Oprah and I usually get along fine. But this week, she did a show on erotica and pornography. Some women have sex with strangers, on camera, for money. Some women buy kinky lingerie and sex toys. The show gave the overview of everything NC-17 and passed judgment on none of it. So I’m going to.
Buying a sex toy is not the same thing as buying porn. Nobody gets hurt if you buy a sex toy or crazy lingerie (unless, I guess, if you’re into that). Pornography, on the other hand, transforms girls into women with dead eyes. Actresses who have played in sexy scenes, nude scenes, look slightly sheepish in their interviews. Actresses who have had sex on camera look humiliated. Their eyes look despondent.
Winfrey interviewed Jenna Jameson, who is, apparently, a big ol’ porn star. And it’s perfectly healthy and she’s completely empowered, except that she cries when she talks about her infant sons finding 0ut about her past.
I won’t say that I think it’s right for her to be ashamed. I don’t think there’s anything inherently shameful in what she did. For whatever reason, many human beings feel like sex is something that should be private. Whether this is natural or unnatural, right or wrong, I was sad that Jameson clearly feels shamed by what she has done.
I haven’t known women who worked in pornography. I have known women who worked as strippers, and that was bad enough. Preach all you want about women’s choices and how boobs are perfectly healthy and sexuality is perfectly normal. I agree. But that doesn’t matter. I’ve seen that their eyes have the glaze that resembles the look of abuse victims: confusion, shyness, shame.
Maybe allowing the audience to decide their own boundaries was part of Winfrey’s intention. I wish she had drawn a clearer line, or asked more pointed questions, at least, about how various sexually explicit activities and purchases affect women. The last segment showed Lisa Ling interviewing an actress who talked about getting regular HIV tests, and having to trust that her costar hadn’t had sex with anyone since his negative test result. Thankfully, it was hard for the show to wrap things up on a light note after that.
It seemed flippant to suggest, as Winfrey did, that you should ask your girlfriends if they watched porn, the same way you might ask them if they wear thong underwear. The question of pornography at least deserves more serious consideration than that. Is the fun or thrill or release of pornography worth the possible suffering of some people who produce it?
I don’t know. I buy flowers every week at the grocery store: gerber daisies, roses, carnations, lilies. I love having flowers in the house. I have learned that a lot of our flowers are grown south of here, in countries where the workers are mistreated. Tons of pesticides. And still, I buy flowers.
We all support various evils with our money and our time. Sometimes we know about it, and we do it anyway. Maybe those crummy flower growing jobs are the only jobs those people can get. Maybe it helps their kids go to school. On the other hand, I stopped buying meat because I couldn’t stand the idea of all those animals being callously raised and killed.
In fact, Winfrey pushed the meat industry a few years back, and was the recipient of some pretty sharp retaliation. I respected her stand. And knowing that, I wish her recent show had been as brave.