SMUT.

0000001I’ve recently taken a two-seminar class called How to Write the Sex Scene, which was as much fun as it sounds. We were given a whole slew of reading – including excerpts from the Starr Report (Bill Clinton is one weird dude) and many snippets out of classic literature. One of the optional pieces was called How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton, a book with a blisteringly pink cover. I didn’t agree with all of the book (the moment someone acknowledges Freud as a genuine authority in the field of psychology, you lose me), but there was a lot there I have been thinking about.

Somehow this blog is becoming almost exclusively about sex. Woops?

De Botton makes several well-thought-out arguments, such as the case for the equality between desire and love as two separate feelings, and for the relaxation of the strict monogamy of marriage. I agree with the first, but am a bit cagey about the second.

The one part of the book I found deeply gratifying was about pornography. Porn is a powerful tool that hits at our most basic selves, our most basic needs. Physical contact. Shamelessness. Nobody says no.

I however, do not like porn; this is partially because I am a woman and I get the sneaking feeling that women don’t like it as much as men do, but also because it feels hollow, like marionettes with specific body parts and slamming up against one another. (I also cannot ignore the little voice inside my head that screams, “STDs! STDs! Condoms! Protection!,” even though I know that when porn is well regulated, everyone is frequently tested.)

It’s a well-known fact that porn can hinder satisfying sexual relationships: if people turn down the sheets with disparate and idealized sexual needs, it’s going to be hard to keep things on an even keel. Porn also acts as an arms race: people are likely to be drawn to more and more extreme types of sex, learning to like fantasies they would normally never contemplate. And it is impossible to study the effects of porn on young men (or men in general), because it is hopeless to find young men who have not been exposed to it, so as to provide a control group.

De Botton gives yet another reason: “The entire internet is in a sense pornographic, a deliverer of constant excitement that we have no innate capacity to resist, a seducer that leads us down paths that for the most part do nothing to answer our real needs. Furthermore, the ready ability of pornography lessens our tolerance for the kind of boredom that grants our mind the space it needs to spawn good ideas – the creative sort of boredom we may luxuriate in during a bath or on a long train journey. Whenever we feel an all but irresistible desire to flee from our own thoughts, we can be quite sure there is something important trying to make its way into our consciousness – and yet it is precisely at such pregnant moments that internet pornography is most apt to exert its maddening pull, assisting our escape from ourselves and thereby helping us to destroy our present and future” (133).

Porn, in other words, is a great way to ignore ourselves; it is the most blatant way that we know to do this, in a thicket of other methods (Facebook, e-mail, clickbait). I find it ironic that porn – which capitalizes on flesh – is a great way of separating people from physical contact, and with contact with their own selves.

The author has a few ideas about how porn should be handled – perhaps it should be run through a certain level of censorship, or perhaps porn itself should be different. De Botton’s “new porn” would emphasize other human qualities alongside lust; this, of course, would require the actors to actually act, so it would be something of a paradigm shift. Maybe someone show a little embarrassment, maybe another would perform various acts in an air of kindness; maybe there would be a little more talking that isn’t so brutal and distant.

In my opinion, this is a good start, but not nearly as far as it would need to go. The sheer quantity of porn should be reduced, and there should be a lot more backstory before people hop into bed with one another. I don’t like the idea of every taped sexual encounter being completely spontaneous: that is ridiculous, and the sex itself shouldn’t be a competition, either. Additionally, boys should learn about what porn can do to the brain and to their lives, if consumed at too high a level; sex should be healthy and in the right balance with the rest of life.

Porn is great at cheapening sex, cheapening touch; the actors merely go around the bases and end up where they started.

 

Over the course of this section of the book, de Botton makes a few pert remarks about the chance that Real Books have in the face of porn:

“It was not so difficult to concentrate on reading Chekhov’s short stories by candlelight when the only other diversion on offer was a chat with a neighbor who lived a twenty-minute walk away down the lane. But what chance to Chekhov or any other writers stand when we can split our Dell screen into two, on the left side arrange a photo collage of naked cheerleaders, and on the right, with the help of MSN Messenger, conduct a real-time conversation with a svelte twenty-five-year-old pole dancer (in reality a doughy male truck driver of 53) who will gently encourage us, in our own guise as a curious but uninitiated teenage lesbian, to take the first tentative steps towards our sexual awakening?” (127).

This is the one point I keep hearing: NOBODY READS ANYMORE.

I did a cursory look through the internet today and I came up with a few answers: this article talks about how people don’t read literature anymore, and this one talks about what genres were popular in 2015, in comparison to 2014. So are we reading less? To answer this question, I turn to a great show called Adam Ruins Everything on TruTv; in every episode they debunk common knowledge (and cite their sources on the screen!). Here’s what they have to say about what the internet is doing to book sales:

Porn isn’t hurting book sales at all. The real issue with porn has nothing to do with reading and everything to do with a huge mass of people the world over who don’t know how to have good sexual relationships, and who avoid themselves like the plague. We shouldn’t say that every problem in our society is related to How People Don’t Read Anymore – what we are really saying here is that People Aren’t Reading What They Should Read: an entirely different problem, and one that ignores the variability of preferences and needs, much as porn does.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s