The Bondage of Porn is Turning Pleasure into Pain. ~ Jessica Bahr

Via on Nov 2, 2012

I am still surprised that there is a porn “debate,” perpetually asking the question of whether it’s harmful or beneficial.

One of the most ubiquitous pro-porn (mainstream) arguments that is keeping the debate active is that pornography is “needed.”  It’s the insidious myth that men need to buy sex, consume woman’s bodies as a commodity and that it’s as natural as the sex drive itself. You don’t have to be a sociologist, biologist or psychologist to know this is not true.

There was a time and place when pornography didn’t exist and a man could be turned on by pheromones, a turn of an ankle or a novel thing called love. When did pornography become this “salve” for the aching loins of men? When did the symptom of dysfunction get turned into the all pervasive “remedy?”

It became propagandized like all spurious snake oils do. Now, after so much damage, pain and suffering, people are starting to look at the side effects and question its “benefits.” About time.

First, I think it is incredibly insulting and downright dehumanizing to men to postulate that porn is a need, and that there is some inherent thing in them that has to have it. That’s like saying back in the 50s and 60s that whites are inherently racist, without looking deeper at the psychology and cultural conditioning around these attitudes. If I were a man, I would not be too thrilled at the way porn was portraying men in front of or behind the camera. Talk about objectification. But the multi-billion dollar industry needs this myth to stay alive for it to stay alive.

It’s not because men are “weak” or “bad” or biologically wired for porn.

Pornography works on the brain in one of the most basic of ways. It has a Pavlovian effect, and what could be a more positive reinforcement to the brain than the linking of the feel good hormone released during orgasm (oxytocin) to particular sexual images? This makes it both chemically and behaviorally addictive.

The other myth is that of sexual freedom and empowerment. The deluge of sexual images—custom made and methodically engineered for optimal effect and hedonist consumption—does not lead to sexual freedom or power. It actually waters down virility and corrodes our sexual and relational moorings. In opening all of those enticing doorways, consumers shut themselves in, becoming desensitized to natural, authentic and subtle turn-ons.

Over time they find it hard, if not impossible, to connect to the real thing. The instant and short-term gratification of porn is cumulatively (no pun intended—well, maybe) debilitating and very few people know or want to admit this is happening to them until they have reached a point of feeling dysfunctional in sexual relations.

What they once thought they were controlling is now controlling them.

Pornography is actually emasculating, not only in the way it treats its predominantly male consumers, but in the eyes of many women (many of whom will not admit this to their lovers). The thought of my man not being turned on by me alone turns me off, plain and simple. Handing his manhood over to a fantasy land designed to hypnotize and manipulate him leaves the relationship bereft of the sexual energy that keeps the fire burning in the hearth.

It is a false sense of freedom and power and a perversion of masculinity. To buy into the fantasy, you have to give your power away. It erodes intimacy; it leaks life force energy that could be channeled to doing something good, productive and fulfilling.

It is the great distraction. If all the time and energy that was wasted through pornographic ejaculation was actually put towards a real life relationship with a real partner, or into a creative and constructive process, the need for escape hatches such as porn would lose their appeal.

Pornography is replacing authenticity in one of the most organic, natural and intimate parts of our lives—ironically in an area where once a natural and pleasurable union (literally) was formed. One of its most devastating consequences is the erosion of intimacy in personal relationships. Men are conditioned to be caught up in the sexual image of a woman (to the point of addiction) more than the heart and mind of her; unable to feel satisfied, as if nothing and no one will feel like enough.

And women are conditioned to believe that they can’t measure up.

Not feeling good enough or feeling respected is a guaranteed libido killer—and so they too may turn to porn or some other source to get turned on, or become apathetic to sex altogether. The futility bred from this scenario is the perfect business model for the sex and beauty industries. Keep both parties dissatisfied—easy to do in a culture that confuses stimulation with satisfaction. Divide and conquer and make them life long consumers as they try to build a bridge back to each other on quick sand.

PhotobucketAdd the violent, controlling story lines to the mix and you’ve got the makings of emotional implosion, further instigating a war between the genders and at best, further estranging them.

I can think of hundreds of ways (all of them now supported by research) that porn is detrimental, everything from broken relationships, addictions, misogyny, objectification and violence towards woman, emasculation, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido, the new “sex education” for children, etc., and I have yet to hear one argument that validates its value… except that it feels good and that it’s an expression of “freedom.”

I try to imagine having the same dialogue over junk food or fast food. Those who eat fast food will defend it as their right, arguing to the hilt for their own limitation and demise, but there would and could be no argument for its value in terms of health and happiness. The same is true of porn. It is factory-farmed sex (I wrote a poem with the same title). It is an erroneous imitation designed to hook people and make them want more. Empty calories, no nourishment—and the ill effects are just starting to be measured, but many of the effects will ripple out beyond measure.

Sex is not the enemy or the problem; it never was. It’s the unruly projection onto sex, sexuality and onto each other that is the issue. Neither the exploitation or the suppression of sex are healthy. There is no balance in either, and both extremes are oppressive, controlling and dominated by the patriarchal sexual shadow, of which greed and control are cozy bedfellows.

This hostility towards sex is being acted out, packaged and sold to the best of us.

The contempt for sex is why we diminish it, bind it, package it and turn it into a commodity, especially in the feminine form. This disowned part of us certainly needs to play out somewhere, usually taking the route of projection; projection leading to objectification; and objectification leading to dehumanization.

Pornography extorts and exploits basic human desire and needs, taking it to an extreme and distorting it so that it’s no longer something clean and comfortable, natural and necessary. When a person is ready to take back their power and their sexuality they will get off the mainstream bandwagon and no longer defend something that undermines their healthy sexuality, relationships and self concept.

For those who feel so indoctrinated by porn, the truth is that pornography can be outgrown. I know people personally who have outgrown pornography. It required them getting really honest with themselves and their conditioning. With that honesty comes a healthy anger, even a necessary rage at the ways they were being used and manipulated by the media for an agenda that serves no one except to make the porn industry and subsequent industries (beauty, sex, etc.) multi-billion dollar profits.

It’s also important to look at what void it’s trying to fill (the sexualizing of unmet needs and unresolved emotions or an avoidance of intimacy and vulnerability). I would think people would want to outgrow it just so they can take their own minds/thoughts/experiences back—especially when it comes to sex!

Pornography isn’t going to go away any time soon, as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.

We can choose not to have it be a part of our personal lives, and to no longer allow it to define and influence our relationship to sex and to each other. We can deprogram ourselves, and ask that our partners do the same so that when we meet in our sexuality, it is our sexuality; it is us who is doing the meeting.

Rather than someone else’s contrived storyline—an empty fantasy born from a place of dissatisfaction, discontent and despondency in which we become the props—we regain our own story, one that moves from the connective heart outward. Why buy someone else’s dysfunction and desperation? Do we not become what we consume?

Once we free ourselves from the bondage of porn, we can help empower and educate others—because to be turned on by the real thing, the sensuality, subtleties and nuances of true connection, cannot be substituted nor underestimated.

 

(This is the sixth in a seven-part series over seven days, in colloboration with the Good Men Project, addressing the question: Is Porn a Good Thing? For GMP’s recent posts in the series, check out The History of Porn  and Fear the Towel.)

 

Jessica Bahr is a freelance writer, who writes about subjects she is passionate about, including grounded spirituality, integral psychology, conscious relationships, media literacy, gender relations and healthy sexuality. She has been published by various online publications, including The Good Men Project, Spirit of Maat, DailyCoudt.com, VividLife and Elephant Journal. She recently won the “The Summer of Love” essay contest, hosted by In The Garden Publishing, and is currently working on her first book on the media’s impact on gender relations. She can be reached at relationshifting@gmail.com.

~

Editor: Anne Clendening

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16 Responses to “The Bondage of Porn is Turning Pleasure into Pain. ~ Jessica Bahr”

  1. Agree says:

    I agree with most of what you say, but I am afraid we cannot simply turn back the clock. Women will need to up their game to bring more to a relationship than their sexuality, just as men must now try to bring more than a paycheck. This will happen. Real emotional intimacy is far more gratifying than a physical release. We just need to work out new ways to find it. However, I think casual sex may be a greater enemy than porn. That is what first dulls the senses to the point that porn could ever compare to a live human being.

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you for your feedback. Women have been "upping their game" for a long time: we make up the majority of self help, spiritual, therapeutic and now academic communities (higher college enrollment). We’ve “stepped it up” to the point of trying to be all things to all people, over compensating where we are not met (and in the area of sex, many of us do not to want to compete with porn for a man's attention – a futile proposition anyway). As far as men go, you are right – they can no longer rest on their paycheck laurels; women make their own money now. And now that they are less and less dependent on men for their physical security and survival, they are expecting more of men, in other areas besides financial success – they want to be met as equals. I think in terms of sexuality and intimate relationship, the more both men and women show up in an authentic way, the better and more satisfying the connection. I think pornography is the antithesis of authenticity.

  2. Asha says:

    Women need to 'up their game' just as men are trying to do?!!!!
    Sorry, what?

    Loved the article, sums up everything I feel… But if two adults use porn together in a relationship or they're happy with each others porn usage, surely different things are important to them and the functioning of their relationship than everything you've outlined, and that should be fine too?

    • Agree says:

      I just meant that men and women have become less dependent on each other. She can live on her own financial resources; he can get his rocks off with his own porn. I am not sure whether anyone is trying to "up their game" to compensate or just enjoying the greater independence and freedom these trends enable. I am just an old guy trying to speculate on what youth are like today. When porn suddenly became so readily available on the Internet, I thought everyone would quickly burn out on it. Seems I was wrong about that. Not sure where we go from here.

    • Jessica says:

      Asha, thank you for your feedback. In the short article I wasn’t able to get into the various “types” of porn and porn usage scenarios, or all of the psychological and emotional reasons people use porn, but to respond to your question: if I was part of a couple that was reliant on porn to get turned on and to feel “connected” to my partner, I would want to inquire about what is causing the turned off-ness and disconnect to begin with. Could we still get turned on and connect without it? That is the real question and where I would focus my attention. Pornography evokes a lot of questions, but does not provide the answers in my opinion (symptom versus cure), that is where we come in with our own experience and critical thinking.

  3. Eli says:

    Though I appreciated some points of the article, I felt it was an over-simplification of the issue without any distinction between either the types of porn referred to, the 'studies' that she cities but never specifies, the couples who use porn together and in a safe way. Men, I felt, were unfairly portrayed in this piece and propagandized/dehumanized in many of the same ways that she (of course, accurately) asserted that women are subjugated in this article. Lastly and most importantly, the supposed chain of porn > objectification of women > violence toward women is a tenuous one at best and a broken, dangerous and highly unfair assertion at worst and entirely void of a named source. In short, not up to Elephant's normally interesting, insightful pieces.

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you for the feedback. Not everything can be discussed in one article, there is a word limit. In the short article I wasn’t able to get into the various “types” of porn and porn usage scenarios, or all of the psychological and emotional reasons people use porn. The article was mainly about how the consumers of porn (mostly men) are objectified and used by the industry, and its affect on intimacy and romantic relationships.

      I didn’t have the space in this article to get deeper into porn's objectification of women and the voluminous research and numerous studies done on the affects it is having on females in real life, including an increase in violence. That information is out there and not hard to find, but that was not the main topic of this article, but I plan to write about it in future pieces. That could be a whole book. I think people who don’t believe that pornography translates to real world objectification of women (some of it subconscious, some of it blatant) are in denial and/or misinformed. Images/messages we get from the media (especially in high repetition) shape our attitudes and mentality/views on many things, including gender and sex – this is basic psychology/socialization; it is what advertising is built on and the reason advertising works so well. I thought this was common knowledge and didn’t need citing, but maybe it needs more explanation. I recommend a documentary called “The Price of Pleasure.” I think you can watch it for free on the http://www.mediaed.org.

  4. mfpfaff says:

    i do have a comment about one part of this article. You write "There was a time and place when pornography didn’t exist and a man could be turned on by pheromones, a turn of an ankle or a novel thing called love." I went to the Good Men Project to read the other articles on pornography, and ran across the 'history of porn' article at http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-go… . There are examples of 'porn' dating back thousands of years. Kama Sutra anyone?

    Was there a time and place when pornography didn't exist? That statement is not as simple as it sounds. Depends on the definition, no? Certainly the pervasiveness and accessibility of porn is at an all-time high on the Internet and digital media. But it is hardly the first existence of it, as the GMP article explains.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the feedback. First, I am talking about porn as we know it today – explicit commercialized mass media porn. Second, I read the article you refer to (please go check out my comments to it) and I thought it was really a poor piece, which completely ignored any real discussion on the topic. “Porn” in the historical context he talks about is a subjective term. Some of relics, carvings, paintings of the female form (and male form – there were plenty of those too) he refers to may have had nothing to do with sexual arousal whatsoever. There is a lot of art of naked people not intended for pornographic purposes. And the fact that he later in the article frames porn et al as all art , is, well…a cop-out, a bypass to a thoughtful inquiry and debate. I wrote in the comments: ‘Video games are art too, yes? So when media literacy experts talk about the violence desensitizing young minds and creating trauma-like effects in the body, are we to just chalk it up to art? Come on, GMP is better than this. Let’s be critical thinkers.’

      And even IF something has always existed (like patriarchy or prostitution, etc.), it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing or that it hasn't done an incredibly destructive disservice to society as a whole or groups of people. Some form of slavery has always existed, but no one is using that as an argument for why modern day slavery is acceptable or normal or healthy. I think there is a really important distinction in context that needs to be made, instead of saying something always existed and ending it there.

      Finally, ah Kama Sutra, not sure who thinks that’s porn and who doesn’t, maybe depends on how it’s packaged and sold these days, but it its roots are in the practice of living a good life and it’s more a practical guide/manual on sensuality, marriage, love, etc. than just getting off. Of course our porn culture is trying to turn it into that, but it had a much more practical, spiritual and philosophical application that the porn we’re talking about today. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia, but you can do lots of research on it yourself. “Contrary to popular perception, especially in the western world, Kama sutra is not just an exclusive sex manual; it presents itself as a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life.”

    • Trista says:

      Calling the Kama Sutra porn shows that you have never read it. There is a difference between erotica and porn. You might read (or listen to) Audre Lorde's essay. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFHwg6aNKy0

  5. Eli says:

    Just to be clear, I don't disagree with your point that frequent porn watching translates to real world objectification of women and I agree with you that it's common knowledge and doesn't need citing. Where we disagree is your assertion that this objectification then leads to violence towards women. This is the point I'm trying to make above and I stand by my opinion that I think it's an unfounded and dangerous assertion.

  6. Nate says:

    I disagree with a good deal of this article. Firstly you state "There was a time and place when pornography didn’t exist…". Pornography has been a part of human culture for millennia! A previous post mentioned the kama sutra, or the works of the Marquis de Sade, even praying and paying homage to fertility gods could be considered a type of pornography. It has been a part of our society across cultures and across thousands of years and to say that it is a product of modern society is a gross inaccuracy.

    Also, you seem to only dwell on violent and degrading porn and make an assumption that it is only men that partake in it's viewing. There is plenty of high quality porn directed, written, and produced by and for women. Does this then lead to the same corruption of values that you discuss here? Pornography can be used in a very healthy and loving relationship and to simply label it as unhealthy and unnatural is extremely narrow minded. A lot of people use pornography to explore and discover their own sexuality. You cannot label an entire industry based on bad examples and ignore the good. Pornography is an indulgence like dessert. It can be enjoyed in moderation, and MANY people do just that. Not every one who has a piece of cake is going rob the doughnut shop for more.

    • Jessica says:

      Regarding your first paragraph: I will re-post an earlier reply to the person who posted before you, since it covers it…
      First, IN THIS ARTICLE I am talking about porn as we know it today – explicit commercialized mass media porn. Second, I read the article you refer to (please go check out my comments to it) and I thought it was really a poor piece, which completely ignored any real discussion on the topic. “Porn” in the historical context he talks about is a subjective term. Some of relics, carvings, paintings of the female form (and male form – there were plenty of those too) he refers to may have had nothing to do with sexual arousal whatsoever. There is a lot of art of naked people not intended for pornographic purposes. And the fact that he later in the article frames porn et al as all art , is, well…a cop-out, a bypass to a thoughtful inquiry and debate. I wrote in the comments: ‘Video games are art too, yes? So when media literacy experts talk about the violence desensitizing young minds and creating trauma-like effects in the body, are we to just chalk it up to art? Come on, GMP is better than this. Let’s be critical thinkers.’

      And even IF something has always existed (like patriarchy or prostitution, etc.), it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing or that it hasn't done an incredibly destructive disservice to society as a whole or groups of people. Some form of slavery has always existed, but no one is using that as an argument for why modern day slavery is acceptable or normal or healthy. I think there is a really important distinction in context that needs to be made, instead of saying something always existed and ending it there.

      Finally, ah Kama Sutra, not sure who thinks that’s porn and who doesn’t, maybe depends on how it’s packaged and sold these days, but it its roots are in the practice of living a good life and it’s more a practical guide/manual on sensuality, marriage, love, etc. than just getting off. Of course our porn culture is trying to turn it into that, but it had a much more practical, spiritual and philosophical application that the porn we’re talking about today. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia, but you can do lots of research on it yourself. “Contrary to popular perception, especially in the western world, Kama sutra is not just an exclusive sex manual; it presents itself as a guide to a virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life and other aspects pertaining to pleasure oriented faculties of human life.”

      For your second paragraph: the focus of this article is not violence and degradation, I mention them because they ARE an issue (unless you live under a rock), but they are not the focus of this article…so why are you focused on defending other types in a critique of THIS article? It doesn't correlate. Also, it is ONE article, with a volume limit, and in it I am speaking about MAINSTREAM, POPULAR porn (which by the way happens to be mostly violent and degrading – check out a documentary called "The Price of Pleasure" – it deals with the majority of porn and Google porn and violence – people study this you know, I am one of those people), and its consumers and its effect on intimacy…of course there are exceptions…I couldn't list them all here, and that isn't what the article was about. I don't think you can criticize and article for not being a book that covers every aspect and "exception," when its content is discussing an otherwise very real epidemic (again, unless you live under a rock) . And yes you can generalize about an entire industry, that is what data is for…of course there are exceptions or differentiators, but again, not the focus. I have plenty to say about the rest of it, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, maybe look for articles that speaks more to the kind of (less popular, less ubiquitous) porn you're asking about.

  7. TheCoolestKidYouKnow says:

    People never seem to think about the porn actors. They did choose to be there in the videos, in most cases, but what led them into that? I think that this needs to be discussed too so that people will not think that they have to turn to being in a pornographic movie to make ends meet. To those who say that they are paid so much for a video, the producers make so much more. Over the years, the producer can use the video over and over again, and only have to pay the actor(s) once. Whether or not the actor(s) changes his/her mind, the producers will continue to make money and show the videos. All the while, people are watching these exploited people thinking that everything is fine and dandy because they only see a certain point of view in making the pornographic movie.

  8. Trista says:

    Well done! I loved this article and await your book!

  9. [...] gambling, social media, television, sex. We can blame our lingering primal instincts for this fascination with bottomless instant pleasure. Because of our deep rooted urges from back in the caveman era, the chemistry in our bodies has not [...]

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