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The Porn Question

Recently, I heard a very concise objection to pornography while listening to BBC's podcast programme, which went, as far as I remember, that pornography is wrong because it commodifies women. I found that argument very forcible. I do not know how extensive your knowledge of pornography is, but if you have seen what I've glimpsed, believe me, you'll know what I mean. Let me explain.

I once took on a very educational job of writing up short synopses and catch phrases for rental videos, believing it to be a meaningful and useful step in my career as an aspiring translator. The videos unfortunately included porn films. I was usually given copies of their jackets, but sometimes I had to look them up on the internet to gather any available information about their "plots."

It was OK as long as I could laugh about kinky stuff, but it got quite disturbing when I came across some seriously sick ones involving homeless people and rape, to give you some idea. I had to get out of there quickly before I was mentally scarred for life, but sometimes I do wonder if a regular guy, appearing to be completely normal and decent to all intents, may secretly harbour a colourful collection featuring high school girls in tights or much older women in bondage. Or rape-snuff films. I'm sure we're all entitled to our own fetishes and sexual fantasies in private, but these films do appear to treat women not as live human beings with feelings and pain, but as nothing more than pieces of meat.

What should we do about such extreme cases? Ban porns? There's always that argument that atrocious films are the cause of actual crimes. Banning pornography is not likely to eradicate violence against women, but these films certainly seem to abet diseased desire and promote the mindset that women are simply sex toys at your disposal to release your sexual frustration with. But sex is part of our nature; banning pornography, suppressing such a large part of our nature - after all, sexual desire is up there with the need for sleep and the need to eat - seems rather a myopic solution.

Then what are we to do? Should we embrace sexuality and make all-out porns for women? Shall we try and subjugate men to "female gaze," instead? Commodify male bodies? Say, just as men seem to think it their birthright to undress women in their minds while having a conversation with them (who said women are better at multi-tasking?), shall we stare at men's crotches intently until they squirm?

I happened to air that idea to a group of intoxicated women recently, in the course of a conversation on a completely different topic. They were quick to reject it; they insisted that that is not what grabs their attention about men, and that sizes do not matter. It is a widely-accepted pseudo-scientific fact that men are more visual, whereas women are more tactile. Therefore, I guess very explicit porn films catered for female audience would not be box-office smash hits.

So, hard-core porn films that portray men as nothing more than limbs and muscles and sticks and balls wouldn't work for female audience. We need stories. The whole point of it (well, not the whole, but large part of it anyway) is the "leading up to it." That's why most romance novels normally don't start in steamy bed scenes.

Here again, I must admit to some meagre professional knowledge. At one point during my past career struggles, I studied Harlequin romance. It was strictly for work, not for pleasure; however, if you need any pointer, I'd recommend Margaret Moore if you're into historical romance. "The Dark Duke" was quite good though not a Burney or an Austen, of course.

At any rate, as I was saying, the whole building-up to the final culmination is the life and meat of romance novels or chick lit, usually. Unless you want something saucier. Then I'd suggest you try Cheryl Holt. She's in the school of "sex first, talk later," with heroines passionately humping heroes after they barely met, oh and reaching soul-embracing supreme love through carnal knowledge in the process, naturally.

Either way, what is important for female readers is this connection of "souls"; romance has to satisfy their hunger for this ultimate, eternal love, not just bodily desire. Porns may have "plots" too; yet I believe that they are not much more than just settings to suit male audience's fantasy and to arouse their interest. At least, there wouldn't be much danger of the many protagonists finding their soul mate in the victim of rape in the above-mentioned example.

Does this mean that women are made of finer stuff than men? But that is too weak as a conclusion; if anyone happens to be reading this, the reader, of either sex, will immediately raise an objection that that is too obvious. So, let us explore the issue a bit more.

Should we, then, try to elevate men to our standards by promoting porn films of higher quality, whose plots are not mere props for quickly setting the scenes for twisted, potentially criminal fantasies? Is it a matter of creating "female porns"; porn films in which protagonists spend a lot of time being attracted to each other but crossing wires, before they inevitably find the love of their life in each other? Without too much raw visual but with lots of talks of souls, possibly even of reincarnation? In which every casual seductive maneuver on the hero's part is interpreted as a manifestation of his deep, uncontrollable passion and love for the heroine, every careless and meaningless action or lack of it as purposeful rejection ... or do we do that already in real life?

As of this writing, I'm yet to come to a decisive opinion on the matter. As a woman, I cannot swallow the idea of porn films that portray women purely as objects, carved out to your desire. But are we, women, also subjugating men to our desire, commodifying them and moulding them to suit our fantasy as these soulful lovers of our dreams?

The question is, I'm thinking, should men watch more romantic porns in which the hero and the heroine (whether in singular or plural) spend the first hour and a half getting to know each other, only getting down to business in the climax of the final five minutes? Or, should women give more impassioned appraisal of men's crotches, while also paying more attention to their buttocks, biceps and other manly curves? I'm rather inclined to think so. Come to think of it, we have been rather rude, to be so remiss about such male assets, haven't we, ladies?

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