Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The Pornographic Self
This is an anonymous sharing found on the book Homosexuality and the Catholic Church by Fr. John Harvey on pages 34-38. If you want to have a copy of this book for P250 please contact us.
Why is pornography so powerfully addictive? It can’t be because it shows me images of sexual activity… I don’t find images of sexual activity in insects, fish, reptiles, or even animals particularly addictive. It is the representation of human sexual activity that is compelling. The first reason for that overwhelming response is the obvious one. I identify. The image representation of sex initiates sexual response in me. I have programmed myself to react to sexual triggers. My own experience of sex has been visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory… The experience of sex, that total body pleasure sensation, is behaviorally associated with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches. Any one of these can become the trigger which recalls the entire sex pattern burned into my brain.
There has to be a reason why gynecologists do not have sexual responses when examining patients. They have programmed themselves to examine these organs independently of bodily sexual response… But not me, or the hundreds like me. My programming deliberately associated images of sexual organs with my own sexual desire. Now that programming functions automatically, an habitual neural linkage. I am powerless over it. I respond to pornography because I am pornographic.
The power of pornography is really in me, not in the medium… The disturbance that I feel when I encounter sexual representations, the power that I struggle to either deny or enjoy is on the inside. I have created it by conditioning myself to react to triggers. No matter how subtle, a trigger starts a nuclear sex reaction in me which projects sexual fulfillment into my psychic space. I want to participate, to have a sexual experience with the fantasy… any representation of available sexual targets is addictive because it nurtures and enhances my conditioning. It increases the mental inventory of my sexual imaging. The addictive appeal is resident in me, not in the image.
By focusing the question of power of pornography on what I bring to the image, I discover that there is another reason why pornography is addictive. Our English word pornography comes from a Greek background roughly meaning “selling representations of sex.” Written, visual, auditory, or tactile, the concept of the pornographic entails packaging sexual activity in such a way that it can be offered for consumption. Behind the etymology of the word is a second insight into the power of pornography. It requires deliberate representing or packaging of sexual activity so that a separation occurs between me and the actual human interrelationship of the sexual experience. For pornography to be successfully tantalizing, it must make me into a voyeur. Pornography with intimacy is a contradiction in terms. I believe that this is true because the pornographic is not about human interrelationship; it is about the myth of the control of intimacy.
The pornographic representation of sex is a fractured misrepresentation of the only human bodily function which requires interrelationship for completion. The divine character of our humanness can be expressed n the voluntary act of vulnerable self union through sexual encounter with another equally vulnerable human being because this interrelationship brings us close to true selflessness. The demonic distortion of that experience is the fracturing of sex into its mechanical operation and physical organs.
Pornography removes selflessness and human vulnerability from sex. It removes the mystical and mortal by replacing integration with single-self participation. Pornography isolates me from humanness. Real sexual union involves purposeful integration. This is why we distinguish love from sex, even though the two concepts may be fused within the same condition. Love expresses integration of selves previously separate. It is the purposeful surrender of self-boundaries in order to include and to yield. It establishes a new joint-self which is essentially an entity separate from wither of the two conjoined individuals.
But I cannot find stimulation in pornography unless I disconnect myself from surrender and integration. Pornography requires dis-integration. Pornography isolates me from the purposeful integration of sex by reinforcing my psychic and spiritual barriers to vulnerability and mortality. Pornography offers me the lie of self-protection. If I have sex with an imaginary person, I cannot be rejected, hurt, abused, debased, shamed, unless I want to be. I am in complete control of the mechanics of my response, and being in control of myself, I come to believe that I can be in complete control of the other. This is why pornography is preoccupied with the fantasy of the possible, denying the reality of the actual. No matter what the medium, pornography demands separation from interrelationship, denying our true communal nature and vulnerability… This prevents confrontation with my real ordinariness, my real inadequacies and my true dependency and finitude. In the process, pornography removes me from any hope of integrity.
All of this separation is also a result of self-programming. Pornography became a tool which I could use to block out the world of hurt and explore the fantasy of pleasure all by myself. Pornography is not communal. Even when we use it in communal environment (going to the “adult” theatre, watching a video with someone), its power us always a stimulation of my individual, isolated fantasy. I may act out that fantasy with someone else, but I am not acting in mutual vulnerability. I am simply substituting a live body for an imaginary one. I doubt that pornography would have any appeal at all if it were not essentially about isolation. It was taught to me in isolation. It was explained in isolation. And my response to it is practiced in isolation. It is powerfully addictive because it focuses my entire psychosomatic spiritual world of that moment on me! It does, practically and spiritually, what I did every time I used a pornographic image – it closes all my doors to the outside world.
This isolation is unbelievably dehumanizing. It is a medium of self-deluded power in a reality of inevitable powerlessness. Sheer humanity reminds us of our mortality. Simply being alive confronts us with our self-delusions of control. Any reasonable introspection causes us to face our inevitable return to the dust from which we came. Our very humanity is the real reason we fear being alive, for the fact of being alive places us in the context of death. And it is death that seems to hold the final card.
Pornography is about the denial of our finitude. It reduces the most intimate human act – an act which cannot be human without vulnerability – to voyeurism, fostering the delusion that life is within my control. In pornography, orgasm proves invulnerability. It convinces me that because I feel the same behavioral results as I would in vulnerable human interrelationship, I can be confirmed as human without the necessary requirement of mutual dependence.
Using pornography deludes me into believing that I am alive because I respond to a representation of the paramount communal act and yet remain invulnerable. The pornographic woman can never hurt me. She can never demand anything of me, spurn me, be ungrateful, inattentive. She can only be used, privately, possessively. The pornographic appeals because it claims to prove that my power of sex overcomes every other one of my failed human efforts to assert my self-identity. Pornography deliberately intends to drive away death through sex. It can only succeed by turning individuals into a demonic lie.
True sexual encounter is the affirmation of individual powerlessness and insignificance precisely because it is about our need to experience love, together, in harmony and vulnerability. Pornography cannot integrate. If it did, it would not be pornographic. Its appeal and power resides in the dis-union it produces, the dis-union of witnessing a fantasy of sexual vulnerability without being vulnerable. In the end, pornography is manipulative, not because its manufacture requires co-opting the sacred character of sexual intimacy in order to produce the representation of a fractured communal act, but because the representation manipulates me into participation in auto-eroticism. It manipulates me into accepting the lie that sexual activity is the equivalent of human integration. Finally, it manipulates me into believing that sexual activity is only about me – that sex in isolation can restore the imbalance of failure and fear in my soul. The truth is utterly destructive to this lie. Integration cannot occur without communal interaction and such requires self-surrender. If sexual union, in representation or participation, does not gather together the separateness of the individuals into a shared entity, then it is pornographic, no matter who is involved. This is why response to pornography is always a version of masturbation, even if it is only mental or a stimulis before intercourse with my spouse. Pornographic response is always only about me. It is sex with myself in an imagined copulation with a fantasy.
Pornography is about sex with alien beings, beings which were once integrated whole persons, but who are now some other form of non-life, morning breathing, copulating in a world confined to pre-programmed neural passageways. The reason why the cover of Cosmopolitan is pornographic is not because the model is lascivious. It is because the image is intended to invite anyone and everyone to desire sex with this representation. This is, perhaps, the most damning and the most damaging aspect of pornography. In the final analysis, pornography is not about reality.
Pornography is a perversion of true intimacy just as its representation of sex is a perversion of love. Control is contradictory to the very meaning of intimacy. Intimacy can never be manipulated or controlled. Intimacy is a gift, given only in free interrelationship. Pornography propagates the lie that as I manipulate the image representation of intimacy, I control that intimacy. Every perversion achieves power precisely because it attaches itself to some fractured part of the truth. Pornography is no different. Sex creates. Sex affirms. Pornography pretends creation, affirmation and validation but removes the essential ingredient of a freely given, vulnerable commitment. Pornography pretends to do something that is an oxymoron – it pretends to control intimacy.
In the end I must realize that pornography is addictive and powerful because it is idolatrous. It allows me to go on believing that I am the center of the universe. In fact, its proclivity to isolation not only reinforces my essential idolatry, it literally screams my independence from all community, including the community of God, from every fiber of my being. It uses the most all-encompassing neural physical, and emotional response to shout in God’s face that I do not need him… It seeks to possess (control, manipulate) the object of its desire, even if that object is not the highest possible form of the Beautiful.
Pornography… knows nothing of self-sacrifice based on unmerited, unmotivated giving to another. It knows nothing of denial or self that must result when the wholeness of another is intended. There can be no manipulation or aggrandizement or control of gain exercised when agape is the root of the action, because agape allows for no position for self-love. Pornography is finally about one simple question: God or me?