Originally posted on June 1, 2011
I recently had a Facebook exchange with someone who was shocked to hear that my take on pornography is that (for the most part, but not always) it is a reflection of our cultural shadow regarding sex—a result of our own cultural sexual repression.
Um, ok, what?! In plain terms a shadow is a part of ourselves that we don’t claim or own. The best way to discern your shadow is to notice the characteristics in other people that you can’t stand or hate or vilify or claim as “wrong” or “sinful.” This usually stems from some sort of shame or desire to fit within an acceptable norm. However, if you get in relationship with your shadow and integrate it, you develop the ability for compassionate living with all beings because you have a compassionate relationship with all parts of yourself.
OK, so back to porn. We in the US have this thing where what we practice in our daily life looks a lot different than what eeks out in the entertainment and media industries. As “open-minded” a society as we like to think we are, we are still “one nation under God” and for most of us, that means living in accordance to a religious dogma that tells us that sex before marriage is wrong, homosexuals are sick and that anything that happens in the bedroom should stay there and not be talked about in “polite company.” But all that tamped down energy has to find a place to go; so it comes out in sexy models gracing ads for cars and beer, scantily-clad teenage pop stars being our icons of femininity and, as I mentioned, porn.
OK. So let me just say this. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH NUDITY, NAKED PERFORMERS OR PORN. OK? I am not going to take your porn away or condemn anyone who wants to perform a sexy song onstage or watch some fun-time sex play. I myself do burlesque and will be the first one in line to do a crazy, sexy, fetish-inspired photo shoot or intensely erotic film scene. What I am asking from you is to take another approach to exploring sexuality. Much of what we see as “sex” is only one tiny sliver of the whole pie, but we come to think that this one tiny sliver is all there is. And this sliver is, for the most part, a highly-exaggerated, masculinized version of sexuality. Its focus is on sensationalism. On shock value. On money shots. On selling. On going for a goal and producing results. And that’s ok AS LONG AS YOU ARE CONSCIOUS OF THIS DYNAMIC. That it’s a business. Entertainment.
Where we can really damage ourselves as sexual beings is when we being to equate ourselves with what we see on the outside, and if any part of our sexuality deviates from that, we are somehow “wrong” or “broken.” If we as women aren’t ready give a blow job to our husbands the moment he comes home from work, we are frigid. If a man has a cock measuring less than 6 inches and can’t blow his wad within two minutes of a hot woman breathing on him, he is impotent. If our sexual appetite isn’t hearty in the “right” moments and is a raving lunatic in the “wrong” moments, we are very, very bad people indeed. And since we as a culture, tend to have a difficult time understanding the depth of our own sexuality (much less talking about it), how can we possibly teach our kids what it’s like to have a healthy relationship with their sex and their bodies? If porn (and very stifled, clinical lessons in 8th grade health class) is the only education for kids and the sexually curious, is it any wonder that shame and secrecy cloud our most intimate parts? Is it any wonder that men walk around bragging about how virile they are but freak out the moment he has a woman alone in a room (believe me, I speak from experience on this one)? Is it any wonder that women constantly beat themselves up because they don’t look like the images they see?
Another reason that our relationship to porn can also be damaging is that it all-too-often takes the place of truly nourishing sexual experiences. It’s like you see this act of perceived sexuality, you feel your hands on your genitals and there is some sort of release. So it feels like you’ve had sex. And you have. But this kind of experience lacks the very heart of what we do desperately want from our sex—intimacy and vulnerability. You are a voyeur on the sexual ride, rather than an active participant. I mean, every once in a while, you just wanna get your rocks off. You wanna go to Mickey-D’s, order the Big Man and fries and stuff yourself with dirty, greasy goodness. But if this taste isn’t balanced with nourishing, quality meals, you are going to walk around sexually starving and feeling angry, ashamed and confused about why you seem to have an active sexual life, but are somehow still terribly unfulfilled.
The antidote to the shadow is to turn right around and face it. Cultivate a relationship with your sexuality. Learn, stroke by stroke, what your own orgasm feels like and from there discover the nuances that make your sexuality unique. When you climax, it may not be a loud, crazy, screaming fit—and that’s ok. It might take you a full hour of stroking before you even begin to feel the tiniest spark of sensation in your genitals—and that’s ok. You may have thought you would never like anything that was a little too on the fringe, but have a secret desire to be blindfolded and tied up by the Starbucks coffee girl—and that’s ok (talk to your partner first before acting out on that last one).
Ultimately, it’s about shifting our secret, shadowy preoccupation with sex from one with a purely external gaze to one that looks inward towards our personal desire compass. A relationship with sex based on curious inquiry about what I truly want, not one based on what I think I should be. About connecting to ourselves, our desires and the present moment, rather than distancing ourselves from it. About slowing down, stripping away our beliefs, paying attention and moving from the instinctual body. This is a gradual process, but one that is much more fulfilling in the long run.
I am aware that there is a movement to create different kinds of porn—for women by women and based on true eroticism rather than purely profit-driven sensationalism. Cool. Fantasy is sometimes a fun choice. Not every sexual experience has to be a David-Deida-claim-your-woman’s-open-heart-and-soul-and-bring-her-to-God event. Just stay conscious about how you’re spending your energy, where your attention is and what is your true desire. If you are not sure, keep coming back to the sensation in your body. Let your orgasm be your guide and your fuel on your journey towards your sexual self.
Who knows. You might find infinitely more pleasure in the experience of pink silk slowly slipping down the length of your inner arm than you ever could have found in Alien Midget Gang Bang 4.
FYI: Check out NYU professor, Chyng Sun’s intelligent documentary on the porn industry, The Price of Pleasure, at http://thepriceofpleasure.com