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Tristan Taormino Visit to Princeton Rekindles Feminist Debate

from – Today, for the second time in as many semesters, Princeton University is welcoming pornography producer and self-proclaimed “anal sexpert” Tristan Taormino to campus at the behest of the student group Let’s Talk Sex.

This time, Taormino comes armed with clips from some of her pornographic films, which will be screened at a public (18 years and older) event, blessed by the University administration and paid for by the USG — that is to say, by the student body.

Taormino’s lecture is titled “My Life as a Feminist Pornographer,” and the primary question at issue is whether pornography can be gathered under the feminist tent. It is a genuinely intellectually interesting question: Is Taormino’s work (and that of her colleagues) distinct in principle from the smut that clogs the bandwidth of corporate, personal and University computers everywhere?

In debating the issue of this particular pornographic campus event, the specificity of the question above allows for a perfectly legitimate argumentative sleight of hand. An opponent of the screening and of pornography in general might point out the fact that the life expectancy of a pornographic performer is less than 38 years — less than half that of the average American. The conscientious defender of the Let’s Talk Sex event would respond, “Be that as it may, Tristan Taormino is presenting a different approach to porn, one (arguably) principally distinguished from the general porn industry from which that fact emerges. It is therefore not relevant to the question at hand.”

And so the debate returns to its root: The existence of som thing called “feminist porn.”

But wait a minute. Let’s rewind and revisit that statistic.

The life expectancy of a pornographic performer has been estimated to be roughly 40 years.

According to the United Nations, that’s comparable to the AIDS-ravaged nations of sub-Saharan Africa.

Even if we granted that this salient and shocking statistic about the pornography industry is irrelevant to the specific question of feminist porn, it is clearly relevant to the pornography industry more broadly, and thus to the day-to-day lives of this student body. Two-thirds of men aged 18 to 34 years old visit Internet pornography at least monthly, and I can guarantee that precious few of those clicks, even from enlightened Princeton men, are to “feminist porn” websites. More likely, these visits are to websites featuring content such as A2M, identified by Dr. Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at Penn, as a recent fad in online pornography.

A2M stands for “ass to mouth” and refers to anal intercourse followed immediately by fellatio, often with feces on the penis, often accompanied by violence toward the passive performer (usually a woman, of course). But you probably already knew that.

In a world in which one in five video rentals are pornographic and in which more than one in 10 Internet visits are to porn sites, the question of feminist porn seems marginal, at best. It is intellectually interesting in the same way that “egalitarian eugenics” would have been intellectually interesting in the early 20th century — even if something satisfactory could come from the discussion, no one actually participating is particularly interested. Worse, by focusing our attention on a niche curiosity, it distracts our attention from a horror so ubiquitous that we take it for granted.

Pornographic performers often don’t survive to middle age.

They’re killing themselves. They’re overdosing on drugs, legal and illegal. They’re dropping at rates unimaginable even in the trashiest pits of mainstream celebrity.

Should we be surprised? They’re being abused — physically, sexually, psychologically. They’re subject to experiences of degradation unique to their profession.

Princeton students protest when the University may or may not be invested in a consortium that may or may not get its kicks by breaking unions. Meanwhile, we get our kicks by regularly patronizing an industry that’s killing off its workers at rates comparable to heroin addiction. Is it precisely because we’re implicated that we ignore this crisis?

It’s time to tear down our intellectual monuments to “privacy” and realize that, even in that most cliche sanctuary of the bedroom, when it’s just you and your laptop sharing a moment of empty ecstasy, sexual indulgence has social and personal consequences.

Exposure to pornography leads to a decreased appreciation of the attractiveness of one’s partner.

Exposure to pornography results in less satisfaction with actual sex with one’s partner.

Exposure to pornography makes one more likely to believe that women desire and enjoy being raped.

Exposure to pornography is associated with committing sexual assault and harassment oneself.

Are these facts relevant to the specific intellectual question posed by Taormino’s appearance today? Maybe, and maybe not. But who cares? They are relevant to the everyday lives of a generation hooked on porn. They are relevant to a campus obsessed with “healthy sexual expression” but which has yet to find sexual expression that isn’t healthy (outside of the scourge of sexual coercion, of course). And they are relevant to a student organization that supposedly eschews academic trivia for the higher truth of experience. And it is not feminist porn that dominates dorm-room erotica.

Of the roughly 1,500 active pornographic performers in California, you can expect at least one to die of unnatural causes each month.

We click; we watch; we get off; they die.

What are we going to do about it? Will we continue to cower behind the flimsy facade of privacy and personal freedom? Or will we recognize that, at some point, freedom ends and responsibility begins?


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