When Purity and Porn Cultures Collide

By: Darcy Doran-Myers

I chose to explore both the virginity movement and the porn culture, each of which exert great influence on women.  While these cultures seem at first to be separated by their opposite intentions and targeted audiences, they are actually very much intertwined in their intent to control female sexuality.  Both are largely pushed on women by the men in their lives and, when both of these influences are present in a woman’s life, they can together cause sexual confusion, loss of self worth, and a lack of control over the woman’s own body and sexuality.  I identify those subcultures where these influences appear to be greatest but also make the case that most, if not all, women are exposed to both the purity movement and the porn culture at varying degrees through exposure to popular media. I use a variety of artifacts to better illustrate the ubiquity of these cultures in our society.  Women are expected to be sexy, but not sexual; they should not be prudes but should also not be sluts; they are to be attentive and loving toward their partners but morally righteous for their family.  When women are consistently held to impossible and conflicting ideals regarding their sexuality, they are given no chance to independently decide the course of their own sexual lives.  

 

Cultural Artifacts

Artifact #1: The Cleveland Show on Familial Expectations for Daughters

Image

 

This excerpt from The Cleveland Show makes light of the reality that virginity in daughters is highly valued within the family unit.  The joke implies that women are goods that can be spoiled.  The father figure here is not insisting on his daughter’s purity to protect her but rather to make her more appealing to future potential suitors.  In this case, it is not an act of love to keep a daughter “pure” but one of sexism and selfishness.

The emphasized pressure on girls to restrain from sexual activity is discussed by Valenti in “The Cult of Virginity” (2009).  She shows that “men, or male-led institutions, have always been the ones that get to define and assign value to virginity” and as a result a woman’s purity has become “something to be owned, traded, bought, and sold” between the father of a girl and the girl’s future husband (Valenti 183).  Valenti asserts that a woman’s morality is judged by her sexual purity.  In some sects of society this judgment of women is intensified, particularly in black and Christian subcultures.  Springer (2008) discusses her experience growing up in a black and highly religious community, saying, “it was only us girls who were in danger of being labeled ‘fast’” (Springer 207).  Black females were (and are) victims of an extreme Madonna-Whore view of women and are seen as respectable only by being “asexual” (Springer 208).  However, even girls who do not identify as black or Christian feel the pressure from parents and other influential adults to be virginal in order to retain their societal value and perceived morality.  Even lighthearted jokes on The Cleveland Show are internalized in women all across America regardless of race, religion, class, sexuality, etc. and inform them of their role in a male-dominated society. 

 

Artifact #2: Usher Music Video and the Pornographic Influence on Media Images

Music videos are often reflections of male perspectives on women because the producers are overwhelmingly male and cater their videos to young boys’ sexual desires (Dreamworlds 3).  This video by Usher is a perfect example of the “porn culture” in which men and boys are immersed and which idealizes a highly sexual woman.  The woman in the video is the instigator of sexual dancing and, at the end, implied sex. In this male fantasy, the woman wants Usher to watch her dancing (encourages the male gaze) and she is intent on pleasing him.  Just as black women are especially susceptible to the purity movement, they are also highly influenced by porn culture.  Springer discusses the role of the black female “Jezebel” and “Sapphire.” These two stereotypes are ubiquitous representations of black females who are “hot and always ready for sex” (Springer 209).  What more could Usher want than this manifestation of a porn-star girlfriend? Because black women are especially targeted as sex objects for men in music videos and other sexualized media, the men in black women’s lives more often see them in this role. 

Not only is this video a great example of porn culture, but the lyrics also hint at the conflict between virgin culture and porn culture: “I want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed.”  In order to be attractive to Usher and other love interests girls are told to adhere to both the virgin cultural standards and the porn culture standards.  

 

Artifact #3: Male Sexual Expectations Shown in Men’s Health Magazine

 Image 

The porn culture discussed above has led many men to expect a certain degree of sexuality from their sex partners, whether that is a girlfriend, wife, or something more casual. Growing up with full access to music videos, Internet porn, and other sexual outlets has distorted many boys’ perceptions of female sexuality.  Men’s Health, the largest men’s magazine in the world, has at least one article on how to convince women to be that ideal “porn star girlfriend” in almost every issue.  The magazine cover featured here explicitly states this desire: “Lights, Camera, Satisfaction! Porn Star Sex in your Own Front Room” and, at the bottom, “Make Her Beg For More!” Other issues have similar articles, entitled “Dirty Picture Sex in Your Bedroom Tonight!” or “Sex Tricks to Turn Good Girls Bad.”   The fantasy of the wild, crazy, lusty girlfriend or wife is a desire many men share.  When this fantasy doesn’t pan out in real life, men tend to get distressed.  Do a Google search on “she doesn’t want to have sex with me” and you will find hundreds of Yahoo! Answers questions from men concerned that their wives or girlfriends are not living up to this expectation.  “Is she cheating on me?” and “Does she not love me anymore?” are common questions. A crazy sex life geared toward pornographic sex and male pleasure has become a requirement for a “healthy” and “loving” relationship.  If men are not getting enough sex or satisfactorily hot sex, they tend to see themselves as the hapless victims of cold and unloving women.  Significantly, porn and sex scenes in media promote the idea of an androcentric sex life by freely exposing women’s bodies but rarely depicting their sexual pleasure (This Film is Not Yet Rated).  Without attention to their sexual desires, men see heterosexual relationships as lackluster and disappointing—hardly a “partnership” worth pursuing.  Pornographic, frequent sex is now expected in reality; men feel entitled to the sex they see other men having in the media. 

  

Artifact #4: The Sexualization of Virginity as a Result of the Clash Between Porn and Purity

 Image 

And so the conflict between the virgin culture and the porn culture begins to take shape.  The societal expectation for women in romantic relationships to be sexual and virginal at the same time has resulted in a collision of ideals.  As a result of this collision, many interesting cultural phenomena have occurred.  Due to the ubiquity of porn and the “high value” put on virginity, many men have taken to sexualizing purity in women.  This can be seen in popular memes like the one above, music videos like Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (1999), and again in Men’s Health in articles like “Sex Tricks to Turn Good Girls Bad.” Men do not desire to be with a woman who wants to remain a virgin but rather be the man to strip away her “high value” and morality, thereby dubbing themselves irresistible to even the “best” women.  This phenomenon only complicates the issue of female sexuality for the woman.  If “good girls” are given extra sexual attention for being virgins, are they still expected to refrain from sex? If their fathers and adult role models continue to tell them to stay “pure,” are they being encouraged to emphasize their sexiness and high sexual value? And if giving up their virginity is now almost guaranteed to get the attention and admiration from a boyfriend or love interest, are they expected not to “cash in” their virginity and get some love, even if brief, in return?

 

Artifact #5: The Effect on Females and Female Sexual Choices

 Image

This all leads to some very conflicted women and girls.  Women may be variably influenced by different men during their sexual lifetime, and a woman’s perceived value in society can fluctuate according to her sexual activity.  Frequent changes in a woman’s views on her sexuality as influenced by the porn culture and virginity culture can lead to regret and a negative outlook of her sexuality overall.  This meme explores the Christian subculture where young adults are given a chance to become “born-again virgins” and cleanse themselves of past sexual experiences.  Sex is shameful in much of Christian ideology and other religious cultures, especially in females.  While this particular instance is confined to highly religious individuals, the meaning behind can be applied beyond Christianity.  Females are influenced, no matter your religion or race or social class, by both the porn culture and the virgin culture.  They are berated by males on both sides—fathers expect purity, boyfriends expect “freak in the bed” sex.  Both often end up disappointed, and girls end up as a disappointment.  Girls can become very conflicted throughout their sexual lifetime, leading to regret and shame and “born-again virgins.”

 

Discussion 

Throughout a young woman’s sexual development she comes across many influences.  Her parents, school, and possibly church tell her to remain chaste so that she may one day be an unspoiled, highly valued gift to her future husband.  Her TV, boyfriends, and even friends tell her that to be of high value she must have sex, and often.  Too frequently it comes down to which influence, father or boyfriend, pushes the hardest.  And at no point does the young woman have the space to decide for herself what to do with her body.  A woman’s sexual activity is often dictated by the men in her life from the time she is a daughter to the time she is a wife and beyond. 

This trend toward female domination by men is encouraged by much of the media.  The media works to inform both males and females of their role in society.  Both sexes are subject to the “causal connection” discussed by Dyer.  In relation to the porn culture, males see themselves as the sexual pursuers and receivers of sexual favors in porn and pornographic images.  The more they see these images and the more often they learn about sex from these sources, the more they see this role as “natural.”  It becomes an ideological hegemony.  Likewise, women in the media are portrayed as givers of sexual pleasure while their own pleasure is irrelevant to the scene, as evidenced by music videos and sex scenes in some of the movies featured in This Film is Not Yet Rated.  These images, in turn, only cause the virginity movement to push harder to “save” its girls.  The more sexualized the media (and thus men) become, the more polarized the fight for female domination becomes.  It is as if the female body is in a tug of war between two extreme male ideals… and neither team cares which side the woman herself wants to join.  The pressures that women feel from both sides are proof that “representations here and now have real consequences for real people” (Dyer 3).

Even women who have not been raised in targeted purity subcultures like Christianity and black families are influenced by the ideals of other adults and peers.  As Springer herself attests, “puritanical views on sexuality are not confined by race” (Springer 209).  Neither the virginity movement nor the porn culture are confined by sexual orientation, class, politics, religion, or race.  Others outside of particularly targeted subcultures are reached indirectly through the permeating presence of the media—virtually inescapable and always so convincing.  Likewise, women who refrain from dating men, because they are not attracted to men or because they consciously decide to refrain from the dating world, are still affected by the porn culture.  Porn is certainly not limited to heterosexual interactions and even all-female porn and sex scenes have largely become eroticized for male pleasure.  Lesbians cannot even have their own sex in the media without male observation and subsequent approval or rejection of appropriate sexiness.  The pressures to remain pure and simultaneously please men sexually have infiltrated all aspects of female society—if not through direct sources like family, friends, education, and church then through ubiquitous media outlets.  Females are bombarded from all sides, always; the idea of choosing for oneself is rarely presented to women and therefore rarely practiced by women. 

Women are told that to be virginal is to be a moral woman.  And, once they get into a sexual relationship, they are told that to be chaste is to be cold and unloving toward their partner.  Essentially, girls and women have to decide between having strong morals and being a loving partner.  To compromise—say, to have sex but not very often—is to disappoint both male influences, which each insist on an all-or-nothing approach.  It is an impossible system which leaves girls feeling degraded and of low value no matter what they decide to do. Marilyn Frye uses this phenomenon to support her call for recognition of the oppression of females: for young women, “neither sexual activity nor sexual inactivity is all right” (41).  We are punished by one side or the other no matter what we do—criticism, social embarrassment, and even scorn keep us toeing the line between slut and prude.  In effect, young women are continually trying to avoid punishment for their sexual choices instead of exploring their sexuality and their identity.  As the male-led porn cultures and virginity movements continue to fight for control over female bodies, the women inside are still struggling for their freedom to choose.

 

Sources

Anon. “Why it is so Important for Roberta to be a Virgin.” Meme. Joy Reactor. Web. 26

            September 2013. 

“Born Again Virgin for the Eighth Time.” Meme. Quickmeme. Web. 26

            September 2013.

Dreamworlds 3. Dir. Sut Jhally. Media Education Foundation, 2007. Online.

Dyer, Richard. “Introduction.” The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation. New

            York: Routledge, 1993. 1-5. Print.

Frye, Marilyn. “Oppression.” The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory.

            Crossing Press, 1983. Pg 39-52.

“Porn Star Sex in Your Own Front Room.” Men’s Health Jan. 2007: n. pag. Web.

Springer, Kimberly. “Queering Black Female Sexuality.” Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape.                By Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2008. 77-92. Print. 

This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Dir. Kirby Dick. IFC Uncut, 2006. Online.

Usher- Yeah HD. Perf. Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris. 2004. Youtube. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.

Valenti, Jessica. “The Cult of Virginity.” In Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Susan Shaw and                Janet Lee, eds. 2011. 5th Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill. 181-185. Print.

“You Refused Virgin Pussy?” Meme. Meme Generator. Web. 26 September 2013.

 

One comment

  1. OH MY GOD!…. The kid from “Family Ties!” (does this mean the Keatons are dead? Or did they just give him up for adoption?)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Dwell on These Things

Designing Plan C

FlowTV

a critical forum on television and media culture

Gender, Race, & Sexuality in Pop Culture. Feminist cultural critiques happen here.

In Media Res

Gender, Race, & Sexuality in Pop Culture. Feminist cultural critiques happen here.

WGSS 2230:

Gender, Race, & Sexuality in Pop Culture. Feminist cultural critiques happen here.

%d bloggers like this: