When Porn Complicates The Relationships Of Straight White Christian Hipsters, It’s Not Our Problem

Updated March 05, 2016 3:42pm PST

I'm a big proponent of people discovering and pursuing what they want, in ethical and consensual ways. 

Some things I want are a beautiful queer family, an end to police violence (and/or policing altogether), a sustainable home which serves as a community support and nourishment space, full liberation of all people through disability justice, and an end to industrialized capitalism. But before I developed and articulated all these desires, I wanted to see my body. I wanted to see my complex, brown, disabled, queer body. I wanted to see myself having sex and being sexual and falling in love with my body and the world. So when I had the opportunity to start acting in porn, after my BFF/life partner pushed me to introduce myself to Jiz Lee after a Careers in Sex panel, I took it.

And I'm glad I did. It's opened up a beautiful world for me.

I have had, at parties and other outings, disabled people come up to me and say, “You were the first visibly disabled person I ever saw being sexy/sexual/having sex on film.” I'm even gonna get wet eyes right now you guys. I love having a body, and I love how I use it.

It's great when a movement speaks to you, and the moment that that happens, you might discover just what is that you want and hope for in this world.

I wonder: who felt like a movement was speaking to them when we started seeing the giant orange billboards going up all over Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area?

https://twitter.com/FightTheNe...

Who read the billboard, “Porn Kills Love. Fight for Love” and was like, “YES, you guys, I finally know what I stand for”? Some young, white, trying to be just the right kind of progressive but-also-just-the-right-kind-of-citizen-son-or-daughter Bay Area residents might be eager to jump
on a bandwagon calling itself love.

The enemy of love identified by relatively young organization Fight the New Drug, a secularly approached, Mormon backed campaign which focuses on stigmatizing the making and viewing of porn through youth education isn’t just porn, but sex work in general. Their “science”, “fact”, and “personal account” based, loosely interactive website carelessly ties together multiple, not inherently linked industries and incorrect assumptions about sex work and, ultimately, sexuality itself.

In the same sense that dominant culture chooses not to read “white” as a race, or “straight” as a sexual orientation, FTND chooses to frame good-ol’ fashioned, marital, heterosexual, cissexual, private, closed door lovemaking meant for making babies as the default and correct sexual expression, deeming anything other than that suspect.

FTND's street teams, also called Fighters, pictured on their website, are apparently entirely made up of blonde Levi's models and the occasional black Levi's model who sport shirts bearing their catchy slogan, “Porn Kills Love”.

So what are these kids representing and promoting? And just who are they talking to?

The Faulty Logic of “Porn Kills Love” In 5 Parts

Myth #1: Porn is like a drug! It is addictive and you can build up a tolerance to it over time!

I take drugs seriously. I have seen things like meth, cocaine/crack, and heroin devastate the lives of people in my communities, and even take the lives of people I love. And yet: you know what has never helped any drug user get the help they need without fear of stigma or punitive action? “The War on Drugs”. It began after crack hit the streets in the 80's (an inside job), changing a whole lot of already marginalized people's lives for the worse. Since then, it serves to protect only those cops and government officials who buy into it, and has wreaked punitive havoc on hundreds of thousands of particularly black and brown people.

Criminalizing any activity, addictive/dangerous or not, only pushes those who take part in it further and further into the margins, and drives those who don’t want to be punished (either socially or institutionally) to secrecy and isolation. There are many complex reasons why people use drugs, either casually or consistently, and the circumstances and environmental factors which contribute to this are only exacerbated by policing and criminalization. The more isolated you are, the more at risk you are, the less likely you are to use the safest methods, or to have access to supportive resources at all.

And the same is true of any war on the sex industry. The criminalization and stigmatization of sex work only contributes to the isolation and at-risk status of sex workers.

Where is FTND on issues that are actually affecting my people? Like intergenerational trauma, police violence including murder and sexual assault, institutionalization and incarceration, eviction and homelessness, the extremely intentional government sanctioned accessibilizing of crack cocaine and other street drugs, the deaths of transpeople?

FTND believes that it is not possible to have a casual relationship to porn consumption. Any use, according to the Fighters, is an addiction. To indulge that logic, it must also be said: to have an internet porn addiction, as in to watch porn at all outside of a theatrical screening, you have to have a computer. You have to at least be comfortable enough to not be zipping from dollar to dollar figuring out how you're going to eat some food and pay your bills. You have to have some down time, to have an internet porn addiction. You have to have your own internet, most likely, because I know library and coffee shop IP addresses will block your choice to access porn in a public place, if you are that bold. You have to have your own space inside of the housing that you have; if you're trying to keep your addiction a secret, you're most likely watching porn alone behind a closed door.

FTND’s message is directed towards a privileged audience. They’re not concerned about the survival and recovery of the most at-risk addicts in our communities.They're concerned about the class-privileged, straight marriages that are falling apart because couples can't communicate with one another about their desires.

The truth is, almost any behavior, including buying stuff, having sex, eating sugar, and using the internet, can be turned into a self-isolating, self destruction addiction. It’s up to people and those that love them to determine if a behavior is hurting them.

FTND weaponizes addiction rhetoric to pathologize reflecting on our boundaries. If you watch porn, you might become less shocked by certain sex acts, you might learn something, and you might become more tolerant of other people's personal sexual desires and be less likely to act in harmful, discriminating ways towards another person based on what you perceive about their desires.

In The Survivor's Guide to Sex, survivor, sex educator, somatics practitioner, and co-founder of the transformative justice project Generation 5 Staci Haines asks her readers questions at the end of every chapter. At the end of the first chapter she says,

“Take a look at your own attitudes/biases regarding sex. Make a list of what you think are examples of healthy consensual sex and what you believe are not. Where do these ideas come from? How could they change?”

It is beneficial to us in our healing not only as survivors, but as people who have been denied equal access to holistic sex education, to learn about sexuality, our own, the sexuality of others, and recognize where our attitudes and beliefs about sex come from. It is not up to FTND to tell you, or anyone, what images of healthy, loving sexuality look like.

Myth #2: Porn is not “real”, and people who watch porn will gradually lose interest in “real” sex.

Porn stars are real people. Having your job involve a little bit of make-believe doesn't make you not a real person. Jennifer Lawrence s not a shared hallucination. Thank goddess.

Yes, many actors in film industries, adult or not, experience pressures to change or maintain their bodies in ways which pertain to dominant culture's standards of beauty. This is due to white supremacy, patriarchy/misogyny, transphobia, heterosexism, ableism, and capitalism. Such dehumanizing body politics are on still the table in many lines of work in which workers are supposedly not meant to be sex symbols.

While FTND define normal, healthy sex as being between two people (read: straight cis man and straight cis woman) for the purpose of intimacy and procreation, sex is actually a much broader landscape/animal than that. Are we not sexual when we are by ourselves? Don’t we sometimes discover the most intricate, nuanced aspects of our sexuality, when we are responsive to our feelings, feelings which are sometimes stirred when we see something we like? Like porn that turns us on? If you assume that human beings are only sexual in the context of straight love making, or if you assume that sexual people cease being sexual when another person isn’t around, then you are setting yourself up to feel betrayed.

Not only is masturbation a normal and awesome part of human sexuality, it’s also easily and beautifully documented in porn!

If your primary sexual or sensual expression is not having sex with another person, and in fact you prefer watching porn/having sex with yourself/etc: A) you might be an adult film actor who is not extremely sexual outside of work and prefers to set sex on a stage, which is fine B) you might be autosexual, on the asexuality spectrum, or celibate, which is also fine C) you might have issues pertaining to your conception of your own sexuality and desires that you need to talk about, work through, and explore without judgement.

Do you have someone who you can trust to talk about these things with? Maybe someone who is not telling you that porn is the biggest problem in your life? Straight, cis, white, non-disabled people take for granted how much their sexuality is represented in the mainstream media. People who hold these often visible privileges expect to see their bodies on television, on the silver screen, on billboards, in fashion magazines, and yes, even in porn.

While white, able bodied, cis straight people can go back and forth about whether or not their bodies are being misrepresented or exploited through various manifestations of sexual imaging in the media, it is often hard to imagine what it might be like, to never have had an image of someone who looked like you being a sexual or even just romantic person. For so many trans people and disabled people, people of color with white parents, etc. we didn't even grow up with in person representations or stories of loving sensuality and sexuality between two consenting people who had bodies like ours.

I believe that explicit discussion and representation of a diverse array of consensual sexuality is necessary for us to approach liberation and embodiment.

Myth #3: Porn destroys relationships, I.E. KILLING LOVE!

I was on a panel in 2013 at UC Berkeley in which a student asked me and the other porn star panelists,

“What are you going to do if you want to get married and have a family?”

I don't know that I assume that everyone who attends these kind of educational panel discussions of sex work and porn are necessarily people who know sex workers personally or are fans of porn, but I was generally sort of surprised by this question. And it made me pop out of my little bubble of self-love and respect and sex worker appreciation and see some of the lingering attitudes that had decided to attend the event.

Maybe people respect our decision to go through the regrettable phase of making and or performing in porn, just like some people say, “You can have a bi/gay/queer phase. I don't agree with it, but I respect your decision. Call me when you've pulled through.”

Maybe we’re just some sort of entertainment to them, people with messy sensational lives like reality TV show stars (who are also real people BTW), and when you get to the panel, you expect us to talk about nasty sex and funny behind the scenes stories and all that junk, and then you wonder: “I wonder what these immature people might do if they ever decide to clean up and have a normal life like I am intending to do by attending Berkeley, marrying a good woman, and buying a small country?”

I don't remember who said it, but one person on the panel responded aptly, “What makes you think we don't already have partners or families?” We had all made reference to our boyfriends, girlfriends, primary and tertiary partners, parents, nieces, best friends, and growing communities multiple times throughout the discussion. Do our already existing vibrant family structures, sometimes alternative and sometimes more normative, not count if we are queer or if we are making porn?

What does FTND have to say to queer sex workers who are happily married and have babies?
While not everyone has been able to come out about their adult film star status, or choose not to for various reasons regarding safety and stigma, a lot of us do, and are supported by those we love. If love is being killed, it’s not in our name.

If you can't tell your partner that you are uncomfortable with them watching porn, or if you don't feel like you can watch porn because your partner will judge you, or if you feel like you can't admit that you don't like porn or some of the sexual desires porn has opened up for your partner, or if you feel like your partner will judge you for performing in porn, your relationship needed counseling from the get-go, and porn, again, is probably not the root of your differences and problems.

Myth #4: Porn is exploitative, coercive, and inherently linked to human trafficking.

Where's my girl Jada Pinkett Smith on this one? Her views on human trafficking used to name stripping, escorting, and porn as the gateways to trafficking and therefore spoken of with the same suspicion and stigma, but after acting in the film Magic Mike XXL, her and Channing Tatum began to discuss ways that people could take part in adult entertainment ethically and responsibly. She realized that she truly enjoyed sharing in the sexual energy of the simulated strip club in which the camaraderie between women was strong.

While Jada and my views on responsibility might differ slightly, I'm glad that we can agree with thousands of sex workers around the world, that sex workers must be treated like human beings with agency and rights from the get go:

“What I realized in my human trafficking advocacy is that the sex industry is going to exist. There is no way to eradicate this. The clothing industry is going to exist. There is as much trafficking in the clothing industry, in the chocolate industry, in the coffee bean industry. Instead of focusing on eradication, I wanted to bring the idea that no matter what someone is doing, they should be treated as a human being.” (pulled from Rolling Out Magazine)

Amnesty International and a number of other human rights organizations and experts on trafficking are seeking the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work as a way to make sexworkers safer and help prevent and get to the bottom of human trafficking and the slave trade:

We have chosen to advocate for the decriminalization of all aspects of consensual adult sex- sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse. This is based on evidence and the real-life experience of sex workers themselves that criminalization makes them less safe. We reached this position by consulting a wide array of individuals and groups, including but not limited to: sex workers, survivor and abolitionist groups, HIV agencies, women’s and LGBTI rights activists, Indigenous women’s groups, anti-trafficking groups and leading academics...Other groups which support or are calling for the decriminalization of sex work include the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International.

Any nonconsensual act can be filmed and called porn. It is insulting to me and other porn performers, and any survivor, that some people rape on camera and then try to distribute that as porn. Filmed sexual assault is not porn. There are sex workers who have experienced violence within the industry, and justice for them starts when we start differentiating exploitation, coercion, and assault from sex work. Stop calling all exploitation porn when you mean exploitation, and stop calling all porn exploitation.

I believe in workers rights over bosses' profit, and that goes for sex workers' rights too. It will only be through deeper and broader education, and the empowerment and destigmatization of service workers (sex workers included) that justice and liberation will be possible.

Get with the times, FTND. If your movement was primarily advocating against slavery, wage slavery, indentured servitude, racism, globalized capitalist misogyny, the sexual assault of sex workers, trafficking, and rape culture, and for the basic human rights and decriminalization of at-risk people everywhere, then we'd have something to talk about.

Myth #5: Porn leads to violence and warped ideas about women, sex, and love.

Sites which have commended FTND for their stance on porn have said that “women” who feel empowered by making porn are among the privileged few based on race and class, and that most poor women of color are forced into sex work. In that case, I guess as a poor, queer, disabled erotic performer, adult model, educator, and activist I would be considered a ridiculous anomaly. It's true that there should be more options and jobs that do not discriminate based on someone's body and circumstances. It's also true that the stigmatization and criminalization of consensual adult sex work will not empower anyone, of any gender.

To try to assert that pornography is the primary source of patriarchy, misogyny, and rape culture is extremely misguided. While yes, porn has been around for a long time, and yes, porn has become less vanilla in recent iterations of internet porn, better sex education is certainly not to blame for porn, and porn is certainly not to blame for misogyny and rape. Porn, both a form of art and a form of sex education (just as any media is an education whether the makers intend it to be or not) in and of itself, reflects a multitude of societal values, whether they be mainstream or underground. This is true of all media ever created.

Are you only interested in stopping the rapes that were caused by porn? While some rapists can claim to blame porn for their actions, others could blame “Grand Theft Auto”, “Game of Thrones”, or their own fathers for poor examples set.

Young people who absorb the idea that they should and can coerce their partners into sexual acts they see in pornography, other media, or by people in their lives, are not receiving a well-rounded sexual education, or may have experienced something nonconsensual or coercive themselves.

While I do not think that kids under 18 should watch porn, it is also important for parents to be aware of what information their kids are absorbing, and talk to them about sex and desire in ethical, but non-stigmatizing, non-moralizing ways.

What we have here is a failure to communicate:

So many of the “facts” gathered by FTND about porn, its users, and its victims involves gaping holes in a holistic understanding of people, sexual difference, and social issues. What is missing from the analysis is a broader conversation about sexual education, desire, ethics, and equity. Who are these partners who cannot talk to each other about how they really feel about sex? Who are these white hipsters who somehow think that their message is relevant to anyone who is not just like them?

It's no coincidence that these signs went up all over the San Francisco Bay Area, home of porn sites such as Kink.com, Crashpadseries.com, Queerporn.tv, NaughtyNatural.com, FtmFuckers.com, Translesbians.com, Bonusholeboys.com, innovative intersectional sexual education coming from places such as Good Vibrations and The Center for Sex and Culture, erotic and political performance groups such as Sins Invalid, and an extremely active sex positive culture.

I know there are tons of white techies with unclear values here now, but you know what else the Bay Area is full of? People of color who invented the words that FTND appropriates with ease. Queer people who have queer sex. Disabled people and trans people who approach sex in innovative, adaptive ways. People who not approach sex at all. People who's bodies cannot make babies, whether they want to or not, and people who's bodies can make babies, whether they want to or not, and who are still not given the reins to steer us towards reproductive justice. 

Liberation movements created and carried through by queer/disabled/people of color, indigenous people, artists, laborers, sex workers, poor or working class people, houseless people, and people who are all of the above. Liberation movements surging on even while people are assaulted, arrested, evicted, institutionalized, and killed. Liberation movements that do not need to be trendy to be powerful. 

For a couple of weeks, the billboard on 27th and San Pablo more appropriately read, 

Cops Kill Love. 

Fight For Love. 

cops.jpeg#asset:507

I asked the guys who hang out on that corner if they knew what the sign said before, and they did not. It's better that way. 

Fight the New Drug was never speaking to us to begin with. Perhaps a more accurate slogan might be: “Watching internet porn is a controversial practice for straight married people, and might complicate the sex found in a straight marriage.” But I guess that wouldn't fit on a sign, and it would be harder to make the message seem universal, because it's not. 

* as of the writing of this piece, the “Porn Kills Love” billboard in my neighborhood had been graffitied to say this, but within a couple of weeks, it somehow seamlessly says “porn” again. 

Dear Reader, Tag offensive billboards.

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Lyric Seal aka Neve Be(ast) is a mixed black, queer, multigender, disabled, porn performing, performance art wreaking femme anarchist with a vengeance. They are a staff writer at HARLOT covering all topics which can vaguely be related to performing arts, love, sex/work, disability justice, policy, and the lush insides of their mind. Neve also has a column in maximumrocknroll called "Totally Lame." They are a contributor to Everyday Feminism and various literary magazines. You can book them to dance, talk, teach, and make you feel good about yourself.