Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sex and the Gospel, Pt. 9: Pornography

Today I sat in on a student discussion during lunch that my husband attends every week as part of his degree requirement. I thought, "It'll be nice to come listen for once, just to see what it's like." Walking in, two things became clear instantly. First, the topic was pornography and masturbation. Second, I was the only female in the room.

If I were even a little more, well-- shy-- than I am, I might have found an excuse to bail out of what would likely be an awkward conversation. But, I didn't. Instead, I felt thankful for the opportunity to hear my brothers share from their own experience concerning this issue. I felt privileged to hear a room full of men discuss the freedom they've found in being open about once secret struggles, about the grace they've experienced in community, about the growth in intimacy with God and others they've had as a result of deeply and honestly evaluating their addiction to a two-dimensional non-reality. But I wanted to speak up when comments were made about how this is a "man's problem" or something women need to know "about men." 

I wanted to tell them it's not just a man's problem. I wanted to tell them that all of us-- male and female, "users" and non-users-- are affected by pornography. I wanted to tell them that though I didn't grow up looking at porn, I did grow up around people who did, and that dramatically influenced my own sexual development. I didn't have to sneak a Playboy, for example, to learn that women are supposed to be unrealistically thin with unrealistically huge breasts, and I didn't have to watch a video to know that we are supposed to be willing objects-- accessories to a man's every sexual whim. I barely had to turn on the TV or walk through the mall or listen to a song on the radio to learn that. 

But I listened. I listened to them describe their own realizations about the cause-and-effect downward spiral of pornography use. I listened to them say that real, interpersonal intimacy is risky and inconvenient, and that pornography is an attractive replacement. Think about it: how much rejection does one risk exposing his body to a lifeless magazine? None. How much does he have to adjust his sexual fantasy to accommodate the other active participant? None. How much work does he have to put into a complex, committed relationship with a porn star who doesn't even know he exists? None. I listened as they explained how pornography and "solo sex" is a safe, but sorry, replacement for interpersonal intimacy. 

I'm glad I chose to listen, because in doing so, I was convicted. I realized I had not only been affected by pornography, but that I had bought into its lie. See, in accepting that women are objects of a man's sexual pleasure, I was avoiding real interpersonal intimacy as well. I was reducing myself to something that (I thought) men wanted, and hiding away the parts of me I feared them rejecting.  I went along with whatever (I thought) a guy wanted, and avoided bringing my own desires and interests into the dynamic. I made myself available for little or no effort on a guy's part. In short, I tried to become a two-dimensional non-reality; an available object, who requires no commitment to enjoy. 

I became a character in the narrative that objectified me, for the same reasons my "objectifiers" did: a desire for, but fear of, real intimacy. And I realized that in doing so, I was objectifying them as well. I was reducing them to jerks who aren't capable of real relationships; who would never be interested in me as a person; who would lose interest if I ever said "no;" who can't be expected to feel or commit to anything beyond a few minutes of pleasure. 

This narrative, and the role I cast for myself and the men around me, went largely unchallenged until I met my husband. He was actually interested in and attracted to those things about me that I tried to keep hidden in romantic relationships. "Wait, you are more interested in my thoughts than in my breasts? You find it attractive that I read theology and poetry?" He respected what I brought to a relationship and didn't want to set the agenda for all of our activities. "Wait, you don't just want me to be an accessory to your life?"  He saw me as a person he wanted to commit to, not an object he could use. "Wait, you don't care what I wear? And you don't want to sleep with me before you marry me?!" 

Slowly, layer by layer, the narrative that pornography gave me began to fall away. I began to realize that I am not an object, but a person. And I began to realize that men are not objects either; they are persons. As I sat quietly in that classroom, I saw the men around me not as something totally other than me in their experience with pornography, but as friends who have been victimized by it in the same ways I have. All of us-- male and female, "users" and non-users-- are stripped of our humanity when we enter into a pornographic narrative; we become heartless objects who use each other for a chance at connecting in the only way we think we can. And all of us-- male and female, "users" and non-users-- are in need of an alternative narrative by which we understand our sexuality and its role in intimacy.

To be continued....

   






No comments: