EVENTS: “The 30-Day Porn Cleanse — The Pause That Refreshes”

When I started writing my book THE PARADOX OF PORN several years ago, I was aware that almost everybody I know looks at some version of porn on a regular basis but we hardly ever talk about it. And I get that. Looking at porn – really, anything related to sex – is quite personal and intimate and individual. You don’t reveal your habits to just anyone. Nobody wants to be shamed or judged for their habits or their preferences or their pleasures. Gay men have been shamed and judged enough in their lives. At the same time, stuff that doesn’t get talked about can reinforce shame and inhibition and ignorance, so it’s a bit of a dilemma.

Personally, I love talking about sex, and in my life as a sex therapist and pleasure activist I do a lot of that. I will say that the only context in which I’m interested in talking about sex and pornography is one of complete lack of judgment, led by curiosity and pleasure and shared interest. As the saying goes, “Don’t yuk my yum.”

One of the main skills that a therapist has to cultivate is the ability to make the space safe for people to talk about intimate, personal, sometimes scary, sometimes shameful stuff. When you do that, it’s amazing what insights and self-knowledge and self-acceptance can emerge. As a sex therapist, I’m pretty much required to ask people detailed personal questions about their sexual histories, including their experience of pornography. And once it’s been established that they’re safe to talk freely about pornography, clients open up and I learn fascinating things about what they look at, what they search for, how they first encountered pornography. Guys will mention their favorite porn stars, often rattling off lists of people I’ve never heard of – and of course I Google the names afterwards. You know, professional research! Continuing education!

Writing the book and talking to people about it after it was published also gave me a chance to consider my own history with porn, what I like and don’t like, where I started and where I am now. You may or may not remember the period of time in the 1980s when there was a huge uproar about government arts funding and objections to artists whose work had “homoerotic” elements. Those culture wars haven’t completely come to an end, but it seems pretty silly, considering the more important things to worry about. But I’ll never forget seeing a show by the downtown performance artist Penny Arcade who proudly stated, “I need a little homoerotica to get me through the day.” I could relate! And I think it’s still true!

There was a time when “looking at porn” meant viewing commercial movies, videos, and magazines showing buff hot guys getting it on. With the advent of the internet and smartphones and social media, now there are nine zillion different ways to encounter and enjoy erotic imagery. When I get up in the morning and check my email, I’m likely to find an email from a guy in Hawaii who publishes the “gRUFF list,” a stash of anywhere from 5 to 60 sexy pics in a multitude of categories. In my “Promotions” folder I will undoubtedly have several emails from sex-toy emporia like Mr. S Leather or Fort Troff, announcements from the Tom of Finland Foundation, and discount offers from porn sites like Naked Sword, Himeros, and Antonio DaSilva, all of them containing tantalizing stills and short clips.

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My husband and I have a running text exchange with two other friends we call The Pervs Thread, where the four of chat about everything, occasionally tossing in a sizzling JPEG we’ve come across online. Over my desk I have the Colt Hairy Chested calendar, and the first day of every month I send the Pervs Thread greetings from the model of the month. When I have a few moments to kill – when I’m on the toilet, or waiting for clients to arrive, or winding down at the end of the day – I will often cycle among Instagram thirst traps, gay Twitter, Scruff, and Tumblr. Homoerotic imagery is so built into my day, it’s like the air that I breathe.

Is that a problem? I don’t think so. Sometimes when I’ve gorged on a bunch of hot photos or taken time to watch a Joe Gage porn clip on Naked Sword, I may find myself in a trance and start cruising for sex when half an hour before I wasn’t horny at all. That goes with the territory. At the same time, I had a conversation this afternoon with a friend who said he doesn’t look at porn a lot but when he does it reminds him that, “Oh, I’m a sexual being, and I’ve been neglecting my pleasure body lately.”

Think about what you look at, what you like and don’t like, what it adds to your life, what it takes away. If this is a conversation that interests you, consider signing up for the Body Electric School’s five-week class “The 30-Day Porn Cleanse — The Pause That Refreshes.” Over five Sunday-evening sessions starting January 9, Body Electric’s Craig Cullinane and I will invite you to examine your relationship with pornography in a non-judgmental and supportive environment. This is not about “treating porn addiction” – this course views erotic imagery as a portal to pleasure and self-discovery and offers “the pause that refreshes,” so you can return with mindfulness and choice to the porn-watching practice that serves you best.

For more information and to sign up, see here.