The Cultural Shadow of Pornography

Candice Holdorf isn’t against pornography, but encourages us to look more critically at porn as a business, and try to figure out exactly what it is they’re selling. 

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.

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, 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 U.S. 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.

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.

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, shock value, money shots, selling. It’s 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.

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.

It’s about connecting to ourselves, our desires and the present moment, rather than distancing ourselves from it. It’s 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—based on true eroticism rather than purely profit-driven sensationalism. Cool. 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.

 

Originally appeared at Elephant Journal

 


Candice Holdorf is The Orgasmic Life columnist for elephantjournal and life coach specializing in desire, sexuality and Orgasmic Meditation. For inquiries on her coaching, visitwww.candiceholdorfcoaching.com. She is also a California-based actress, former yoga teacher and recovering anorexic who has discovered that there is tremendous power inside of hunger. Personal site www.candiceholdorf.com. Blog The Orgasmic Life. Follow Candice on Twitter @candiceholdorf. Follow The Orgasmic Life on Twitter @theorgasmiclife. Follow Candice on Facebook. Follow The Orgasmic Life on Facebook. Subscribe to Candice’s feed and never miss an article!

 

Photo: Flickr/Ashley MacKinnon

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Comments

  1. There’s nothing wrong with porn, or sex, or kinks, between consenting adults, of course, except for the moral subjective implications we ourselves add to it. But what we’ve got to keep in mind is that the media we absorb, while it may color our perceptions, don’t define them. I may love violent revenge films, but I’m a pacifist. If we could just be more open and honest about what we want, while tempering our expectations with reality, I think we can have much healthier sexual relationships. Not everyone can be monogamous. Sex doesn’t always mean making love anymore than it always means a long kinky bondage session. In our relationships, casual or long-term, there are many shades of variation.

  2. One of the more insightful commentaries that I have recently read with respect to adult entertainment. The “shadow theory” provides considerable insight into mentality of those her are so frequently provoked and outraged.

  3. I love this article-for me personally, the shadow and darkness of porn comes from the commodity model it follows. It’s an industry, first and foremost. It’s goal isn’t to provide solace, education, play, sensual expansion…it’s to sell films and make money. Therein lies my discomfort with it, not the images but how and why they are made and chosen.
    It’s related to cultural shame about sex and it’s also related to a larger American goal of making money.

    • As a guy, I have a very different take on it. It usefulness to me is primarily as a commodity. Sex with a partner is far more preferable than porn, but also far less predictable. My sex drive, on the other hand, is an every day thing. If my partner isn’t willing, I have an easy out. A quick and easy fantasy followed by orgasm most certainly is some form of solace.

      • Right. And so long as the making of the porn is ethical and healthy I’d have no problem with it. But then again, I have big issues with things like McDonalds-how they treat the land, animals, and workers. I’d have to be extraordinarily hungry not to take those factors into account. So long as there is organic free range porn in the world, why use the meatgrinder stuff.

        • Because sometimes I’m in the mood for McDonalds and home-made, organic, gluten-free porn isn’t that arousing to me.

          Or should only the people who shop at whole foods get to enjoy porn?

          • So are you saying that sometimes you are in the mood for porn that may well be exploiting people (ie the MacDonalds reference) for money (including you), is not actually interesting in anything more than profit, rather than find porn that is made better, where actors are treated better, but shows just as much sex?
            Is that what you mean?

            • I’m saying I don’t look to porn for any sort of higher purpose. It’s fantasy fodder when I need an easy orgasm. They are basically interchangeable episodes, each lacking any significance.

              Whether either sort is better made, with better treated actors or shows whatever is hard to dispute here.

              As far as profit goes, I haven’t paid for porn since I don’t know when. Today, I got off watching something I found online that must have been made in the 80’s, guessing from the hairstyles.

              I think the food metaphor has pretty well broken down but watching free porn is like eating a picture of bacon for breakfast. You don’t pay the store or affect the pig.

          • What’s funny about that is that Whole Foods is a terrible example of a business that respects it’s workers…

            It’s not the porn that’s the problem… http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/its-not-that-porn-degrades-women-its-that-business-degrades-porn-8475620.html

  4. So, I follow the link on this comment, watch a little naked yoga and scroll down to the comments. Some positive, but many dumping on the actress for being naked, being young, having a very nice body, having poor yoga form. Apparently, they think something is very wrong with nudity. Or do they (the site’s readers and commenters) only celebrate the nudity of people who are not conventionally attractive or who don’t get naked for a living?

    “So let me just say this. There is nothing wrong with nudity, naked performers or porn, ok?”

  5. The business future of porn seems quite soft. “Free content and piracy” have commoditized the commoditizers.

    “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 this is your fear, then you have little to worry about, as it is mostly an unfounded belief. Why this belief exists is the more interesting plot from the story of porn.

  6. I think people confuse “sex” with “porn”. The believe that shame of “porn” is shame of “sex”. But that’s not really the case. There is nothing with sex, having sexual feelings or desiring sexual relationships. But porn is heavily created and dominated by selling sex through what mostly men mainly want. Most of the porn that is marketed creates an imbalance because most of it is for men. Women are masturbation toys. Their orgams are suppose to be shows, not real experiences. So women are left with two options: Either adopt a more masculine view of their own sexuality and become the fantasy men desperately and obviously want women to be through porn, maybe killing their own feminine desires or wishes and creating an out of balance sexual dynamic that sure might please men but leaves women in the cold, or speak out the issues of the the industry and risk being called a prude, illogical, hysterical or blown off simply because the desire for sex is normal.

    I think we need to stop confusing sex with porn. There is nothing wrong with sex and the desire for sex it self. But lets not fool ourselves and believe that if something makes us feel lustful, then it’s good or automatically natural. Especially when we know we live in a culture that manipulates are perceptions of healthy expectations of one another. There is something very wrong with how porn is marketed to the masses AND how much time people are spending looking at porn. I think this is another part of the discussion not many people want to be honest about. How much porn people are looking at. This has drastically changed to the point that I don’t think many people even know how to or want to even seperate porn and sex from one another. And the problem with that is that porn is manly about male desires and expectations about what they want women to be and what they think women want them to be.

    I wish men would challenge themselves to go without porn for a period time and see how it affects their sexuality and their perceptions of sex and women. I wish that we would stop justifying objectfying women because men are horny.

    I miss the days when men might have looked at porn, but they didn’t have it 24/7. I miss the days when men didn’t say things like, “well my gf/wife can’t be around to service me the second I feel horny.” What happenend to some self control? If I ate junk food at the rate the average guy was looking at porn, I’d be morbidly obese. But over abuse of pornography is okay because it’s not anything we can actually visably see happening. It’s all done behind closed doors where no one actually has to be accountable for what they are looking at.

    It’s depressing but it’s the world we live in. Men want the porn they have. And the porn they have is very telling about how men really feel and think about women. And if we really look at porn and what men really want women to be, it’s obvious real women are nothing close to what men actually want. So in the grand scheme of things, women are simply feminine failures.

  7. I know porn is wrong and bad. I know it harms everyone, men and women, especially women. I never expect women to act like those performers on porn, I never call them frigid or prude for hating porn or don’t want to try sex like performance in porn. I understand why women hate porn, and I know real sex is very different compare to sex in porn. And I know I’m not a good man because I like to watch porn.

    The problem with me is, although I know all of that, I still cant stop watching porn. I tried to stop it every once in a while, but I still came back to porn. I’m still in college and I’m not married, and I don’t ( never ) have a girlfriend. I just hope after I got married somehow my desires for porn going to vanished, because I don’t want to hurt my future wife.

    I know my whole post sounds like an excuse, a horrible excuse. But this is my true feelings about porn.

    • John, despite how much I dislike porn and talk about it, I never believed that looking at porn made a man “bad”. Believe it or not, I get why men like some of it on some level. But I also think that it largely comes to the detriment of women.

      I actually think the goals of men and women are the same. I do believe both men and women want better, closer, more intimate, respectful and fun relationships. I just believe that porn screws this up more than it actually helps.

      I wouldn’t hold vast that once you get married that your desire for porn will somehow go away. Your future wife isn’t your savior from porn. That’s a lot of pressure to put on her. Unfortunetly, men form close bonds to porn because whether I like it or not, porn speaks to men on some scale and feeds their masculinity. Alot of men also have started looking at it from very early ages, further locking in that bond.

      You aren’t bad for looking at porn. But if you really don’t want to look at porn, than you need to do the hard work to take those steps instead of waiting for your future wife to save you from it.

      • I don’t know if porn makes me a bad man or not, but certainly not a good man. I admitted to enjoy porn when women being abused, I have even watched ( and enjoy ) Japanese rape porn. After I have ejaculated from masturbating watching women being abused I felt disgusted with myself, but I don’t stop watching the same kind of porn. I do think porn have screwed my brain. Yes I started looking at it from very early ages, that I feel more close to porn than any woman I’ve known. You know how fucked up it is.

        But then I dont think I need to defend porn like many men do. I dont need to confront women about why they hate porn ( I do understand why they hate it ). I dont need to tell me I’m still a good man although I like to watch porn. I feel more comfortable admitting its bad.

        Porn is bad, and I like to watch it. Whether I cant stop watching porn or not, I dont know if I could. Because like you said, I have watched porn from very early ages.

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