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Pornography is popular with men because of the many confusing and unrealistic signals we send boys as they grow up.

Men and Pornography


It is a multimillion-dollar-a-year business, it colors our lives in some form, it generates images that confuse and complicate adolescent development, it has helped make the Net a successful venture, it has generated thousands of diverse opinions and not a few legal actions, it has enhanced some relationships and ruined others, and its major consumers are male. What is it with men and pornography?

I believe there are four interrelated reasons that men are drawn to pornography other than curiosity and its obvious power to stimulate. The first has to do with fear, specifically, fear of the sexual power of women. Whether this fear is primal and has manifested itself historically in controlling female sexuality through witch burnings, patriarchy, women as property, etc., or is a function of our particular Judeo-Christian heritage, would make an interesting discussion, but whatever the reason, the fear is there. Many men have grown up with incredibly mixed feelings about female sexuality that are currently expressed in a wide variety of fear-based behaviors including domination, rape, involvement in prostitution, and "rapping" women as bitches and whores.

How does pornography reduce this fear? When a guy purchases a pornographic book, magazine or video or logs onto an X-rated site, he controls those images in a way that he could never control a real female. Every time he wants (once or five times a day), she is available to him and performs in compliant, safe, controlled, predictable, and self-selected, (by virtue of his choice of purchase) range of sexual behaviors. No need to talk, be more attractive, deal with foreplay, develop intimacy, deal with her needs, feel rejected — all for a reasonable price and minimal personal risk.

The second reason is that pornography provides a widely available and "user-friendly" model for dealing with and defining male sexual needs. Furthermore, our culture's ambivalent approach to sex and sexuality creates the context that makes pornography the text of choice for many males. Pornography generally not intellectual in nature (though often disguised as such), either presents or creates evocative visual effects, is written in action-style language, supports the use of women as objects to be used for pleasure, and implies no responsibility for behavior.

In contrast, most religious institutions operate from a place of fear about sexuality ("sex is bad, sex is dirty — save it for someone you love"). Most parents are reluctant to talk openly with their kids about sex ("If we don't talk about it, maybe they won't do it"). Our educational systems are terrified to address anything other than "plumbing information" (anatomy, reproductive information, etc.) or information related to the risks of sexual behavior. Our media deal with sexuality as a function of economic gain (used to sell cars, beer, etc.), adolescentlike limit testing, an arena for sexual conquest, or as titillation for jaded sexual appetites. None of these sources of information about sexuality (except the eroticized general media), can compete with the graphic visual imagery and graphic auditory stimulation so attractive to young and adult males.

The third reason males of all ages are enchanted with porn has to do with cultural training about relationship processes. Most boys, unlike most girls, are not taught to view sex in the context of a relationship, but as a function unto itself. I know there is some debate as to whether boys are "hard-wired" toward random, multiple, orgasm-oriented relationships and girls toward a different model — that too would make for an interesting discussion - but our culture generally sanctions the "feminine" model and questions the male model. The obvious outcome of this process was captured by a cartoon I saw years ago depicting a couple, seated, facing each other with placards as if on strike. His read "no intimacy without sex." Hers read "no sex without intimacy." When confronted with this dilemma, many males feel deficient, one-down, shamed, and turn to the receptive arms of pornography for validation and comfort.

The final reason pornography seems to appeal to males is related to the absence of ways to deal with the powerful and primitive explosion of feelings that occur in young boys. Few mechanisms exist in our culture for helping young males to separate out their rich tangle of feelings — spiritual, sexual, creative, transformational, archetypal-through ritual, dance, storytelling and male instruction/modeling. Left to their own devices, most males assume their feelings are only about sex, and this becomes the standard for the rite of passage into adulthood (often lubricated by other 'pseudo-rites' around drinking/smoking/drug use/violence). Since most males are mystified/terrified by female sexuality, pornography becomes the teacher and mentor for male experience during this impressionable time. This imprinting carries into adulthood with serious emotional, relational, and spiritual consequences.

So, why write an article about men and pornography? Because I have a long-standing concern for young developing males in our culture and the mixed messages they receive about themselves as sexual beings. Because I see in my practice an increasing number of adult males (and some females) who are engaging in cybersex and feel out of control about it. Because I witness bitter encounters between couples over the right to define their own sexuality. Because I see the shame and confusion of men who live in highly eroticized culture and are torn between honoring their own sexual feelings while struggling to be in relationships with some degree of integrity. Because I believe that until we acknowledge and address the fear that many men have of female sexuality, provide better education for males about sexuality, find ways to support healthy male sexuality in the context of relationship, and create a sane cultural context with appropriate support and protection for the range of feelings in developing males, pornography will continue to be the major source of information and definition of male sexuality. If these concerns are not addressed, we will continue to see emotionally wounded boys and men who act out their sexual lives as if they are in some Penthouse fantasy or who are hurtful and ashamed in their relationships with partners.

George Nixon is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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