“Sex isn’t something men do to you. It isn’t something men get out of you.
Sex is something you dive into with gusto and like it every bit as much as he does.”
~ Nina Hartley
“[makelovenotporn.com] is not anti-porn. I’m a fan of hard-core porn. I watch it myself…but because the porn industry is driven by men, funded by men, managed by men, directed by men and targeted at men, porn tends to present one world view: Porn says ‘This is the way it is.’ And what I want to say is, ‘Not necessarily.’”
~ Cindy Gallop
Can Pornography be a Catalyst for Spiritual Growth?
Imagine a society where sexuality is an acceptable part of everyday culture.
Where children are taught to appreciate their bodies, rather than fear them.
Where it’s not just ‘normal’, but encouraged to explore the depths of one’s sexual desire, kinks and all.
Where sex ed isn’t squeezed into a semester of gym class and taught by some ex-football player who keeps stumbling over the word ‘vagina.’
Now return here, to the center of 21st century America. Sexuality, especially female sexuality, is a battlefield for possession and control, as evidenced by the current controversy surrounding abortion, planned parenthood and the definition of rape. Our most touted (and emotionally safest) form of sexual education is fear, a.k.a. ‘don’t do it, unless you want to get a disease or unwanted pregnancy. ‘ Archaic sodomy laws linger on the books in many states and the legal recognition of same-sex marriages remains several election years away from nationwide acceptance.
We are a society that’s afraid of sex and we’re too proud and frightened to admit it.
Of course, many may argue that we are inundated with sex: everywhere you turn there is a picture of a half-naked woman selling beer, another article on how have mind-blowing orgasms or a sleazy site dedicated to porn.
In fact many sexual naysayers are within this very community: people who profess that they are tired of seeing elephant journal stooping to fashion magazine-level material and discussions on porn.
However, as evidenced by the fact that the number one elephant journal article for the past five weeks has been a nude yoga class led by a Playboy model, I think we can safely say that all of us (even the sanctimonious yogis) aren’t done with sex yet.
Of course, we aren’t watching her to perfect our Adho Mukha Svanasana. We watch her because she’s naked and hot. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, just as there is nothing wrong with feeling aroused when we see two people having sex.
Regardless of our opinions of what we see, we are often affected on a primal, physical level by watching porn—whether it’s engorgement of our genitals, watering of our mouths or flushing of our cheeks. It’s all an example of orgasm bubbling to the surface. Whether or not we are in agreement with our experience determines whether this orgasm expresses itself as turn-on (yes, I’m present and totally accept what is arising for me) or tumescence (what the fuck is this BS!?).
Moral indignation is our usual ‘go to’ response when we experience this tumescence. It’s just too easy (or rather lazy) to disown our own responsibility while watching porn and sit in righteousness: How dare Playboy commercialize something as sacred as yoga? We get to feel ‘right’—and there is nothing more satisfying than ‘being right.’ We get to have a place to project our anger (fucking misogynists) and shame (I’m not as pretty as she is), instead of doing the dirty work of admitting just how hungry and—dare I say it—perverted we just might be.
But I wonder: what makes sitting in YabYum any more ‘conscious’ or ‘spiritual’ than a dude just looking to get his jerk on (or off)? In fact, tantric philosophy espouses that everything is fuel for spiritual transformation. Who are we to judge what is the next right step in the evolution of one’s sexual maturation? Besides, if we spent all our time persecuting everyone who‘s ever watched porn, there wouldn’t be a single male (or a goodly number of females) left.
Now, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of Playboy’s yoga video, just as I’m not a huge fan of conventional, i.e. male-marketed & produced, porn. It can feel cheesy, often fake and is simply not to my taste. I feel like much of what mainstream media bombards us with lacks authentic desire and is meant to capitalize on insecurity and ignorance. It tamps down our ability to feel rather than invites us to sit in the uncomfortable magnitude of our orgasmic power. It’s something I call ‘SEX-sationalism.’ It is meant to titillate and entice, but rarely satisfies—sort of like Chinese food for your cock.
From a business standpoint this makes sense: if you satiate the customer, then they will not need to buy from you again. But if give him a hit off the sexual crack pipe while keeping the fantasy just out of reach, he will continue to throw money at you in the hope that one day, his needs will be satisfied and thus beginning the addiction (in fact, I found a website with the slogan ‘Porn is the answer to all your problems’).
Therefore, it’s the addiction, rather than the porn per se, that can contribute to marital breakups and intimacy problems. This doesn’t absolve the porn industry from responsibility (frequently depicting woman as decorative jizz receptacles doesn’t help), but it can’t be our scapegoat either.
Unfortunately, we’ve become a nation of Marlboro men masquerading to disguise the fact that we have no idea what to do with a woman’s pussy and hide our fantasies that may (gasp!) involve another man.
On the other side, we’ve become a nation of Cosmo women, who act like we’ve got it together in bed, but have absolutely no sense of our own pleasure. Or we hang on to our virginity for dear life (as if anyone could actually possess such a thing) lest we be thought of as unworthy for marriage.
With all this culturally ingrained pretending, it’s no wonder we fear speaking about sex to our children, who then have to resort to the next best thing for a sexual education: surreptitiously discovered pornography, which, thanks to the digital age, more readily accessible than ever.
And this is where things can really go off track.
If the only reference for sex that kids have is porn, then to them, sex is this secret, dark thing that they shouldn’t be thinking about or exploring, despite the fact that their innocent curiosity is taking them towards what feels natural, i.e. pleasure.
Also, if porn is the primary children’s sex educator, then many get a limiting download of how sex should be: the woman has to be skinny with big boobs, the man has to have a giant cock, she has to scream like a banshee, has to pound her hard and fast and the sex ends when they concomitantly cum and he spectacularly ejaculates somewhere near her orifice. Even the supposedly ‘artistic’ porn, X-Art, adheres to this formula, complete with hot, 20-something post-coitally ogling the camera as if the viewer was the one who just ‘fucked her good.’
Therefore, if we wish to be the primary educators for our children and foster their sexual health, we must take a look at healing our own sexuality, And if we wish to liberate ourselves as sexual beings, we cannot continue to scrutinize pornography from the lens of shame and judgment; we must be open-minded and curious enough to investigate the need that pornography serves rather than relegating it to the recesses of our shadows.
Which led me to ask the question, “How has pornography affected you positively?”
I know, asking if porn can help with sexual education and healing may seem a little like asking McDonald’s for nutritional advice. But I wanted to plunge below the ‘icky’ surface of addiction and shame and focus on what’s good about porn. By changing our relationship to it from within we can learn its secrets and change our actions on the outside.
For many, the answer was simple: it’s fun. It makes them feel good. Seeing images of beautiful women is a pleasurable experience, and, if kept as an occasional treat and in total transparency with partner(s), can contribute to a well-rounded sexual diet.
An answer that came up repeatedly for women was that it was the first time they had ever seen a female in a state of orgasm, i.e. a woman who was actually enjoying herself during sex. No guilt about taking her own pleasure or touching her own body (my friend, Vixen on the Loose, even wrote a little haiku about it).
Also, for some, porn was the first time they saw someone doing something ‘taboo’ and discovered that they themselves liked it. Perhaps it was around homosexuality, threesomes, anal sex or some BDSM kink that they never thought would have turned them on, but upon watching porn, made that discovery in their own sexuality.
Some couples incorporate porn as a way to ‘spice up’ their sex life. Perhaps by watching and masturbating together or by imitating some of the sexy positions on the screen. In my own life, I’ve sucked a guy’s cock or fucked a man while he watches porn—not because he’s asked me to, but from my own desire. For me, there’s something fun about being an active participant in his fantasy and feeling him squirm in agony as all that sensation builds to a peak.
For other couples, it can be a starting point for better communication, not just around sexual desires, but also around sexual fears and shadows. Being vulnerable enough to say to your partner, “I notice this feeling of betrayal when you watch porn and I have a fear that I can never live up to your fantasies” or “I feel ashamed when I watch porn and feel like I have to hide it from you” immediately unmasks both people and deepens the intimacy in the relationship.
Finally, it can be quite liberating or the only place one feels free to literally ‘let it all hang out.’ For some people who have gone years in stifling relationships or have had no sexual partners, porn has been their only outlet and anchor to their sexuality.
With this understanding of the value that porn provides some people, i.e. fun, education, personal discovery, variety, communication and liberation, I then asked myself the question: can we then use porn as a tool for our sexual & spiritual awakening, rather than as an escape from our own fear?
Many people are already working to make that shift: from porn as patriarchal society-driven cash cow to cultural exploration of authentic sexuality.
Forthegirls.com, where some of my material has appeared, is a porn site dedicated to erotica and porn from a feminist perspective. This means that female pleasure, still a longstanding taboo, and taste is valued. The site also includes toy reviews, advice and erotic writings to stimulate the mind. From my perspective, this can be a jumping off point for women to reclaim their sexuality and take that out into their relationships.
Someone who has been an insider activist within the industry is porn star Nina Hartley, who, incidentally also incorporates Buddhist philosophy into her life (see video below starting around 43:30). She’s worked tirelessly to promote sexual education as well as defend the porn industry’s right to exist as place where classy, well-spoken and mentally-sane sex workers can create porn with a point-of-view about sex (as opposed to widget-making porn whose only interest is in generating money). She has also worked to eliminate illegal drug use from porn culture and encourage ‘safe sex’ practices, including eliminating alcohol from sexual encounters so people can make more conscious decisions.
Two more sex-positive advocates are Jamye Waxman, a writer and sex educator, and Candida Royalle, a sensuality pioneer. Jamye runs the website gasm.org, which features a variety of sex educators (including porn advocates) sharing their knowledge on a wide variety of topics. Candida was one of the first female entrepreneurs in the adult entertainment industry, spearheading female-oriented porn and porn with the goal of helping couples in therapy.
Finally, a trailblazer in the porn revolution is Cindy Gallop, founder of makelovenotporn.com & makelovenotporn.tv. While she’s not creating the porn herself, she is hosting the forum for viewers to create their own porn, or as she calls it, #realworldsex. She originally hatched the idea for makelovenotporn after multiple sexual experiences with younger men who tried to recreate what they have seen in porn, most notably the infamous cum-on-her-face money shot. She wanted to begin a dialogue comparing what we seen in porn to what we experience in real life and through this dialogue, begin to dispel the myths we have around sex.
This dialogue then spawned the TV site, where people can create and upload their own sex videos. Makelovenotporn.tv is different from conventionally-produced porn in three distinct and vital ways.
1. Desire. The people you see on the screen are not actors (though not necessarily unprofessional). This means that they are having sex with someone they actually like. They are internally motivated to do what feels good for them in the moment, as opposed to the director telling what to do so it will look good for the camera. And they are certainly not adhering to any sort of A+B=C sexual script. Again, this is #realworldsex, #realworldfeelings, #realworldrelationships, #realworldeverything.
2. Vulnerability. The people in the videos aren’t surgically enhanced starlets or schlong supermen. They are human, with normal-looking (and beautiful) bodies. Also, the sex they have isn’t ‘perfect.’ A slip, a bump, something unexpected flies at them, they laugh and roll with it—thus adding a level of humanity back into the experience. In the short intros preceding each video, the performers themselves give highlights of their favorite moments and will even reveal an insecurity or two they felt while taping. You as a viewer become less of passive voyeur and can more easily connect with the people onscreen. In fact, videos are categorized by feeling words, i.e. romping, gushing, cozy, yummy, succulent, friendly, instead of the cold descriptors of anal, small tits, fisting, SheMale and handjobs.
3. Participation. Within the forum you are invited to share your voice regarding what you’d like to see and, if you are so inclined, can even make a sexy video to satisfy your inner exhibitionist. And half of all monies collected for a particular video go directly to the artists themselves. That is a huge shift from the way mainstream porn works, where producers and distributors take the lion’s share of profits.
Of course, Gallop sets firm boundaries to keep the content within the limits of ethics (no children, no animals) and taste (no scat). And it’s this part, knowing her edges, naming them and honoring them, that sets a tight, clear and safe container for play.
In fact, setting boundaries has been the biggest takeaway for me from this inquiry around porn.
It’s not that we are necessarily bad at sex or that porn is spiritually impure; our wounds go much deeper than that. We, as children, never felt safe enough to explore what we wanted and hid our sexuality as it grew and now, as adults, we have no clue how to set and maintain proper boundaries. As a result, in an effort to sidestep delving into our own shame and ignorance, our children are now denied their rights as sexually autonomous beings, as documented in Dana Northcraft’s excellent article “A Nation Scared: Children, Sex and the Denial of Humanity.”
I was lucky enough to have a mother who believed that if I was old enough to ask about sex, I was old enough to know about it. She never shielded me from proper anatomical terms, made up stories about storks or made me feel ‘wrong’ for asking direct questions. Through this level of respect, acceptance and personal freedom, I made educated sexual choices aligned with my personal integrity.
My belief is once we, as adults, cultivate a healing relationship with our sex and become masters of our own boundaries (without building walls), we can then encourage the sexual curiosity and development of our children in an open, safe and loving way. Then porn will no longer be this dirty, cryptic, calorie-deficient candy bar we stuff down to stop feeling our sexual hunger, but a tool for education, responsible play and maybe even a step towards spiritual growth.
TEDx talk by Cindy Gallop from makelovenotporn.com
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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