The Lantern Books Blog: 2006 Essay Contest Runner-Up, Haji Shearer
March 26, 2007 8:00am
by Haji Shearer from Randolph, Massachusetts
Like many men, I grew up with porn. I remember seeing my first sex magazine in 4th or 5th grade. Another boy brought it to school and was passing it around. My desire to get more time with those images was so strong I manipulated my classmate by telling him if he didn't give me the magazine I would tell his mother he had it. He surrendered it and I happily sneaked it into my home. Later, I realized this was my first example of porn making you stupid. Even as a kid I wondered why my classmate didn't counter by threatening to tell my mother I had the magazine.
Due to advances in cable and internet technology, porn is more widely available and accepted than when that exchange occurred in the early 1970s. It's become standard in a lot of homes with disposable income and a source of debt in some that can't afford it.
When I met the woman who became my wife, my porn collection consisted of a milk crate full of magazines. Mostly over the counter stuff: some Playboys, Players, Hustlers and other magazines that had articles to read when you got tired of pursuing their primary purpose. The crate also contained an assortment of hardcore magazines showing couples exploring fantasies the art directors thought would keep men like me buying their product. I didn't try to keep the stash secret from my future wife. The porn was part of my sexual software and sharing it with my real life partner was, I thought, helpful to keep us on the same page. After all, I only held onto magazines that turned me on, so it was a good way for her to get to know what I liked.
Shortly after we hooked up, Jasmin perused my collection seemingly unimpressed. She had been raised in a family far more libertine than I was and she was no stranger to photos of people having sex. Her disinterest in the magazines didn't bother me. I could enjoy them without her. I had also shown the magazines to previous girlfriends and, in my experience, women didn't get excited about porn. I never shared my collection with male friends (I didn't want to masturbate with a magazine another man had used), but it was clear from conversations that I wasn't the only brother with a stash.
Jasmin and I made a commitment to one another and started down Intimacy Road, removing one mask after another as we went. Soon, she disclosed she had been sexually molested as a child. Not long after that, she indicted my porn collection as a contributor to the sexual exploitation of women and girls that resulted in her being incested. Because she had been photographed as part of her abuse, her sensitivity to porn was especially high.
I was blindsided by the idea that these legally purchased photos could be a factor in the criminal cruelty endured by her and other abuse victims. I wasn't, however, in a good position to argue with her feelings about being molested.
So, for the first time, I chose to address the ethical issues of porn. I imagined the models' life stories beyond the art directors' fantasies. I wondered how many of them had been sexually victimized as children and questioned what the real life women thought about the scenes they acted. I came to the conclusion that most women who had options would choose another profession and that by using porn I was playing into the subjugation of an oppressed class. This assessment led me to toss my collection with little remorse. Jasmin was pleased by my decision. The photos would no longer trigger memories of her abuse and I'm sure she intuitively felt that my porn use was a barrier to our closeness.
Discarding the magazines was, no doubt, one small piece of the long, intense, and largely successful healing of her sexual abuse trauma.
Since making that decision, I have dabbled with porn from time to time. When Jasmin and I met, I was in a luddite phase: didn't own a TV, much less a VCR, and so my porn was limited to magazines. After each upgrade to our media repertoire—TV/VCR, cable and internet—I experimented with the new delivery system.
The big difference with cable and internet was, of course, no embarrassing trips to the magazine or video store. This was no small consideration. Having a dealer anonymously deliver legal samples to your door tends to increase your usage. I've abstained from porn for over a year, but still find it compelling that a near infinite variety of sexual titillation is just a mouse click away, 24 hours a day.
My feeling that porn is oppressive to women never abated, but I felt conflicted when I was horny. Despite my understanding that porn hurts women, a part of me wanted to believe what I had been raised on—that it was just benign, male fun.
When I lapsed into occasional porn viewing, my wife was patient with me. Because we are fond of sex and because the porn industry has staked a claim, erroneously as it turns out, as a purveyor of liberated sexuality; Jasmin may have subconsciously thought she should enjoy the images more than she did. But, try as we might, the back stories of the performers bothered us. It became increasingly difficult for me to justify porn's use in our happy marriage. Although I initially renounced porn because of how it affects women; as I pursued my spiritual evolution, viewing pornography became a practice that was increasingly at odds with my own sense of integrity.
Then I read an article called "Pimps and Johns" in Voice Male magazine. It was written by Robert Jensen, a journalism professor and anti-porn activist. He argued that viewers of pornography as well as performers are degraded by their involvement. Personally, I know using porn never left me feeling especially proud. Just the opposite, it often brought up feelings of shame—seldom a good sign. My reflections sparked by the article inspired a revelation: using porn hinders the intimacy that Jasmin and I strive for in our relationship. Whether alone or with my wife, viewing porn takes time and energy away from our union and squanders it on a pseudo-relationship. Even using porn as a stimulus for marital sex is problematic because porn doesn't model healthy avenues of connection. Porn is at best "wham, bam, thank you, ma'am"—and not reflective of the deep, physically, emotionally and spiritually satisfying sex I want in my own life.
And not surprisingly, I find it easier to achieve sexual pleasure and intimacy with my beloved when images of models paid to perform male fantasies aren't playing in my head.
There have been many critiques of porn from a feminist point of view. Though valid, I am not playing that drum. Those of us engaged in the struggle to redefine manhood for the new millennium must address the ubiquity of porn and decide whether using it for sexual stimulation is leading us toward enlightened masculinity or is contributing to our being used as pawns for a corporate culture devoid of integrity. I've talked to many women besides my wife who are quietly disgusted by their male partner's use of porn, but just accept it as a fact of life. That's unfortunate. Porn is like sexual crack—a quick high that feels good as long as you don't think about it too much. But, ultimately, the emptiness we try and fill in this manner is only aggravated.
I honor freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I'm not suggesting porn be outlawed. I am advocating that men examine our relationship with porn more seriously. How does using it affect our self-worth? How does viewing porn affect the way we treat real women in our lives? How does using porn contribute to sexual oppression and violence in our communities? I'm convinced with a little introspection more men will acknowledge porn's harmful effects and subsequently adjust their behavior.
I stopped using porn because I'm committed to being the most empathetic human being and the best sexual partner I can. Using porn doesn't support that. I discovered more satisfying software using my own creativity, listening to my partner and exploring books that deal with true sexual intimacy. Both Jasmin and I won when I let my heart, and not that other organ, be my guide. This path has given me more pleasure than following the jaundiced script of a pornographer exploiting my imagination for a buck.
It's ironic: throwing away that milk crate full of magazines ended up being a giant step toward my true sexual liberation.