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Columbia Spectator Staff

The first time I watched a porn film, I was sitting in a Schapiro dorm room with two guys and a box of Franzia. I was not involved, and never will be involved, with either boy. It was not erotic. Funny, maybe. Awkward, definitely. But I was a porn virgin, and the Internet makes things far too easy. No need for shady purchases at the bodega. It was sexy-kind of. Actually, it involved Paris Hilton.

Needless to say, since then I've indulged in far more enjoyable porn.

Pornography, perhaps more than any other sexual medium, has wrought incredible public controversy. Anti-pornography feminist allies Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin famously likened porn to an acceptance of rape, arguing that "pornography is the theory and rape is the practice." While it would be unfair to claim that no porn objectifies women, McKinnon and Dworkin's views are sweeping and extreme: not only does their view preclude the idea of healthy pornography that celebrates a diversity of body types, but it leaves no room for discussion about the ways in which pornographic models and actresses are treated.

For Lux Nightmare, currently of thatstrangegirl.com/blog, the decision to start and run a porn Web site was about proving McKinnon and Dworkin wrong. Lux, who started her Web site while she was a senior at Columbia, modeled for her site herself and hired women and men of all shapes and sizes. She did not hold her models to exclusivity contracts. "I approached it more as a social activism thing than a making-money thing," she told me over lunch. "You could have porn that wasn't exploitative, that was healthy, that was good." As for how it affected her experience at Columbia, Lux said it definitely made her feel more removed. "I did not tell people, I was not particularly open about what I was doing and when people found out, there was an uproar. ... It was one thing to watch porn. It was another thing to do porn. Everybody wants clean toilets, but no one wants to be friends with the person who cleans their toilets."

It's hard to say whether watching, or even doing, porn is taboo at Columbia today; after all, nearly every girl and guy I spoke with about it admitted to enjoying porn-if not often, at least once or twice. Certainly the new Web site pornotube.com, where you can watch homemade porn videos and submit your own, indicates our generation is anything but porn-shy. But why we watch porn-and whether we do so in a healthy way-is another question entirely.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't all for watching porn. I'm especially for erotic literature (it's the writer in me). But porn has a certain level of anonymity to it. Watching, reading, and looking at porn allows us to step outside of our own sex lives for a second, to pretend we are doing, or are comfortable actually doing, something we're not. Sex is easier when it's cut-and-dried: a little blow job, a little eating out, some missionary style, some girl-on-top action to finish it off. One person, probably a girl, usually doesn't come. Sex gets hard when we push our limits, when someone pulls out an unfamiliar sex toy or, you know, licks your ass and asks you to return the favor. Of course, no one should feel pressured to do anything they don't want to do. But refusing to do something simply because it's unfamiliar makes for bad sex.

In some sense, watching porn is the same as fantasizing about someone else while you're having sex. Fantasizing about someone else during sex allows you to forget about what you're doing and who you're fucking. Most important, it allows you to forget whatever it is that's making you uncomfortable. Porn often serves as the same shield, allowing us to forget the things that make us uncomfortable in our real, flesh-to-flesh sex lives. Just because you enjoy watching someone get a spanking on screen doesn't mean you can bring yourself to ask your current lover to slap your ass silly.

Our sexual educations are a dynamic, constantly evolving experience. Porn, as much as any of our first kisses, plays a key role in that experience. Like all things sexual, pornography is not entirely healthy and good. Pornotube.com, for instance, provides a venue for people to create as exploitative porn as they choose. But Web sites like pornotube.com do not preclude healthy, celebratory porn either-or, as Lux put it, "porn that puts forth the idea that sex is healthy, good, fun, and not something to be ashamed of." When it comes to sex, there are very few things that are plain black-and-white. Learning to discern between healthy and exploitative porn is much the same as learning to discern between good and bad sexual relationships.

It would be presumptuous to assume porn provides the same benefits for everyone, much less that porn serves as shield for everyone's sexual discomforts. But to me, that's one of the most beautiful things about pornography-it isn't just about momentary pleasure. It's about questioning your sexual existence, redefining your sexual limits, and, ultimately, getting the most bang for your buck.

Miriam Datskovsky is a Barnard College senior majoring in human rights and political science. Sexplorations runs alternate Mondays.

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