Your Sex Life on Porn

Once I was invited to the off-campus home of some male college students.  As I approached the front door I could see through an opening in the curtain of the large picture window.  The TV was on and they were watching a porn film.  I knocked on the door and prepared myself for an awkward moment.  When they opened the door and brought me inside I was relieved to see the TV was off.

laptop-manWhile pornography is attractive to men as ever, gone are the days of taking social risks in public to obtain sexually explicit material.  The Internet has reduced the social and economic hindrances of procuring porn films to near zero.  I read that 30% of women and 70% of men admit to ever having viewed online porn.  My informal inquiries indicate that for college students, that number is closer to 100% for both genders.  A significant percentage of those students assert that viewing porn is a positive and healthy activity.

For many boys, porn was their introduction to sex education.  Naturally curious about the mechanics of sex, boys find basic answers in porn.  Porn also indoctrinates viewers with an ethos about relationships, intimacy and the self.  Most men view porn long before their first real sexual encounter.  By the time a man engages in sexual activity with another person, he has likely received hundreds, if not thousands, of images into his psyche of other human bodies having sex.

Even if watching online porn is now the norm, we do well to ask if viewing porn is healthy for the sex lives of men and women.  Do these films provide essential knowledge that leads to satisfying sexual relationships?  We all agree viewing porn can be a powerful experience. But being moved by something is not sufficient proof of its goodness, as Aristotle cautions us in his Nicomachean Ethics.  How does one make a clear-eyed assessment of the overall effect of porn on a human being?

The desire for sex is primal and mind-bending.  Jokes are legion about how the sex drive can distort a person’s rational powers.  We chuckle in agreement when comedian Robin Williams says, “God gave man a brain and a penis – but not enough blood to use them both at the same time.”  Add the effects of alcohol consumption, and sexual self-governance can be nonexistent.  I’ve known many who were wounded by such situations.

imagesNo one disputes that the human sex drive can overwhelm the rational mind as it cries out for satisfaction.  But there is another cry that may accompany the sex drive, one that is more substantial if not as boisterous.  This is the cry for intimacy.  What then is the relationship between sexual desire and emotional intimacy?

Clark Gable, one of the preeminent movie stars of the 20th century, was once caught with a prostitute.  He was asked, “Why would you, Clark Gable, who could have your choice of women, pay a woman for sex?”  He said, “I don’t pay a woman for sex.  I pay a woman to go away after sex.”  What a striking example of sex without intimacy.

Intimacy, I dare say, is the precious pearl we all desire from our love relationships.  The need for emotional intimacy is the substance behind the longing for love expressed in practically every romantic song or poem ever written.  To be utterly known by another, and cherished for it, may be at the top of the list of things we desire beyond individual survival needs such as water, food and safety.  Long after sexual desire passes, the need for intimacy persists.  No one commits suicide over an absence of sex, but some do kill themselves over an absence of intimacy, which is loneliness.

Loneliness is abysmal, and yet intimacy is risky.  Authentic emotional intimacy between two people involves an exchange of vulnerabilities, including the vulnerability to rejection.  And rejection plucks the dreadful chords of abandonment and shame in most of us.  This makes emotional nakedness far more perilous than mere bodily nakedness in sex.

teun hocks warmthThis is a conundrum we all face regarding intimacy; live with loneliness or risk rejection.  The ever-present sex drive is all too ready to step into that void to provide a soothing connection.  But to surrender to sex while still emotionally defended further isolates the self that hungers for real intimacy.  It may feel less risky to rely on fantasy, or one may seek to detach the emotions from sex.  But then the sex act becomes little more than a pantomime of human closeness: sex without intimacy, pleasure without authentic meaning.  That was how Clark Gable handled the dilemma.

So what’s the problem with that?  Are there not simple pleasures that are perfectly fine without attachment to meaning, such as feeling the sun on one’s face?  I would argue that all pleasures, even the sun on one’s face, are enhanced by a connection to a greater significance and are diminished by the lack of connection.  This is all the more true for far more complex pleasures such as sex, which influences one’s concept of self on many levels.

Mad-Men-Don-DraperSexual pleasure unsustained by meaningful intimacy eventually drifts towards emptiness.  The sex that once thrilled becomes ordinary, the pleasure more thin, failing to gratify in quite the same way as before.  Nobody wants this, so the experience must then be artificially boosted to imitate depth and sustain excitement: more novel, more edgy, or more reliant on fantasy.

In contrast, the textures of meaningful pleasure are abundant, and become more accessible over time, not less accessible.  We don’t develop tolerance to meaningful pleasure; just the opposite.  We savor meaningful pleasure with deepening sensitivity as time passes.

Consider the excitement of true love and devotion, where the mere touch of the beloved’s hand may elicit long-lasting, passionate delight.  The term “pleasurable” is inadequate to describe the contentment of sex nourished by unfettered emotional intimacy.  This is a full and highly personalized experience.

Which brings us back to the use of pornography.  Porn’s essential feature is that it provides the user with a vivid experience of depersonalized sex, utterly bereft of intimacy, the thing we desire more dearly than sex.  In porn viewing, nothing is demanded that would actually create intimate meaning between living human beings.  Loneliness is temporarily soothed, rejection is avoided, but at a cost.

dummiesThe viewer must see the sex actors, from the outset, as mere objects among many other objects that are used until their usefulness is used up.  By emotionally attaching his sexual self to objects, the viewer objectifies not only the porn actors, but himself as well, so that a non-threatening, fantasy version of intimacy can be held in the mind.  And when the porn image that excites becomes banal, as it must, the viewer is progressively desensitized to sexual pleasure.  Porn seems to yield benefits in the short term, but it is a losing strategy in the long term for pleasure-loving people.

Porn use is hostile to the examined life.  It leaves one progressively dependent on untruth, the crutch of fantasy, and, over time, more lonely and less capable of emotional connection with a true intimate.  Being insulated from our deepest emotions is living small, which increases the risk of anxiety, depression, and old-fashioned unhappiness.  As an overall contributor to life satisfaction, porn is a thief disguised as a philanthropist.

The path that values emotional honesty and intimacy is admittedly risky and requires persistent courage, but the rewards have to do with true love.  Love is sublime, based on the truth, and very likely the best thing out there.

This entry was posted in freedom, happiness, meaningful life, philosophy, Pornography, sexuality, sobriety, spirituality, Teun Hocks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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