Breda O'Brien: Why the sexual future belongs to men like Trump
Porn is so normalised Stormy Daniels made headlines for losing her luggage
Stormy Daniels arrives at a New York court for a hearing related to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, in April. The title of her recent Oxford Union talk was “Sex, Guns and Other Fluff: How porn can set you free.”Photograph: Yana Paskova/Getty Images
There was a telling little cultural moment last week. Stormy Daniels is famous enough to ensure that her tweets about her lost luggage make not just Irish but international headlines.
Daniels, a porn actor, writer and director, is best known for her allegations that she had sex with Donald Trump when his son, Barron, was a small baby and his wife, Melania, was presumably preoccupied with looking after her child.
It all became a huge controversy when she said that Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, had paid her $130,000 as part of a non-disclosure agreement.
Her title for the Oxford Union talk was “Sex, Guns and Other Fluff: How porn can set you free.” Students who are usually busy no-platforming anyone who threatens their worldview flocked to hear her, just like the way that the alleged bastion of feminist students, Trinity College, gave a great reception to Denis Hof, the brothel owner, in 2013.
Porn has utterly distorted our view of sexuality
Hof is now famous for winning an election this year to a Nevada state legislative district despite the fact that he died during the campaign. He claimed to be a Trump-style candidate and was also a reality TV star. (The show was filmed in one of his brothels.)
It is quite astonishing that the other reality TV star, Trump, continues to occupy the White House despite allegations of sexual impropriety involving many different women. This is a man who apparently believes that wealth and power give men some kind of feudal right to grope women.
Feudal is perhaps a good approximation of what Trump believes the US presidency to be – a clear power structure with the monarch at the top, virtually unquestionable by minions who are constantly in danger of being executed (metaphorically) for failure to carry out the king’s demands.
But it is also extraordinary the degree to which liberals manage to completely ignore the question of marital fidelity even while your wife is caring for your baby, focusing instead on financial impropriety. Not to mention managing to ignore the many questions about that massively successful capitalist industry called porn.
Daniels has always been absolutely clear that the sex with Trump was consensual. She was not physically attracted to him, was concerned enough about his wife to inquire about her, but also wanted a part on his hit reality TV show, The Apprentice.
Despite the consent, the original sexual encounter with Trump, a man then more than twice her age, appears to have been joyless, with Daniels almost observing from a distance and waiting for it to be over. A million miles, in fact, from the kind of sexual fantasy peddled by the porn industry.
But at the same perhaps a scenario very recognisable by many women, who are expected to be sexually enthusiastic at all times but often experience casual sex that has passed the consent test but is still seedy and unsatisfying.
Porn has utterly distorted our view of sexuality. Neil Malamuth, a University of California psychology professor and academic expert on porn, was quoted recently in a long Politico.com article. Malamuth has taught a women’s study course for years, which includes a component on porn.
As part of this course and after numerous warnings, he shows an explicit porn clip. At first, it evoked strong reactions, such as women crying and hugging each other. He highlights the fact that now, it evokes only puzzlement. Why all the warnings? It’s just porn, isn’t it?
Malamuth says that the anti-porn people warned that people would become desensitised and that it would affect their behaviour regarding violence and women, but that the pro-porn people said that desensitisation is a good thing, because porn is not a big deal.
The desensitisation may now have further unintended consequences. An Atlantic magazine article this month is just another in a series of explorations of why young people are having less sex, living together less and marrying less successfully. We now have a generation with many lonely, anxious and increasingly isolated young people.
The kind of coarsening of our culture that Trump represents is not an accident
This has long been a problem in Japan, where for various reasons, including the difficulty of being a married woman in the paid workforce and the acceptability of porn for men, more and more Japanese cannot be bothered to either have sex or a relationship with a real person.
Solitary sexual activity
Kate Julian, the Atlantic article writer, says that the Japanese preference for solitary sexual activity used to be seen as weird by other countries. Now, it is a growing phenomenon right across the West. In the US, she says, there is not so much a hook-up culture as a lack-of-relationship culture.
De-coupling sex from relationships has resulted neither in sexual nor relationship nirvana.
The kind of coarsening of our culture that Trump represents is not an accident but a logical result of deciding that sex is primarily a recreational activity with no intrinsic greater significance.
Until our societies have the courage to consciously re-couple love and sex, we will continue to have a generation who find it more and more difficult to establish fulfilling, long-term intimate relationships. The way we are going now, the future belongs to men such as Hof and Trump.