Reptiles and Angels–who knew sex had to be paradigmatic?
So it seems Mrs. Hampson of the Globe and Mail is at it again. This week’s edition of archaic attitudes includes a jaunt into theories of pornography. While her article does not bear the achingly naive attitudes of her previous pontifications about male desire and the politics of sex, it does, once again, undo its own logic. (For more on this see my post on June 8th “The ‘w’horrible truth.”)
Hampson makes the argument, using of course metaphor, that there are two ways of approaching and conceiving of the place of porn in a relationship. The first being that porn is little more than a tangible representation of desire and I quote “just another person.” This view claims that porn can actually help increase the intimacy of a relationship. Doubtful and frightening as this claim is, I will return to it later. The second much more palatable argument allows that porn is in fact a replacement for sex, and an addiction (for some).
What annoys me about this article is Hampson’s dismissal or ignorance of the conditions and climate that mainstream pornography thrives in. Pornography relies on metaphors of conquest and domination (for more on this see Amanda’s post on Sex as a Game), not on intimacy and mutual respect. Therefore, advocating for such porn (in all its forms and definitions) as an acceptable replacement for intimacy actually reinforces patriarchal attitudes about sex and marriage–instead of simply allowing the ‘reptile’ to come out once in a while, or to collaborate with what Hampson terms the ‘angelic’ part of sexual intimacy (mutual respect, where the reptile is lust).
While studies show that men are heavier users of porn than women are, distress over a partner’s cybersex habit is not exclusive to women, Dr. Schneider says. “I began to doubt my masculinity,” a man in one of her studies reported. “At first, we had more sex than ever as I desperately tried to prove myself. Then the sex with her made me sick – I’d get strong pictures in my head of what she did and lusted after, and I’d feel repelled and bad … I used to see sex as a very intimate and loving thing.”
This is the part I actually like about her article; it illuminates the fact that porn is not only disrespectful to women, but also to men. Mainstream pornography relies on tired stereotypes which reinforce traditional gender roles and ‘conquest’ models of sexuality. It also reduces both sexes to ‘prophood‘ removing intimacy from the equation entirely. For me, this paragraph marks the beginning of an understanding of porn for what it truly is: demeaning to relationships of equality. However, Hampson doesn’t quite catch on to her own evidence; She continues:
Which brings me back to angels and reptiles.
Pornography is not bad, but whenever I have watched it, I feel like one of those rats in a science lab. Sure, the sex corner of my brain can be made to light up. Give me stimulation, I get stimulated. Duh. It’s like asking me to respond to an advertisement for Manolo Blahniks. Do I feel desire? Sure. But it’s so uncreative. Someone is telling me what to think. That’s what I call the reptile brain.
The angel brain, on the other hand, is that part of us I think of as beautifully human. It’s where desire springs from higher human thought; where sexual intimacy happens through real connection, love, honesty, respect.
I can use my reptile brain, and I do. Lust is pretty basic. And hey, sometimes, that reptile is part angel, too. Human sexuality is a complex beast. But if I have a choice, and I do, I prefer to stick with the wings, with that which has a capacity for beauty and, if you’re lucky, transcendence.
While Hampson has actually recognized the manipulation of stereotypes and gender roles performed by porn, she hasn’t recognized her own attachment to these roles. That one feels ‘desire’ while watching games of domination and manipulation shows the extent to which such models of ‘sex’ and relationships are embedded in our collective cultural consciousness. Once again, here, sex is a paradigmatic model, where there is a winner and a loser; a lesser and a greater. Or, to translate this example into current theories of sex ed: a ‘no’ /abstainer and an STD. Hampson is indeed a rat in a science lab, as are we all when we respond to such formulations of sex and sexuality.
But it’s not quite as simple as Manolo Blahniks if you ask me…(though I do agree with the connection between pain and beauty–but maybe that’s because I can’t wear stilettos…)