Warning- this post talks about vaginas and pornography and contains some slightly explicit language. Gasp! Anyone who is squeamish, uptight, or related to me can just stop reading right now. Consider yourselves warned.
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about sex, or should I say a lot more than usual.
Actually, a large portion of these said conversations have been about pornography. I’m not sure how the conversation always seems to go there. Perhaps it is because I’ve been thinking about it a lot more since I took a pornography course during my Masters (expect to see future posts about this). I don’t know, maybe everyone is just dying to talk about porn. I like to think it’s just because I’m relatively open and people feel comfortable talking to me, but I doubt it. More likely it has to do with alcohol. Regardless, somehow the conversation ends up on pornography. Unfortunately, they’re not usually exciting conversations about what we’re into or what kind of porn we prefer.
Lately, the conversation has ended up about pornography as sex ed. Can and should it be used as an educational tool? What effect does watching porn have on one’s sexual development, and of course, is pornography beneficial to women?
Let me back this up to another conversation I have been having most of my adult life, but especially a lot more lately: vagina confidence. Recently a girlfriend and I were talking about how difficult it is for many women to love their vaginas; as well we were discussing the increasingly popular phenomenon of labiaplasty and vaginal rejuvenation.
While vaginal rejuvenation may sound like a relaxing treatment at some kind of vagina spa, it actually refers to the surgical tightening of the vagina. Labiaplasty, sometimes known as labia reduction, is plastic surgery of the labia (minora or majora), for aesthetic (although sometimes health) reasons and is a growing business these days. One source purports that in the US, this industry is worth $6.8m and that in 2008 in the UK, operations were up 70% compared to the previous year. Vagina modification is a booming business; extremely lucrative for the surgeons, potentially damaging for the recipients. Read any forum and you will find just as many women who are unhappy with the surgery than who are pleased. Besides being super expensive ($2,000+), vaginal cosmetic surgeries can result in infection, loss of sensation, lengthy and painful recovery time, deformities, and permanent scarring, among other “side effects”.
So why, you ask, are so many women willing, even begging, to have this surgery in order to achieve a “designer vagina”?
Many people, including myself, blame pornography and the increasing social acceptance of and access to pornography (although not exclusively). It pains me greatly to say this because I have, for a large portion of my adult life, been an advocate for pornography as positive for women. I do think that porn can be really beneficial for women. Hear me out. Granted, there are tones of different types of pornography, much of which is extremely violent or degrading toward women, which obviously can have the opposite effect. For purposes of this blog, I’m referring mostly about “mainstream” pornography- which generally means predominately Caucasian, largely heterosexual porn (including most “girl-on-girl” as well) all of which of course can still be violent and/or degrading. There are whole other blogs needed to discuss these other categories, as well as the effects “mainstream” pornography can have on people who do not necessarily fit these categories.
Generally speaking, in a society that teaches women to be sexually passive, I think it is good for women to see other women actively enjoying sex, even demanding what they want/like. Porn is a great medium to allow this and to teach women that it is perfectly okay to enjoy sex. Too bad these women are still viewed as social deviants (aka sluts). Unfortunately, because so much of porn is catered to men’s fantasies, it can often really lack in this element of (genuine) female enjoyment (note the absence of the female orgasm in much porn, particularly from cunnilingus).
Sometimes porn can even function in the opposite manner, as will be discussed, teaching women that they should like things that many women don’t, such as cum on the face. Sure, there may be a time and a place, but may I just say - the money shot on the face is not a given and should not be happening unless you ask for it! (also suggesting a need for examples of healthy open communication in porn as well). But I digress.
This is the problem with porn. It has such potential to be educational and positive, but also so much potential to be very damaging. Back to this discussion of “vagina confidence”, I used to think that porn was a great medium for women to see other women’s vaginas and realize that everyone’s is different. Unless you fool around with women, or are super close with your female friends, chances are you haven’t seen many vaginas in real life, given the way our anatomy works. Watching porn could really help women who may be insecure to realize that their vagina is perfectly normal and that there is no “perfect” vagina. However, porn is screwing that up too. With the increases in labiaplasty among porn stars and Playboy’s persistent airbrushing of labia (I read they had a policy against showing labia), we are moving closer and closer to the “designer vagina”; the one-size-fits-all, “flawless”, completely unrealistic vagina. Similarly to how we have an ideal image of the female body, which is completely unobtainable for most women, we now have one of the ideal vagina too. Even one of our largest sources of pleasure is under public scrutiny and judgment. Is nothing sacred anymore? Not even our vaginas?
I recently read a study that surveyed over 400 students in England, aged 14 to 17, about pornography. Apparently, according to this survey, the average teenager claims to watch up to 90 minutes of porn a week. When shown photographs of 10 pairs of breasts, both boys and girls tended to prefer images of surgically enhanced breasts to “normal” breasts. Similarly, they were largely disgusted or shocked by hair between women’s legs. Many girls admitted to having started shaving their genitals because they believed boys expected them to.
Not surprisingly boys also revealed insecurities about the size and shape of their penises, as well as anxiety around performance.
I find this disturbing. What is going to become of a generation of boys and girls raised on porn? While I don’t think this is so much a new phenomenon for boys, I’m guessing that porn as first sex education for girls is increasing. Does this mean girls will grow up thinking shaved vaginas, bleached assholes, augmented breasts, anal, and cum on the face are all a standard, preferred part of sex? How about the fact that virtually no one in porn uses condoms? What chance do our messages of safer sex that my colleagues and I work so hard to promote stand against pornography’s blaring message- unprotected sex is better (and normal)?
And now when girls turn to porn, possibly hoping they will see something that resembles their own, they will find “artificial” vaginas as well. Why wouldn’t they surgically change theirs? Combine that with the countless advertisements that scream at young girls that they are not pretty enough, sexy enough, skinny enough, big breasted enough, tanned enough, etc. and we wonder why so many girls have self-confidence issues.
We are making it practically impossible for women to truly enjoy sex. How are women supposed to “get into it” when not only are we taught that good girls don’t like sex (or shouldn’t admit to it), but we are also too preoccupied with what our ass, hips, breasts, thighs, and now vaginas look like? Perhaps that is the point?
Despite all this, I really do believe that porn can be positive, for the aforementioned reasons. Maybe there just needs to be more amateur porn; real people with real bodies having real sex. Maybe we need to be more open about our sexuality as a society; show more pictures of vaginas. Maybe as women we need talk more openly about vaginas.
We certainly need to nurture confidence among our girls. Perhaps sex ed in school should include various images of various bodies, including genitals. Maybe not being so uptight about even using the word “vagina” would be a start. I’m not entirely sure, but I, for one, am disgusted that girls have yet another insecurity to add to the list. So please, for heaven’s sake, unless you are getting us off- keep your mitts off our muffs.