When I was 19 years old, I’d never seen any porn, but as a hormonal teen-ager with a normal sex drive, it sounded like a wonderful forbidden fruit. So I decided to buy a copy of Playboy to see what I had been missing.
I was nervous about it, but I went into a convenience store on Green Springs Highway in Birmingham and asked for a copy (since it was kept behind the counter). This was the first and only time I’ve ever bought any porn.
At first, I was amazed at what I saw. These were physically perfect women who were clearly ready to have sex with me — or pretty much anyone who would pay them, presumably. But after the initial rush of hormonal excitement died down, I quickly realized that the pictures didn’t arouse me in the same way that my own girlfriend did.
Let’s be honest. The women in the magazine were physically perfect in a way that my girlfriend couldn’t be. (I didn’t understand at the time that not even those women were actually physically perfect.) Physically, everything about them was just right. But I realized that I was far more attracted to my own girlfriend and to other women who I knew — women who couldn’t possibly be that “perfect.”
It didn’t take me long to learn something that I’ve never forgotten.
When I’m attracted to a woman, it’s to an entire woman — personality, intelligence, values, conversation, etc., in addition to her body — so I see women in porn (or at strip clubs) in about the same way that I see fake food made out of plastic. There’s nothing appealing to me about a filet mignon made out of plastic, no matter how realistic it looks. In the same way, there’s nothing appealing to me about just the shell of a woman, which is what you get in porn.
I watched a new documentary Sunday that magnified my longstanding feelings about porn. “Hot Girls Wanted” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is available on Netflix now. (If you’re logged into a Netflix account, you can watch it here. Otherwise, you can see a trailer for it here.)
The film follows the lives of several young women who have been recruited to travel to Miami to live while they’re shooting porn for various production companies. I found it profoundly disturbing, not because I was unaware of the exploitation, but because it is heartbreaking to watch naive young women do emotional and physical damage to themselves for money. I’m not going to say too much about the documentary because I strongly urge you to watch it for yourself.
Producers have the right to make porn. Men and women have the right to participate and be paid for having sex on camera. (I’m still unclear how it’s different from prostitution, though.) You have the right to watch films depicting people have sex and (in many cases) being degraded.
But that doesn’t make it right — and that doesn’t mean that you’re not hurting yourself and others when you go along with it as normal and acceptable.
This isn’t about politics or rights. It’s about people and a culture. It’s about how people are becoming desensitized to straightforward sex and they’re craving cruder and cruder depictions in order to become aroused. It’s about how people are becoming more coarse and destroying their ability to understand and experience real intimacy.
Most people in our culture seem to be confusing sex for intimacy today, but they are two entirely different things. Two people can have sex without having any real intimacy — and two people can have real intimacy without having sex.
The best relationship — especially in the bounds of a marriage or other committed relationship of your own definition — has both. But what I observe in listening to others is that this hedonistic view of life and sex which comes with porn leaves people starved for real intimacy.
The documentary mentioned that nearly 40 percent of online porn depicts violence against women. A growing trend in porn today is something called “facial abuse,” in which a woman is violently forced to perform oral sex — and the real purpose seems to be to push her hard enough that she throws up. It’s intentionally degrading to the women, and the women in the shots understand that. They hate it, but they take the money.
How can a man who watches women being degraded help but come to see women in a different way? How can it not affect the way he treats women? And how can it contribute toward the sort of trust and emotional intimacy that make relationships work?
There is more sex in our culture than ever before in history, as far as I can tell. All of the boundaries have been shoved aside. Anyone who doesn’t mindlessly jump from bed to bed is seen as something of a prude. But as the limits on sex have fallen, the walls between people seem to be rising higher, especially in relationships which should otherwise be close. My own anecdotal observation is that those who watch the most porn, go to the most strip clubs and have the most random, meaningless sex are the people who are the loneliest and most desperately in need of intimacy.
Even if you have absolutely no moral objection to porn — and even if you don’t care about what it does to the performers themselves — it seems to me that you should be concerned about the emotional effect it has on you if you watch it. And the saddest thing is that when you watch porn, you seem to deaden your ability to be aroused by normal relationships, so you need to push more and more boundaries to be aroused.
To me, it says a lot when much of what we see as “sexy behavior” in modern culture amounts to a woman “being bad.” Think about that. It says that we have trained ourselves to get aroused — and probably men, more specifically — when a woman is doing something she shouldn’t do. When she is doing something wrong. When she is doing what old-fashioned people used to call sin.
I don’t want a relationship with a woman who is doing something bad or even pretending to. I don’t want my wife to dress provocatively in order to show her off to other men. And I question the emotional and psychological maturity of those who do want that. I question what kind of commitment they have to the women they’re with.
I can’t prove to you that porn and the hedonistic attitudes associated with it are doing damage to individuals and to society, but I suspect you can see if for yourself if you look closely. I’m not even touching on moral aspects, simply because if you already believe it’s immoral, you don’t need me to explain that. I’m concentrating on the pragmatic effects.
I believe porn is damaging our society as a whole. I believe it’s damaging to the performers. And if you’re watching porn, I believe it’s doing long-term damage to you and your ability to have healthy relationships.
I don’t want to use government force to prevent people from engaging in porn or from consuming it. But I suggest it’s in your own self-interest to see the damage porn does to your ability to experience healthy emotional intimacy in relationships.
Don’t accept it as healthy — for yourself or for those in your life who claim to care about you.