are "losers." Maybe worst of all, they not-so-subtly frame their argument as if gay people, female lovers of porn, and people who have sex for reasons other than procreation do not exist. (I bet most of you fall into at least one of those categories.)

“With porn, it's of very limited usefulness to think of it as a drug,” Dr. David Ley, a clinical psychologist and author of The Myth of Sex Addiction and the upcoming Ethical Porn for Dicks, told me in light of Anderson and Rabbi Boteach’s op-ed. “People who have problematic porn or sex behaviors always have other problems — lack of other coping skills, social isolation, lack of sex education, sexual desires which are socially suppressed, or other personality/psychological issues”

He added: “Blaming these complex issues on porn is just like during the Prohibition era, when crime, divorce, mental illness, and other social ills were blamed on alcohol. Porn is the modern scapegoat. Instead of addressing the complicated issues of mature, modern sexual behaviors, it's easier to blame such problems on porn.”

I don’t know why Anderson has chosen to bite the hand that has fed her for decades — according to Playboy, she’s posed for 15 pictorials and 14 covers, including the cover for the very last nude issue, which came out just last year. I do know that anti-porn pundits love a story of regret. The perfect weapon against people who are pro-porn and pro-decriminalization of sex work is a “reformed” sex worker who has been there and wants to tell people from the inside how horrible it is. (For the record, I’m certainly not counting Anderson’s leaked sex tape as part of her work in the industry. That tape was stolen from her and its distribution continues to be a complete violation of her privacy.)

The perfect weapon against people who are pro-porn and pro-decriminalization of sex work is a 'reformed' sex worker who has been there and wants to tell people from the inside how horrible it is.

Here’s my suggestion: Instead of listening to the preaching of someone who is working out her complicated feelings about her career by calling her fans “losers,” why not read the extensive works of people who currently work in the industry? They are beautiful, complicated people with beautiful, complicated thoughts about the work they are doing right now. I recommend the anthologies Prose & Lore from the Red Umbrella Project and Coming Out Like A Porn Star, which was edited by Jiz Lee, for original writing by folks working in the sex industry.

If I squint, I suppose I can see what concerns the likes of Rabbi Boteach and Anderson. Like I said, some porn is unquestionably sexist, racist, transphobic, and just plain artless. And some people are using smartphones and online dating as excuses for alienation, rather than tools for connection. I’m concerned about those tendencies, too. I don’t think that porn is for everybody any more than I think other crass forms of entertainment, like reality TV or WWE, are for everybody. (Those two things are totally not for me, but I would never begrudge someone else their brain candy.) I was also pretty damn disturbed by Weiner’s choice to include his child in the erotic pictures he sent. But censorship and shaming is never the answer to the misbehavior of one.

Which is one of the reasons why the so-called “sensual revolution” Anderson and Rabbi Boteach propose (in light of “gender rights and freedoms now having been established”) feels so misinformed. They write, “The sensual revolution would replace pornography with eroticism — the alloying of sex with love, of physicality with personality, of the body’s mechanics with imagination, of orgasmic release with binding relationships.”

As I’ve written before, the idea that “porn,” as a whole, represents degradation, while “erotica” describes something pure and healthy, is a totally bunk proposition. It’s based on a subjective and classist idea of taste — how can Anderson (or anyone) tell us what distinguishes “porn” from “erotica”? We should always be suspicious of such assertions, because who ultimately gets to dictate what is “good” sex and what is “bad” sex? The powerful people, the people with social capital.

The idea that 'porn,' as a whole, represents degradation, while 'erotica' describes something pure and healthy, is a totally bunk proposition. It’s based on a subjective and classist idea of taste.

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Look no further than this op-ed’s outdated bias towards sex within heterosexual marriages and the preposterously untrue assertion that the gender rights of the sexual revolution have been “established.” Women aren’t stupid enough to think the sexual revolution is a done deal. Get back to me when white rapists caught in the act aren’t released after three months. Get back to me when trans women aren’t being murdered in disproportionately high numbers. Get back to me when Planned Parenthood isn’t under attack. Get back to me when people stop telling our first female major party presidential candidate to talk less and smile more. Please. “Established,” my ass.

As Dr. Ley told me, “Instead of shaming certain behaviors, it would be nice if we idealized and prioritized attention to consent, honesty, self-awareness, negotiation, integrity, and mutuality in sexuality. Then, we could look at [people like] Weiner and say, ‘This was unhealthy because it wasn't honest and didn't have integrity,’ as opposed to saying, ‘Don't do that!’”

Perhaps the saddest thing about Anderson and Rabbi Boteach’s call for a “sensual revolution” is that it already exists. There are countless places online and in stores to find pornography that depicts love, personality, and imagination (warning: link NSFW). If you have never found a commercial porn video you enjoyed, then you now have an even better option: making customized, personalized porn with your personal communication device. Contrary to the lurid stories most often reported about sexting, most naked selfies and screenshots of dirty talk conversations are shared joyfully between consenting adults.

So I urge you to push back against this creepy conservative doublespeak in three concrete ways:

1. Learn how to be an ethical consumer of pornography. When you’re concerned about exploitation in the garment industry, you buy ethically produced clothes. When you’re sickened by the state of the food industry, you buy ethically produced food. So if you’re concerned that porn is not ethically made (meaning: it’s produced in safe, consensual working environments, and it avoids the aforementioned problematic messaging), it’s up to you, the consumer, to create demand for porn that reflects your tastes and values. There are numerous online resources for pornographers who are transparent about business practices and who identify as feminists. Read what pornographers have to say about working in the industry today. Pay for memberships. Buy DVDs. Buy clips. Hell, commission custom clips from industrious porn performers!

2. Experiment and have fun with sexting. I might be biased, since I wrote an entire book about the ethics and etiquette of sexting, but I happen to think of erotic digital communication as fun, creative, and healthy. Some conservatives would have you believe that taking a naked selfie when you’re feelin’ yourself and sharing it with someone who wants to see it is morally degrading. Luckily, those people don’t get to tell you what to do with your sex life. If you have a partner, text them the deliciously filthy thoughts you’re having about them in real time. If you’re single, use your phone and computer as a tool for getting to know people, deepening your connections, and getting off. (Just make sure to exercise caution when dealing with strangers, depending on your particular preferences, like you would in any other situation.)

3. Consider the specifics of what monogamy means to you.
People in relationships (or traditional monogamists in general) often assume that what monogamy means to one person will mean the same to another. Maybe you feel totally comfortable with your partner watching porn, but you would feel betrayed if you knew he or she occasionally swiped his way through Tinder for entertainment. Maybe you think it’s adorable that your girlfriend or boyfriend loves supporting enterprising dancers by making it rain at the local strip club, but your blood would run cold if they platonically shared a bed with an ex. Take the time to think deep thoughts and talk specifics with your partner. Remember, Weiner’s ethical transgression was not in sexting with strangers, but in (presumably) lying to his wife. He reportedly knew that extramarital sexting would be hurtful to her and he did it anyway.

But lest you get caught up in the nuances of the arguments for and against porn (and all of the strings attached to them), let’s return to the subject of ice cream. Porn and sexting are treats, just like ice cream. So treat yourself in moderation, if you’re so inclined. And don’t let anyone shame you — you deserve it.
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