Editorial

I feel pretty: Lessons from men and pornography

I think that pornography is dehumanizing and that I damn well want to be appreciated for something besides how I look. I also think that, as much as we must learn to appreciate people as whole people, there is a devastating beauty in the body, that we are walking around disruptively exquisite. Our very presence, our very bodies, are perfect before we have done anything at all. This is something I have learned from the gaze of kind, faithful, honourable men.

It was a devastating, “Et tu, Brute?” kind of moment. In the security of our Bible study group, my kind, faithful and honourable male friends, all educated within an inch of their lives, seemed to be affirming my deep fear that beauty matters most.

We arrived at this crucible by discussing porn. One of the men began our night by admitting that he was addicted to online pornography and no longer found real women beautiful. His bravery and honesty in the face of a subject that is riddled with judgment and shame humbled us. Nonetheless, I was still troubled by the slow admission (or meaningful silence) of every man – every good, caring, Christian man – in the room that he had used or did use porn, infrequently or otherwise.

But they love Jesus! But they lead community-filled, social-justice-y lives! But they understand why this is so destructive! Yes. And they also get really distracted by boobs.

Like, really distracted. While the experiences of the men were by no means uniform, some of the stories, particularly those from the trenches of pre-marital celibacy, caught me unaware. One man talked about being so preoccupied by women’s bodies that he couldn’t study, couldn’t work. Another said if he was attracted to a woman, he had to schedule phone calls to her around the time it would take to physically recover from the encounter.

While these stories did not defend pornography, they did explain the allure. The men described experiencing sexuality in a way that was more physical, more overwhelming than what the women had typically experienced. Trying to contain their sex-drive seemed difficult at best.

Okay, so I understood. But I didn’t like it. The week before, our group had discussed body image; most of the women expressed that, of all that they were and did, nothing seemed to matter as much as how they looked. Repentant, we promised to value each other as whole people. The trouble with this promise, we discovered, was that the men tended to be struck more by looks than anything else, confirming the women’s fears.

It was as though there was something fundamentally destructive in the men’s basic sexual inclinations. Their sexuality had been made . . . wrong. But, I also knew that this couldn’t be the full picture. It didn’t fit together that men who listened to me, prayed with me, studied with me, were also objectifying me.

I readily acknowledge holistic understandings and expressions of sexuality as evidence of being made in God’s image, and I happily admit that the body is part of this holistic sexuality (biceps, anyone?). But I want to deny that the body is primary. I’m not alone. From the Every Man’s Battle empire to Naomi Woolfe’s The Beauty Myth, no one likes the fact that men tend to notice women’s bodies before any other aspect. We believe that through prayer, conversation, confession and education we can change this. I think we might be wrong.

In our study discussion, one man described a late-adolescence experience of sitting next to a woman in church and brushing her elbow with his hand. This touch was for him so electric, so sensual, that he remained preoccupied for days.

I find this kind of enchanting. I also think, An elbow? Really? Do women even have elbows? Do men have elbows? And there it is: I am attracted to men, usually, because they are kind, faithful and honourable. Men are attracted to me, usually, because I have elbows.

Imagine for a moment, though, that God is entranced by an elbow. Distracted. Cannot study or work for days. All of his making is halted so that he can gaze in wonder. Is this craven or glorious? Imagine that the elbow is yours.

There is a scene in the 2002 Julie Taymor film Frida wherein Frida Kahlo undresses for the first time for her lover, Diego Rivera. Frida, the victim of a childhood traffic accident, says to Diego, “I have a scar.” He looks at her body and says, “You’re perfect.” He can see something that she can’t see.

I think that pornography is dehumanizing, that Diego Rivera was a lothario, and that I damn well want to be appreciated for something besides how I look. I also think that, as much as we must learn to appreciate people as whole people, there is a devastating beauty in the body, that we are walking around disruptively exquisite. Our very presence, our very bodies, are perfect before we have done anything at all. This is something I have learned from the gaze of kind, faithful, honourable men.

Shannon Blake has hot elbows. God said so, and she should know.

Issue 18

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 18, Summer 2010, The Body Issue.

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Issue 18, Summer 2010

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