Though I’m not personally a consumer of porn (and would not be telling you if I was) it’s impossible to avoid the subject altogether when our Very Online discourse has a habit of disintegrating, at the fringes, into a kaleidoscopic array of weird sex things – whether that’s cartoon rabbits with big knockers or whatever else floats your boat. The key factor is that if someone can think of it, someone has thought of it – and as night follows day, there’s almost certainly porn of it.
Some anonymous internet wag once joked that the actual content on the internet is only about 5% while the other 95% of the internet is pictures of cats, and pornography. The numbers themselves might be a bit exaggerated, but two of the top ten most visited websites in the world – and the only two which aren’t big-brand social media sites – are XVideos and Pornhub, clocking up a total 6.7bn monthly visitors between them.
But pornography isn’t a static thing, any more than desire is a static thing. Pornography is more like a force field, that affects the content it represents. While I was thinking about this, it struck me that the three fundamental laws of thermodynamics ofer an almost perfect heuristic for the dynamics of this force field. So the three laws of pornodynamics are as follows:
- The First Law of Pornodynamics: the law of conservation of libido
Both liberals and conservatives are fond of wanging on about the sexualisation of culture, and how the pervasiveness of pornography and porn-inspired imagery, whether in marketing or just the culture in general, means we’re all saturated with sex and really just can’t get away from it. But at the same time it’s often noted that young people are having less sex. The connection between these two phenomena is obvious when considered in the light of the First Law of Pornodynamics, which argues that the sum total of human libido is a constant, and the more of it we expend on wanking the less will be available for actual interpersonal encounters.
Discussions on the #nofap Reddit forums, in which (predominantly young and male) people exchange tips on breaking an addition to porn consumption and masturbation, have this as a recurrent theme. That is, there’s an inverse correlation between wanking and the ability to orient one’s libido toward a real-life human other. To put it more bluntly still: the more embroiled in pornographic instant gratification we become, the less possible it will be to engage in mutually satisfying IRL sex.
From this perspective, #nofap isn’t some weird alt-right thing or the last refuge of basement-dwelling losers, as the liberal bards of unchained desire would have us think. On the contrary, it’s an heroic last defence of the possibility of intersubjective desire as such. That defence takes the classically masculine form of self-discipline enforced through group membership, meaning it attracts reflexive condemnation from quarters where any imposition of self-discipline is seen as in some indefinable sense an act of violence. But from the perspective of the First Law of Pornodynamics, their concerted effort to corral the not inconsiderable portion of human libido that runs through young males is an act of public service. Far from mocking the sincere and often tormented efforts of young men to free themselves from the compulsive urge to beat the meat, in the long-term interests of evading a radical estrangement between the sexes we should lionise these remarkable acts of resistance to an all-pervasive economy of commodified desire.
- The Second Law of Pornodynamics: the law of fap entropy
The law of fap entropy describes another dynamic in the pornographic force field, the law of fap entropy. How does entropy coexist with the overall conservation of libido, you might ask? But the central insight of pornodynamics is precisely this: porn is a moving force field not a static representation of the field of desire; and the law of fap entropy is part of this dynamic.
The law of fap entropy describes how all pornographic stimuli lose their erotic charge over time for a given individual, and users of porn will over time become desensitised to erotic stimuli. The most important consequence of this is that even someone who started out feeling excited by lingerie catalogues will, if provided unfettered access to porn, find himself pursuing ever more baroque, extreme and degrading variations of pornography as the law of fap entropy numbs him to previously exciting imagery.
It follows from this that if we tolerate porn full stop we’re embracing a dynamic whose endpoint will always be bestiality, child sex abuse, the torture of women and so on – because over time, the law of fap entropy will lead consumers of porn to such content. So contra the defenders of ‘respectable’ pornography as fundamentally a matter of individual choice, there is no ‘respectable’ pornography; rather, normalising the pornoplex leads inexorably and inescapably to violence and abuse.
Free-speech defences of porn treat ‘individual choice’ as a static matter than can be controlled by the principle of avoiding harm. The Second Law of Pornodynamics argues that the inexorable consequence of normalising porn will be systemic harm, and as such all porn should be brutally repressed.
- The Third Law of Pornodynamics: every taboo inspires an equal and opposite porn category
The Third Law of Pornodynamics concerns the relation between pornography and mainstream culture. One of the oft-repeated arguments for normalisation of porn is that it’s always going to exist. This is true, inasmuch as it refers to the Third Law of Pornodynamics: that every taboo inspires an equal and opposite porn category. If something is forbidden, blasphemous or disgusting in a culture then someone, somewhere is turned on by it.
The most telling example of this, in my view, is BDSM – the fetishisation of power, domination and submission. BDSM as a dynamic first appears on the cultural terrain at the dawn of the liberal and egalitarian era, in the writings of the Marquis de Sade. It functions as a heavily eroticised safe space for the tacit recognition – within a culture radically committed to egalitarianism – that power, hierarchy and domination will always exist within human societies. That is, people who are consciously committed to eliminating all unjust relations of domination end up being really turned on by relations of domination.
I haven’t got data on this, because I value my innocence too much, but I’d bet anything that the more anxious we get about race politics the more racialised porn will be. I don’t even want to think about what the Third Law implies for what’s going on with furry porn.
Regardless, the sequel to ‘Porn will always exist’ tends to be ‘and so we should normalise, regulate and contain it’, with the unspoken subtext ‘…and make money out of it without being socially ostracised’. But considered in the light of the Third Law, the upshot of that argument will be a society that either has no taboos, or exists in a confusing situation in which both social taboos and their grotesque, hyper-sexualised pornographic mirror-image coexist and often intermingle. This is not a stable proposition.
In summary, then, the three laws of pornodynamics make a compelling case not for trying to abolish porn – the laws themselves suggest that won’t be easily achieved – but for aggressively repressing it. This should be done in the interests of helping humans redirect their libido constructively, either toward actual human relationships or sublimated into civilisation-building projects such as art, infrastructure or community-building. It should also be done because not everyone has the strength of will evinced by the #nofap community in their efforts to defeat this most rapacious of dopamine machines; without some help from the banhammer, many will remain miserable slaves. This harms us all. And finally, pornography should be brutally repressed because the aggregate function of pornography is as real-time visualisation tool for all the grossest antics of our collective id, and a culture that makes space for unfettered expression of its collective id within the ordinary public discourse is on track for a messy end.
Sign up for my Substack here and get carefully curated Harrington weirdness in your inbox once a month
One thought on “The Three Laws of Pornodynamics”
When I was 15 or so I read a feminist book called “The Case Against Pornography.” I found it in the public library. Most of the book was examples of porn, including hardcore. I have not wanted to look at porn since (I am in my 40s now, lol).
Apart from the revulsion caused by that book, I have an uneasiness about letting anything manipulate my fantasies the way I think porn would. I think my thoughts and imagination should be mine to act on as I see fit (or not!) and it’s not anyone else’s business.