Porn as an Ally of the Institutions of Marriage and Family

1. Approaching these questions online with a google search – something like porn+marriage – shows most debate to indicate that porn is at odds with or harmful to ‘marriage’. Arguments seem to range from ‘watching porn is considered infidelity by partners’, to ‘watching porn erodes emotional attachments’ to ‘watching porn makes sexual intercourse between partners less interesting’ to ‘porn leads to comparison’ to ‘it makes for bad parenting’ to ‘it is an addiction’ to ‘porn is a pathway to infidelity’ and so on. Clearly, the arguments are as numerous as the people voicing them, hence lack any general value; moreover, they seem like they apply to individual households rather than to marriage in any broad sense.

2.What is also noteworthy of these discussions is that the family they have as reference is the Christian American or European family; some openly state their concerns in terms of findings (“50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted”). Therefore, partly the debate is to be seen as an extension on the general prudish debate, in which religion comes to hold a visible presence against what are dubbed as forms of immorality. The core of the problem, however, seems to be the break-up of the family unit. It is assumed in these discussions that the family is natural to humans. We can imagine similar concerns to come up had these questions been raised in our own context, with “Christian” replaced by the analogous organized religious identity, and other kinds of scriptural references and arguments against porn.

3. However, it should seem a little odd that an argument in favor of pleasurable sexual intercourse between married partners should come from religious sources, which have detested recreational, non-reproductive sex till date, but more broadly in a society that looks at public expressions and celebrations of pleasure with shock, dismissal and even threatening disapproval. We can hazard to conclude that these institutions have felt need to admit that people’s claim to pleasure is beyond their control; hence the bar of immorality has been lowered, so to say, and doesn’t include pleasurable sex within the confines of the family. The devil now manifests in pornography, we are told

4. However, this anti-porn perspective is based less upon any careful analysis of history as much it is upon the horror and hearsay produced by those who have “victimized” themselves or seen others doing so at at the hands of pornography. A lot of trends suggest that pornography, rather than undermining the institution of marriage, manages the anxieties that emerge from it and from social relations characterized by suppression of desires and aspirations. In that, it also helps people to better cope with domestic squabbles, and becomes a vent for the frustrations that could drive personal egos from breaking up households.

5. A recent article about porn-viewing trends says that by 2012, there were porn sites with about 4.4 billion views per month; add to that the expansion of phones which host videos, computers, dvd players, and so on, we have a better picture of the popularity porn enjoys today. And it would be a mistake to think of this as recent; as far back as the mass printing of magazines, porn has been a favorite pastime, to speak nothing about imitation of porn by non-pornographic media like mainstream newspapers, television advertisements, and so on.

6.We find that in societies in which marriages and families as economic units arose, simultaneously arose brothels and sex-work; what is noteworthy about sex-work is that it, along with those who work in it, is kept on the margins of ‘decent society’, as well as sanitized out of ‘decent conversation’. Places where brothels exist become innuendos to tease one’s fellow horny men with.

7. And it has been predominantly men, till date, that have been clients of sex-workers; sex-workers have included women, children, eunuchs, and even men in their ranks, but since they’ve always been a minority, they haven’t been a threat to the picture of ideal (a)sexual relationships such as those existing within the economic unit that is the family (incest is a form of sexual relationship within the family that is still not acknowledged due to its deviance from the norm). Two questions arise: why did sex-work arise? And why was it put to the margins of society?

8. Sex-work involves the worker to give sexual services to clients for money, suppressing their likes-dislikes, demands, creativity, etc. in the act of sex. This means sex-work arose because there were dissatisfied men that were willing to pay for sex. And since sex-work itself was a sprawling and organized industry, we infer that the dissatisfaction among men was itself sprawling and organized, arising from their forced gender-segregation at the workplace, appropriation of their time, and the dehumanization that arises therewith. But why did it have to be put at the fringes of society? Because it was a threat to the family unit. For long, the function of the family was to look after the needs of workers (the husbands) and create and look after future workers and family-runners (children). Since some children couldn’t be clubbed as either men or women, they were given away at child-birth as eunuchs; later this fossilized into the ritual of ‘forceful snatching away of eunuch-child by eunuchs’. Sex for pleasure seemed like a threat to the idea of sex for reproduction, hence family, and hence brothels had to be pushed behind a veil of open-secrecy.

9. Porn-industry can be seen as an extension of the same principle, excepting some radical departures. Firstly, it has replaced the person with the image; this baffles our understanding of faithfulness in marriage. Secondly, it has entered households, thus making the sexual contradictions more felt. As the nuclear family has expanded world-over as the unit to produce and fend for workers, and work-production itself assumed huge proportions, there has come about a simultaneous expansion of indulgence for people to vent the frustrations and anxieties that come with the suppression of their desires. So what does this lead to?

10. There is no doubt strain caused upon discovery of porn-watching; one-partner sex for reproduction still forms the core of the family. However, chances of discovery of porn habits are very little. Internet browsers, for example, came up with options to delete use-history; later they devised functions by which that history would not be recorded at all! Even otherwise, media for watching porn are so personalized that one can watch their stash at any point of the day. This means that deviance from ‘family values’ is more accessible, as well as more convenient (rather than having to explain reasons for returning late from work, ensuring no traces remain, worries about being spotted publicly, etc.).

11. Sex outside marriage was definitely cheating; porn gives rise to a situation in which it is unclear whether the act committed is sex, and if so, it is unclear who it is with. This has come to mean for a large number of people that dealing with discovery of their porn habits is easier to defend than discovery of cuckolding. Besides, women as a gender were excluded from being clients to sex-workers for large parts of history, even when they took part in secret acts with people around them; porn is as accessible to anybody who has the requisite resources for the same. This has meant that the access to deviant sexual activity has been confounded in its gender dynamics; not only have women become mass consumers of porn, there has come about porn directed specifically towards women. It indicates that the notion of fidelity is not being held on to as sternly as it once was. The practical use of this is that porn becomes, among many married couples, an act to participate together in; one finds that ‘sexologists’ and other kind of quacks recommend pornography as a remedy to a marriage threatened by dwindling excitement.

12. Many people rank porn lower in terms of the effort that goes into pursuing one’s fantasies, while extra-marital affairs are often ranked higher, a visit to a brothel somewhere intermediate. For some this decision is already made based on afford-ability due to time or money. Again, online soliciting of sex (whether from sex-workers or other eager participants) has made things somewhat more convenient, but still is less favored and accessible than porn. Hence arguments that suggest that porn is the cause of infidelity turn out shallow; it is in league with those arguments that suggest watching violence leads to violence, without any consideration of a person’s state of mind, etc.

13. Similarly, arguments that suggest that porn is the cause of emotional disturbances or decreased sexual attraction just don’t add up; we suggest rather that these dissatisfactions precede pornography and try to neutralize through it. Often, porn itself is traumatic and adds to people’s anxieties and guilt complexes; mostly it gives temporary relief, the reason why people stick to it (and not because it is addictive). It only indicates that people who do so are unable to address the contradictions that arise in their sexuality. In most cases, marriages are the perfect occasion for these contradictions to arise. So it is not a surprise if married people seek redress through porn.

14. Let’s also remember that demonization of sex-work, slut-shaming, etc. are all parts of societies in which marriage exists. “I’m not a slut!” is supposed to be a statement of self-defense for many. The idea of brothels most dominant in our public culture is that they are dingy places full of dangerous thugs and swindlers, often a threat to the lives of ‘respectable’ people. Moreover, whatever the original extent to which those diseases might have actually spread, syphillis and gonorrhea in an earlier age, and AIDS today, have become counter-arguments not only against sex-work, but generally against sex with multiple partners. Pornography is an ideal compromise for people who have bought into these fears, but who are unable to deal with the anxieties arising from their marriages.

15. Let us state finally that porn only seeks to manage the dissensions arising out of marriage; it actually may be an inadequate ally, but it is definitely an ally in many ways of the institution of marriage. There have been cases of people frustrated with porn who inflict violence upon themselves. We should keep in mind the broad context here to appreciate these facts: humans are not only social, but their sexuality is part of their social nature. They are capable of being attracted to many people at the same time. Work, and family that governs work at the smallest level, hinder the realization of their sexual (and other creative) desires. The various activities we have outlined above are attempts to skirt a rule that has been almost universally imposed, but never really enjoyed. In so far as the attempts remain within the reproduction of alienated work, these measures (like porn) fail to do anything apart from reaffirm the centrality of family.

 

By Pratik

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