Prescription for a Porn-Positive World

One of the enduring hot-button issues in our culture (and every other culture) is sexually explicit material. Everyone has an opinion on what we, as a society, ought to allow—and what should be prohibited.

Everyone has an opinion, but not all opinions are formed through sound reasoning. More often than not, our opinions are visceral responses to things that frighten us, or that we don’t understand. And if we don’t like it, don’t understand it, or it puts us off, why, that’s reason enough to have it banned!

It’s no surprise that people on both ends of the political spectrum can comfortably join forces in a pogrom against porn. It’s the great boogieman, after all: the corruptor of youth; that which erodes family values and degrades human sexual expression. What’s not to hate about porn?

I suppose if all that were true, there wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar industry cranking out everything from soft-core erotica to extreme hardcore. But there is, and it reflects the simple principle of supply and demand. If so many people honestly believe that sexually explicit material is bad for us and our society, why the huge demand?

Case in point—19-year-old Alex from Indianapolis writes:

Hey Dick,
I noticed from your bio that you are a pornographer. How do you justify that? Isn’t pornography basically an insult to human sexuality? How do you square that with being a sex therapist and believing, as you say, that you affirm the fundamental goodness of sexuality in human life, both as a personal need and as an interpersonal bond?”

Wow, Alex! You actually took the time to read my bio? I’m impressed! You bring up a very interesting point, albeit with a bit of a jab. You’re right; I have been a pornographer. If that’s the only word you can come up with to describe what I did at Daddy Oohhh! Productions. I like to think that the adult material I produce is not in conflict with my basic, overall philosophy about human sexuality. (By the way, thank you for quoting it as accurately as you did.)

Admittedly, porn is a thorny issue in our sex-negative culture. Lots of people are hostile to the notion that there could actually be something uplifting and life-affirming about the depiction, in any medium, of sexual behaviors. Lots of people believe that even nudity, let alone full-blown sex, is bad and that it corrupts the consumer, especially if the consumer is a youth. I don’t happen to share that perception. But this is such a touchy subject for most that it’s very difficult to have a civil discourse about the place pornography has in our (or any other) culture. Since we find it so difficult to talk about sexual issues in the public forum, it’s no surprise that pornography—i.e., the public exposure of sexual things—continues to be the big, bad boogieman for even otherwise enlightened people.

I hasten to add that, for the most part, the adult entertainment industry richly deserves the dubious reputation it has. There is an enormous amount of content in the marketplace that degrades, dehumanizes and exploits. And I’m not just talking about the stuff that doesn’t suit my tastes. Because there’s a lot of good stuff out there that doesn’t particularly appeal to me.

Therefore, I caution you in your youthful zeal not to reject everything that depicts sexual behavior as worthless just because a good portion of it is indeed shameful junk. That would be like discarding all religion because a good portion of its practitioners degrade, dehumanize and shame those who don’t share their belief system.

You apparently also think there is an inherent contradiction between being a sex therapist and a pornographer. I don’t agree. For nearly 30 years, I’ve been involved in all sorts of cutting-edge sex education and sexual enrichment projects. So why not attempt to bring a fresh, healthier perspective to adult entertainment? Sounds like the perfect role for a sexologist to me.

Humans have been depicting sexual behavior, in one fashion or another, since we were able to scratch images on the walls of our caves. Some of these depictions are intended to titillate, others to educate, even others to edify, but all are expressions of the passions of the person who scratched, painted, wrote or committed to film (or videotape) the images they did. I think that if you were really interested in getting to know my thoughts about pornography, you’d do well to check out some of my work. And let’s not forget that in more sex-positive societies than our own, sexual practices were and are integral parts of worshiping the deity.

Porn, like most forms of human expression, has both gold and dross. And just maybe, we need the crap in order to appreciate the treasures. Also, today’s porn may be tomorrow’s art. Ask Henry Miller or Anaïs Nin. A lot of stuff that hangs in the Louvre museum today was, upon its creation, considered scandalous and pornographic as well. Happily, we, along with our perceptions, evolve.

The definition of what is ‘pornographic’ changes with the times. Community standards also play a part. A lingerie catalog that showed women in bras and panties might be “pornographic” in one place, but no big deal in another.

I argue that there is a purpose to sexual depictions, pornographic or not. Otherwise, why would these depictions be so pervasive and appear in every culture? And it’s not just because it’s art. Most pornography is decidedly not art. So if it’s not art per se, what is it? Most pornography is simply designed to arouse sexual desire. And that, generally speaking, is a really good thing. It’s precisely this pursuit that probably brought you, young Alex, to me in the first place. Am I correct?

Sexual desire can stimulate an array of thoughts and behaviors from tender, intimate and passionate to raw, fierce and cruel. The mood of the consumer also plays a part. If your libido is raging, you might find a certain depiction stimulating, while the same depiction can cause disgust when your hormones are more in check. Porn tends to imitate what people fantasize about, rather than what actually happens in the lives of most of us. As a result, nearly everything is exaggerated in pornography: body parts, sexual situations, as well as sexual responses. Everything is staged and a lot is faked. Exaggeration is a time-honored way of calling attention to something that is otherwise pretty commonplace…you know, like sex.

In the end, Alex, you will have to decide for yourself what merits pornography might have in our culture. I suggest, however, that you approach porn with a slightly more dispassionate eye than you are currently using. You may find that it has something to teach you about yourself, your culture and the history of humankind.

Good luck!

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