We’re sexually schizophrenic. We talk more and more about sex yet do it less and less. Is this the end of sex? If so, it’s partly the result of pornography reversing the poles.
If you want to hear modern schizophrenia, listen to our music. During a recent workout at the Y, I was slathered with sexy songs. “Sexyback.” “Rock Your Body.” “I Love Your Body.” Between our music and movies, you’d think we’re having sex 24/7/365.
We’re not. The decline of sex is partly due to the increasing accessibility of porn. The word pornography comes from pornos, prostitute, and grapho, to depict or write, meaning “depicting prostitutes.” Pornography is watching bought sex. It’s as old as the hills but in the Internet age, it feels free, since most watch it on their phone or tablet. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch or free porn. There is a cost.
Viewing porn releases oxytocin into our system, a chemical that facilitates human bonding, increases in trust, and decreases in fear. Porn bonds body, soul, and mind to debauched sex. The price is paid in our neural pathways. Like drugs, we become hooked on porn. And the cost increases as viewing porn invariably leads to masturbation.
The Bible says the truest learning is hands on. Masturbation is hands on, releasing more oxytocin into our system, further facilitating bonding with pixels. The result is our real life sex partners seem rather pale. Since 1992, there has been a 100 percent growth in the share of men and nearly 275 percent increase in the share of women who masturbate at least weekly. The trend is most pronounced among the young.
Porn sets an impossibly high standard, as Matt Barnes writes. “Men have seen hundreds of fake-breasted, airbrushed, aroused-to-the-point-of-myocardial-infarction pixels, all contorted into positions that would make an Olympic gymnast proud—before they’ve laid with an actual, warm-blooded woman.” All the joy and psychological attachments that sex ought to bring are attached not to an actual woman but to a screen.
The outcome is a generation of men addicted to pixels but unable to perform with an actual person. Our current sexualized culture—and decline of real sex—is fed by pornography (approximately 70 percent of men ages 18-24 regularly visit porn sites). Porn feeds seemingly unlimited sexual desires that cannot be met in reality.
Women sense this. In “The Porn Myth,” Naomi Wolf writes about young women on college campuses telling her they can’t compete with porn—and they know it. Real woman—with real imperfections—“cannot possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification.” Wolf adds: “For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”
Hence, we witness the demise of eros. A study in 2010 revealed that only 64 percent of women report having an orgasm in their last sexual encounter (despite 85 percent of men thinking their partner had an orgasm). In another 2010 survey, it was shown that 63 percent of married women would rather “do something else” than have sex with their husbands—watching a movie being the most popular alternative.
Better be a good movie. Long before the Internet, Simone Weil warned against erroneous depictions of life. For instance, in real life, she wrote, “nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil.” But with fictional good and evil (example: pornography), “it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.”[i] Porn depicts fictional sex as erotic, exciting. It makes real sex boring. By reversing the poles, porn contributes to the demise of sex.
Next week we’ll see how the general “Christian” response to our hyper-sexualized culture contributes to the demise of eros.
[i] Simone Weil, “Morality and Literature,”? (an essay published in Cahiers du Sud, January 1944)