By Robert Jensen
Published in Atlantic Free Press; site no longer available · October, 2007
The following is an excerpt from Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.
There is a surprising amount of discussion and debate about pornography that remains abstract, as if we could talk meaningfully about the products of an industry without ever acknowledging what they are. It is important, though not always pleasant, to grapple not just with the idea of the pornographic but the actual content of contemporary mass-marketed heterosexual pornography.
The pornography industry produces two major styles of films, “features” (the two most well known feature productions companies are Vivid and Wicked) and “gonzo” (produced by many companies, including Evil Angel, Anabolic, and Red Light District). Pornographic features mimic, however badly, the conventions of a Hollywood movie. There is some minimal plot, character development, and dialogue, all in the service of presenting the explicit sex. Gonzo films have no such pretensions; they are simply recorded sex, often in a private home or on some minimal set. These films often start with an interview with the woman or women about their sexual desires before the man or men enter the scene.
Whether analyzing feature or gonzo movies, a few basic themes are common to all mass-marketed heterosexual pornography:
(1) all women at all times want sex from all men;
(2) women like all the sexual acts that men perform or demand; and
(3) any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force. Such force is rarely necessary, however, for most of the women in pornography are the “nymphomaniacs” that men fantasize about.
The message of pornography is not just that women choose this kind of sex, but that it is their nature, a part of being a woman. For example, the text of banner for the website suckmebitch.com, which promises “raw & uncut real home blowjob videos,” expresses this succinctly: “Make her feel like a real woman. Just say the magic words …
Suck Me Bitch.” In the pornographic world, a female person becomes a woman — a real woman — by taking her role as a “Dirty Little Cock Sucker.”
Feminist legal scholar and activist Margaret Baldwin sums it up accurately:
In pornography, the world is a balanced and harmonious place. The sexual requirements of women and men are perfectly congruent, symbiotic in relation and polar in definition: women live to be fucked, men inevitably fuck.
It really is that simple because pornography is that formulaic. Whatever the level of plot and character development, the focus is on the sexual acts, and those acts proceed in predictable fashion. In the more sedate features, a short period of the man performing oral sex on the woman is followed by a longer period of her performing oral sex on him, followed by vaginal penetration in a variety of positions. In some features, vaginal will be followed by anal penetration, before the “cum shot” or “money shot” — the man ejaculating onto the woman’s body or into her mouth. The vocalizations in features vary somewhat. Women almost always ask/beg the men to fuck them, often encouraging them to penetrate them harder. The men’s performance can vary from relatively benign vocalizations of their pleasure to the more aggressive “take this /you know you want it” script.
In gonzo, those same acts are featured, but typically are performed in rougher fashion, often with more than one man involved, and with more explicitly denigrating language that marks women as sluts, whores, cunts, nasty bitches, etc. In gonzo there also is an expanded repertoire of sexual acts, including several distinctive sex practices that are, if not unique to pornography, certainly far more prevalent in pornography than in the world off camera. Those include the double penetration, double anal, double vag, and ass-to-mouth.
Understanding pornography’s use of those acts requires discussion of the role of anal sex in pornography. Prior to the late 1980s and ‘90s, anal sex was not routine in mainstream pornography. As legal constraints on pornography relaxed in the mid-1970s and the normalizing of pornography began, pornographers started to look for ways to make their products edgy, and the first place they went was anal sex. Why anal penetration of women?
Anal sex can be pleasurable for the person being penetrated. Certainly the frequency of the practice among gay men suggests that is the case, and some women also enjoy the practice. But it’s also clear that most women do not seek out anal penetration, and therein lies the answer: Pornography, with its overwhelming male clientele, moves toward sexual acts that most women in day-to-day life do not seek out because most women find them either not pleasurable, painful, or denigrating. Those are the very same acts that men seem to find intensely pleasurable to watch in pornography. Here’s how one pornography industry executive explained the appeal of anal sex to me:
Essentially, it comes from every man who’s unhappily married, and he looks at his wife who just nagged at him about this or that or what-not, and he says, “I’d like to fuck you in the ass.” He’s angry at her, right? And he can’t, so he would rather watch some girl taking it up the ass and fantasize at that point he’s doing whatever girl happened to be mean to him that particular day, and that is the attraction, because when people watch anal, nobody wants to watch a girl enjoying anal.
No doubt this executive overstates the case; there are many films in which women appear to enjoy anal penetration, indicating many men enjoy the image of women getting pleasure that way. But it’s also true that many films portray women enduring, not enjoying, anal penetration. Sometimes this is made explicit, as in the website AnalSuffering.com, which promises, “Nothing makes these sluts hornier and nastier than the pain caused by a huge cock ramming up their tight asses.”
By the late 1990s, anal penetration in heterosexual pornography had become routine — not all movies included it, but it was no longer unusual. The industry looked for other acts that could push the conventional sexual script, without venturing into territory that would bring increased pressure from law enforcement.
Doubling patriarchal pleasure
There is a wide variety of sexual acts that one can find in pornography, but the ones that have become commonplace in gonzo pornography by the early 2000s — and slowly began to find their way into features — include:
–double penetration, known as “DP” in the industry, in which, a woman is penetrated vaginally and anally at the same time.
–double anal, in which a woman is penetrated anally by two men at the same time.
–double vag, in which a woman is penetrated vaginally by two men at the same time.
–ass-to-mouth, known as “ATM” in the industry, in which a man removes his penis from a woman’s anus and places it in her mouth or the mouth of another woman without cleaning.
I am not a woman, and so I obviously cannot experience a DP or a double vag. I have not experienced a double anal or ATM. So, while I speak without knowing how such acts feel, it is uncontroversial that the vast majority of women do not seek out such practices in their lives. From watching these acts on screen, it’s also reasonable to assume — even though women performers routinely say they enjoy them — that they are hard on a woman’s body and require conditioning to endure. Belladonna, a well-known gonzo pornography performer, in a 2003 interview with ABC News described such scenes this way:
You have to really prepare physically and mentally for it. I mean, I go through a process from the night before. I stop eating at 5:00. I do, you know, like two enemas. The next morning I don’t eat anything. It’s so draining on your body.
The most plausible explanation of the popularity of these acts is that men know that women in the world outside pornography do not want to engage in such acts and, unless forced, will not participate. Men know that — and they find it sexually arousing to watch them in part because of that knowledge.
Finally, consider ATM. In physical terms, it’s difficult to imagine that a man’s pleasure is enhanced by a woman taking his penis in her mouth directly from her anus or another woman’s anus; that act does not increase the physical stimulation of nerve endings. So, why do it? Again, the most plausible explanation is clear: To suck a man’s penis directly from an anus is unhygienic and potentially dangerous. When a woman does it, she is either expressing disregard for her own health or accepting the man’s implicit imposition of the idea that her health is of no concern. Either way, she is less than fully human.
Even someone from the industry, writing as the “Anal Advisor,” concedes there are health risks in the practice. In response to a letter about the rise of ATM in pornography, she writes:
Taking your dick out of a woman’s ass and directly shoving it into her mouth may make for exciting porn, but, in real life, it can be problematic. Bacteria lives in the butt that may not peacefully exist in the mouth, and could lead to an infection. No matter how squeaky clean her rectum may be, chances are there are at least trace amounts of fecal matter which may end up on your dick — do you really want to make her suck that off? Would you put it in your own mouth?
Even more interesting is the second half of her response, in which she acknowledges the intensity of some men’s desire for ATM:
I have a better idea. Fuck her in the ass til she’s right on the edge of orgasm, or you are. Order her to get on her knees and close her eyes. Talk to her, tell her she better open up her mouth for your cock. Have an anti-bacterial baby wipe stashed nearby, and quietly grab it, slide it over your cock, then toss it. Now proceed with sticking your rod in her mouth, keeping the fantasy intact, but keeping it clean for everyone involved.
In other words, it’s fine to want to treat a woman as less than fully human and to find sexual pleasure in it, but please do it in a way that is hygienic.
The trends in contemporary pornographic movies are quite clear: The men who consume pornography enjoy watching sexual activity in which women are less than fully human. Men like to watch sexual activity in which women are treated with cruelty. Lots of men like this. The practices I describe are found in films in the mainstream of a pornography industry that is increasingly accepted in the mainstream of U.S. society.
Where is it all heading? Here’s the assessment of one of the top executives in the industry, Steve Hirsch of Vivid Entertainment: “Not only does hard-core porn not shock people today, but I think they want more — harder and harder and harder and harder.”