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.