Consuming documented prostitution (AKA “pornography”) means consuming the sexuality of strangers as a commodity. It is neither natural nor universal, but a social institution with concrete history. In addition to the advanced technology it requires for mass reproduction, it depends on specific forms of material and cultural power relations. To allow some people to achieve sexual gratification in the privacy of their home, without any social costs, the participants in pornographic videos suffer significant social and emotional costs, losing their right to privacy for good.
A pro-feminist male friend of mine tended to agree with my negative view on documented prostitution but said that “then again, I read somewhere that when a few individuals of a rare kind of animal in a zoo wouldn’t procreate, the zoo personnel showed them videos of other individuals of their kind mate, and that caused them to procreate. So, I guess that being aroused by seeing videos of individuals of your kind mate is natural”.
My friend gave me a wonderful metaphor to think about pornography and human sexuality. The animals in the zoo are locked in a cage. Either they were hunted down or born in captivity. They are deprived both of the stimuli of their natural habitat, and of the possibility to freely encounter and engage with other individuals of their kind. They are probably under continuous stress caused by being displayed to the enjoyment of people.
Whose captives are we that we have become dependent on seeing a video of strangers mate in order to stimulate and satisfy our sexual desires?
Our sexuality is not the most significant issue at stake. Our ability to truly encounter the Other and forge an ethical relationship with him or her is also at risk. Following the research conducted by my friend and colleague, Dr. Sara Cohen Shabot, into the ethics of Simone de Beauvoir (you can read two relevant articles of her here and here), I believe that when we encounter another human being, each of us has a responsibility to engage in an active struggle to free both himself or herself and the Other. We cannot meet the person whose sexuality has been commodifized for us, let alone strive to free him or her. In fact, by consuming pornography, we actively learn to dissociate sexual gratification from the responsibility of encountering the Other as equal and independent.
Merleau-Ponty wrote about the inherent reversibility of the hand shake: both hands, both bodies touch each other and are being touched at the same time. The movement is reversible; the bond that’s created is mutual.
This is true whenever I touch another person (except when I’m using an object to touch the other person). The reversibility of the movement- the fact that both of us touch and are being touched at the same time- is essential to the bond between us.
When I induce pain in another body through my touch- this bond is ruptured.The Other now feels an intense stimulus that takes control over her or his attention. He or she feels something very strong. What I feel becomes close to nothing. The intensity of the pain the felt by the Other minimizes my own weaker and more mundane sensations. The movement is no longer reversible. The bond is ruptured.
One of the reasons I enjoy practicing martial arts so much is that it changes me. I often feel that while intellectual learning may grant me more knowledge, it doesn’t have the power to change me.
I was raised on the belief that physical aggression is bad and forbidden, and that displaying any form of physical aggression is primitive, shameful and humiliating.
I remember two instances in which the faintest expression of physical aggression as a child brought on such a severe reaction that I understood quite well that such a behavior is not tolerated.
This and other forms of feminine gender socialization have made me much more comfortable with being or imagining to be the target of physical aggression than being the agent of physical aggression.
Merely playing the role of the attacker during martial art class can be extremely difficult for me. I feel out of place, embarrassed, my limbs heavy.
But I adapt to it. After a while, playing the role of the attacker comes more naturally, eliciting less embarrassment. I feel relieved. This relief comes from having the opportunity to rework and change the corporeal and emotional patterns I was socially wired to in relation to aggression.
During this class, I not only became more proficient in one language of the human body (one can view different martial arts as different forms or dialects of body languages), I had also changed. When I change, I feel as though something in the world outside me has reached through to me and penetrated my soul.
I want to feel that I truly inhabit my body. But I only experience it very rarely. When I move or execute movements automatically I’m as far from inhabiting my body as one can be. So maybe expressing doubt, indecisiveness, pondering – through the body – is one mode of inhabiting it.
This occurs in situations when you’re not sure what to do with your body or part of it. Or if you are trying to change some form of bodily habit, a former way of moving, adapt yourself to something new. Your movement is tentative, faltering. Your muscle tonus oscillates, tenderly changing, from one moment to another, like a flickering light bulb.
Regardless of your will, you now express something new with your body. It is precisely the indecisiveness and doubt that communicates this fact to you and others. You make an effort; moored in time and space, because you lack confidence and authority.
This experience is inextricably bound to imagining new ways of inhabiting ones’ body, and to a genuine willingness to change. This experience needs to be sheltered to take place. Aggression, humiliation, pressure, social or physical, dictation will strangle it like putting a glass over a little flame. When it comes to human sexuality, I believe that the spread and force of symbolical and material erotization of violence, and more broadly, of hierarchy and power relations ( along with the accompanying construction of human sexuality as genital penetration) suffocates this potential mode of inhabiting one’s body through sexuality. By definition, this mode of sexuality or eroticism, would not lend itself to commercialization or consumption.