Barbara Kay: MMA chokehold highlights the problem with porn

Many were struck by the unwholesome vibe in the fight’s concluding tableau

On Sept. 10, at the Combate Global prelims in Miami, female-identifying MMA fighter Alana McLaughlin — formerly Ryan McLaughlin, a member of the United States Army Special Forces — won her debut competition, after six months of training, against competitor Celine Provost, who had been training for a decade. McLaughlin’s “rear-naked choke” of Provost 32 seconds into the second round ended it decisively.

Advertisement Story continues below Twitter lit up with both criticism and praise of McLaughlin from stakeholders on both sides of the debate over natal males in women’s sport. But many were struck by the unwholesome vibe in the fight’s concluding tableau.

Barbara Kay: MMA chokehold highlights the problem with porn Back to video Normally in these circumstances, this column would have focused on the injustice of pitting a woman against a natal male whose hormonal treatments have done little to diminish 33 years of accumulated male privilege in muscle mass and upper-body strength. But I was so sickened by the optics of that finale, I knew I had to go in another direction.

Genevieve Gluck, author of the “Women’s Voices” Substack newsletter, apparently read my mind. In her post on the fight, she linked McLaughlin’s actions to the kind of sadomasochism that is featured in pornography, “where violence against women is eroticized to an unprecedented degree.”

Advertisement Story continues below In polite society, one does not speak about the unsettling truth that some men (and women) get off on male violence. For example, many Canadians will recall disgraced CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, who candidly admitted to having kinky sexual tastes, being accused of having choked Lucy DeCoutere, without her consent, to the point of “not being able to breathe,” during sexual foreplay in his bedroom.

But at Ghomeshi’s trial in 2016, DeCoutere neglected to inform the court that, following the encounter, she sent Ghomeshi an email expressing chagrin at having left so abruptly: “You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to f–k your brains out tonight,” DeCoutere wrote, along with a handwritten note reading, “I love your hands. Lucy.”

Advertisement Story continues below Feminists were quick to make excuses for DeCoutere, essentially ascribing her otherwise mystifying reaction to a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. But many non-ideologues were inclined to take her at her word.

Female submission to aggressive seduction is the paradigm for most low-rent romance fiction, as exemplified by E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, which by 2017 had sold 150 million copies worldwide, mostly to women. Such fiction, however, always observes the bright line between role-playing fantasies and actual violence.

If kinky adults who get off on hurting and scaring, or being hurt and scared, choose to transgress that boundary, finding each other for mutual sexual pleasure, then live and let live should be the rule. The trouble is that choking women has become a staple of the porn industry. And the porn industry is serving an ever-younger population.

Advertisement Story continues below A 2016 survey conducted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the United Kingdom found that 48 per cent of 11-16 year olds have seen porn online (more boys than girls), and many of them mistake the sadomasochistic practices they see for sexual norms.

Debby Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University with a specialty in sexuality, has found that choking during sex is increasingly common among university undergraduates.

The abstract of a July 2021 study that she is the lead author on — titled, “Prevalence and characteristics of choking/strangulation during sex” — found that, among undergrads, “26.5 per cent of women, 6.6 per cent of men and 22.3 per cent of transgender and gender non-binary participants reported having been choked during their most recent sexual event. Additionally, 5.7 per cent of women, 24.8 per cent of men and 25.9 per cent of transgender and non-binary participants reported that they choked their partner at their most recent event. Choking was more prevalent among sexual minority students.”

Advertisement Story continues below Another Herbenick-led study, on “diverse sexual behaviours and pornography use,” directly links familiarity with porn to abusive sexual practices. It found that, “Women as well as men who have sex with men were more likely to report: having been choked (21.4 per cent women), having one’s face ejaculated on (32.3 per cent women, 52.7 per cent men who have sex with men) and aggressive fellatio (34 per cent women). Lifetime pornography use was reported by most respondents. After adjusting for age, age at first porn exposure and current relationship status, the associations between pornography use and sexual behaviours was statistically significant.”

After habituation to the practice, some boys come to believe that what would have been deemed as sociopathic behaviour in the past is what women actually like, and girls who watch porn “learn” that submission to choking is what pleases their boyfriends.

Advertisement Story continues below In her book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” Abigail Shrier addresses the striking increase in cases of rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) amongst teenage girls who had not experienced gender confusion in childhood.

Shrier describes it as a social contagion akin to cutting and anorexia, a symptom of extreme distress about their bodies. But she also wonders if the ROGD flight from womanhood isn’t a response to contemporary porn, which couples masculine arousal with women’s fear, humiliation and pain. Shrier writes: “Many of the adolescent girls who adopt a transgender identity have never had a single sexual or romantic experience. They have never been kissed by a boy or a girl.”

Advertisement Story continues below But the odds are good that many of them have seen porn that encourages female self-loathing. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, porn accounts for about a third of web traffic in the United States, with porn sites receiving more hits than Twitter, Amazon and Netflix combined (Pornhub alone was accessed 42 billion times in 2019).

In light of this information, it should be easy to understand the widespread revulsion triggered by the McLaughlin-Provost choke-hold. As cultural critic Douglas Murray drily remarked in a commentary on the incident, “It is perfectly plain to most people that a male-born person throttling a woman for sport does not constitute great societal progress.”

National Post