11 Quotes That Will Completely Change the Way You Think About Porn

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There may be nothing more simultaneously beloved and hated than porn. 

Pornography has long been the public scourge of prurient conservatives and liberal feminists alike, while behind closed doors it's been embraced by just about everyone. But lately the debate over porn has become more vocally nuanced, as more and more people call to put porn in context. 

Instead of banning porn or completely condemning it, these thoughtful critics say, we need to consider the medium's positive and negative qualities. That includes weighing its current role in society — a damaging stand-in for lackluster sexual education, a promoter of sex standards that overlook female pleasure — and its potential for positive influence — helping couples communicate mutual desires, teaching what is and isn't respectful sexual behavior, demonstrating female empowerment

It's all in how we talk about it. Below, nine industry thought leaders will completely rethink how you view about porn. 

"[Let] us educate our children to be critical consumers."

Source: Mic/Vdier/Flickr
Source: Mic/Vdier/Flickr

In an interview with Danish public broadcaster DR, Christian Graugaard, a professor and sex researcher at Aalborg University, proposed introducing porn into public sex education. The point, he said, is not to encourage porn viewing, but to go into sex ed acknowledging that the vast majority of teens already have access to it. 

School-based sex ed can give young people an appropriate perspective on porn, teaching them that what they see on-screen won't likely be mirrored in their real sex lives (no, women can't necessarily reach orgasm in a matter of minutes) and isn't necessarily something to emulate (no, not everyone person wants to be touched like that).

"A 43-year-old woman ... can handle the images and feelings that porn conveys."

Source: Mic/Getty
Source: Mic/Getty

As Graugaard expressed, porn needs to be viewed with a bit of perspective. That can come from education, but as actress and comedian Amy Poehler points out in her 2014 book, Yes, Please, it also develops through years of experience. Understanding what you like, what your partners have liked and how people are likely to react in certain scenarios is key to consuming porn. 

That includes knowing how porn can make you feel, as Poehler points out, from excited or turned-on to possibly upset or disturbed. Like a taste for fine wine, that familiarity evolves over time.

"Those girls don't exist."

Source: Mic/Getty
Source: Mic/Getty

Porn can impact our view of sex acts, but also our view of other genders, as Miley Cyrus pointed out to W Magazine in 2014. Though her division between guys watching porn and girls watching romance movies is a little frustrating — certainly women drink in unrealistic portrayals of male porn stars, just as men can fall prey to rom-com fantasies — Cyrus does hit at the heart of an issue that affects many couples. It can be hard to escape the unrealistic expectations media puts forth about how men and women behave.

She's not the first to have picked up that the issue extends beyond porn. For more on that, check out Joseph Gordon-Levitt's 2013 film, Don Jon

"We have a distorted view of our fantasies ... because we don't talk about them enough."

Source: Mic/Getty
Source: Mic/Getty

All those unrealistic expectations porn and pop culture create might be mitigated if we were more open. Actress and former porn star Sasha Grey, for one, isn't ashamed of talking about her career or the field in general, as she told the Mail & Guardian in a 2012 interview. Indeed, porn can actually be beneficial as a jumping-off point for talking about our desires instead of assuming our partners understand them. We need to be open to discussing and breaking down what's real and false together.

"My theory on porn for women is it's just porn."

Source: Mic/Getty
Source: Mic/Getty

While porn needs to recognize women's desires and physical needs, it also needs a general broadening of subjects and perspectives. Ideally, it will do so to the point where it's by nature inclusive of women's desires, rather than segmented into exclusive "for women" and "for men" genres. 

"My theory on porn for women is it's just porn," porn star James Deen told Refinery29 in 2013. "Why is there porn explicitly only for women? By saying there needs to be porn for women, you're basically isolating women as a gender, and saying, 'This is how women should think. This is how their sexuality should be.'" 

While one woman might enjoy a loving scene with romantic build-up, Deen points out, another might be just as into BDSM. Neither is right or wrong. 

"When you force anything into the shadows and underground, you make it a lot easier for bad things to happen."

It's not just school classes and conversations between partners that need to adjust; regulations from governments and institutions should reflect a more progressive, open stance toward porn. That's one piece of what Cindy Gallop, an outspoken Brit and founder of the startup MakeLoveNotPorn, is fighting for. In a 2013 open letter addressed to U.K. prime minister David Cameron, published in Wired, Gallop addressed the restrictive policies that make it difficult for work like hers — the promotion of healthy, informed sexual content — to succeed in the market. 

The goal isn't isn't to eradicate porn entirely, Gallop said, but to balance out the myths with a healthy dose of reality, and to improve the working conditions around those who do provide this balance. For that, the porn industry needs the support of governments and business regulators, not their condemnation.

"Erotica is about sexuality, but pornography is about power."

Source: Mic/NEEDS PHOTO SOURCE
Source: Mic/NEEDS PHOTO SOURCE

With her landmark 1978 Ms. magazine article "Erotica and Pornography – A Clear and Present Difference," later reprinted in Take Back the Night, Gloria Steinem boiled down what some see as the positive side of porn by applying to it a different word: erotica. 

Her words are not necessarily a basic condemnation of all porn. Rather, they distinguish between the types of erotic or pornographic material she finds empowering. If the act is about mutual pleasure, it is erotic; if it prioritizes only one partner's pleasure with no regard for the other person engaged in the act, it's about domination — and is probably responsible for some frustratingly persistent sex myths

Our current conversation around BDSM notwithstanding, the distinction between domination and mutual pleasure is incredibly useful to conceptualize the positive power of porn.

"I feel more and more the responsibility to provide context." 

Source: Mic/Getty
Source: Mic/Getty

Porn stars themselves are becoming part of the conversation, particularly as female performers become more outspoken about their feminism. As that happens, public figures like Stoya would like everyone to know that working in porn doesn't imply anything about who she is and doesn't impede her passionate feminism, as she shared with Refinery29 in 2014. They're making progress, from the inside out.

"[There is a] difference between sexuality and sexualization." 

Source: Mic/Getty
Source: Mic/Getty

It's not only important to note what acts we're seeing on-screen — it's also crucial to recognize who is performing. A new documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, produced by Rashida Jones, highlights the world of legal amateur porn and the extent to which teen girls get sucked into it. It's one thing to watch female porn stars who are willing, smart, capable adults making thoughtful decisions. It's another thing when when naive girls who don't necessarily have the right frame of mind or wisdom of years are performing in porn that might put them at risk, emotionally and otherwise. 

Knowing how responsibly porn is made is as important for our consumption as knowing the level of realism portrayed in the on-screen acts. In both cases, we should err on the side of celebrating sexuality, not objectifying via sexualization.

"[We should accept] their choices as valid, even if we'd never do such a thing."

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

That said, acknowledging the dangers of porn for underage stars doesn't preclude respecting those in it and not subjecting them to slut-shaming, as much as their choices differ from ours. While we can be critical of the treatment of those in the industry, as adult film actress Nina Hartley pointed out in a 2010 interview with The Humanist, those who are willing, consenting and empowered by their choice deserve our respect — that way, we can engage on the topic as a thoughtful and united group of thinkers, rather than judging opponents.

"Porn is us."

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

No matter how much we progress as a society, pornography will likely always be a lightening rod. But as feminist porn star Dylan Ryan told The Rumpus in 2013, porn is ultimately a reflection of our society — it will remain, so it's up to us to decide how to make it, interpret it, judge it and disseminate it. That's why the conversation needs to keep going.

What we see on screen is not what we should expect from our actual sex lives. Owning one's sexuality can be empowering, but porn's focus on fantasy and performance can make it difficult to tell if the viewer's pleasure comes from one's own sexuality and joy or simply from being sexualized for the camera. But talking about that is the best way to make those nuances clear, for this generation and the next.