Fifty Shades And Porn Of The Heart

fifty4My past struggles with, and addiction to, pornography have been detailed in other essays. There was a period when I couldn’t go a day without a hit. But even at the darkest point of my dependency, I could still see the depravity of it all. I had two computers, one for porn another for the rest of my life. I had convinced myself that if I could keep that one laptop porn-free it would mean I didn’t really have a problem.

Like the Siren’s of Greek mythology, her call would lure me with the erotic song of new and electrifying fantasies, blinding me to the emotional and spiritual doom that lay beyond and forgetting all the old promises to never return. No beeswax or ship mast could hold me back regardless of how much I wished otherwise. And after my lust was cooled, I could clean myself off on the outside, but inside my soul lay dirty and wrecked among the craggy reefs of regret, until she would call to me once again.

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What I have tried to better understand in the years since this curse was lifted is why I was ever tempted in the first place. I don’t have an addictive personality. During college I could chain smoke every day for a week then stop cold before going home on a weekend, with no more than a twinge of withdrawal. Drugs had no affect. But porn was a different matter. It seemed the harder I tried to break its hold the deeper the needle went.

Over time, through observation and study, I was able to narrow porn’s additive qualities, in my own life, down to these two.

The first is easier to contemplate. Porn’s fangs took hold after it moved from the page to the screen. I had countless magazines and the occasional video, but each meant that somebody else could witness my obsession. Yet with the Internet I could suddenly watch whatever I wanted clear of prying eyes and judging minds. But far more important, and I believe more dangerous, the screen allowed me to explore in complete secrecy pornography’s darkest perversions. I could satisfy any and every curiosity in total safety and free from condemnation. I could see just how deep and dark any rabbit hole went, and still keep my dignity in the daylight.

The second characteristic is perhaps more convoluted. It’s said that men are visual creatures, and we are, our erotic urges begin with the eye. But we are more than just primitive passions. A man’s fantasies, just like those of a woman, need a script. No man looks at porn without a narrative of some form simultaneously running through his head. Perhaps that’s his wife he imagines being mauled and humiliated by the three men, or he sees himself as the one seduced by the Thai co-ed in 6-inch stilettos.

My point is that pornography is never just about the images and the actions on-screen. There is also imagination at work that’s necessary to heighten arousal and maintain interest. If necessary we will write our own narrative to go along with the images and bring the fantasy to life, or as erotic romance novels have proven so successful, another can write them for us.

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It’s ironic, or perhaps clandestine, that on the day we celebrate our deepest love, honor and commitment for another, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is released. If there is any film in greater conflict to what Valentine’s Day was invented to represent, I can’t think of one.

Ever since the novels grabbed the attention of every suburban housewife in the western hemisphere there has been the question of exactly what these books are and their true purpose. The question seems to center on if such books are literature with pornographic qualities or are they porn with literary qualities? Are they merely for reading enjoyment or is there something more deep-seated at work?

I think to answer that we have to go back to my earlier point.

It’s been my experience with women for the last two decades that when it comes to the bedroom, women need narratives. The act of sex itself does little to turn a woman on. When she says she must be ‘in the mood’, what she means is that she needs an emotional and mental narrative, or a script, to ignite her arousal. Understanding these narratives, however, is beyond my meager intellect. Sufficed to say, eroticism is more about the mind than the body.

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The only difference then between pornography, in its despised male-centric approach and the billion dollar industry female-centric books like Fifty Shades is how they go about achieving their goal, which in both cases is the romanticized fulfillment of an unmet reality – or put another way, fantasy.

Books like Fifty Shades provide the narrative while leaving the pictures to the imagination. Traditional porn offers the images and lets the viewer write whatever script he or she wants. Each gets at the same goal but from opposite angles; one starts with the eye the other does so with the mind. It’s for this distinction – because it doesn’t meet our cultural definition of porn, which is lots of naked visible bodies – that there’s a reluctance to name it what it most surely is – unmitigated pornography.

But if you still question that idea, consider this.

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How many women will read the books or watch the movie and put themselves in the place of Anatasia Steele? How many, if only for a moment, will imagine they are the center of that lunatic’s attention and the one being handcuffed, whipped, or gagged? So one must ask, how then is such fantasizing different than what millions of men do every day at their computers? Is it because there’s a intellectual finesse in words that’s missing entirely with an image? Why else then does a wife, who’d be appalled to know her husband is on websites dedicated to vaginal fisting and anal gangbangs, show enthusiasm for a movie that romanticizes behaviors no less aggressive and dehumanizing?

The reason for this lies at the heart of why the Fifty Shades Trilogy was so successful; the blatant pornography becomes acceptable and even relished because it’s woven into a far larger narrative. The narrative of how an average woman’s “love” – a love that includes whips, chains, humiliation, and objects rammed up her who-ha – brings a man so thoroughly dark and insane as Christian Grey into the light.

If it’s love can it really be porn? Apparently not. So Instead of Fifty Shades being considered that porn so demeaning to women and harmful to relationships, with scores of women calling for its eradication, it’s cast as something that becomes glorified and romanticized, and a reason for Girl’s Night Out, something to be welcomed, celebrated, read, and seen on the movie screen. It becomes porn of the heart.

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