Sunday, August 20, 2006

Yes means yes

Because I'm such a dedicated blogger, I spent a good part of my Saturday googling things like "pornography rape correlate" so that I could write you all a blog entry about porn as promised.

Does porn cause rape?

This is a fundamental question to ask when deciding whether porn is good or bad.

My impression from reading the various articles I found is that there is a lot of very solid evidence that if any correlation between availability of porn and incidence of rape exists at all, it is a negative one (i.e. more porn = less rape).

Rather than give you a bunch of links and my reactions, I encourage you to consult your favorite search engine and see for yourself. You'll see plenty of articles arguing both sides (some saying pornography causes rape, some saying pornography prevents rape), and it's instructive to look at them side-by-side and compare them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you my bias: I am a feminist, and I am in favor of porn. (Consenting adults only, and in an appropriate time and place.)

I am in favor of porn because I am a feminist. My right to my own body and to my sexuality is a huge part of feminism for me. It's not the only facet of my feminism, but the idea that I can feel good about myself as a woman and as a sexual person at the same time is one of the aspects of feminism that I feel most passionate about.

Because of the feminist claim that pornography causes rape, the correlation between these two items in particular gets a lot of attention (as opposed to a lot of other stray statistical differences one could explore between a more open society and a more repressive society).

It's not certain, but maybe there is a cause-and-effect relationship. The theory seems to be that the frustrated guy who might otherwise be out making trouble for all of the many women who don't want to have sex with him is instead sitting at home at his computer masturbating after having looked at a few nudie pics and having IM cybersex with an old granny far away who gets off on pretending to be a dirty-talking twenty-year-old online...

However, I think it's likely that the availibility of porn and the prevalence of rape are also both tied to something else, namely how permissive a culture is towards consensual sex. A huge factor a lot of porn/rape correlation articles neglected to mention is the ability to give meaningful consent and refusal.

I agree with most feminists that getting out the message that "No means no" is of vital importance for preventing sexual assault. And that's is why it's critical that both options exist -- yes as well as no -- in a meaningful way.

In a repressive society, some women want sex. Yet no women are allowed to want sex. So you get a situation where the women who really mean no say no and the women who don't mean no also say no.

See the problem here?

In a society where sexual expression is less stigmatized, men know that the women who want to have sex with them will feel perfectly comfortable and confident saying so. So when a guy meets up with a woman who says to him "No, I don't want to have sex with you," there is no confusion about it. The guy is less likely to doubt or try to second-guess her.

That's why it's so important to allow women to feel like it's okay for them to consent to sexual expression -- including producing and consuming erotic materials -- if that's what they actually want.

Do you really want no to mean no? Then don't force a yes to be a no.

18 comments:

Joseph's Left One said...

I think you're onto something, C.L. It also has to a lot to do with how men feel about their bodies. On the one hand, men have strong drives, but in a repressed society, they are not supposed to act on them with others. And in a really repressed society, they aren't even allowed to act on them alone (with the aforementioned grannies, for example). And the combination of frustration and hormones makes men feel powerless. And the way some men compensate is through rape, which to them is an assertion of male power. A pathetic assertion, of course, but I think you get the idea.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey JLO!!!

You're one step ahead of me!!!

I have this whole elaborate five-or-seven-part series on "Feminism and porn" mapped out, and the idea that forcing males to entirely repress their sexual desires encourages feelings of hostility (especially towards women and from there to sexual assault) was one of the points I was planning to make in another piece.

The Sinister Porpoise said...

I doubt anything I'd have to say would be credible. It's currently acceptable for a woman to express her sexuality, but male sexuality is currently viewed as a joke.

This is a strange and curious double standard and one strangely enough of recent origin. Although it seems to me what men thik women find sexy and what women find sexy are two very different things...

Anyway, before I get into territory I have little to no experience with, I just wonder if any Mormons reading the current trends of writing erotica or writing about sex are going to take it to mean we're obsessed and therefore in the grips of Satan.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

I'm probably even more hesitant than you are to try to generalize about how our culture's positive and negative attitudes towards male and female sexuality have evolved.

I wouldn't worry about what Mormons think about the fact that sexuality has been a big topic lately in outer blogness.

First of all, they already think we're possessed by Satan. Second of all, suppression of sexuality is huge component of practicing Mormonism, so it's natural that the topic would be frequently discussed on LDS-interest blogs.

The Sinister Porpoise said...

The last paragraph was intended to be a joke. Although I do sometimes wish I'd generate some Mormon hatemail.

And I should have expanded the second paragraph: What women find sexy in man, and what *men* think women find sexy in men, are oftn two very different things, or that seems to be my impression.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

lol, I don't always pick up on humor like that. ;-)

I think you're right that what women find sexy in man, and what *men* think women find sexy in men, are often two very different things.

Rebecca said...

This might be longwinded, and it will certainly be irrelevant. Just FYI.

I once took a social research and design class in which I learned (a little) about cause and effect, and how a person always has to look CLOSELY - or sometimes back away and view the bigger picture - to see what's really going on. The example used: there are significantly more drownings when ice cream sales go up - therefore eating ice cream makes it more likely for a person to drown. Right?

Um, no. There's a third factor - ice cream sales go up in the summer, and more people swim in the summer. Ice cream and drowning have almost nothing to do with each other, but at first glance one might seem to cause the other.

I just thought of that because of the porn/rape debate. Also, there's a study I've seen a LOT (often used by Mormons as a "Ha! I told you so!" tool) that shows that people who live together before they get married are more likely to divorce. But what if those people were less likely to commit in the first place (hence living together rather than marrying), or some other explanation, and so were more apt to divorce anyway? That has absolutely nothing to do with your topic.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Rebecca!!!

That is a very relevant point.

Just because there is an inverse statistical correlation between porn and rape does not mean that the two are necessarily connected to one another at all.

I think both items are both strongly driven by a third factor, namely the society's overall attitude towards sexual expression.

And even if increased Internet use is shown to decrease the number of rapes, that doesn't necessarily mean it had anything to do with porn -- maybe it just means that the Internet is bringing a lot of nearly free education to people -- men and women -- on a number of topics.

However, I will be arguing in this series of articles that it is not a coincidence; that it makes perfect sense that porn consumption would decrease one's likelihood of committing rape.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I think brutal rapes are more about feeling a powerful need to dominate (not necessarily sex) and would happen with or without porn. Unfortunately, date-rapes (two people who know each other) probably have many different factors most not related to porn either. Sometimes, I think women who mean NO are trying too hard to say it in a nice way. They let it go a little farther & a little farther, but keep saying no. When it goes way too far, they get upset & feel violated. That is when they get angry afterwards. The guy is left confused because he thought no with a giggle really meant yes.

Isn’t it odd, that Mormon leaders are all about being sexually repressive, but not when it comes to the Celestial Kingdom (Mormon heaven). That is where polygamy and eternal sex take over.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I keep trying to post... and I have so many problems with blogger that I get upset... so then I don't post...

I have been reading your posts though. As for porn... the only time I get upset about it is if I hear out about child porn... Horrible... horrible.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Freckle Face Girl!!!

That is an amusing point of LDS doctrine, isn't it? ;-)

Date rape situations like the one you describe are very common, and they're exactly what I'm talking about in terms of consent being ambiguous.

In a culture like Mormonism -- where premarital sex is always bad to the point of being unspeakably shameful -- the two people end up being ashamed to talk about what they're doing at all, so they don't understand what each other's expectations are.

Erotic materials can help people feel more comfortable about sexuality in general so they feel more comfortable talking about what they want and don't want.

Hey Cynthia!!!

Don't worry -- I'm definitely not in favor of child porn.

Diane said...

Wow. That is an awesome post.

Isn't there less rape in Europe where sex on TV isn't a stigmatized thing? (I could be wrong)

I don't know about you, but I would much rather see a breast or penis than someone's head battered to a pulp.

C.L. Hanson said...

Thanks Diane!!!

I think that may be true, but I don't have the statistics handy.

I'm pretty sure that sexual explicitness on TV varies from country to country in Europe. However, I can't even tell you how much is shown here in France since I don't have a TV...

John Moeller said...

Sorry for dredging up an old post, but I just read it, and I love it!

I absolutely agree with you. Part of, if not all of, the problem with sexuality is the double standards we put on it, and they seem to exist from all possible sides, so that everyone's confused and frustrated.

Another big part, IMO, is the ridiculous degree to which sex is taken seriously. Sex can be funny, it can be meaningless, cathartic, etc., and it needn't be a purely procreative measure.

I think that one thing that men can do to help put away the "no means yes" idea (although they'd find it frustrating to do at times because of the aforementioned socializations) is to say, "OK, I'll drive you home," when a woman says no. Just don't reinforce it. Maybe then she'll learn to communicate more directly, and tell you what she wants, which IMO, is a lot more sexy than trying to guess. But then I like assertiveness. Oh well.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John!!!

It's fine to comment on old posts -- people do it all the time.

Even the idea of just saying "Okay, I'll drive you home," when someone say no has limited application because it implies that the two parties have openly talked about what they're going to do. I think more than half the problem (at least for young/inexperienced people) is feeling hesitant to talk about it, which leads to trying to guess what the other person is thinking. I think I may have talked about this a bit in my follow-up article "A feminist in favor of porn? Is that possible?" which you can find in the "links to this post" below.

BTW, in atheist circles it's actually kind of hard to find people who are opposed to porn (though they do exist). Part of it is probably a reaction to irrational religious anti-sex moralizing, but another part of it is that in the atheosphere, evidence matters. The idea that porn leads to rape and other harm is not backed by evidence; indeed the evidence shows the opposite.

John Moeller said...

What I'm talking about isn't the end of a dialogue about sex. It's the idea of simply breaking off the encounter as soon as one party disagrees to it. By saying "ok" to "no," whether the "no" is a hesitant one or a firm one, says that you mean to talk plainly about the subject.

I think you make a good point, though. Maybe instead of ending things, the "no" can be a start of a conversation about sex. Either way, it can't just be the woman conversing plainly. The man must also converse plainly instead of trying to navigate around gestural clues and body language alone. Men need to hear "yes" when "yes" is said, and "no" when "no" is said.

I hope I clarified what I meant. I've rewritten this comment about four times. I need to get some sleep now.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey John!!!

Thanks for the clarification. I didn't think that you were saying that a "no" should be the end of all communications. I was just trying to say that if people are comfortable discussing sexuality (and their expectations), that that alone clears up most of the problems. It looks like you're essentially saying the same thing.

Angelicus said...

Totally agree with you here. As society moves beyond the self denial that religion is (One pillar of all religions is how they view and regulate sex)... and repression lessens for the majority, people can be more open about their desires. People can say what they mean - rather than what they are expected to say by the invisible man in the sky, or the patriarch. As communication (of thoughts and emotions) improves the potential for rape decreases.

I am also of the opinion that pornographic and violent video games are an outlet for real feelings that can not be expressed within the boundaries of the law or reality... There by easing the emotional pressure build up.