Yes, it felt like cheating.
I tried everything from shaming him, to making “agreements,” to trying to understand and let go, to ignoring, to looking at my own issues around simply being upstaged. Eventually I admitted the truth—it was his life. He could and should do what he wanted to do. I decided that I wouldn’t ask, pry, judge or make it about me. I would just relate honestly, which so far meant that when I saw or sensed he was using porn I wasn’t interested in being close with him.
No more attempts at punishment or shame. I just simply acknowledged that my authentic response was “yuck.”
So, is porn a good thing more generally—does it enhance the well-being of individuals, couples, communities, kids? To me that answer depends entirely on what we mean by “porn.” If we mean erotic, open authentic sexuality—well, that just does not sound like a bad thing in my book. But what about when it instills images in our minds that are haunting, unwanted or disturbing.
A mentor of mine once talked about grotesque and violent movie images as being “pornographic” because they become embedded in our psyches. I remember seeing a movie when I was 12 years old in which a cop discovers teenage lovers making out on a roof-top. He picks up the young man and throws him off the building to his death. I was horrified. For me it was pornographic. Here, pornography is defined as violation—something insidious that penetrates one’s senses and cannot easily be left behind. That was 30 years ago and it still shakes me.
Yet, from that definition, if you accidentally walk in on your parents making passionate, sweet love when you are 8 years old—well, it could be pornographic. Those unwanted images might well disturb, and stay with you.
The actual definition of “pornographic,” is: “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” Hmmm, pictures designed to arouse—how could that be bad? I mean, arousal is kind of awesome.
It could be bad if it is visited on un-wanting or unsuitable subjects, like children. It could also be harmful if the people involved in creating the images are themselves coerced, harmed or engaging in it primarily from a sense of fear or shame. And I would add, not just from a fear of being hurt but from a fear that they are not enough if they don’t give what others want, even at the expense of what feels comfortable to them; societally induced prostitution. It is a fear far more common that we would like to believe.
The truth is that there is a wide spectrum of what constitutes “material intended to stimulate erotic feelings.” If we dropped all conceptual projection and looked at a rose petal we would dissolve into ecstasy. Porn. I remember beholding two trees growing together—twisted and entangled delicately into one another. Porn.
I admit that I sent pictures of myself in rather compromised positions to my husband while he was traveling. Sweet, sexy, intimate, and yes, a bit naughty. Certainly designed to arouse. Porn.
Then there are teenagers, or even kids, on the street who are promised a good life and desperately need someone to trust. I had a friend who lost her ivy-league scholarship and, without any other financial options, saw her choices as prostitution or not having a future. She chose prostitution—willing to do or pose for anything to stay in school. She graduated. Porn.
And then there is child porn. It turns the stomach just to think about it. Images designed for arousal. There is a huge range of what we call “pornography.” My private, scandalous photos to my husband—sweet. My friend prostituting herself to pay for college—tragic. Children being coerced into sexual activity to arouse some adults—horrific.
And what about the garden-variety, red-blooded American porn? What of that range between freckled, naked beach beauties all the way to bleach-blond, enhanced bosoms with the fake lipstick “ohs!” into the camera while something goes up her ass?
Do we desire or approve of it? Does it add to our well-being? Is it, by the very definition, “good”?
The truth is that I have no idea. What I care about is the welfare of the actress, or actor, and the integrity of the situation. I also care whether the images feed the best in us (and ecstasy and eroticism count in my book).
What turns me on personally is witnessing the authenticity in a man’s eyes such that we both dissolve into vulnerability. What seemed to turn my ex on was sandy young breasts on a clear day. Who is to judge? Some of us find eroticism in communion with other, and some find it more privately. All of us, I think, want to merge ecstatically, and porn—like movies, or dancing, or being in nature, or sharing a meal and a glass of wine with someone we adore—gives us a hint of that.
When pornography rips into us, mesmerizing us with its undeniable images, I just want it to be real. Is this person coming from and conveying a truth? Or are they fabricating something that we then pretend to believe—getting us off with the aim of getting a lot of people richer in the meantime? I don’t see the need for judgment, but rather to advocate for the innocent—both those photographed and those viewing—and looking inward to see how it serves our own well-being.
The truth is that we all long for communion, reunion, merging, ecstasy. It is just part of being human. I wonder whether pornography would have even a toe in the market if we already had the kind of love and communion that we desire with each another?
The Men and Pornography series is the product of the joint call from elephant journal Love and Relationships and The Good Life on The Good Men Project. This was previously published on elephant journal Love and Relationships.
Image credit: kevin dooley/Flickr