How '50 Shades of Grey' and Violent Porn Might be Perverting Women's Sexual Identity

Like it or not, pornography is part of our culture. Almost everyone wants to have sex, and frankly, why not? Sex can be a holy event, or an animalistic release, or a worship of the body, male or female but however you look at it, sex is part of our nature and our nature is to be creative. 

Pornography can be an expression of sexual creativity — a beautiful homage to the human form or a way of reflecting on desires buried deep beneath the subconscious. Generally, exploring one’s sexuality is a healthy thing — at least you are taking a moment free of judgment, to understand your desire for pleasure or your need for connection to another.

However, some pornography can take things into a sociological territory where desire is so perverted that what is really happening is a form of violence, and what is really being expressed is rage about former abuse and a re-enactment of that abuse. This is true for both men and women.

I witnessed two examples of this type of porn while watching a documentary called, The Price of Pleasure. Every once in a while, I watch porn; watching other people have consensual intercourse can be sexy and can sometimes make a good situation better. But watching sex is not having sex.  And exposure to a million types of fetish makes me wonder if we’ve become a culture who has found indulgence of our every whim commonplace. 

One disturbing example of accessible violent porn I saw (on the documentary and later on the Internet) was a series of scenes enacting various S&M scenarios, suddenly quite popular these days with the release of the novel, 50 Shades of Grey. I Googled “S&M porn” because I wanted to find out what all this sex play in the novel was referring to and compare it to what I saw in the documentary. In the hundreds of scenes I saw posted on various sites, beautiful young women were shown being choked, gagged, hung upside down, whipped, screamed at, and beaten and not always softly. Sometimes they were screaming and crying openly. It was really difficult for me to imagine they were enjoying themselves when they appeared to be experiencing degradation and humiliation. 

I’ve been told that the novel 50 Shades of Grey investigates the issues of a desirable but complicated guy and the woman who is equally complicated and attracted to him. Fair enough, but I want to ask you to take a moment and imagine a sexy but complicated man, perhaps a God figure like Thor, someone who perhaps many heterosexual women might find hot. Can you imagine Thor wanting his girlfriend to put on a ball gag and crawl around while he fisted her as she wept?  No? So why are fantasies being twisted to become romanticized in both our fiction and pornography?

In another series of scenes from The Price of Pleasure I witnessed a possibly worse humiliation than S&M can dole out. Again, young, pretty women — and let’s be honest, more and more of them look like teenagers, are having intercourse while their heads are being shoved in a toilet. The filmmakers give the girls who participate a childlike name, “Swirlie Girls,” as if they were selling lemonade on the corner. Then the guy reaches over and as he orgasms, HE FLUSHES HER HEAD IN THE TOILET. Sometimes he does it so her face is sucked into the hole by the valves and the bowl fills up, making drowning a real potential. 

I understand S&M has many sex-positive practitioners, but that is not what these movies are showing. They are showing young women being violated in a really ugly way. What kind of message is this for young women, not to mention young men?

You don’t often see movies of any genre where heterosexual men are having their heads flushed in a toilet, unless you see it in a violent context where it is to degrade or take away their power. It definitely isn’t done in a sexual context between a heterosexual man and woman, where the guy whose head is in the toilet is saying, “Oh, thanks. That was hot.” 

Now you may want to tell me, “Hey, she agreed to do it, she wanted it, she liked it,” and I will tell you, sorry, that’s BS. Let me remind you of a word most people don’t really respect the power of: COERCION. If you tell a young, powerless person, perhaps an abused person who just wants love and attention that participating in a violent sex act will get them the things they want, that it gives them power even, some of them are going to believe you. It’s as simple as that. No matter what they say, they aren’t being super savvy and “using” the system back, they are being used by it. No woman can become empowered by choosing to play the role of the victim. 

Now let’s get on to the deeper issue, and it all goes much, much deeper than Christian Grey’s “I’m fifty shades of f-ked up.” Although I have enormous compassion for the complexities of abuse (I have been both molested as a child and raped as a young woman) the fact is the best way to keep a woman from experiencing her full potential is to abuse her sexually when she is young. Why would any man or woman desire to hold a young woman back? Let us look deeper into the roots of our society as a whole. We have to look into the issue of equality between men and women.  Why, in our modern society, do we still tend to see men as being more important, more valuable than women?

I believe we can look to our patriarchal religions for one part of the answer: in a society where the god we worship is male, and the most popular religions state women are only an extension of a man, women hold no value. Period. Without the acceptance that the female divine is as holy and equal to the masculine divine, women will never fully take their place alongside men in terms of respect. We will still be objects to f-ck and vessels for a man’s sperm, owned by men, dominated by men, abused by men, and flushed down the toilet at will. Valueless.

I want to make it clear I am not saying that women should be held above a man in terms of value.  I am also not saying that all women are goddesses and should be worshipped as such. I am saying that without a healthy, socially accepted construct for a feminine divine equal to the masculine divine, we are a society out of balance, leaving women vulnerable to be blamed and attacked as worthless objects whenever something goes wrong.

It is important to remember that women are as human as men in their need for sex. Just because I am saying there is a divinity to women does not mean that all women need to be in touch with that divinity at all times and get up on a pedestal to be worshipped. Women can be just as wild and sexual as any man, and frankly I see this as a good thing for both sexes. However, when you see women being violently attacked sexually on film like I have described, I believe it is exploiting a perversion and fear that has been allowed to fester, grow and develop: a sublimated fear of women’s power. Perhaps some men are angry about what they perceive to be a loss of power, and are acting out that anger on the women who are the most vulnerable – the young.

As young women look to the Internet more and more to create their sexual identity, how will they process the violence that is becoming endemic in mainstream porn and how will it affect their relationships with young men? A new documentary, Sexy Baby, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival investigates this important phenomenon. One of the girls it follows acknowledges, “We’re like the first generation to have what we have, so there’s no one before us that can kind of guide us. I mean we are the pioneers.”

 I am worried for these young people.  If those who are older don’t set a standard for behavior, who will? Something needs to be done. I suggest considering the holy within both men and women as a way to ease some of this growing anger towards women. I think the idea of a male/female god might help us focus on ideals all sexes share: the value of love, fairness and personal dignity. Perhaps reminding one another of our shared human value might help those who are challenged feel more comfortable with the idea of women’s equality. Finally, I think if as a society we all focused more on our shared morals and ethics and less on our perversions there might be less of a curiosity to explore this sexually violent and frankly dangerous trend. 

 An extended version of this article was posted on Cady McClain's blog: Professional Muse

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