Women and Sexuality in Media: a Liberal Feminist Perspective Within an Historical Framework on the Commodification of Orgasm and Pleasure Based on the Documentary “the Price of Pleasure”

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“The Price of Pleasure” is a strong critique of one of America’s largest revenue producing industries, grossing somewhere between ten to fourteen billion dollars annually; pornography. The documentary walks viewers through the industry’s overarching patriarchal themes, its profit motivations and its effects on women’s sexual identity and mental health. It demonstrates clearly, how the intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, in the form of pornography, require a commodification of women’s bodies and women’s experiences of their own sexuality. Even though there are niche pornography markets that cater toward minority groups within the patriarchal system such as women, the majority of pornography, as much as seventy percent according to the documentary, is produced for consumption by a white male audience. It communicates to women that they are obligated to have sex, that their bodies are male property and intended for male pleasure. Because patriarchal norms reinforce women as sex objects as opposed to fully realized humans with their own unique sexual needs, as a whole women’s experience of orgasm and pleasure in sex is diminished, and this leads to male-female orgasm disparity in intercourse. From a Liberal Feminist perspective, which emphasizes that “given equal environments and opportunities, males and females will behave similarly” (Crawford, 2012, p.9) porn should be marketed to both men and women equally. Currently, porn is marketed to heterosexual men seventy percent of the time. The remaining thirty percent is divided among non heterosexual men, women, and transgendered people. This is a power imbalance reflective of women’s sexual needs being prioritized below men’s needs. Some may argue that women are less visually stimulated than men, and thus have less desire to view porn. However, in a Master’s and Johnson study, 71 percent of men and 72 percent of women used fantasy to enhance sexual arousal (Masters, Johnson, & Kolodny, 1986, p.281). Sex fantasies are imagined visual stimuli. It logically follows then, that pornography can excite women just as equally as men, if the pornography depicts something they find exciting. The question then, is what defines women’s experiences of pleasure? Orgasm, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an “intense or paroxysmal excitement; especially: an explosive discharge of neuromuscular tensions at the height of sexual arousal “(Orgasm, 2011). Pleasure in comparison, according to the American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983), is defined as “enjoyment; satisfaction” and “one’s preference, wish or choice”. Women’s orgasm and pleasure are appropriated by patriarchy in our culture and have long been so. In fact, they are appropriated to such an extent, that the concept of “female orgasm” is relatively new. The word orgasm was not in widespread use until 1973 (Orgasm, 2011). In early industrial America, it was believed that women lacked sexual desires of any sort. Women were taught to obtain pleasure through gendered behaviors such as raising children, maintaining a peaceful, refuge-like home for their husbands, feeding their ephemeral, spiritual nature through religious study and worship, and remaining chaste. The Cult of True Womanhood, as these concepts came to be identified, emphasized Piety, Purity, Domesticity and Motherhood as the only socially valid, even the only ways women possibly could experience pleasure. (Dubois, 2008) These pleasures were entirely defined by the benefits they offered husbands, fathers and sons. It is important to note that even within these limited margins women did and always will resist the dominant culture, pushing for equality with men. As Foucault stated, “Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power” (1978). Foucault recognizes that in order to have awareness of the wrongs of a...
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