PVV – “Is porn really [a] big issue in the US?”

I recently received a series of questions from a friend of PVV in Italy (Italy!!). Not only were these questions important in of themselves, they got at a series of cultural issues that I found very compelling – how do we (the US) look to other parts of the world in terms of sex and porn? I don’t generally worry too much about appearances, but this really got me thinking…

Anyway, here’s a portion of the query and my response – enjoy!!

The Questions:

“Is it porn really this big issue in US? Or it is just because of the elections? And is it really possible that people can give their vote to a politician who talk[s] about [the] ‘war on porn’ and porn and religion as one of the main things of his campaign to become the President of the USA?

I mean, I don’t know America and I don’t know American people and culture, [but] I know what I read and regarding porn and politicians I’m reading so many stupid things I can’t believe it!

I live in the most Catholic country, the Pope lives here, but if a politician would say the things this Santorum guy says, people would be like ‘Ok, you’re an asshole. Let us do what we want in our bedrooms and in our houses. Fuck off!’ :)

So could you help me understand? Could it be connected to the fact that America is a ‘young’ country compared to Europe in terms of history or ‘culture’?”

Goodness goodness, so many good questions and complex issues are raised here (and this was only part of the message!!). Here is how I responded, with some edits and expansions at points.

The Response:

Porn is a big issue in the US, but generally not in the way you’d think (if you were basing your thinking on mainstream media alone).

Rick Santorum, the former Republican party presidential candidate hopeful (he recently dropped out), was IMO just using porn as a campaigning tactic in a way that is similar to what the “war on porn” people do – they call attention to porn on occasion when they need something to talk about or sensationalize. This is because porn is a flashy issue that gets attention, which I think actually begins to get at the real problem…

[Rick’s stance on porn here (item #3) and all sorts of discussion about this issue and its overall foolishness here (audio)]

In my thinking, scholarly and research work, and personal experience, US culture is very uncomfortable with sex. Sex education is in crisis, many US folks ally themselves with dated ideologies (even if they don’t necessarily hold them), people judge the sex practices of others that have no impact on them, etc, etc.

This discomfort is juxtaposed with the fact that US culture sells and consumes sex rampantly in media and marketing and fashion and etc… and in porn. What we end up having in the US is a very “sexed up” culture with no tools (literal and emotional) to reconcile these “love/hate” paradoxes. In the US, we love sex… but we’re not supposed to.

So, in terms of porn and the adult industry in general, what happens is this: we have a product that most people consume in some way (be it via the web, through DVDs, softcore/cable, adult novelties, erotica, etc and/or in some other form via the sex industry).

BUT, people are so uncomfortable with acknowledging (much less discussing) these proclivities that porn has been ensconced in this mysterious bubble – everyone wants it, but no one knows anything about it. This mystique is part of the reason why people like Rick Santorum can talk about it and use it as a campaigning tool.

This whole dynamic may be a partial result of the fact that, as you say, the US is a young culture. I also think it has to do with our puritanical roots, and it may also have to do with good old fashioned hypocrisy (we are, apparently, big fans of paternalism and “nanny states” over here).

Ultimately, these are just my best guesses at this moment. Who really knows, but I am trying very hard to figure it out :)

Well? That was my attempt at an answer… I was so interested this series of questions, as I said, both as they were written and in terms of the bigger global issues they get at – in a global context, how does the US look in terms of sex and sexual health, social justice and individual liberty? I’m guessing pretty backwards.

What do you think?

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