Saturday 22 March 2014

More About Pornography

Via Helen Boyd, I came across this interesting article in the New York Times. Written by porn actress Stoya, it is a surprisingly articulate account of how it feels to have a public persona (and we are talking seriously public) and a private persona, and keep them separate.
Stoya: Not everyone performing in adult films uses a stage name. Tera Patrick has said she legally changed her name to match her professional one. A few use their whole legal name; others keep their given name while taking a suggestive or unique surname. Still more take Love or Star, sometimes with creative spellings, and I’d support a 10-year ban on every iteration of both.
Articulate: Stoya
I had never heard of Stoya before reading this article, and naturally performed a Google search, during which I was able to see, in some detail, how she makes her living. I didn't see anything I hadn't seen before, leading me to conclude that Stoya is special by being so insightful and so articulate. As someone in the porn industry, she has some very interesting viewpoints, such as this one:
Stoya: Yes, there’s a paradox here in that I willingly engage in work that reduces me to a few sexual facets of myself but expect to be seen as a multifaceted person outside of that work. I participate in an illusion of easy physical access, and sometimes the products associated with that illusion — the video clips and silicone replicas of my sexual organs (seriously, and they’re popular enough to provide the bulk of my income) — do, in fact, exist without attachment to a person with free will or autonomy.
Very interesting themes. I commend the article to you. In her video interview with The Huffington Post, Stoya describes how her father's reaction to her career choice has been, not overt disapproval, but merely disappointment that he could no longer enjoy internet pornography, since the websites he used often featured links to her pictures. That noise you can hear in the distance is the sound of my mind boggling at the nature of their relationship.

Although I have already written in this blog some thoughts about my view of pornography, I was struck by several things about the Stoya article.
First, she is disarmingly articulate, and funny. She writes well, and she makes her points very powerfully. One assumes porn stars choose their profession because they are blessed with good bodies, few inhibitions and few other skills (though I do not doubt that the very successful ones are also very shrewd).
Hidden depths?
Secondly, she seems to have chosen a career in porn quite carefully and deliberately, which again is a surprise. She is no meek or hapless victim of the porn industry, but someone who knows exactly what she is doing and why.
Thirdly, she seems to be remarkably open. I suppose one would expect that, but I wouldn't necessarily expect someone to reveal matter-of-factly that there are silicone facsimiles of their genitalia available to purchase, or the porn habits of their parents.
Fourthly, she seems to be aware of the irony that she is prepared to have herself photographed in all sorts of sexual activities, and to be considered to be a sex object, always available; and yet she values her personal privacy. You may think I am for sale, she seems to be saying, but only what you see on the screen is. The rest is private. It's mine, and you can't have it. I found this to be deeply insightful.
I find myself intrigued by Stoya. I can't help finding her choice of career somewhat distasteful. Pornography is a facet of prostitution, and while some people (perhaps even Stoya herself) might consider it to be no more than a simple economic transaction (I have something you want, you have something I want; let's trade), I am uncomfortable with the commodification of humans in this way. I discuss my views of pornography in detail here in my blog.

And yet, I am always attracted to the combination of confidence and brains, and Stoya seems to have a generous helping of both. (This may create the irony that I am not particularly attracted by her body, though as you can see it seems to be a perfectly nice one).
A colleague of mine has a daughter in her twenties. At a work dinner, I found myself sitting opposite this daughter. She was beautiful, confident, clever and funny. I was quite taken. I asked her what she does for a living, and her answer was that she is an erotic dancer in a nightclub. Her parents were originally horrified at her choice of career (she surely has the talent to go a lot further) but now they are more accepting, and even drop her off at work sometimes.
Pornography and lap dancing are probably very lucrative careers for young women, and they no doubt come with a large helping of life experience thrown in. I found myself viewing lap dancers with a new respect.
Bank manager: making a deposit
What I wonder (and was heading towards asking my friend's daughter, but we got interrupted) is how women like Stoya and my friend's daughter come to view men. I assume they come to view them with contempt and loathing. It must be hard to visit your bank manager without imagining (probably correctly) how he looks with his tongue hanging out, stuffing money into your G-string. When all you see is men who are in a state of sexual arousal and testosterone toxicity, it must be hard to remember there are decent, balanced men with other interests beside masturbation. When men (including quite possibly your boss) treat you as if you are nothing more than a pair of breasts mounted on an always-willing vagina, it must be infuriating and dehumanising. Of course, I might have an extremely skewed view of the sex industry, but it's hard to imagine lap dancers or porn actresses coming home at night with a deep sensation of fulfilment at another job well done.
I have never been to a lap dancing club. To be honest, I don't really get the point. It seems like going to a gourmet restaurant and spending the evening reading the menu and looking at the food.
However, coming back to Stoya. A generation ago, it probably wouldn't have mattered that Stoya is brilliant and articulate and insightful; the New York Times would almost certainly not have published her writing. Now, however, it does. Does that reflect a newspaper which recognises good writing regardless of where it comes from? Or does it reflect that pornography is becoming recognised as a more acceptable phenomenon in our society?
Either way, Stoya has made me think about the people involved in pornography in a new way.

Addendum: 23rd May 2014

I came across this recent post by Georgia over at BroadBlogs. She writes that the porn industry deliberately creates the desire in men for things which ordinary women are unwilling to perform. This means that the only place men can see those acts is by watching porn.

A comparison can be made with mainstream films, or computer games. Some people are critical of their content. The makers of those media say: "Hey, don't look at us! We're just giving the consumers what they want!" while the critics say "No. Actually you are driving what people want". So, for any medium, how much is a reflection of the actual demand, and how much is a driver for that demand? (Of course, in many situations, these two phenomena feed one another, as you describe). Advertising is a highly evolved industry designed to create demand for new products, and it does that by sowing dissatisfaction with what you've already got.
I remember reading that the porn industry is one place where the women are routinely paid much more money than the men. To me, this boils down to simple economics. Men are prepared to do it for less money because they enjoy it; women intrinsically don't enjoy it, and therefore require to be paid more before they will participate. This is a simplification with, no doubt, many exceptions, but I believe the central premise holds true.




  1. Hi Vivienne,

    Great article about a subject that is kind of taboo. Thanks so much for exploring it. I'm not much into pornography for its own sake but it does have a particular effect on me when it is presented in the right context as in a movie where it supports the plot. Done right, pornography can be powerful and beautiful. Personally, I think it isn't quite so taboo now as it used to be because finally, at least those of living here in the US, we are shaking off most of the excess prudish baggage we have carried around for so long. I recognized just how prudish most Americans were after living in Europe for 4 years. In Europe sex and nudity was absolutely everywhere. It was just part of the normal visual stimuli there and everyone was just cool with it. At the same time here in the States people would have a coronary if they glimpsed even the hint of a female nipple. A lot of Americans are still like that, but thankfully most are coming around and recognizing that glimpses of the human body can really be artistic instead of something dirty.

    Sally Stone

    1. Thanks for your comment Sally.

      It's very interesting that some Scandinavian countries have no censorship laws whatever, and yet they seem to have much lower rates of teenage pregnancy, rape and violent sexual crime than the US. Of course there are plenty of other reasons why these things may not be linked.

      Can pornography be artful, even beautiful? I am certain it can, but most mainstream pornography ignores subtlety in favour of full-screen full-on depictions of the action. It doesn't pursue beauty, just in-your-face male gratification. I think art is more than what you see; it's about how it makes you think and feel.


  2. She reminds me a bit of Bettie Page's enthusiastic embrace of her career.

    1. Hi Ralph. I am ashamed to admit I had to Google Bettie Page. According to Wikipedia, she found posing for erotic photographs a big step up from being a secretary ("pounding a typewriter for 8 hours a day"). It was interesting, though, that she went completely Christian in middle life, and the reasons for this about-face are not clear.


  3. I need to Google Bettie Page now (she sounds like a good subject for a blog post!).

    Have you seen the Channel 4 documentary Strippers? I think it's still on the website. It's interesting to hear lap dancers actually have the chance to talk about their work, and of course they are very matter of fact, and each one has a different perspective. I think that money and misogyny are the problem: not enough ways for women to earn a decent living except sex.

    1. Hi Carina,

      I haven't seen the documentary, and unfortunately I can't get it online, as Channel 4 won't allow access from here in NZ.

      I think it is probably true that some women choose to work in the sex industry (rather than being trapped in it through poverty or drugs) because it is more lucrative than their other available careers. However, Stoya seems smart enough to be an accountant or a lawyer or a banker; surely very well-paid and more "acceptable" occupations. Why did she choose porn?