Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don Jon and the Sexual Boogeyman

When the World Wide Web went live in 1991, there were fewer than ninety adult magazines in American circulation, of which maybe a given newsstand would carry a handful or so beneath the counter or hidden away in wrapped covers in the back. 

Only six years later, the internet had some nine-hundred porn sites. 

Today, there are more than 2.5 million adult sites available at a click of your mouse.

Porn, more than ever, is everywhere. 

The variety and ease in which you can get it is staggering. Just take a look at Porn MD, a site dedicated to the constant, never-ending, real-time stream of online searches on Porn Hub. Comedian Richard Jeni once said, "The Web brings people together because no matter what kind of twisted sexual mutant you happen to be, you've got millions of pals out there." And it seems to be true. From "Asian mouthful" to "toilet poop," the diversity of what people are looking for is amazing. 

And a little strange to think about.

And people are thinking about it.

We are obsessed with porn right now.

And, I'll admit, I'm no different. 

This week, my cubemate gave me the homework assignment to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt's film Don Jon about a man who has a porn compulsion that impedes him from forming lasting and meaningful relationships or even enjoying sex with women--a not so uncommon phenomenon, if my years of listening to and reading Dan Savage are any indication. 

Despite the expansive, near-infinite potential for connection the internet and modern technology provides, it seems that many of us are feeling more and more isolated and disconnected. 

Don Jon does an excellent job of presenting this. The people in Jon's life are pretty interchangeable. His family talks at each other more than with each other, descending into shouting matches over meaningless things. His friends pretty much only play a never-ending game of hot-or-not at clubs. You never see his coworkers. The other drivers he shouts at and weaves through in traffic all exist outside the metallic bubble of his car. The women he sleeps with are treated like a constant stream of disposable, rather perfunctory sex toys--more a catalog of parts than a person--much like the ones he views online. Even the priests he confesses to are faceless and impersonal as he spills his sin-filled stories to whomever will listen and absolve him as easily as emptying his computer's trash.

It's no wonder that, when he tries to form a relationship with the perfect 10, "dime" Barbara, he doesn't really know how.

It isn't until he meets Esther, who challenges him to think beyond one-sided relationships, that he's able to see his life for the rather shallow, empty, lonely existence it is.

Now don't get me wrong; I like the message about isolation and connection in this film. I think it has so many moments of real insight on this social trend. Like how easy it is to be unduly harsh when you're so far removed from the people you're judging. Like how chick flicks are messing with the romance and sex narrative as much as porn is. Like how the relationship between porn and sex and religion and mortality is pretty arbitrary and logic-less.

Yes, it's hard not to relate to at least some of this. To not see bits of yourself and the people you know in these eccentricities. 

But the movie's constant stigmatization of porn...

For all Jon's shortcomings, the film seems to pin all their blame on porn. As if porn is responsible for his family issues and road rage and lack of ambition and over-indulgent obsession with his over-groomed looks. You just want to scream at the movie, "For the love of Jenna Jameson, it's just porn!"

And it felt so odd that there's either overkill or nothing when it comes to porn viewing. Either Jon's visiting 46 porn sites and masturbating 11 times in a day or he's cutting it cold turkey because he's found himself the glass slipper of pussy, be it the "dime" Barbara or the salvation of old-school Esther. The movie doesn't seem to allow the possibility for normal, healthy porn habits. Doesn't seem to acknowledge that porn can have its purpose. So much of it seemed like a modern take on Mormon masturbation-ban tactics or some NoFap sales pitch.

The movie just kept asking, "What do you need porn for when you can have real sex?" 

What a ridiculous question! That's like asking why we need books and TV and movies and imagination in general when we have real life. 

Escapism isn't by nature a bad thing. In fact, a little escapism is healthy and good for you, so long as you don't use it to ignore or completely misinform your perception of real life. A person can balance both a grounding in reality and an indulgence in fantasy. Even when it comes to porn. A person can even use porn to enhance their real life sex life. Why should you ever have to choose one or the other?

After all, studies are showing that "whether or not we use porn is not nearly as significant to our relationship as whether or not we are truthful about it." So perhaps this sexual boogeyman would be less scary--feel less like a threat or a detriment or an addiction--if we all just stopped hiding it in closets or on erased browser histories and learned to live--honestly and openly--with it.

'Cause I highly doubt porn is going anywhere.

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