At the Rowe Labor Day retreat in Massachusetts for gay, bisexual, and questioning men, I conducted a workshop called “Learning from Porn.” I felt ever-so-slightly scandalous broaching this topic while attending a conference at a Unitarian Universalist retreat center. At the same time, like my teacher and mentor Joseph Kramer I’m committed to healing the split between sexuality and spirituality in our culture. We all have bodies, and it is our spiritual invitation to inhabit them fully and mindfully. And reading a poster in the Rowe library enumerating the core values of Unitarian Universalism, I resonated with its championing “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
As a number of participants in the workshop immediately acknowledged, almost every male adult has some kind of love/hate relationship with pornography, that ubiquitous form of entertainment that heavily influences the norms by which we judge our bodies, our desires, and our sexual partners — but we hardly ever talk about it to anyone. I wanted to create a safe, non-judgmental context in which to consider a few pertinent questions: What is hot about porn? What myths about sex does porn perpetuate, for better or for worse? What aspects of pleasurable sexuality never show up in porn? I quickly learned that men have plenty to say on all these topics.
Most public discussions about pornography tend to focus on addiction, abuse, exploitation of women, and so on. Those problems clearly exist, but I believe that as human beings we always have a positive reason for doing what we do. And as a sex therapist, especially one who works with a lot of gay men, I’m acutely aware of the paradox of porn — that however much it contributes to shame, compulsiveness, and distorted ideas about sexuality, looking at pornography is for many men an important doorway into erotic existence. So I purposely wanted to open the discussion by asking what’s valuable about porn…. Read more