Intimacy and Amateur Porn: an anthropological discussion

Introduction:

This text interrogates the relation between amateur porn and the concept of intimacy. In the first part, the phenomena of amateur porn and the research question are presented. Following clarification of pornography is given. In the second part, three different reflections on the concept of intimacy are made. The first is a historical analysis of the concept, and this is done by following the work of Foucault in his essay on the history of sexuality. The second is by reflecting on the meaning of the concept and the apparent contradiction with the action of sharing. For this, a Conventionalism perspective is used. The third is a reflection of the body and the spectator, this analysis uses the concept of poly-excentric made by de Mul and elaborated from Plessner’s idea of positionality.

Amateur Porn: description of the phenomena

Generally when thinking about sex also the concept of intimacy is involved. This is because sex is perceived as a form of life inside the intimate sphere of a person. In this sense, the concept of pornography seems opposed to the idea of sex as part of the intimate sphere, and the difference rises, even more, when is taken into consideration amateur pornography. But what makes something pornographic? According to Rea (2001:118), pornography is not only reducing the nudity into parts of the body, or the explicit representation of sex. If nudity is used for medical investigation, or explicit sex representation is used as a form of art, it will not make this object pornographic. What makes something pornographic is how the material is used by the user/ spectator, for example for personal erotic arousal. And, the internal characteristic of the material, for example, if the material is designed in a certain way that suggested the erotic involvement of the spectator. Pornography becomes amateur when the sharing of pornographic material is made by single individuals or couples not associated with professional companies of adult entertainment. With amateur porn, a major distance from the intimate sphere seems to be in place. Amateur porn is a growing phenomenon, and in support of the statement, two elements are presented: the first is the communitarian aspect that porn platforms are developing. Going through the major porn platform (such as PornHub or OnlyFans) it can be noticed that the design of the website is aimed toward a communitarian approach and community building, in which it is possible to create a profile, upload and share content, and interact with other members (similarly as social media platforms). The second element regards the popularity of this content, and this can be measured by the revenues that these platforms make with amateur porn. In this sense, OnlyFans is the best case. According to StartingFinance (2022), the platform in the last two years passed from 380$ million in revenue to 2,5$ billion. From the above the research question is presented: does the increased sharing of amateur porn suggest an end of intimacy?

Intimacy: a historical construction?

The term intimacy suggests a vulnerable state in which the individual can be free to be them-self without judgment. It reminds a state of maternity because you are in a safe place, free to act and to be, and as the fetus is free to be and act without the mother judging. The intimate state implies a social separation between the public and the private. In society, you have a role, and duty to respect depending on what you represent in society, but inside the safe walls of your shelter, you are in the private, and everything that happens inside there is intimate: no judgment, no social duty, just free to be. As stated the link between sex and intimacy is a direct one, and the reason for this tight connection between the two terms is multiple. The most direct one arrives from the action of being naked: nakedness implies vulnerability, and the action of getting undressed has in its powerful symbolic meaning. I get undressed: taking away the skin that I wear in society to remain with my natural skin, imperfect and ready to be judged by the audience. But, it is because of the intimacy sphere that is created, that the subject feels safe and ready to be them-self, in their real imperfect form. Intimacy and sex not only share the body but also the mind. It is inside the intimal sphere that you put yourself naked in the “soul”, you express your emotions, love, sadness, anger, and tears. Outside from evil eyes ready to judge your action, and together with the mother that will not judge you and love you whatever takes. This description suggests that the experienced of being humans would not be possible without intimacy, making intimacy inherent to humans themselves. But is it like this? Foucault in his essay on the History of sexuality (inside Rivkin and Ryan, 2004) suggested an interesting interpretation to address the above question. Contextualizing the author for the text, the difference that stands between the relation of intimacy and sexuality with the external world is the one of separation between the licit and illicit. The licit refers to what is recognized as socially accepted, while on the other side illicit is what stands inside the intimate and sexual sphere. Regarding this sphere, Foucault (2004:893) points out that starting from the eighteen century three explicit codes governed the sexual practice, and these codes refer to the social and cultural institutions of the time: canonical law, Christian pastoral, and civil law. On a social and cultural level these three institutions whit their codes interacted with each other, and from the interaction emerged a focus on marriage relations as the one in which sex codes and power relations were exercised. Sex and libido are powerful instincts for human beings, they are at the bases of the biological process of reproduction. Channeling the sexual desire into the social structure, in which values and virtues are embedded inside, makes society institutions control it, and if institutions can control sex then it is easier to control the individuals of that society. It is for this reason that Foucault (2004:894) makes central the idea of surveillance whit sex, and by following it, the ontology of the licit and illicit can be tracked. From this, a separation was needed. The values and norms that society promotes not always are followed by the individual, and discrepancies can arise. This discrepancy regards, as Foucault (2004:895), noticed the difference between power and pleasure. Power as the control of the social institution and the value that carries on people’s life: power had to hide the illicit. Pleasure as the organic feeling of the body and the psychological emotions. The two elements, give as result a twofold relation: on the one side power acted as a mechanism of attraction, and pleasure spread to the power uncovering it. At this point, the element in the context of sex and the intimate life in western society are three: power, as the surveillance and control that institutions exercise on sex, the pleasure, as the biological and psychological reaction to sex, and the marriage as the form of union in which the previous two-element take place within the individuals. Following, because marriage constitutes a new social organization (i.e. the family) a direct link to the domestic sphere took place. According to Foucault (2004:897), is inside the domestic walls that the mechanism of intimacy, that the licit and illicit is better observable. The reduction of sexuality to the couple made by modern western societies created a system of practice and meaning in the sexual domain that has characterized the spaces and the social rituals. Pleasure and power are linked together at multiple points inside an infrastructure subjected to transformable relations. Foucault (2004:898) argues that there is an ongoing separation: the grown-ups and the children, the polarity established between the spaces as the parent bedroom and that of the child. Surveillance is also present, as the segregation between boys and girls, the importance and control attached to puberty, the danger of masturbation at that age, and the methods of control exercised by the parents. All this made the family a complicated network, in which multiplicity is present, and so intimacy is required. From the above description suggested by Foucault, it is interpreted that intimacy is constructed and not fixed. Because it is constructed, the subject of it changes, making the society in which it takes place that determines the boundaries. Following, amateur porn does not represent the end of intimacy for the human because intimacy is just a historical construction.

Sharing and intimacy: contradiction by definition?

What makes the representation and categorization of the world for the human being, is the relationship that passes between the mind of each individual and the concept associated with the world. According to Conee (2014:179), concepts are means that humans can think of things. This is meant that they are mental organization tools that the mind uses not only to organize the world but to create it. A twofold symmetry is at work: the physical world shapes the mind, and the mind shapes the physical world. Concepts are related to the mind through the process of language, which gives continuity to the thinking process by creating connections between concepts and communicating the result of the process. Concepts are universal, in the sense that they can be applied by all humans. For instance, the concept of “bottle” is a universal human idea that is shared by humans as a whole, and by all humans that, live in the same dimensional continuum. The concept of “bottle” is universal also for the object, as it applies to every entity that shares the properties that make a bottle a bottle, at every given moment in time and at any given location. Yet, if we just see the language aspect of the concept, the word “bottle” is just a mark on top of an idea, just sounds, and symbols that are put together and associated with a more deep component of the world. Concepts have properties, this becomes clear when it is about physical and tangible objects, the reason for this is due to the evidence of the target object. With the example of the bottle, it is clear the target object of the concept, and so its universal application becomes possible in the mind through the process of language. Further, it can be noticed a logical process that happens inside the subject:

World object (bottle) —> mental representation by property (concept) —> language process (word as agreement)

The logical chain of world ordering of the universal property of concept is clear when it is used with the physical object, but the method becomes problematic when it comes to abstract concepts in which the target of the concept is less clear. In abstract concepts, the explicit property is no anymore valid, and this is because of the increase of importance of the subjective component in the concept. In the case of abstract entities in which the target body is not clear, it is possible to follow the path of logical necessity for the concept inquiring. According to Sinder (2014:193), necessities are things that must occur. This is meant that a necessity is the essence of something true for it to make it be that something. Going back to the necessity of the concept of “bottle” is related to the property of the object “bottle” that is the necessity of it: a portable cylindric object that people use to transport fluids. The difference between property and necessity is that the property is the features that make the object or entity, while the necessities are what takes to be the concept. But how to see the necessity in abstract concepts not related to the physical world? One path of investigation is the use of Conventionalism. Conventionalism (Rescorla, 2019) is a philosophical theory that tries to go over the issue of necessity by focusing on the use and definition of a certain concept (related to the word) rather than the properties and necessity of the concept. Conventionalism seems to be a useful path of inquiry to use with abstract concepts, and the reason for it is due to its intrinsic abstract feature. The reasoning is the following: if there is no physical target object that the concept can be attached to, then let’s use as target the use of the concept in which the word related to it is used. So, according to conventionalism, is the use of the word the target of the concept. In this way, the properties intrinsic to the concept are taken away, making the application possible for abstract concepts. By using conventionalism for analyzing the two major concepts of the text, sharing, and intimacy, important insights are made. It is true by definition that the action of sharing involves the participation of others, a passing between individuals of information or experience. The terms imply an opening toward the external. While, on the other side, intimacy is an excluding towards the other by definition. Intimacy hides the visible, secretes of the action of the persona. Following conventionalism, the analysis by definition and uses, the two terms are in a contradiction between each other by promoting the opposite meanings (i.e. if something is shared then is no anymore intimate). The conclusion is an important insight and reflection on the case, yet it does not seem all the story. By using conventionalism, the impression is that everything is simplified because as Singer (2014:198) points out, everything is based on the inquiry of the definition at use, suggesting a static idea of the world.

“Me” and the other: a poly-excentric perspective of porn

The phenomenon of analysis of the text is the sharing of amateur porn and the relation to intimacy. The subject is the “I” the person who shares. The base is the relationship between me and the other, the opening of the individual towards the external. But in the sharing of porn, there is not only the “me” and the other, but also the “me” and the “me”. The sharing of the self of the subject towards the external world, becomes the sharing of the subject towards them-self, as they become the object and the spectator at once. This description can be included under the concept of poly-excentric. With poly-excentric de Mul (2003:260) refers to the technological interpretation of a phenomenon that occurs in everyday life, that is the sensation of ourselves outside the body. Further, there is a fragmentation of the experience of the organic body that creates a technological objectification of the elsewhere. When relating it to porn, the intimate moment of the sexual experience becomes a technological object, the (my)-body from organic becomes a flat representation of pixels, and so the sensation of the self outside the body. You can see part of yourself that you could not see normally, organic completeness, and yet with no organic relation. As noted by de Mul (2003:259) a dissociation takes place related to the center of the body towards the other (my)-bodies represented outside in the world. No ontology is shared between the two entities, making the idea of analysis close to Plessner’s idea of positionality. Plessner’s idea is related to the finite condition of humans. As reported by de Mul (2003:251) the starting is to relate the finitude of the human to the dimension of space, calling this positionality. The emphasis on the spatial dimension assigns a central role to the body and the distinction with the lifeless is the presence of boundaries and even more the crossing of these boundaries. For humans, Plessner sees that we live in three different worlds, giving three different boundaries: the outer world, the inner world, and the shared world of culture. What is important to say, is that humans always maintain a relation whit the center (i.e. the body) with the three worlds, making them aware of it, creating the sensation of the elsewhere that was previously mentioned. Stating de Mul (2003:252): “We are not where we experience, and we don’t experience where we are.” Given this, when looking at the phenomena of porn and intimacy, an interruption between the ontology of the spectator (i.e. the “real” body) and the subject (i.e. the porn body) comes into play. The key is a change in the concept of intimacy itself. For the spectator, the conception of his body was made in the intimacy sphere of the house. The mother and the father come together in the secret of their lives, far from external eyes. Their bodies respect the three worlds, crossing the boundaries. Porn breaks this ontology by making the concept of intimacy no anymore valid when related to the body as sexual. In this sense, sex and intimacy create a new understanding of the body in which the act is shared with the external. The body becomes public, a stranger to the spectator. It gets independence from the intimacy concept, and by this, the new body becomes part only of the third world (i.e. the shared culture), losing the tripartite property of the inner and the outer. Referring to the research question, the suggestion that comes is not an end of the concept of intimacy. The text suggests that the concept is still valid in general use, but is not anymore valid for the sexual life of the body. As it was argued, with porn the spectator loses the relation with the body because of the poly-excentric fragmentation experience, that is related to the idea of positionality. When relating the two bodies (i.e the spectator body and the porn body) with the concept of intimacy it is seen that the ontology changes, by making the porn body only part of the shared world of culture. Following this view, it can be said that under the concept of poly-excentricity the sexual body is not directly related to the concept of intimacy.

Conclusion

This text reflects on the question if the increasing sharing of amateur porn content suggests an end of intimacy. At first, the phenomena, and a discussion on what makes something pornographic were presented. Then three different analyses were made. The first analysis focused on a historical reflection of the idea of intimacy. For this, the essay of Foucault’s History of sexuality was used, and by the use of this work, emerged that intimacy is a social construction. The reason for the creation of the concept of intimacy was for a separation between the licit and illicit in society. The second analysis reflected on two elements present in the research question, sharing and intimacy. A concept analysis of the two terms, made by reflecting on their necessities, using a conventionalism perspective, suggested that a contradiction is in place and the two terms exclude each other. Automatically, this analysis argues that the action of sharing amateur porn is a phenomenon without intimacy. Given the suggestion of the second analysis and the centrality of the concept of intimacy, the third analysis focused on the subject of the porn, and how the body is perceived. This was possible by applying the concept of poly-excentric experience, in which the fragmentation and technological objectification of the body takes place. Following, the conclusion argued that the porn body is no anymore an intimate body, and this is due to an ontology regarding only the shared world of culture suggested by Plessner. Yet, the concept of intimacy is still valid for other bodies. Three different analyses were made, and three different conclusions are presented. This suggests the complexity that is hidden behind the phenomena of amateur porn, and further reflection should be made when related to the concept of intimacy, a concept that, at least for western culture, is not fixed as it might seem at a first glance.

Reference

  • Conee, E. and Sider, T., 2014. Riddles of Existence. Oxford University Press, USA.
  • Foucault M. (1976). “The History of Sexuality”. In: Rivkin, J. and Ryan, M., 2004. Literary Theory. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, pp.892-899.
  • de Mul, J., 2003. Digitally Mediated (Dis)embodiment. Information, Communication & Society, 6(2), pp.247-266.
  • Rea, M., 2001. What Is Pornography?. Nous, 35(1), pp.118-145.
  • Rescorla, Michael, “Convention”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/ convention/>.
  • Starting Finance, 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.instagram.com/p/Cb0NukDthWt/&gt; [Accessed 22 April 2022].

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