What’s love got to do with it?

2011-12-06 00:00

I WRITE as a mother, a woman, a wife, a psychologist, an erstwhile drama and English teacher, a writer, a very human being.

I remember, many years ago in the eighties­, trailing along to the movies somewhere in Rockey Street in Yeoville, Johannesburg, to see a documentary about how the industry of pornography is conducted. I hardly managed to sit through it. I am shamed to admit that it was the politically correct movie to see that month and so I did sit through it, screwing up my eyes, with my heart thundering in terror in my belly, breaking out in profuse sweats, my mouth pursed and my nostrils drawn up as though a foul smell was pervading the darkened theatre, gripping my man’s hand for dear life and sanity. I felt truly threatened and not very brave. I wanted to cry. I did cry.

Once, even longer ago, in the sixties when still a student on the Durban campus, an adventurous boyfriend produced a photo­ magazine full of garish genitalia “in congress” which he had snuck through South African customs on his way home from an exploratory trip to Scandanavia. I flipped through the pages feeling somewhat embarrassed and then was surprised to find myself edging towards a state of boredom … surprised, as the obvious intention from the said traveller was to lift me, by means of titillation, to heights of erotic arousal previously undreamt of.

Well, what can I say?

Here I am approaching the other end of my life and I still can’t find any positive energy­ for pornography. I don’t think I am a prude and although I have a code of ethics to which I refer in moments of uncertainty, I don’t think I am driven by dogma of any fundamentalist or blind sort. But I just don’t get pornography.

You see, I am devoted to the ongoing discovery, cultivation and expression of the creative mind. I believe in play as an essential and natural tool for the development of healthy children — “as if” or “pretend” play where characters and situations and genders and roles and statuses of all sorts are explored in a fantastical world. I believe that children who have at least adequate play opportunity are more likely to grow up into adults who are capable of conscious choice about the kind of human beings they wish to be. And I believe they will be more capable of empathy because their imaginations will be developed.

Sense experiences, including sexual sensations, of different intensity and meaning, are with us from infancy until death. We all know that the best parents and the best adults protect children from sexual experience that is beyond their capacity to understand. We know that the patch before puberty is characterised by an appropriate apparent shying away from sexual exploration. We know that once puberty­ hits, adolescents (right up to the age of about 30) have bodies that are veritable little sex machines which they have to manage when probably least emotionally capable of doing so. Then follow the unfolding stages of adult sexual complexity.

Now what has all this to do with the movie­ in Rockey Street and the porno mag from Scandanavia? We cannot escape our sexuality and that of the people we encounter in our lives. We have the capacity to imagine­, to be creative. We need to develop (including sexually) at a pace that maximises our capacity to experience an overall sense of wellbeing and connectedness, and to engender this in others.

If we are plugged into pornography, which essentially objectifies the body, especially the genitals, and sex itself, we are likely to become alienated from sexuality as a means of expressing our whole selves and we are likely to use sexual partners in the same depersonalised manner. Even occasional self-stimulation (a natural and safe way of managing the sex machine) can be cramped by the invasion of powerful images from, for example, the Internet, that are not of the individual’s healthy and unique sexual imagination but the product of a fundamentally materialistic industry.

Instead of dreaming of the girl or boy who is the actual and current object of affection, excitement and desire, the person captive to pornography may have an intensely alienating, empty experience.

The pornography industry (and I doubt its principles are much different from those explored in the eighties documentary I saw) quite deliberately exploits the aloneness of so many of us. It aims to stunt creative approaches to exploring and expressing our sexuality and it abuses children, women and men, and especially vulnerable people such as those hooked on narcotics­ (performance in pornographic movies is often the price that is exacted for the next fix of drugs).

The part in the documentary that had me weep with fright and disbelief had to do with snuff movies, where sadistic activities focused around so-called sexual activity end in the actual death of one of the performers. Such innocence. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before and I was 32.

I may be accused of being a fuddy-duddy, but I do have major issues with the opening of the floodgates of so-called communication — access to adults-only material on-line and via cellphones. There is a no holds barred kind of feeling where the guiding role of parents has vanished and our children and teens are now in the control of the manipulative minds of the managers of cyberspace.

Children in primary school are sending vivid photos of their genitals to each other, having phone sex with strangers, arranging meetings with strangers at malls. Husbands and wives are feeling rejected as their partners watch porn on the Internet, rather than relate directly and intimately to them.

How do we talk to our children about the pitfalls of watching porn?

I guess we should allow them to lead us with their questions. But the reality is that secrecy and natural shame may inhibit their questions and, of course, they would not believe we as adults have any notion of sex — we are so old.

We need to communicate that porn gives a very skewed view of what sex is about, mostly limiting it to the genitals and forgetting the whole human being (emotions, body and soul), that can be present in sex. We need to talk about the dangers of turning any human being into an object, whether­ that objectified human is an object of physical, emotional, racial or sexual violence­.

We need to explain to our children exactly who the so-called porn stars are and how they come to be there. We need to help identify, train and develop our children’s innate capacity for compassion and empathy, to talk about the challenges we faced as we grew up and we need to pick up and reflect the moments we notice where our children do naturally demonstrate these capacities.

We need to talk about addiction in all its forms (pornography is addictive) and we need to lead our children into tolerating reasonable delays of gratification in all sorts of ways — from ice creams, to the acquisition of cellphones, to the mindless hours of TV watched by so many. Waiting to experience an authentically rewarding sexual experience will not contribute towards alienation from themselves and from others.

And by the way, the boy with the Scandinavian­ porno magazine back in the sixties thankfully dumped it in the bin after about 20 strained minutes between us and remembered how to kiss me.

Yum.

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