Sorry I haven't been around, ladies and gents. I've been in the process of finishing up grad school, as well as dealing with the fact that my band
is taking off.
This started out as a comment in one of my friend's MySpace profiles, and got to be so long and convoluted that it turned into a draft for a column. Let me know what you think.
---Pornography and the Struggle for Self
by Matthew Weeks
If you're a computer-literate man born sometime in the past thirty years, chances are you're familiar with the concept of Internet pornography. Instantaneous access to the visual medium of people engaged in sexual acts, from the mundane to the truly depraved, whatever turns you on is out there for public viewing somewhere. Its ease of access and sheer prevalence has so desensitized the general populace that its intrinsic value has become as much a topic of general cultural discussion as a vehicle of sexual gratification. One thing that hasn't changed as pornography has moved onto the online medium, however, is the fact that most women simply don't understand its appeal to men. Far from being prudish about sexual imagery in general, there seems to be a genuine lack of comprehension when it comes to men and adult film clips, and a nagging jealousy when one's significant other uses them for the sake of his enjoyment. Therefore, in order to aid the Y-chromosome-deficient population out there, allow me to explain it in a way that precludes the typical explanation of "it's a guy thing; you wouldn't understand."
Pornography is a completely sensible expression of the human psychological condition. There are three basic elements to the personal sexual experience (removed from the interpersonal; I'm speaking of only the physiological and psychological reactions a person encounters while they are engaged in either a solo or a non-solo sexual experience). Those three elements are: the visual, the cerebral, and the tactile. You probably don't need to be told that for both genders, the foundation of the sexual experience is more than the tactile. Both men and women use the vehicles of visual and cerebral sensations to enhance those that are tactile in nature. The major difference between them is which of those two factors drive the other.
Sigmund Freud called the first layer of human psychological development the id. The id is like an animal. It wants food -- it cries. It wants love -- it cries. It doesn't get its way -- it throws spaghetti across the room. The id knows what it wants and is very straightforward about trying to get it. The id always exists within the personality and follows the 'pleasure principle,' the desire to seek pleasure as the primary mission. As a person grows up, the id becomes the seat of sexuality in its most base sense.
A second part of the person, the ego, seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavors to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle, which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which comprises the passions. These oppositional forces operate in tandem and shape human development from infancy. For normal individuals, desires are repressed and made inaccessible to their thinking except at a base level. Our repressed desires only appear to us disguised as dreams and other seemingly incoherent, uncontrolled actions.
There is no greater expression of this than sexual desire and fantasy. The id is constantly struggling to break free of its suppression by the ego and superego. If you want to understand pornography as a vessel to the achievement of the id's satisfaction for the Western male, you must understand his lifelong societal conditioning. Throughout a man's life, the one constant reinforcement he can always expect to encounter is the commoditization of human sexuality. Access to a woman's vagina is something he must labor and sacrifice in order to attain, which puts it on par with currency and nonmaterial commodities as an expression of the triumph of the reasoned ego over the irrational id. If a man is having sex with a woman, he understands it as an achievement, as the product of valued time and effort utilized in attaining it.
However, the suppression of the id cannot last forever. Eventually, if the ego part of the mind is left unoccupied, its regulatory control over the base desires inherent in the id weakens, and the base desires come to the forefront of the mind. Here is where both men and women are susceptible to sexual fantasies. Whether by design or by accident, the elements of the sexual experience for men and women are different. For women, the cerebral drives the visual in order to enhance the tactile. (Witness the nature of romance novels, music, and movies designed to appeal to women's base desires -- enhancing a woman's sexual desire is all about creating sensations in their minds). For men, it's the opposite -- visual drives the cerebral.
Thus, visual pornography is the perfect reinforcement of men's social conditioning: when you're working to achieve the commodity that is access to a woman's vagina, it's a far more effective incentive to actually be able to see what you're working for, rather than just imagine it.
So, pornography is the physical embodiment of the base desires of the id temporarily affirming themselves in their struggle with the valued rationality of the ego and superego. It's a representation of freedom from the pressure that rationality puts on us. It's not about the particular woman in the film. It's much more a case of "check it out, an attractive naked woman performing a sex act within my field of vision, and I didn't have to do a damn thing to convince her to do it." (virtually any attractive naked woman will do the trick) That, for a man, is the ultimate triumph of the id over the ego, and the ultimate achievement in bargain hunting in the quest to attain the aforementioned commodity: sexual satisfaction without the slightest bit of effort involved.
So in the end, ladies, I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that your man enjoys watching porn. It's not a rejection or subjugation of you as a woman or as a human being. It's the degradation of another object (the actresses are not really people to us) in order to satisfy the yearnings of an unoccupied mind.
Like I said, a work in process. It needs some alteration before I publish it. Comments are appreciated, especially from the gals.