Originally posted July 3, 2013
“Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock
Let’s be honest: like it or hate it, pornography is not going away any time soon.
It is estimated that the porn industry brings in $13 billion in the US alone and nearly $100 billion worldwide.
With accessibility going up (thanks to the internet) along with demand (thanks to a growing population and the sharp increase in women and couples who download porn), those numbers are expected to rise.
For those who have had porn addiction or who have been lovers with someone who was addicted, this can seem devastating. Men who regularly masturbate alone with porn are more likely to have problems connecting with a partner, either through premature ejaculation, impotence or an inability to feel emotionally connected with him/her.
Of course to completely demonize porn or attempt to ban it is not the answer either. This “sexual prohibition” will only amplify the cultural embarrassment we already feel around sex, and relegate the production of porn to an even seedier caste of society (is it any coincidence that I can download “Hot Chicks, Small Tits 4” on the same website where I can search for my mail-order Russian bride?). The fact that adult film stars are being denied bank accounts does not represent that porn stars are wrong for doing what they do, but highlights the social stigma around sexual pleasure and our collective fear that someone will “discover” our dirty fantasies.
I think it’s vital that we have a candid discussion around pornography, if nothing else than to get everyone out of the shame closet and admit that we all watch it!
Porn has affected many people’s lives positively. For some, it was the first place they saw people enjoying sex. That can be especially liberating for women, who may have grown up with the notion that sex is something they were obligated to do for men’s pleasure.
Porn can also be educational and shine an approving light on taboos. A man who previously felt that anal sex was not for him, may discover a hidden turn-on when he sees another man taking it from behind (and liking it!).
Finally porn can just be fun and provide the much needed playfulness and variety many couples need in longer-term relationships.
I feel that porn limits us when we view it as the ultimate authority on sexuality. For those whose only sex education is pornography, sex must equal a penis entering a vagina, a big-busted women screaming as if she’s in the midst of an apoplectic attack, an impossibly endowed men pounding her like a jackhammer and both of them cumming (hard) at the same time, preferably with jiz everywhere (especially on her face).
Porn can also hinder the sexual maturity of men, as they become trained (á la Pavlov’s dogs) to lump orgasm, climax and ejaculation into one act. In reality, all three are separate physical phenomena and can be experienced independently.
Where our relationship to porn becomes especially devastating is when we confuse the business of pornography with authentic sexuality. Porn is built on filling people for the moment, but for the most part is nutritionally deficient. Sort of like the McDonald’s version of sex. Yet, even though we feel a little bloated from it all, we still have an innate hunger (addiction) to consume more. And that’s how most businesses work: in creating a product that people need over and over again.
Therefore sex becomes a commodity. A thing to be possessed. A trophy to be won. And many people who make porn don’t even care if you watch it, as long as you pay for the privilege of possessing it. Fast forward to the end. Grab it, spank it and go on to the next one.
The antidote to sexual consumerism is something I like to call “Erotic Voyeurism.” In Platonic philosophy, “eros” (the root word for “erotic”) is defined as a kind of love that is a fundamental creative impulse with a sensual element.
I am especially fond of this definition because I believe it provides the extra sexual nutrition that is often lacking in pornography: a way of interacting with visual stimulation and orgasm that is about building energy and utilizing it towards creativity (as opposed to the “jerk it out as fast as possible” approach to which porn often caters).
I recently discovered a brilliant example of erotic voyeurism in Clayton Cubitt’s video art series, Hysterical Literature. In each video, a woman reads an erotic passage from literature while she is genitally stimulated with a vibrator under a table. The results are hilarious, sexy, intriguing, intelligent and, yes, super fucking hot.
We see each woman as a human, rather than a thing. We are invited into her world, rather than trying to stuff her into ours. We ride the wave of her authentic turn-on, which can go from nonchalance to surprise to slight embarrassment to delicious agony to ecstasy to joy to relief. We feel what she is feeling, which fosters empathy and compassion.
We also don’t see any nudity in Hysterical Literature. Because so much is left to the imagination the mind is invited to play and create. Oftentimes, in conventional pornography, we can feel desensitized to what is happening and crave bigger “hits” off the climax crack pipe because of porn’s intensely graphic nature. While this SEX-sationalism, may make for rousing entertainment once in a while, overuse can deaden the subtlety of our sexual palates.
Another site I found that exemplifies erotic voyeurism is called “Gentlemen Handling.” Here, men share with the viewer their own personal style and taste of self-pleasure. The site aims to share the “human-ness” of each of its contributors in a way that is “honest, attentive and reverent.” And although this site still focuses on climax, I appreciate the vulnerability, inspiration and diversity of masculine expression.
This is not to say that we can’t approach conventional porn with an erotic eye. I saw a recent interview on Sex, Lies and Consciousness where a young man said that when he watches porn he likes to see what emotions arise and feel them. Shame, inadequacy, connection, curiosity, horniness — all of it is valuable inquiry to him. I though this was a marvelous and mature way to explore one’s relationship with sex.
Below are ten comparisons of porn versus erotic voyeurism. Of course, not all porn is the same (as evidenced by the rise in feminist porn), and ultimately, it’s never about what’s on the screen, but about our mindset and the level of consciousness with which we engage it.
However, like food, some sexual “meals” offer more nutrition than others. And while a “Big Mac” fuck can be fun every once in a while, it’s important to balance that with a sexuality that is nourishing and fulfilling.
- Porn tends to tell us what is sexy. Erotic voyeurism asks us “What is sexy?”
- Porn tends to numb ourselves from the present. Erotic voyeurism brings us right into the center of the moment.
- Porn often disconnects us from seeing the humanity of the people. Erotic voyeurism is a breeding ground for sensual compassion.
- Porn thrives on consumption. Erotic voyeurism demands participation.
- Porn relies on scripts and formulas. Erotic voyeurism is spontaneous and unpredictable.
- In porn, it’s usually about the money shot. In erotic voyeurism, it’s about the connection.
- Porn is fictionalized entertainment. Erotic voyeurism invites out our personal truth.
- Porn often feels like one big clanging note. Erotic voyeurism is a multi-textured symphony of surprises.
- Porn tends to focus on stimulating the genitals. Erotic voyeurism stimulates our entire being: mind, heart, soul and genitals.
- 10. Porn rushes towards climax. Erotic voyeurism savors lingering in the uncomfortable tension between wanting and having.
Article adapted from its original appearance on The Good Men Project