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|Out of the Shadow - Page 4|
A Cousin of Sexual Abuse
As time progressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable with pornography. On the few occasions when Larry and I saw pornography together, we now found it disturbing and distracting to the soul-stirring physical love we regularly enjoyed. The dialogue in porn didn't make us blush, but the interactions seemed increasingly humiliating and violent, with behaviors such as a man ejaculating on a woman's face becoming more common. Rather than inspire, pornography appeared to compromise one's private erotic imagination and values, blurring boundaries between fantasy and reality and lowering standards for sexual interaction. I didn't like how porn images would linger in my mind long after we'd turned off a rented videotape, taking my attention away from Larry and fixing it onto images of the porn actors and activities I'd just seen on screen.
At the same time I was experiencing personal concerns, many of my clients began complaining about pornography. They appreciated well-made, instructional, sexual-enrichment books and videos and sexy romantic novels, but their contact with pornography often left them feeling "dirty," sad, disgusted, or angry. They told me they were turned off by its lack of human caring, its racism, and especially the way it depicted women and children as targets for sexual exploitation.
In the mid-1980s, when I began specializing in treating survivors of sexual abuse, I became increasingly aware of the role that porn had in abuse. One client said that when he was a teenager, a 50-year-old next-door-neighbor man had "groomed" him into oral sex by showing him a stash of pornographic magazines. Women told me their perpetrators—often fathers, grandfathers, brothers, and boyfriends—used pornography as a template for the specific type of sexual behavior they coerced them to perform. Some clients recalled being forced by their perpetrator to pose for pornographic pictures during their experiences of abuse.
It was during the 1980s that I researched and wrote two recovery books, Incest and Sexuality and The Sexual Healing Journey, for survivors and their partners wanting to reclaim sexuality as something positive and healthy. When porn came up in the interviews and surveys I conducted for the books, survivors overwhelmingly spoke negatively about pornography, saying, for example, that reading pornographic stories or watching porn on videos and cable television "felt like the abuse all over again."
Added to my pile of concerns about porn, the realization that porn could be used as weapon against vulnerable children and women was the last straw. The clearer I became about conditions
My primary concern about porn wasn't that it was sexually graphic, explicit, or hot: it was that porn conveyed harmful ideas about sex and could lead to hurtful and ultimately unrewarding sexual behaviors. During the 1990s, I switched from recommending porn to suggesting scenes in popular movies, such as the scene in Mississippi Masala in which Denzel Washington makes love to a woman while singing "Happy Birthday" to her. This scene, and others that emphasized mutual caring and readiness, showed highly erotic kissing and full-body, skin-to-skin contact, and celebrated sex as part of a larger relationship, were much more consistent with what I thought could arouse clients without causing them harm. In addition, frustrated with the lack of materials honoring love-based sexuality, I compiled two anthologies of erotic love poetry to recommend to clients and others for inspiration: Passionate Hearts and Intimate Kisses feature classic and contemporary poems in which "heart connection" is at the core of sexual experience.
One day, my concerns about pornography reached a tipping point. I grabbed the box of pornographic novels I'd kept in my office closet, marched outdoors, and tossed it into a trash bin. No regrets! From then on, I felt that personally and therapeutically it was best to avoid pornography. I made a commitment to obtain and clinically recommend only sexually explicit materials that educate and inspire while honoring respectful, responsible, and caring conditions for sexual interaction.