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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Porn, Sex, and What Gets Ignored

In an effort to be more open and patient with nonsense, which I will freely admit I struggle with, I have been listening to an episode of The Liturgists podcast.  This podcast is a very popular one for millennials who are former Evangelicals, perhaps the most guilt ridden population around these days. Sorry, Roman Catholics, you have lost your dominance in the guilt game. The episode I have been slogging through is entitled "Porn," but includes so much more, including discussion about what it may or may not be appropriate to think about while masturbating, how to process having genitals and why we cover them, and a host of other related issues. I have lost track of the number of times I have said aloud, "oh for God's sake!" and "are they serious?"

Look, there are tons of studies that have been done that suggests that consuming pornography impacts the brain and our sexuality. For me, the problem with these studies is that it is hard to control for all of the things that impact our sexuality. Apparently, among post-millennials*, viewing violent porn leads them to believe that violent sex is normal. I don't know how you determine that to be the case, because there is nothing that would (a) lead me to enjoy depictions of violent sex, or (b) believe that it was normal. While I may not be representative of all males, I find it hard to believe that if you showed enough porn involving having sex with a German Shepherd it would be profitable to start a German Shepherd dating service. I do know a guy who found a dating service for men seeking women who don't speak English, but that's another story.

Here is what these discussions seem to miss: as a people, westerners are fucked up about sexuality. Here's a perfect example, and one that discussions like the on in the podcast avoid like the plague: estimates are that fifteen to twenty percent of American marriages are sexless. There are also twenty-three thousand Google searches each month for the term "sexless marriage," making it the most frequently searched sex-related term on Google. I would hazard a guess that people lie about how much, or more accurately how little, sex they are having. I would hazard a guess that a segment of this population turns to pornography as an aide to masturbation, but we don't see discussions or studies about that possibility. I don't think that we would want those people to phone the German Shepherd dating service, but maybe I am wrong.

Human sexuality is a complex subject, and - with apologies to John Wayne Bobbit - we can't address a complex subject by cutting it into little pieces and addressing those pieces individually. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that whatever we are confronted with most often will tend to be what we view as the majority practice or belief in a particular situation. There are more than a few sexual assault nurse examiners who see a perpetrator behind every Y chromosome, more than a few arson investigators who see a crime behind every can of gasoline, and more than a few pickpockets who only see people's pockets. Despite that, we have a penchant for trying to make complex problems one dimensional, and that almost always distorts the issue.

We can say that pornography is a problem and it may well be, at least for some people. We can say that there are good reasons why some people struggle to be able to be sexual with their partners, and there are. We can also say that fidelity is important, and it is. Can we also admit that all human beings are sexual beings, whether they are able to act on their sexuality within or without a relationship or not? Can we see that if we are in a relationship where we cannot participate sexually, where our partners want to be sexual, and where neither of us wants to have an affair, that there needs to be an outlet for the sexuality of the functional partner? Can we further see that it is anything but reasonable to become upset if we discover our partner is masturbating - under any circumstances, but perhaps especially under these circumstances?

Approximately one in three women experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Six out of seven college coeds have heard people joking about rape. This is one reason I find the statistics about sexless marriages to be rather unbelievable and likely under reported. The consequences of this violence are wide reaching - so why aren't we talking about them? Why do we seem obsessed about what is happening when Kyle cuffs his carrot but not about why his wife's sexuality has been disrupted? Many feminists focus on subjects like pornography and masturbation to the exclusion of the consequences of rape culture and developing an adequate treatment response to it. Why is that? Why do we feel perfectly fine talking about rape culture but balk at taking - and working - toward changing it?

In my more cynical moments, I believe the reason is that it's much easier to bitch about something than to do the hard work of changing that something. Protests and marches are dramatic, high energy, and offer the possibility of being seen on TV. Changing the culture is slow, difficult, and sometimes discouraging work. There is more romance in complaining than in working for change. Maybe that's the nature of romantic actions - they are flashy, easy, and offer their own (fleeting) reward. Change is difficult and takes time, but it is a much more meaningful, lasting work. Maybe it's time to re-examine what is truly meaningful. Maybe it's time to start telling the people who show up for every march but can't be found when the work comes around to put up or shut up. Maybe we need to be honest that more masturbation (of a sort) goes on in the name of social justice than while holding up a magazine with one hand.

*post-millenials are those who were between ages 6 and 21 in 2018, or who today would be between ages 8 and 23. 

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