Sunday, March 13, 2011

Porn: the scapegoat

I have battled a great deal of my life with the idea that my sexuality and how i express it has negative social implications - both for myself and my partners, but also, since i started authoring The Lustful Quality, for anyone who might stumble upon the myriad subjects tackled here. These walls that i have occupied for several years have acted as my refuge from the forces who insist my very appetites are damaging to both myself and their targets. Yet, i mislead those who have chosen to read my words if i do not permit the occasional counter point to my own perspective. I have achieved sanctuary under this pseudonym. The numerous entries penned as 'Deity' have allowed me to wrestle with my internal demons, and to put that struggle on display for you, the reader. All of it would lead one to believe that i have achieved immunity from any claims that i cause more harm than good. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

I have not recently received any direct rebuke for my expressions, but instead, i continue to encounter articles, well-intended of course, whose sole aim is to arouse alarm and fear. Recently, i came across an article written by a college professor that strikes at the very heart of what i feel i'd intelligently (if not a little arrogantly) defended. The author chooses to re-frame an old argument about porn media and the unruly decay it sows, but instead of focusing on the patriarchal subjugation of the female gender portrayed in it, she rushes to the aid of its target: our young men. Many of her points, on face value, resemble the pedestrian no-brainers of soliciting sympathy for our young men as victims (in addition to our young women). However, much of what she seeks to strike down as repugnant pornographic practices superimposes victimhood on our boys rather than actually succeeding in proving her thesis. Instead, as i read her scholarly argument, i found myself brewing with anger over how yet another 'adult' just doesn't understand what it is they are observing in porn's media dominance.

I think the best way i can illustrate my argument is to quote entire paragraphs of the article, followed by my counterpoint. I leave it to the reader to decide if i've done what i sought out to do.

When she says:

Defenders of porn say that it is just harmless fantasy and anyone who criticizes porn is an anti-sex prude. The reality is that porn, like all media images, has an effect on the way we think about the world, and while it won't turn the average boy or man into a rapist, it will help shape the way he thinks about women, sexuality and intimacy. Indeed, it will impact on how he thinks about his own sexuality. To think for a moment that boys can masturbate to these images and not be affected is to ignore how we, as social beings, learn what it means to be human from the cultural messages that surround us.

There isn't much immediately that i can take issue with here. I'm not sure what she means by "defenders of porn" because she doesn't offer any further explanation of that term. I can only assume she means the millions of viewers, both male and female, of the various porn outlets one can find on the Internet - but you and i both know that is not what she means. She means the MALE defenders of porn. I am a voracious consumer of pornography. I have been from a very early age, yet i can honestly say the material i have ingested no more shapes the way i think about women than it does the way i think about men. And if porn is the barometer by which both genders must be measured, i would say neither gender fairs well. Pornography as i experienced it wasn't rampantly available in my youth, like it is now, and yet, amongst my peers, i would say that the dark, twisted fantasies that i possess goes further than most men i know. What i mean to say is that the sexuality i developed and that has written every single one of these debaucherous posts arose without the benefit of an endless, at-my-fingertip source of illicit material. Put another way, getting rid of Internet-based porn (which is the main point the author is advocating for) will not make fewer monsters like myself.

From an early age boys are bombarded with messages about what it means to be a "real man," and any deviation from this leaves a boy open to humiliation and ridicule. As boys get older, there is tremendous peer pressure to look at porn since this is seen as a rite of passage into manhood. Just take a quick look at the enormously popular adolescent boy movies of Judd Apatow, or listen to Howard Stern, or play any bestselling video games, to see how porn use is seamlessly packaged as an integral part of being a man. The end result is that rather than developing a sexual identity that is authentic, affirming, and in keeping with their own developmental time clock, boys are bullied into a sexuality that is created by a bunch of predatory businessmen whose goal is to maximize profits, not nurture the wellbeing of our sons.

The first thought i have when i ponder this paragraph is that this author has chosen not to address the myriad options that exist in pornography directed at homosexual males. "...any deviation from this leaves a boy open to humiliation and ridicule." While i do not deny that boys are bombarded with messages that are meant to adhere ones actions to a specific form of masculinity, this author has chosen to imply that the only pornographic path one can take is that of a straight male's interest. Yet, much of what she criticizes as the portrayal of women in porn can be found in a similar role in gay porn: the bottom. You cannot chastise the way women are portrayed in pornography as justification for why an endless supply is harmful if you completely ignore the fact that men play both roles in homosexual theater.

After twenty years of traveling the country giving lectures on porn, I have spoken to thousands of men and while it is clear that not all are affected in the same way, affected they are. Remember, this is the generation that grew up with Internet porn, and unlike previous generations these boys and men have an unlimited supply to hardcore porn 24 hours a day.

Twenty years of traveling, and it hasn't occurred to her that our men are being affected by something other than an unlimited supply of hardcore porn? She sounds an awful lot like a reactionary, as someone who idealizes a time that once was. When was this ideal period where men valued women as equals and not as sexual objects to redeem their sexual conquests? In the modern era, women are being given thousands more opportunities to take active, producing roles in the porn that flows into this endless stream. Where is the outrage for the exploitation of women when there were no female producers, directors and owners of pornographic products?

These young men have become so accustomed to porn sex that some are disappointed by their own sexual performance. When they compare themselves to the male porn actors, who can sustain Viagra-fortified erections for long periods of time, the guys I talk to often admit to feeling like sexual losers, and worry that something is wrong with them. Adam grew up watching his father's porn and felt that "porn taught me all I know about sex. My parents never mentioned the word sex at home, and sex ed in school was a ... joke. I had this image of how great sex would be, both of us going at it for hours. So it was kind of a shock the way the real thing turned out..."

Trust me, even without millions of hours of racy footage displaying the sexual prowess of professional pornstars, boys feel like sexual losers. I do not mean to overlook the disappointment boys must experience when their own exploits do not match up to the virile beasts streaming to them in their bedrooms on their laptops, but this is a very weak argument. How many boys stand at the plate in Little League, having hundreds of hours of videotape of their favorite Major League slugger running through their head, only to strike out and be forced to chew on their own disappointment as they trudge back to the dugout? For all those young men who will never garner a multi-million dollar sports contract, should we protect them by limiting how many games are broadcast?

What troubles many of these young men most is that they need to pull up the porn images in their head in order to have an orgasm with their partner. They replay porn scenes in their minds, or think about having sex with their favorite porn star when they are with their partners. Dan was concerned about his sexual performance with women. He told me that "I can't get the pictures ... out of my head when having sex, and I am not really focusing on the girl but on the last scene I watched." I asked him if he thought porn had in any way affected his sexuality. He said, "I don't know. I started looking at porn before I had sex, so porn is pretty much how I learned about sex. It can be a kind of problem to think about porn as much as I do, especially when I'm with my girlfriend. It means I'm not really present with her. My head is somewhere else."

What troubles me is that this author has no attachment to what is really going on in a young man's head as he conjures up images in order to have an orgasm. We do not force ourselves to be aroused by what we see in pornography. It either touches our buttons or it doesn't. Just because i've seen thousands of scenes of two girls making out, doesn't mean that one day i give into this bombardment and suddenly find myself with a raging erection the next time Britney Spears makes out with Madonna. You either find that erotic or not.

She mentions concern for Dan who cites porn as the first and foremost way he learned about sex, but how is that fault of the creators of porn? Where are the parents in this young man's development? Why isn't she thrashing against the poor parenting that has allowed this young man to turn to a polished, for-profit media package for his "education"?

Lastly, what really irritates me is the notion that women are treated horribly in all of these hardcore scenarios, and that this only serves to reinforce the endless humiliation and degradation of women. Here's where she really misses the mark. For every scene where a girl is portrayed performing humiliating sexual acts that a boy gets aroused by, the girl is not the only one who is humiliated. There is also a degradation happening with the young man observing this.

If there is anything that has served as a single denominator in my sexual experiences, it is that the demons i force upon my willing, female partner are ones i must also grapple with. My bottom wrinkled her brow in consternation as to how anyone could gain pleasure out of divining bruises upon her fleshy buttocks, and i struggled from the opposite side of the same coin. How could i possibly enjoy such culturally-maligned practices? What kind of person does that make me? She was disturbed when my sexual fires got stoked after she pathetically whimpers for leniency. Later, when i paused, i was also troubled by this, and there needed to be a tremendous amount of soul-searching before i found peace.

Porn isn't the enemy. Just like any form of mass media, it is a tool that can be used as productively as one wishes. The enemy is an inability to critically question what you encounter. I would hope anyone who reads the posts on this site and takes issue with anything i've said would speak up. Otherwise, nothing i written is worth a single one of its words.