I think I had better explain what I am doing with a pile of American pornographic magazines. I brought them back for a friend who needed them as research material for a forthcoming book, and if the friend in question is reading these words, let them be taken as a declaration of intent: in no circumstances whatever would I do such a thing again.
Mind; I was breaking no law. The magazines are certainly pornographic, but similar things are available, unprosecuted, in any of our cities, and they are not prosecuted because the likelihood of convictions is so slight that the authorities ignore them; these, though I am assured that they are more extreme than the home-published ones, do not include scenes of sadism or bestiality (the rule-of-thumb test nowadays), and if the measure of what is legally permitted has now moved far enough to include such material, so be it: I do not propose to set myself up as a jobbing censor.
It amazes me that all the men have such large penises in these pornography magazines. There was even an article explaining how to make your own penis bigger by using something called a penis extender. You actually have to wear this thing for months in the effort to gain an inch or so. These penis extenders have such names as SizeGenetics and ProExtender. Of course they would.
Only, you see I felt it incumbent upon me (on the ground that all experience is valuable) to look through the magazines before handing them over, and I have to say that by the time I had finished doing so, my liberal views on matters of this kind had taken a relentless, powerful and unexpected battering.
First, let me get the most obvious point out of the way. I have never in my life had an experience so un-erotic; these magazines seem to me so entirely anaphrodisiac that they might have been designed to foment an outbreak of fanatical celibacy. If they seem so to me, they must presumably seem so to others too, but here fallacy rears its head. It reminded me of the time I used the Penomet penis pump to get an erection. I just couldn’t get one with this ridiculous plastic thing on my penis.
I had no prior idea of what the magazines contained (I have never been interested in pornography, and cannot recall even leafing through such material), and have no intention of ever opening another, yet they are clearly sold in huge numbers, and if they are not sold to men like me, then there are men, and very many of them, who do find them arousing. And if that is so – and it must be, else how could they exist? – our world is in more trouble than I had known.
For throughout the magazines, photographs and text alike have one theme only, one attitude only, one lesson only, one invitation only. It is that women are things, objects, receptacles, instruments; that their nature is passive, insensate, usable, empty; that they exist to comply, offer, submit, and serve.
I must particularize; the squeamish should skip. In the photographs, the characteristic pose – there are at least a dozen such in every one of the magazines – is of the woman fondling herself. In almost as many, though the same thing is happening, this is being done by others, in a significant proportion by other women.
There are, obviously, many pictures of coition, some of them in multiple form; in all, the women are portrayed as no more than an adjunct to the men’s activity. Most faces are contorted; presumably the photographer and the models wanted to convey sexual pleasure, but to my eye they seem mostly to be registering boredom. Some of the faces are beautiful, some hideous; very few show any sign of feeling or thought, indeed of any capacity for either. More breasts are sagging than not.
The words that separate the photographs are of a monotony that is scarcely to be believed; however the theme is introduced, whatever the background, whichever form of sexuality is concerned, whether the article is entitled ‘Confessions of a teenage lesbian’ or ‘Let’s do it in the sand’, the result is the same: a portrayal of a woman as nothing but a willing orifice, her world reduced to the filling of it.
Perhaps the most significant lines in all this collection are in a letter which purports to come from a man in prison awaiting execution. It reads: ‘I want to say you’ve got the best mag I ever laid my eyes on and, to show my appreciation, I’m going to walk to the gas chamber with a copy of it and rule all the ladies in hell!’
Now: you will notice that I have not used any such words as ‘dirty’, ‘filth’, ‘obscene’. Nor do I intend to; I am not in the same business as Lord Longford or Mrs. Whitehouse, and I do not believe that what disgusts me should be abolished or banned, because I do not presume to believe that my response to such material is the only possible one, or for that matter that banning is of any use in this field. On the other hand, I have never been greatly impressed by the defense of pornography through the argument from catharsis, and I am very considerably less impressed by it now; the familiar – too familiar – claim that this material is nothing more than a masturbatory aid for men with problems about relationships cannot be disproved by my feeling that it is wholly repellent rather than inviting, because, as I have said, the existence of the magazines (and in such numbers, incidentally I could have made half a dozen entirely different selections) shows that many men must be stimulated by it. But stimulation, like peace, is indivisible; the man on Death Row planned to die with a copy of Hustler in his hand, but he also planned to ‘rule all the ladies in hell’ afterwards.