I like the slogan over at One Handed Writers, where I blog once or twice a month: “Changing the world…One orgasm at a time.”
It implies a sort of activism, or at least influence.
Self-gratifying? A bit. We are erotic writers; it’s hard to get away from that masturbatory influence entirely.
But I do genuinely believe that porn has a role as a teaching tool.
And I don’t just mean hyper-feminist, queer-friendly, social justice indie porn, although I love that stuff. I think there’s value to be had in things that are off-beat, extreme, and maybe even a little fucked-up.
Porn that’s based on real-world harms or social injustices can be hard for ethical people to swallow. If you are aware of and opposed to things like institutionalized racism or rape culture, an erotic work based on racial stereotypes or sexual assault looks an awful lot like part of the problem.
But I would argue that the nature of truly pornographic works — single-purpose sexual fantasies, isolated not just from the real world but even from other, non-erotic fiction — makes them a better place than most for attitudes and actions that would otherwise be considered offensive. Because they’re not just fiction, but also “dirty” fiction, they come with a pre-made assumption that the themes and ideas aren’t supposed to be okay. The not-okayness is part of the point.
A lot of what gets people off is stuff they’re unwilling to talk about or even admit to liking in public. Pornographic works provide a safe space to have that conversation with the self: a way to open up internal dialogue and say “wow, I really like thinking about women being savagely beaten and raped by their relatives” (or whatever).
Outside of an erotic setting, it’s almost impossible to come to terms with that kind of interest without inherently categorizing it as a “problem.” A very brave person might still talk about it with a close friend or a psychiatrist, but it would be a confessional act by default. You don’t admit it without making it an admission, and that’s inherently negative.
Flipping open or turning on a pornographic work and enjoying some self-gratification lets people acknowledge what turns them on without all the bad feelings — and if you want someone to actually think about something, that matters a lot. If you’re unable to think about an issue without feeling miserable, you’re unlikely to think about it much at all.
For people whose fetishes tend toward the socially problematic (rape, incest, pedophilia, racism, misogyny, etc.), an erotic portrayal is probably the best object lesson out there that the fascination is sexual. It isn’t because the fantasizer is a rapist, or a child molester, or a misogynist. It’s because the wrongness of the actions that make people into those things is in and of itself titillating.
You can’t separate interest from impulse unless you’re willing to do a little introspection. And the frank reality is that most people don’t have any real-world social setting where it’s appropriate to ponder a question like, say, “Do I want to go out and fondle strangers on public transit without their consent, or do I find thinking about it more gratifying than the act itself would be?”
Porn is the place where people can come to terms with those interests without fear of judgement. If anything, it’s an affirmation that someone else out there (the writer, or at least his/her intended audience) shares similar interests — and is, presumably, a normal, healthy, functioning human being as well.