the sexual practice in which two men penetrate a woman anally and vaginally
at the same time -- a ďDP,Ē or double penetration in the vernacular of the
pornography industry -- inherently sexist?
When I first got into
academic life, I couldnít have predicted some of the questions that would
come my way. But after nearly two decades of writing and speaking about the
contemporary pornography industry, not much surprises me.
question was posed to me recently by a man who had read an
essay of mine in which I had argued that menís ability to achieve sexual
pleasure by masturbating as they watch DP scenes in pornographic movies was
an example of a failure of empathy.
Is a DP inherently degrading and therefore sexist, as my essay implied?
After corresponding a bit with the man, I realized I had never addressed the
question directly in print. He pressed for a simple yes-or-no answer, but it
seems more useful to walk through a careful response to the question. So,
letís start with:
Observation #1: The only people who have ever asked me that question
are men. Iím not suggesting that no woman has ever considered the question.
But it is the case that in my 18 years of working on this issue, it has been
a question raised exclusively by men.
From there, letís move to other important observations and assumptions on
which my conclusion will be based.
Assumption #1: There is considerable individual variation in the
human species, yet there are also patterns in human behavior. That is, we
cannot ever predict what any specific individual will feel, think, or do,
but we often can find patterns in human emotions, cognition, and action.
That leads to . . .
Assumption #2: There are women who in their personal lives find
sexual pleasure and/or emotional fulfillment in DPs, which I call an
assumption because . . .
Observation #2: In my 48 years, I have never met a woman outside the
pornography industry who has acknowledged participating in a DP or having a
desire to do so. Itís possible that I have met an unrepresentative group of
women, or that some of those women have participated or harbor such desires
but remain silent about it. But neither of those possibilities square with
my experience, which includes traveling widely for many years to talk in a
variety of settings about these issues.
Observation #3: When I ask women whether they think a DP is degrading
and sexist, all have answered yes or refused to answer, suggesting the
question is meant to be a diversion from a focus on menís behavior. I do not
claim this is a scientific sample from which generalizations can be made.
Again, it could be that I have spoken to an idiosyncratic group of women,
but I think thereís a pattern here.
Observation #4: I have never met a man outside the pornography
industry who has acknowledged participating in a DP, though some have told
me they would like to. Given menís typical celebration of their sexual
feats, thereís no reason to think men are hiding their participation in DPs.
These observations lead me to . . .
Assumption #3: Outside of pornography, very few heterosexuals are
participating in DPs. There is no systematic data on this, because surveys
of sexual behavior donít ask specifically about DPs. But the most reasonable
assumption is that DPs, while common in pornography, are relatively rare
outside of the industry and are not part of the routine sexual practices of
the vast majority of people.
Assumption #4: Heterosexual men who watch pornographic movies
featuring DPs -- whether or not they have a desire to participate in DPs in
their lives -- know that the vast majority of women would not find sexual
pleasure or emotional fulfillment in a DP and do not desire to participate.
Male pornography consumers have told me they think that the women being DPed
in pornography like it, and some say that women outside pornography might
like it if they tried it. But Iím relatively confident that most men donít
think most women really want to be DPed.
Based on those observations and assumptions, I reach a conclusion that seems
uncontroversial to me:
Conclusion #1: The key to the sexual attraction of DPs for men is the
knowledge that women donít want it. The men who watch DPs in pornography
know that the vast majority of women outside pornography do not seek out
that sex act, and this knowledge is at the center of the sexual charge. The
attraction of a DP in pornography for heterosexual men is not just that itís
a social taboo -- a sexual practice considered by many to be inappropriate
or immoral -- but that men know women donít want it.
So, is a DP inherently degrading and sexist? In the minds of the men who
want to watch them, I think the answer is yes. That is, men understand and
experience it as a degrading and sexist practice. Thatís why itís sexually
exciting, precisely because of menís assumption that women donít want it --
because itís degrading, something that has to be forced on women who donít
Please note: This conclusion is not based on a moral or political judgment
of mine about the practice. Itís based on the moral and political judgments
of the men who want to watch DPs. Lest we float too far away from the real
world of pornography, letís remember how DP movies are marketed to men. I
put ďdouble penetrationĒ into Google, and this was the first site with text
that explained DPs to potential consumers:
ďThis blonde slut is
in serious double penetration hardcore sex. She is getting her pussy and
asshole destroyed by two fat cocks that will enter her holes and make her
cry. Her pussy and asshole were tight a long time before, but now this slut
is ready and willing to do anything like double or triple penetration
hardcore sex scene. Her holes are destroyed and she cannot be satisfied with
one cock so we give her two cocks for the beginning!Ē
There may be DP movies
marketed with less overt misogyny, but this is typical of the material I
have seen. Again, I think the pattern is important.
My main goal here is to refocus our attention. When this question about the
nature of DPs is posed to me by men, their focus is implicitly on women: Is
a DP inherently degrading for a woman and therefore sexist? The more
important question: Is a DP inherently degrading in the minds of men? The
only conclusion I can reach is that men think of a DP as a way to degrade
women. Based on my analysis of menís use of pornography, I believe men see a
DP as something dirty and degrading that is pleasurable to watch women
That a DP is dirty is not my moral judgment, but is simply borrowed from a
popular female pornography performer, Ariana Jollee. In an interview with a
documentary film crew, she said: ďDouble penetration isnít painful at all.
Itís one of the best feelings in the world. Itís filthy and if you believe
it feels good, it will always feel good, so just give it a try.Ē
That a DP isnít painful is not so clear. The human body is amazingly
flexible and can adapt to a variety of practices, but that doesnít mean all
such practices are easy on the body. I am not a woman, and so I obviously
cannot experience a DP. While I speak without knowing how such acts feel,
from watching these acts on screen itís reasonable to assume -- even though
women performers routinely say they enjoy them -- that they are hard on a
womanís body and require conditioning to endure. Belladonna, another
well-known pornography performer, in an interview with ABC News, described
such scenes this way: ďYou have to really prepare physically and mentally
for it. I mean, I go through a process from the night before. I stop eating
at 5:00. I do, you know, like two enemas. The next morning I donít eat
anything. Itís so draining on your body.Ē
Some men have challenged my analysis by saying that the women they see being
DPed in pornography seem to enjoy it. This claim is rooted in the belief
that pornography is not a performance but is ďreal sex,Ē and therefore one
can read the experience of the performers directly from their performance.
But just as we wouldnít claim that a performer in a Hollywood movie was
enjoying a scene simply because the person was acting enjoyment, we should
be cautious about such claims about pornography.
Similarly, many Hollywood actors will say they enjoyed the process of making
a film not because they necessarily did, but for complex reasons regarding
their desire to continue to work in the industry. Just as we are skeptical
that what actors say about the non-pornographic moviemaking process, we
should maintain the same skepticism in regard to pornography.
This position is bolstered by the fact that while some women in pornography
appear to be enjoying being DPed, many appear to struggle simply to endure
it and others display facial or vocal expressions of pain. That is, itís
plausible that in some cases a DP is so physically difficult that the women
cannot maintain the ďfuck me harderĒ script of pornography and must
concentrate simply on getting through the scene.
Conclusion #2: This conclusion is more speculative, based not on
direct observation but on my experience and gut feeling: I donít think most
men -- even those who enjoy watching -- want to engage in DPs in their
lives, though they may talk about such a desire, for two reasons.
First, remember that a DP puts two penises in close proximity during what is
allegedly a heterosexual act. For many, if not most, straight men, actually
participating in a DP likely would spark homosexual panic. They may be
aroused by this gay subtext in a movie, but arenít ready to act on it in the
Second, I think men find it easier to watch certain acts they believe are
degrading to women than to actually perform those acts. I realize that in a
society with epidemic levels of sexual assault, such faith in the humanity
of men is the most questionable assumption I have yet made. Perhaps it
reflects a hope that I need to nurture. Perhaps it reflects my need to
believe that even in a harshly patriarchal culture, men can hold onto their
humanity. Iíll leave that to readers to judge. I want to believe in men, to
believe in myself. Sometimes itís difficult.
A final story: After a talk at Stanford University to a mixed-gender
audience, a man raised a similar question, this time about a double anal
(the practice in pornographic movies in which a woman is penetrated anally
by two men at the same time). Was I suggesting a double anal is inherently
degrading to women, he asked?
I donít remember exactly how I answered the question that evening, but I
remember clearly what I wanted to say to him. I wanted to suggest to this
privileged young man at one of the United Statesí most elite universities
that we conduct an experiment. I wanted to ask him to come to the front of
the room and take off all his clothes in front of the group, lie down on his
back, put his legs up, and make his anus as open and available as possible.
Then we would ask if other men could volunteer to do a double anal on him,
and he could then report back to us about whether that experience felt
It would have been inappropriate for me as an older man with a professorís
status to be so harsh to a student, and I was more measured in my response.
But thatís what I wanted to say to him: Why donít you come up here and weíll
let two of the biggest guys in the room fuck you in the ass at the same time
so that you can tell us from direct experience whether a double anal is
Iím not a woman. As a man who has studied feminism and worked in feminist
movements, I donít believe itís my place to speak about womenís experience.
I do, however, think it is appropriate as a man to challenge myself and
other men to resist the ideology of patriarchy and the desires it creates in
Is a DP inherently degrading to women and therefore sexist? I donít know,
and I donít have to know.
Is a DP inherently degrading in the minds of men? Thatís a much more
important question, and that answer is much more disturbing.
rejoinder to this article (Nov 17)
is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board
member of the
Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He is the author of The Heart
of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the
Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights
Books). He can be reached at:
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