A common response to critiques of pornography is “it’s just fantasy….people can separate fantasy from reality.” This beloved delusion allows for a defense of sexist, violent, degrading, and, really, dishonest imagery, based on the idea that the images we see on the screen have no impact on our actual lives.

There has been a recent debate of sorts around whether or not condom use should be mandatory on porn set in L.A. I guess the city approved the ordinance and interestingly, some people are choked.

The whole debate seems strange to begin with since it seems to talk around a lot of issues when we make condom use central to the debate; as though this is the only safety issue that needs to be addressed within the porn industry. In an industry that exists because of inequity (let’s please not pretend as though porn treats women, en masse, with respect), I find it a little dishonest and misguided to advocate for mandatory condom use as though this will somehow address and “protect the health and safety of porn stars.” Not to say that I am “against” mandatory condom use in pornography, it’s a given that people should use condoms if trying to avoid STDs, but rather that this feels like a pretty big derail. Particularly when we frame these efforts as some kind of progressive activism. Like, we care so much about women’s health and safety that we are demanding that some men wear condoms while filming double anal. How progressive!

Liberalssigh.

In any case, while we might take for granted that, sure, condom use in porn would be a good thing, or rather, not a bad thing, not everyone agrees.

A porn actress, Lorelei Lee, wrote a piece in Salon on Wednesday, arguing that enforcement of this ordinance is misguided.

She makes a number of points to this effect, but the one that interests me is this:

 I’ve heard too many times the claim that the adult industry is acting irresponsibly by portraying barrier-free sex when – as the argument goes – people of all ages are getting their information about sex from pornography. But the overwhelming majority of porn is fiction, and the world it portrays is one of fantasy.  I have to believe that most people who encounter porn know this.  We don’t generally expect other forms of entertainment to be responsible for disseminating health and safety information. If pornography is in some capacity replacing sex education for people in this country, then mandating condom use is a ludicrously indirect way of addressing that problem.

 

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?? Are we really still trying to make the argument that pornography is fiction and that this supposed “fantasy” has no impact on real life or on people’s real life ideas about sex and sexuality? Is pornography somehow exempt as a form of media?

If the things we see on screen, or in the pages of a magazine, are “fantasy” and have no impact on the ways in which we view and understand the world around us, then please explain body image. Please explain why women are afraid to grow old, why so many of them diet obsessively, and why so many hate their bodies. And while you’re doing that, please explain how advertising works. HOW on EARTH is it possible for us to see things on TV and then want to buy them! Explain how we all suddenly learned that white teeth were mandatory or that cellulite was disgusting. This has absolutely nothing to do with images we see on film or in magazines or in ads, right? Right.

And if porn has no impact on people’s real lives or understanding of sex then please explain the massive popularity of the creepy Brazilian bikini wax, breast implants, and facials.What’s with the prevalence of the schoolgirl fantasy? Were young men always this infatuated with coercing their female partners in having anal sex?  Because that strikes me as something relatively recent, in terms of sex-type trends. And, in fact, I feel that all these things have become normalized and popular as a direct result of porn culture.

Whether or not you think these things are bad or good or irrelevant, it is absolutely ridiculous to pretend that pornography doesn’t impact people and culture and lives. Movies impact people and culture and lives. So does advertising. So does television. People buy things because TV tells them to. True story. Razors are not a necessity. Neither is wrinkle cream. I have both of those things! Why? The TV told me I needed them.

This isn’t to say that people don’t have agency in terms of buying into consumer culture or porn culture, to a certain extent, but it is to say that these industries permeate the psyches of who are exposed to them. Even if we aren’t completely aware of it.

I’d be willing to bet that if porn portrayed condom use as, simply, as a regular old part of sex, people who watched porn would probably also think that condom use was a regular old part of sex. Sadly, though Lee claims otherwise, porn is very much a part of people’s “sex education”… Much to the detriment of people… Particularly women-people… So while the question of whether or not condom use is mandatory on porn sets strikes me as particularly boring and largely irrelevant, in terms of the bigger picture of how women are impacted by pornography, the last argument that should be made against such an ordinance is one that says the things we see on screen have no impact on us.

The reason that “porn with condoms doesn’t sell as well as porn without condoms,” is because porn doesn’t give a shit about people. And, subsequently, neither do most porn watchers. Porn doesn’t teach us about humanity, it teaches us to dehumanize. So why on earth anyone expects the industry OR the consumers to get behind something as minimal as mandatory condom use, when they so clearly have been trained, BY THE PORN INDUSTRY, not to give a shit about people and to pretend that people are, in fact, not real live human beings, is absolutely beyond comprehension.

But hey, enjoy that fantasy.