Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 2, No. 1, 2003
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Robert J. Lewis
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passing strange




If porn can be loosely described as the organization of sexually explicit materials designed to whet sexual appetite, never before in our history has so much of it been so available, and we, mostly men that is, available for it.

As a commodity subject to laws of the marketplace, its prolific supply is guaranteed by virtual universal accessibility, while demand is assured by a tantalizing user-confidentiality clause that says: no one ever need know.

In inverse proportion to the enormous profits going to the producers and purveyors of porn is the conspicuous absence of meaningful dialogue on its psychological effects - if any. Adducing the all-purpose, freedom of choice clause with mantra-like monotony, the individual drones on that porn is a person's (always someone else's) private affair and no one else's business. This widely held view conceals the presumption that the effects of porn are as short-lived as a scene from an X-rated movie.

That porn might be a mine-field where a step in the wrong direction is to risk losing a limb is a possibility that begs closer examination.

The growing use of porn raises a number of disconcerting questions. Does repeated exposure inhibit or maim the healthy sexual response? Is porn psychologically addictive? What should we teach the young about it as they mark their years of passage from adolescence to adulthood? Is there a single, correct response to porn? What constitutes an informed choice concerning the use of porn? And how does this bear on the always tenuous relationship between freedom and responsibility?

graphic by Mady BourdageLike many things of our culture that seduce, porn is popular because we enjoy it and its use requires minimum effort and commitment. Reduced to its lowest common denominator, porn is a self-contained universe of one person and his fantasy where deity and duty are subsumed by the ethos of self-gratification.

If, outside of marriage, conventional sexual gratification means getting out there and meeting people, dating, courtship and seduction, porn is easy -- perhaps too easy. With the flick of the remote, it anonymously enters our homes and entertains us for the price of a cocktail, or Internet subscription. At our beck and call 24 hours a day, it is non-judgmental. Desire and gratification meet in the winners' circle on every occasion.

In porn's field of dreams that are packed into adult films and magazines, the performers are provocatively inanimate and unreal; response and arousal are a one-way street. When we indulge in porn, nothing can go wrong except getting caught at it.

On the other hand, (which is also an adverbial conjunction), when we engage in 'mature' sex, a minimum of one other real person is required -- and lots of things can go wrong. Always to be considered 'in varying degrees' is the response of the sexual partner, even in the most brutal and mechanical acts of sex.

Given our manifestly uneasy relationship with porn, (we don't like to talk about what we probably have all done -- and enjoyed), we have learned to shape our social discourse so that it emerges politically correct. In public, we scorn porn, or effect indifference, or joke about it in order to mask our abiding fascination with it. But the sales figures belie our words. Are we still closet Puritans collectively waxing guilty over all but the most conservative sexual conduct? Or, is our muteness a confession of the shame we experience watching others do what we should be doing? After all, doesn't porn turn us all into Peeping Toms while encouraging us to do more than peep? If, for the love of porn, we betray our sexual partners or the desire to even find one, aren't we all infidels?

To be filed in the category of lies and deceits are the public pronouncements bemoaning the invasion (by invitation) of porn. Best intentions aside, the true meaning we assign to anything we value in life is always and irrevocably measured by the time we spend with it. I can shout to the world that I value Dostoievsky more than porn, but if I use porn everyday and rarely or never read Dostoievsky, nothing I say can change the fact that I am always and inescapably that person who is what he is doing. For some, this is reason enough to never touch porn.

Like the ubiquitous Golden Arches of McDonalds, porn is now a pervasive aspect of our culture. If some of us have found good reason not to eat the things we enjoy at McDonalds, are there equally compelling reasons not to indulge in porn? Is there a judicious use of porn?

Every individual dwells in a situation that is uniquely his own, and it is 'the situation' that often determines one's custom or manner of response to the world. Perhaps the key here is to avoid injunctions and absolutes and to recognize that if there is an acceptable use of porn, it must be in consideration of individual particularity. Husbands and bachelors inhabit very different worlds and, perforce, must deal with different pressures and preoccupations. We might reproach the husband who chooses porn than relations with his spouse, but regular servings of porn in prisons might be a good idea if it results in a measured reduction of sexual violence, or prescribing porn to sexual deviants if it takes the edge off their proclivity. In The City of God, St. Augustine observes: "For avarice is not a fault inherent in gold, but in the man who inordinately loves gold."

Defenders of porn argue that our abiding interest in it is as innocent as the urge to copulate, that it is nothing more than the natural, wholesome extension of sexual fantasy; and whether it take place in the mind or on celluloid is immaterial. Psychologists point out that we think of sex every 30 seconds.

Fantasy is demonstrably part of the creative process. All inventions and works of art were originally imagined in the mind. If we allow ourselves the right to indulge in the fantasy of enjoying food before we actually partake, who would deny us the right to indulge in sexual fantasy? The critical distinction is that we imagine the enjoyment of food only to actually taste it. Porn stops short of the real thing. The fantasy is its own terminus. And even if we grant that for most of man's history his daily struggle to survive determined how infrequently he could idyll in sexual fantasy, today, with leisure time in over-supply and that original fantasy transformed into ubiquitous cultural artifact, the eye can indulge in porn ad nauseam?

Thanks to cable TV, VCRs and satellite dishes, modern societies are awash in porn, so we have no choice but to learn to live with it and assume responsibility for our participation in it, and reflect on how its use reveals us and affects our relationships. The society that grows and nourishes the porn industry advertises its values to other societies. As does the society that bans it and denies its people the freedom to make decisions about it. To simply aye or gainsay it is to ignore the large gray areas (which include our own fantasy life) that need to be addressed. After all, we are bodies that experience recurring hunger and desire and we must caution ourselves from entertaining the notion that our relationship with porn can be exclusively determined by the rule of mind.

One response is to finally assume responsibility for the fact that it has been on our watch that porn has been able to carve out a significant niche for itself in our cultural life, and that a significant number of today's teens (and adults) risk becoming porn-dependent and/or sexually disabled (that is, frustrated) adults. There is circumstantial evidence that the use of porn, if not over-exposure to it, is affecting how the sexes relate to each other. We can choose to turn a blind eye to these developments or eye them with the purpose of turning them into opportunities. Which is to say, it is not too late to grant porn the socio-historical status it deserves, which would make it a legitimate subject of study and debate.

This kind of formal recognition could become the event that determines if porn continues to prosper in our new century or if its best years have been spent.

Related articles:
Prostitution: Gender-based Income Redistribution with Honour and Dignity
In Defense of Pornography
Sex Traders in the Material World
21st Century Sex
Pop Divas, Pantydom and 3-Chord Ditties
The Triumph of Pornography


Hi thanks for your site. We must pull together in the arts to stamp out pornography. It is entering our subconscious through the web. Most people are totally unaware of the effects of conditioning upon us humans. We, of all the life forms on this planet, are subject to endless conditioning. I ask all artists to help out and to condemn such vile media. Thanks. Malcolm Scott.
Get rid of all internet porn magazines videos and the world and yourself will be the better. GOD BLESS YOU AND AMERICA.
Jesus will return like a thief in the night, will you be ready?



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