I cannot emphasize enough how the greatest problems derive, not in viewing pornography, but from hiding, judging and shaming ourselves for it. Have you ever thought about why we demonize pornography? What causes us to react in that way? What is stopping us from understanding what it is really pointing us towards?
Many of us have taken the stance on protesting the “evils” of it, which, there are clearly evils within it, as I will address. But when we paint it with a broad stroke and then hate ourselves for looking at it, it obscures understanding why we are truly drawn to it in the first place. Also, the shrapnel and explosions of judgment block us from seeing what we are specifically drawn towards within pornography; how these specifics say a lot about our personal human desires, longings, fears, insecurities, pains, etc.
It is no different than when we judge an affair as “wrong” or a “sin”, while missing what drew the person to that in the first place. What were they looking for? How did they feel? What dynamics were in that relationship that were missing in the marriage? What are they afraid to share with their spouse? It is no different with viewing pornography.
In fact, trying to stop the behavior is far less important than becoming aware and connected to our own hearts and what we are looking for when we turn to pornography. I believe when there is no shame, judgment or hiding, the intense urge to turn to it greatly reduces. The more we help each other connect to our hearts and desires, the less disconnected and impulsive we will be.
It is vitally important we get out of this “right” and “wrong” mindset and venture into the arenas of the heart. With anything that we judge, we miss the treasure buried within it, which teaches us something more meaningful and I believe, life changing.
The Desire for Connection
To put it simply, looking at porn points to the human desire to be connected. It is the desire to be engaged and present, indulging with that loving other in the sexual encounter. Our sexuality has been so shamed, judged and mishandled that to have any kind of sexual experience is met with fear, anxiety, shame and embarrassment..
But our sexuality is inseparable from our humanity. It carries the deepest, most intense cries for connection, especially a spiritual one. Ultimately, we long to be seen and known and reciprocate this towards another. When others or ourselves shame this, we either shut this down entirely (what I did), or it develops into detached, disconnected, and impulsive behaviors (also what I did).
What We Watch and What It Reveals About Our Internal World and Desire
This is essential to understand. Have you ever thought about why certain pornography attracts you? If you feel repulsed by it at all or towards yourself for watching it, then it probably has obfuscated understanding the deeper truths.
Think about it in terms of a mirror. What is the purpose of a mirror? It's function is to reflect. But a mirror does more than just reveal the physical image of ourselves. When you look in the mirror, you are not confronted with just this image, but how you feel and perceive this image. You may feel very internally secure and confident, which develops into an appreciation and enjoyment of your physical self. But if you are particularly feeling low, and self-critical, then the evaluation of your appearance is shaped by these feelings that turn into judgment.
What we specifically view regarding pornography points to something specific we are longing for or that which we are needing to address. Our internal world becomes externalized through pornography. It is no different than sexually engaging with someone, in the sense that how connected/disconnected we are from ourselves and our own needs greatly impacts a rich interaction with another. For example, if we are always focused on pleasing others in our life, working overtime to keep them happy, then it will play out in our sex life and significantly impact enjoyment of the sexual experience together.
Sex is meant to be enjoyable. In fact, we were created to indulge together in this experience. Much like our emphatic and sensual engagement with decadent food, such as a chocolate cake, the sexual experience is designed to be engaged in this way. Pornography is an attempt to create this.
For a moment, push past the judgment of right/wrong or good/bad and ask yourself why porn exists. At the heart, it is an attempt to highlight the pleasures of the sexual experience. Now, it certainly deviates from this in many arenas, but the purpose is to capture the otherworldly pleasures of our sexuality.
When anyone watches pornography, it instinctually arouses the sexuality within, eliciting desire. The problem is that we shame ourselves or others shame it and then we attempt to push down our sexuality, avoid fantasy, masturbation, or even viewing pornography. We find ourselves completely beaten down by judgment. The reaction is to distance ourselves from feeling aroused and enjoying our sexuality or keep this hidden life that perpetuates relational and self-disconnection, creating “addictions”.
Part of that enjoyment in the sexual dimension is that it contains elements of playfulness, novelty/spontaneity and risk/adventure. I do not mean that it is harmful or violent or degrading; but that both partners collaborate and contribute to cultivating that erotic space and satisfaction.
Now, that is not the remedy to vulnerable emotional connection, but it is a necessary component to greater closeness/meaningfulness. Introducing new positions, toys, places etc. is not going to replace that emotional intimacy and curb disconnection. Disconnection comes from the avoidance of emotional engagement and seeing one another. When couples commit to turning towards one another and intentionally work through the distance, hurts, pains, and past wounds together, it greatly impacts closeness to one another.
If the sexual experience lacks playfulness, then it may point to certain fears/insecurities/discomforts within that inhibit this dynamic. Pornography conveys some of the elements of playfulness, through role playing and narratives, but it does miss the genuine intimate connection to another.
The Person You Watch is the Person You Long to Be
I have talked to both friends and clients on different ends of the spectrum when it came to having a strong or weaker sense of self and the confidence to take initiative and risk, in life and in the erotic space with their partner. How they feel about themselves and how connected they are to their own needs, desires, bodies, strengths/limitations, in the entirely of their life, greatly impacts their sexuality and engagement with their partner.
For example, let's say the individual struggles with initiating in life, is often concerned with the emotional satisfaction of the other, and avoids sharing his/her own needs and desires. Well, typically, that person is going to carry this into the sexual encounter. They are going to be disconnected from themselves, nervously concentrating on the other’s enjoyment, pleasure and security.
This individual, who feels disconnected and afraid to bring up their own needs, may turn to pornography as an attempt to feel this connection they are longing for with their partner. What and who they watch is going to be very significant. They may gravitate towards pornography where the partner of the same sex as the viewer is more assertive/confident. What this indicates is the individual’s desire to feel this confidence within himself.
Or if the individual is watching pornography where the other partner is more assertive, confident and engaging, it could very well point to the desire for the individual’s partner to express greater confidence in themselves and initiate sexually, which will profoundly impact the sexual experience.
On a final note, another element to be mindful of is the “type” of person you find yourself drawn towards in regards to a partner. Married men that I’ve counseled have found themselves watching pornography where the woman resembles their wife. This is very significant, and I believe points to the deep desire to experience a greater erotic encounter with their wives, but also a fear to share vulnerably with them. Their longing is not to “get off” to whoever, but to be richly connected to their partner.
Force/Control, Degradation/Humiliation, Abuse/Violence
Let me first clarify that there are arenas within pornography or I would say erotica, that express a beautiful and genuine connection between two lovers. It exhibits mutual enjoyment, playfulness, novelty and closeness. However, a good portion of pornography does not portray this wonderful celebratory expression of human sexuality and engagement. It derails and deviates far from it into harmful and degrading acts that points to something the deep within.
Typically, whether in pornography or in actual life sexual encounters, if force and control are elements in this realm, then it may signal this intense desire for closeness that is imbued with fear. Pushing sexual contact to feel close and create security before there is even emotional closeness can indicate fear of loneliness and a great desire for connection.
It is an attempt for that individual to remedy fear within themselves. And usually this fear stems from relational hurt. Pushing sexual contact too soon may be this way to protect from any further hurt, but it only masks the pain, instead of heals it.
Degradation/Humiliation and Abuse/Violence
If an individual finds themselves venturing further into “dangerous” realms in pornography where degrading and violent expressions of sexuality are portrayed it can indicate a couple reasons.
For those who engage in these acts, there is this insatiable hunt to feel satisfaction, away from pain. Think about when you feel anger or rage in reaction to someone's behavior and how you might feel satisfied imagining yourselves destroying the individual. Acting out in violence is the attempt to remedy severe shame, pain and hurt. We crave vindication and when we push down our anger and rage, it will eventually surface into more destructive actions, either towards ourselves or others.
So then apply this to the sexual arena, where the vulnerable self surfaces. Those that both act this out or watch others do so, usually highlights intense rage and anger within and the fear of expressing this vulnerably to others, especially the one with whom they feel anger towards. The individual also feels self-hatred, which is really anger turned inwards.
Anger is a beautiful emotion that can potentially bring greater intimacy when shared vulnerably, but it is also terrifying to feel and share before another. When this form of pornography is sought after, it could indicate an anger and rage that needs to be connected to (non-destructively).
The other reason could mean that the individual has buried or hidden their engagement with pornography for quite some time and thus created this insatiable thirst to feel satisfied. The individual is actually disconnected from themselves, including their emotions, both their relational and sexual desire, and attunement to their own bodies. When they feel shame for even looking at pornography and then hide it, this obscuring effect occurs that keeps the person from awareness of why they turn to view it in the first place.
What happens is it perpetuates this thirst to feel satisfied and so they must venture into more shocking expressions of sexuality to create this internal satisfaction. However, shame and self-hatred shortly resurface and the hunt continues.
This writing does not cover all the intricacies of why we are drawn to view pornography or the types of pornography. It is merely to start a conversation and to puncture this “right/wrong” or “good/bad” paradigm. Consider your own judgments towards something you may wrestle with, such as eating certain foods, smoking, drinking, dancing, movies, shopping, etc. When you get stuck in judgment, it blocks you from connecting to your own heart and getting to the vulnerable self.
Judgment stops us from learning valuable truths. When Jesus said to first take the log out of your own eye, he is referring to this internal examination or awareness. Feeling shocked or even recoiling at another’s behavior is a normal, visceral response, but to then evaluate it in “right” or “wrong” standards blocks us from understanding and connecting to others. Judgment keeps us from knowing ourselves and our own desires.
Understanding what we are drawn towards in pornography will connect us closer to our own hearts, pains, desires and what is genuine, life-giving, satisfying and meaningful sexual/relational interaction. And when we can courageously venture into our own chambers, we can help others do the same.