A Defense of Pornography
by Cal Y. Pygia©
While it seems unlikely that erotica, or pornography, will ever attain the respectability of other types of fiction, there are reasons for its continued popularity, even after thousands of years, some of which have little or nothing to do with nudity, sex, body secretions and fluids, and the like. Moreover, these reasons are fairly obvious and easy to identify:
Pornography allows us to participate, vicariously, in a variety of sexual acts with a variety of sexual partners, same sex and otherwise.
Pornography allows us to explore the mystery of sex.
Pornography lets us cast off our responsibilities to others and ourselves.
Pornography allows us to reestablish feelings of normalcy.
Pornography lets us act without restraints.
Pornography enables us to practice safe sex.
Pornography increases our understanding of, and, perhaps, our sympathy for, others who are "different."
Pornography helps us to establish a sense of community with others who are like us, helping us to understand that, no matter what it is that turns us on, we are not alone.
Pornography lets us explore our own sexuality, orientations, beliefs, attitudes, dreams, feelings, thoughts, and values.
Pornography reminds us of our own dual nature as "ghosts in a machine."
Pornography teaches us new sexual techniques and exposes us to possibilities for sex that we may not have considered before.
Let's shift gears and look at a specific way that pornography often challenges readers' individual and communal values and perspectives by displaying a conflict between characters who champion and characters who lack or don't fully embrace the uninhibited lifestyle of writers and (presumably) readers of erotic fiction.
Every genre produces its own ideal types of ideal character and its own types of straw man (or woman)--a figure constructed specifically to be demolished by an argument-- thereby supposedly demonstrating the weakness of the opposition (the straw man or woman) while showing the superior strength of one's own, demolishing argument. In other words, the ideal character represents what, in general, readers and writers of the genre consider the perfect type of person, whereas the latter embodies the flawed specimen of the community's conception of humanity, showing what is wrong with such a flawed example and, perhaps, what needs to be improved or corrected (or punished or destroyed) in it.
Of course, the ideal and the flawed characters depend upon the values common to the specific subgenres in which the characters appear. For example, in general, although there are, of course, always exceptions, gay fiction is likely to champion either dominant, masculine, and aggressive men or women, or submissive, feminine or effeminate, and passive men or women, whereas heterosexual fiction is likely to endorse men who are dominant, masculine, and aggressive and women who are submissive, feminine, and passive.
In pornography, moreover, the ideal male character is often the seductive womanizer, whereas the flawed character appears in a number of varieties: the impotent old man, the inexperienced or virginal young man, the passionless intellectual, the (from a heterosexual perspective) effeminate or homosexual man or the aggressive butch lesbian. The ideal woman is often the passionate, experienced, passive, beautiful, young woman who is more interested in pleasing than in being pleased, and her flawed counterpart is the old hag, the inexperienced or virginal young woman, the frigid woman, the unresponsive woman, or the masculine and emasculating femme fatale.
Let's consider one particular subgenre in detail to get a better idea of the relationships between the themes and values of such fiction and their depiction in the stories within these subgenres.
The captions and taglines of the sleazy paperback novels sold during the 1950's through the 1970's suggest the themes that various subgenres projected and sanctioned. One such subgenre (not found much, if at all, today is the "backwoods" fare that depicts rustic lovers in rural settings. Beauty, youth, and easy availability are desirable in country girls (The Country Tramp cites the cover girl's attributes as "a lovely face. . . a gorgeous body" and an inability or unwillingness to 'say 'no'").
The rural setting is also an attribute of such fiction, as the caption to Backwoods Shack suggests: "It was an incredible hideaway of youthful lust. . . in a million dollar setting." Presumably, therefore, the backwoods subgenre's flawed woman is one who won't agree to an overnight, weekend, or week-long trip to such an out-of-the-way resort, and the backwoods subgenre's ideal woman is the one who does consent to such a trip. Alternatively, if the story is told from the male's point of view, the flawed character is the guy who isn't man enough to get his woman to consent to such a trip, whereas the ideal character accomplishes this goal.
As one might suspect, incest is a frequent theme in such stories as well, suggesting that writers and readers of such fare value sex (or at least the idea of sex) with their parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and other members of their immediate and extended families, or "clans." Backwoods sleaze that includes incest is often indicated by the books' titles: Degraded in Momma's Bed, Raped and Chained Cousin, Fun With Sister. In such stories, the ideal character is the parent, sibling, or other relative who enjoys closer-than-natural family relations, whereas the flawed character, the straw man or woman, is the resistant or reluctant relative.
A gay title in the backwoods sleaze subgenre Country Studs teases readers with the tagline, "Two brothers find out new [i. e., gay] things in their small country town," suggesting that the ideal gay character in rural pornographic stories is the man who is bold enough to think outside the confines of small-town bigotry and narrow-mindedness, whereas the flawed character is too timid to resist such provincialism and its consequences.
Subgenres typically focus on lifestyles, special interests, geographical regions, sexual fetishes, and historical periods and events. From these themes, communities are identified and defined, characters are catalogued and developed, settings are selected and described, and the polarities of ideal versus less-than-ideal, or flawed, are pinpointed. Between such polarities lie continuums of more-or-less ideal or flawed characters, more-or-less desirable or undesirable sexual behaviors, more-or-less attainable or unattainable men and women, more-or-less successful feats, and so forth. Conflicts develop among these points on the continuums and lead, eventually, to comedic or tragic resolutions.
The improvement of the flawed character (which is shown by his or her becoming more and more an approximation of the ideal character of his or her sex) marks the story as a comedy; otherwise, if the flawed character fails to measure up to the genre's ideal by the end of the story, his or her narrative is a tragedy.
Regardless of whether the story involves straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, or other characters, it will produce these two extremes, the ideal and the straw man or woman as a flawed character, so that the latter can be shown to be inferior to the former. In what way, exactly, he or she is inferior; and what needs to be corrected or punished in order to make the inferior character "right," depends, respectively, on the values and concerns of the genre or the subgenre and on the degree to which the flawed character is flawed. If the flawed character is irredeemably flawed, he or she must be exiled or destroyed, rather than corrected or punished.
It is possible to introduce variations into this basic scheme, of course, and writers do so, all the time. For example, the apparently ideal character may turn out to be the flawed character, or the flawed character may actually be the ideal character, who is merely pretending to be flawed or is mistakenly perceived as flawed. Alternatively, one of the characters may change his or her mind concerning what is or should be considered ideal, a straight man coming to prefer transsexuals to women or males to females, for example, which suggests that he himself--or his orientation, at least--was flawed; by changing his orientation to match his sexual preference, he becomes whole, or ideal, rather than flawed.
The use of ideal and flawed characters (as straw men or women) is another way in which pornography provides stories that are both sinfully entertaining but informative and even instructive as well.