You can un-nock your arrows, I promise.
This isn’t going to be some misguided #NotAllMen diatribe or a disappointing foray through the whiny realms of “Why has everyone stopped paying attention to us boys?”
No, today we’re exploring the role men play in the consumption of pornography, and how that consumption is framed in society’s prevailing and countervailing narratives before we touch briefly on how they’re incorporated into Accounting for it All. Why? Because to write a book about a porn-star-turned-accountant without addressing porn’s primary consumer base felt inadequate at best and downright neglectful at worst.
Let’s start by exploring one of the most commonly cited stats regarding the use of porn among men of any age: that 64% of men use it at least monthly. Where does this statistic come from, and how is it framed in the media?
It took a handful of clicks for me to answer the former. When searching for the “percentage of men that use pornography,” the statistic appeared on a number of sites on Google’s top hits for the search. After exploring a couple of those results, I determined the number comes from the Barna Group, which, according to its about page is “a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture,” or, as Wikipedia puts it, “an evangelical Christian polling firm.”
It perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that the answer to our second question is that porn consumption is framed in the media in direct alignment with prevailing narratives of pornography; even a casual perusal of the sites linked above makes it plain that these usage statistics are made out to be a clear and present danger to modern society.
Porn Addiction and Prevailing Narratives
Woe be it of me to suggest that porn addiction isn’t a thing, but I would argue against the suggestion—as would many others—that simple engagement in pornography is an inevitable “slippery slope” that can only lead to addiction and ruin. If that were the case, we should expect 97% of men to eventually become porn-addled tears in the fabric of society.
More troubling, however, are prevailing-narrative arguments that insinuate porn consumption of any kind can only lead to unhappy or abusive sexual relationships. Granted, a not insignificant volume of pornography contains problematic or harmful depictions of sex, but researchers at the University of Montreal found that “men watched pornography that matched their own image of sexuality, and quickly discarded material they found offensive or distasteful.”
If we use that information as our baseline, then these problematic or harmful depictions in pornographic material—and one’s consumption of it—are driven more by harmful prevailing narratives in society at large rather than within pornography itself. In other words, problematic or harmful depictions in pornography are a symptom of, among other things, toxic masculinity—a cancer that certainly requires excision but, in this case, lies only at the fringes of this blog’s operation.
Ultimately, the prevailing narratives surrounding porn consumption are as shallow as they are insulting. To pick up a countervailing narrative, one need not look further than The Feminist Porn Book, in which Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood write that prevailing narratives of porn consumption often assume men’s sexuality to be “totally plastic… a barely constrained appetite that has to be civilized and ought to be kept away from the inflammatory influence of sexual media for its own good.”
To frame this differently, much emphasis is put on “saving men” where prevailing narratives are concerned. It is, as Smith and Attwood go on to put it, “couched in the language of health” through offers of the “powerful possibility of redemption, renewal, and rebirth.”
The Nature of the Evidence
The challenge in arguing for or against either prevailing or countervailing narratives is that any argument tends to depend greatly on anecdotal evidence. Antiporn activist Gail Dines has cited that men have told her that “once they stopped using porn they didn’t know how to masturbate.” Troubling? Sure—but it’s hardly substantial evidentially.
It’s fair to say the same could be said of countervailing narratives that place an emphasis on the liberation or pleasure that pornography can bring consumers and/or their partners. That evidence, too, is anecdotal; it ultimately comes down to whose stories are more valued in society at large, which, seemingly by default, are those that fit more snugly with society’s prevailing narratives.
Accounting for it All
Where does all of this figure into Accounting for it All? After last week’s post, perhaps it comes as no surprise that a certain character subset embodies prevailing narratives about men’s use of pornography, whereas another subset represents their antithesis.
Robin, our story’s hero, is then again put in a position to determine for herself whether her career as a porn-star has a deleterious or beneficial effect on society, or whether, ultimately, she should even concern herself with this if she feels she’s doing right by herself.
What does her journey look like, then? Where does it lead her in the end? You’ll have to wait until November 2018 to read for yourself, but you’ve got plenty of time between now and then to explore the issues on your own.
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