White Crane Institute promotes the study of the role of Gay men, queer sexualities and gender variation and orientation in the evolution, psychology, sociology, and practice of spirituality, ritual, and religion. Gay Wisdom, a project that evolved out of the quarterly White Crane Journal, broadcasts a daily dose of history and life reflection for spiritually minded queer folks. You can sign up to receive these free emails here or join the Facebook page here. Gay Wisdom recently interviewed me about my new book, The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture. The first chunk of the interview appears below; you can read the interview in full online here.
A White Crane/GayWisdom Interview with author Don Shewey by Paul Wirhun
Paul Wirhun: First of all, this is a great book and an important read. Has no one else really written as extensively on this subject? I particularly loved the lack of judgment in the tone throughout, and the observation about how personal the path is for one’s use of porn. I especially loved Sgt. Shewey’s discourse at the end of the book – might it possible to excerpt that and get it into other gay publications as a stand-alone essay? It might also draw more readers?!?
Don Shewey: Thanks, Paul, for your kind words. The only other book I’m aware of that specifically tackles gay men’s experience of pornography is a scholarly volume from 1996 called Hard to Imagine by Thomas Waugh. I haven’t read it. It’s expensive, $75, and not only hard to imagine but hard to find. It’s funny you should mention the idea of circulating my list of things-to-do as a stand-alone essay: I’ve just submitted it to The Advocate, which expressed interest in publishing an excerpt. So we’ll see.
Paul: I’m curious about the impetus for writing this – a long-term idea brewing? What prompted you to finally write it?
Don: I’m someone who has always enjoyed thinking and talking about sex in an open and unembarrassed way, maybe because I came of age during an enlightened period when feminism and gay liberation had a big impact on me and taught me to value the body and to know that “the personal is the political.”
Paul: Did it come from your therapy practice and what you were hearing from clients, or from a more personal cogitation?
Don: That background has served me well as a sex therapist. I’ve talked about the impact of pornography on gay men’s sex lives with clients for so many years that I finally decided it was time to write down some of the thoughts and perceptions I’ve been repeating in therapy sessions day after day after day.
Paul: Your humor throughout is very engaging and sets a relaxing tone. I’m glad that voice is included. Why do you think are we still so skittish to discuss porn? Is porn still in the closet? What do we admit by saying we use it; and what do we say about ourselves when we deny our use in public discourse, whether with friends/lovers/sex mates?
Don: I think many people have a hard time talking about sex at all. It’s so intimate and revealing. Many people live with shame about their desires, religious guilt, fear of other people’s judgments. It’s hard even for couples in established relationships to discuss the nitty-gritty details of sex.
There’s a prevailing myth that “talking about sex spoils it.” Even psychotherapists and physicians who are theoretically trained to deal with all aspects of human life get squeamish when it comes to talking about sex. There are some realms in which sex is accepted as healthy and positive, not to mention essential for life, but pornography always carries the air of the forbidden, the sleazy, which makes it extra-difficult to talk about in public or in private.
Paul: Do you think that there is a way to break through this “air of the forbidden, the sleazy” — which your book accomplishes – or do we remain stuck in this paradigm – and have to keep these conversations more private? Why must society keep our deepest desires ‘in the closet’ and labeled sleazy?
Don: We could say that the world might be a better place if everybody viewed all aspects of sexuality as acceptable, human, healthy, whatever, including homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, etc. There will always be people who do; there will probably always be people who don’t. Jungian analyst James Hillman might point out that sexual inhibitions are archetypal – they go with the territory of being human and there may be some evolutionary purpose for those inhibitions.
Paul: Some of the discourse with your clients really brought home for me two experiences: 1. How porn personally affected that person’s life/perspective of their own sex life, causing me to investigate my use of porn more mindfully (thank you!); and, 2. How each of us creates a story about the our own disjuncts in achieving personal erotic satisfaction, and how we get trapped in that story and view of ourselves; speak to the mirroring that happens in porn and how that affects our sense of selves and these narratives we cook up about ourselves and our sex lives, if you would?
Don: This is the essential paradox of porn, right? We’re drawn to it because there’s something we recognize about the heat, the lure of sex, the pleasure of looking at bodies engaged in sexy activity, the feelings the emerge in our own bodies looking at it. So, porn (erotic imagery of any kind) is a kind of mirror.
And at the same time, it is an edited medium, a product of technology, with its own memes and formulas and codes, and when you look at enough of it you start seeing porn as the template and you start copying what you see. For instance, I don’t think many people really like having someone ejaculate on their faces, but it’s such a mainstay of porn because it’s highly visual, so now guys think it’s perfectly acceptable, if not required. It’s an ongoing question – does porn reflect our tastes or create them?
To read the complete interview, see here.