Tuesday, 3 June 2008

What sort of porn are you into?

Now there’s a question guaranteed to get you strange looks if asked over coffee after the Sunday morning service ;-) Nor do I recommend raising it around the office water-cooler unless you want to gain a really unsavoury reputation.

Yet it’s interesting that when speaking about compulsive or “addictive” viewing of pornography, as well as of pornography in general, people rarely make any distinction between the stuff’s plethora of genres and subcultures. The reality is that far from being an amorphous whole, the porn industry’s dubious produce is targeted at an almost immeasurable variety of niches and ‘tastes’ (to be fair: using the word ‘taste’ in this context always strikes me as kind of odd).

So in asking this question I’m not just being prurient. Casting off any obsessive behaviour becomes easier when a person gains an insight into why that behaviour has developed a hold over them. Often there might be a number of factors at work; for example a serotonin deficiency in the brain combined with a learned anxiety developed very early in childhood; or a series of traumatic events actually unrelated, but seemingly connected by a common event (ie. a number of terrible incidents all occurred on days when the sufferer forgot to put out the garbage) resulting in an obsessive concern about that unrelated common event (“Am I sure I put the garbage out today?”). There’s all sorts of combinations possible – and when one adds the heady brew of hormones circulating in a person’s developing sexuality the potential for things to go haywire is very, very real.

That’s why understanding what’s gone on to make someone obsessed with doing something of which they are ashamed, and which they feel compelled to repeat even though they find this behaviour appalling, and understand the damage it is doing to themselves and potentially those around them, is important. If simply saying “no” worked, it would have. If it hasn’t the next question is “why?”. Hence the title’s question.

Some guys I’ve met are into silicone-enhanced Playboy “soft-porn. Others are into pictures of body-builders having oral sex. Some people are excited by viewing images of violence and suffering being inflicted, and a truly frightening character I once knew (who is now in gaol, thank God – but not after causing immeasurable pain and grief to a great many people) was obsessed with images of suffering naked children. Whatever the fantasy or fetish somebody’s probably into it – no matter how weird it may seem to the rest of us - and human creativity being what it is somebody else is probably trying to discover a new niche to exploit right now.

Often when thinking about all this I’m reminded of a great line from a Sting song: “Men grow crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one”. This doesn’t mean community has no part in finding oneself underneath whatever compulsive behaviour has taken hold, but rather that I don’t believe there’s such a thing as any ‘one-size fits all’ answer. People fall into a mess like compulsive porn usage for a unique set of reasons, and only by addressing those reasons within the context of the individual do I believe they’ve much hope of getting out.

Which goes back to original question – “what sort of porn?” – which is another way of exploring “what sort of mess are you in, and how did you get there?” Having found out how you got somewhere, and why, can often making finding your way back a whole lot easier.

***

I’m not a psychiatrist, nor a psychologist, and I refuse to pretend that I’m able to provide any of the professional help most people experiencing any form of compulsive behaviour need. I’m a Priest, which means I’ve spent a lot of time studying and thinking about belief, ways of believing, and ways of expressing that belief; and that I’ve made a vow (which I take very seriously) to never betray any confidences. If anyone wants to discuss their own journey and struggles with me privately I’ll be honoured (send me an email here) but otherwise please let’s not get too graphic in the comments below. The question we began with can only really be answered to oneself, or at least within the context of a professional therapeutic environment. The question for public discussion - as in one which can be answered in the context of community – is “Then where to next?”

10 comments:

FranIAm said...

What a provocative conversation you begin here my friend.

Shining light is the way, is it not?

That is all I will say for now.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Alcibiades, again, you're brave to take this on. I've never been drawn to pornography, so I don't understand the appeal. I was a bit startled to see this on your sidebar:

June (1)

* What sort of porn are you into?


Now that's the month of June, but June is also my real first name. It's pretty much known around the intertubes. I thought, "What! Is this directed to me? I'm not into porn." You gave me a laugh once I caught on, which was almost immediately.

I've seen a few of the milder magazines like "Playgirl", but honestly, they did nothing for me. I don't contribute much to the discussion, do I?

Alcibiades said...

Grandmére - Forgive me laughing - but that is really, really funny. It's the kind of startled mistake I make all the time.

"I don't contribute much to the discussion, do I?"

This is where we're really going disagree Mimi, because the broader the range of perspectives the richer the discussion becomes.

For the person who feels their obsession has taken control of their life's centre (I'm thinking of one of the poor fellows whose comment got me thinking about all this - the one who had to leave his job as a minister) - hearing the perspective of someone for whom the stuff simply doesn't even register on their radar can be amazing - like some sort of a view into a world and way of living they can't imagine. That they can hear from someone in that space who doesn't reject or ridicule them can be very powerful, and part of the process of normalization, wherein the obsessed individual starts seeing there are ways of thinking and living which don't revolve around the object of their obsession.

Doorman-Priest said...

Poor Mimi: what a shock! And her at a delicate age, too. Shame on you Alcibiades!

I am into a discussion on my blog as to whether telling jokes can equate to pornography...I think....not the comments thread I was expecting, but there you go.

This is brave and it does have a wider application on what it is that drives us in more general terms. It sounds like a development of some Transactional Analysis philosophy may be coming our way.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Alcibiades, I'll tell you what I think are really sexy: the old movies with the kiss and fade-out and the slow-dancing scenes, etc. that leave the rest to the imagination. Romantic love songs come to mind, too.

Just so you don't think I'm a cold fish.

Alcibiades said...

Mimi - let me assure you that thought never crossed my mind!
I do think though, that you've just raised the notion of eroticism versus pornography, which is a whole argument all on its own. Your sexy movie might well in a different place and/or time be another person's obscenity.

John Bassett said...

But I think we are all into some kind of "porn", even though it may have nothing to do with sex. After all, most people who look at porn are imagining something that they know darn well won't happen in real life (e.g., getting the guy with the six pack abs or the woman with the enormous breasts) but looking at the picture and thinking about it is somehow gratifying.

Is my looking at enormous houses on HGTV or the latest high-end laptops all that different? Is it all that different to go "shopping" at Barney's or some other place where you can't afford a sock but you like to look at the merchandise and "imagine"?

All desire is some kind of eros. Can desire be destructive? Certainly. But I think the effort to become free of desire is one of the things that really makes us crazy.

I'm rambling, I know. But just because I have never much found looking at naked body parts that stimulating does not mean that I am down deep any different from the people who do. I am just different. Maybe society looks on my "porn" with more acceptance, but would God?

PseudoPiskie said...

Blogs are my current porn. And the Anglican Communion situation. I was heavily into the same porn 30 years or so ago that Alcibiades mentioned in his first post on the subject.

Lindy said...

Is my looking at enormous houses on HGTV or the latest high-end laptops all that different?

You all know what I am going to say, but I'll say it again. YES it is different. The house, or the scarf at Barney's are in no way victimized by your looking. It is possible that you are, if you are coveting or longing for something besides God. But, you can be responsible for that on your own. The houses and things aren't abuses at all. That is what makes porn different from other kinds of longing and looking. Porn objectifies people, other kinds of looking objectifies objects, which is what objects are for.

It is surprising to me how invisible the porn workers are in all this.

I now I am moralizing in what you wanted to be a morally neutral conversation. Sorry for that. But, I just can't not speak up and say "Look at this."

You're a brave blogger Alcibiades.

Kate Morningstar said...

Gee, I was just gonna say, "BDSM" ...