The first time I made love, I just had to show up with my vagina to rock my young beloved’s world. We explored those new fruits with enthusiasm, joy and curiosity, and an equal amount of hormonal horniness. That we were in love and practiced safe sex together is evidence to me that young adults can navigate those early sexual days responsibly and with mutual satisfaction on the agenda.
I’m in my forties now, and have come to a strange realization; my generation of women is likely the last to feel that our au natural bodies and appetites are a thing of wonder, ripe with feminine erotic mystery. Our budding sense of security and sexual confidence in what we had to offer was in part because we were relatively confident that our partners would choose warm wanton flesh over a pornified image any old day. Had my high school sweetheart and I met today, the likelihood of repeating that sweet and romantic courtship is akin to a false fairytale.
I say that because of how crazy expectations are for younger women today, and I want to be a voice of support for them. The beating a girl's self-image takes today as she journeys from childhood to sexual maturity (and let’s not forget the difficulties our young boys face too) is beyond the pale. I believe we can thank internet porn for that. It is ubiquitous and has supplanted the principles of mystery, erotica and intimacy in the bedroom. That is the reality women today must live with.
The sexualized world my children are growing up with is not the legacy I ever imagined. Even though I muse about sexuality on a daily basis, and invite my beloved to explore with me what I whisper and moan about in my writings (poor fella!), I’ve kept a mostly reasonable distance from the genre because of ostensible incompatibilities. It's just a mess and I prefer a more decluttered love life, if you know what I mean.
This is how I understand it to be. On one hand, we have the militant conservatives (anti-porn feminists for example) who have concluded that all forms of porn are hurtful, espouse censorship and in some cases even blame porn for what sexually ails us as individuals and a culture. On the other hand, the radical left refuses to admit that internet porn can have harmful consequences to the wellbeing and emotional intimacy of our couplings.
Can we dispense with arguing and just acknowledge: they are both wrong because they refuse to own up to the truth on both sides of this debate. As with most things, extreme positions polarize the discussion, and because most of us want to be polite despite the current penchant for vitriolic hate speech, we remain quiet bystanders. Many are also huge consumers of internet porn. The pleasure and pain it delivers is here to stay, whether we approve of it or not, and that means that, at least in part, the kingpins will continue to spew out a lot of imagery that has effectively ‘taught’ the younger generation sexual crap.
For example, women shouldn’t have hair down there; we like it hard, fast and furious in all our orifices (and ‘prep time’ also known as foreplay is practically nonexistent); it’s quite satisfying for us when you chuck your junk on our faces; and oral pleasure is mostly for the boys. This, by the way, is a truncated list of the misinformation bad internet porn has perpetuated.
On the other hand, there’s a growing genre of erotic film that may just rescue the industry, and our sacred sexual selves, from this dark side. In an article for Sexis Magazine (Sex-Positive Erotic Films: For the Spiritual Masses?) I wrote: “For some time, I’d known of a new genre of erotic film, one that put art into our voyeuristic jollies and replaced exploitation with tenderness, intimacy and awe. At once applauded and reviled depending on the camp to which a viewer might align himself or herself with, these films hailed as sex-positive and feministic; hot and furious with a woman’s pleasure at the center of the plot.”
In that article, I interviewed the producer, Jennifer Lyon Bell of one such film, Matinee (She kindly sent me a review copy). My conclusion: not all sexualized film is created equal, and the bold and creative efforts of feminist mavericks may just be the antidote to a world gone mad. I base this statement on my own personal and evolving understanding of the differences between erotica and porn, and nakedness and nudity.
For sake of clarification, I believe erotica, unlike porn, leaves the mind stimulated but not obsessed; it arouses the senses without desecrating the soul; it may embarrass but never shame the viewer. Watching two people make love is just different than watching a woman being banged in a staged sex scene, pretending she likes to enact someone’s fantasies with a prop or a pole or multiple grunting lovers.
Furthermore, I define nudity, “as a state of intimacy and trust, free from implied or real subjugation, pretense and harm.” To be naked, on the other hand, “is to be stripped of respect, personal dignity and protection from the consequences, any consequences, of being viewed, objectified and used.”
Both are evocative and can stimulate a sexual response, making it difficult for us to separate true ecstasy from the adrenaline rush and burnout that comes from overindulgence (of anything). Ultimately, nudity and erotica including films that show real sex that is mutually satisfying, pleasurable and transcendent sanctify the human body and our couplings; internet pornography in its vastly current form does not.
Unless and until we get past our indignation and teach our children about the heart and heat of intimacy, porn is going to continue to give our young men and women a very raw, raunchy and distorted view of pleasure. I know there’s another way we can address the issue of To Porn, or Not To Porn, because at the end of the day, that’s not the correct question we should be asking ourselves. Instead, I suggest we reframe the dialogue altogether, and focus on making love, on and off the screen.
Porn is here to stay. How can we change it to serve our bodies, minds, souls and hearts instead of having it break them further? As parents, if we are willing to, how can we teach our children about the fundamentals of coupling as well as intimacy and mutual pleasure?
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