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Photo by Eric Francis / Book of Blue from an original by Danielle Voirin.

Pornography as the Mirror of Denial

By Eric Francis | Book of Blue

Deep in the honesty of orgasm, when someone lets go to the thought or image of a woman, is the feeling of surrendering to not having her and to not being felt by her. Pornography on this level is the erotic celebration of need, desire and rejection. And usually it's really hot. 

THE ORIGINAL pornographic images described prostitutes and what you could do with them. Their point was to get you interested, then you could do the real thing for a fee. In perfect market economy form, the advertisement has become the product. Pornography as we think of it is a media-based form of prostitution. You purchase the image of a person for your private sexual use, in lieu of the original.

For the purveyor, it's extremely efficient. For a relatively small amount of money, an image can repeatedly be sold to hundreds of thousands of people.

For the consumer, the only problem is that it's a picture and not a warm, sensating person. When this picture is masturbated to, it's an indulgence in the experience of entering that cosmic, metaprogramming bliss of orgasm and imprinting oneself with unfulfilled desire. Ejaculating at the behest of a sexy picture and your fist is not the same thing as letting go into a woman whose eyes see yours and affirm your existence as you surrender.

The feeling most men have when confronted with the resulting semen is nothing at all like the thirsty, sweet faced experience of their girlfriend eagerly swallowing it, or receiving him compassionately into her pelvis. One's first impulse is typically to go running for paper towels. This sense of disgust with oneself while expecting others to be perfectly thrilled with you and/or your bodily secretions is encrypted in the whole message of pornography and its use.

Now, I recognize I've made a bunch of heterocentrisms here; my focus in this article is on male-female relating. I've assumed in my text above that women don't look at chick porn, and they do. But let's stick to one paradigm -- men using pornography involving women. It's rich territory. A lot of people are involved, and feelings, and cultural memes.

How  we respond to pornography is extremely private. It's one of the places  were we strive to overcome the perceived powerlessness of not being able to get  the sex we want. That powerlessness is a sensitive space. If we bring porn here, we can overcome some of that  helplessness. It’s an enhanced form of fantasy, where we have control over the situation because it exists in our minds.

Here, we can exceed the bounds of the appropriate, transcend morality and imagine things that are typically less usual to  arrange -- such as having two or three lovers to play with at once, anything involving the thrill of narcissism, or what ever you really want to do but don’t feel free enough to.

Much like fantasy, porno is one of the places we seek the mental refuge of eroticism without complication. This is one solid reason why it's a form of the prostitution which gave rise to it -- the woman depicted in pornography becomes a figment of your imagination; she does what you want, when you want; she doesn't give you any lip, set conditions or get her period. She doesn't get pregnant and she doesn't want to get married; at least not to you.

There is just one problem -- she's not really there. She cannot feel you and you cannot really feel her. You cannot really have her, but you can pretend. And deep in the honesty of orgasm, when someone lets go to the thought or image of her, is the feeling of surrendering to not having her and to not being felt by her. Pornography on this level is the erotic celebration of need, desire and rejection.

We do a lot of not having in our market-driven society, so we need this release, or this indulgence in an extreme form of not having. There are a lot of things we don't get to own or do, and for those whose desire nature is alive and active, it's clear that there are a lot of people we don't get to have. Without going into a dissertation on the differences between male and female desire nature (and the ways we all express both), testosterone feels different then estrogen.

The urge to fuck her now, whether she wants it or not, is one of those little messages scripted into testosterone. All of human biology and sociology seem to make an allowance for this need, granting men an unusual degree of dominion over women; a certain generally accepted presumption of entitlement that can be invoked from time to time. Most men have little clue how to do this, however, and anyway, if you're polite, you ask; and if you ask, you're likely to face rejection many more times than acceptance. For most men this is a way of life; it comes with the territory. Hopefully the humiliation is worth it when you meet somebody who says yes -- and hopefully not too much of that humiliation enters the room with you.

Patrick Califia-Rice, the former lesbian erotic writer and journalist who had a sex change, hooked up with another female-to-male transsexual and had a kid, described his early moments on testosterone. “My voice is deeper, and my sex drive has given me newfound empathy with the guys who solicit hookers for blow jobs,” he wrote recently in the Village Voice.

Despite rejection and so many blow job related scandals, desire lives on, and sexual need lives on. Though some could do it with a little more finesse, all men have to cope with, accept and somehow embrace the fact that they are not going to get to fuck all the attractive women they want. In truth most guys are going to fuck very, very few of them, which on one level is humbling and on another level humiliating; it seems such a waste. Lack of male finesse on this issue can translate to anger, resentment, or a redoubling of that sense of entitlement that so often goes at the top of the feminist rap sheet. Rejection is seen as a direct invitation to push harder (some women consciously play this game). She must want it (sometimes she does); she's playing hard to get (often she does); she will eventually give in (this often happens).

More to the point, she's not going to approach you for sex, so you better approach her if you want anything to happen.

The guys who do have finesse might be inclined to be feminized, empathizing with the female condition and not wanting to impose or intrude on its sanctity. That generally does not lead to so much satisfaction, because women are conditioned to respond to assertiveness and a measure of arrogance. Besides, you're a guy! You're supposed to want her, and if you don't she may blame herself. You're supposed to know that she wants you, even though she would rarely admit it. And this is not just for romance. Plenty of women have fantasies of being fucked or eaten by guys, sometimes many guys, who just want them for sex and and don't care otherwise. Many explore these experiences.

Such a lack of empathy is precisely what men get to play with when they apply male desire to porn. Rachel Asher, who wrote a companion piece in this series ("From Foot Massagers to the Family Monitor"), said that when she uses porn, it's fun, but then she starts to empathize with the women who are depicted, such as how they feel about their job, or about putting themselves out there. I sincerely don't think most guys have that problem. This denial of empathy is specifically one of the freedoms afforded to men when they use images of women in the form of pornography -- and unfortunately a liberty they often take in real life as well.

In using porn, particularly when done privately, men bring themselves to orgasm not having the woman respond to him, and not having to respond to her. And in this way, along with many other ways, we eroticize not having. Desire itself becomes the thing desired. The lack of fulfillment that so often confronts us becomes the erotic focus. For men using pornography, there is release, but the release is not received. Or if it is, it's received by paper towels. Consider the thousands of gallons of semen mopped up every day, the direct product of pornography, and all the mixed feelings experienced in the moments after: from regret to remorse to guilt to some measure of at least physical satisfaction.

If porno is a celebration of denial, it may also be a celebration of desperation. It's a craving for that form of refined (or is it crude) female sexuality that is so rare to find: the Sacred Whore who never says no, and who most men never get to meet. Or it's just desperation in general to experience, feel or make a mark on this pristine thing we witness and call female.

WHAT IF we replaced that pornography with a mirror? I think that pornography is a mirror that men use to get off, but in that mirror they see a woman. They see The Other, exalted with a kind of purity: the pure whore; the one purely in touch with her desire nature. Her presumed job is to be the one who represents accepting male sexuality. The real woman in the picture may not be vaguely interested; she is a picture and can't really do any accepting at all; we are talking about a symbol.

And the symbol is, she says it's OK to want her and to let go. She serves a vital purpose: she accepts the inevitability of male sexuality, which is often experienced as unbridled lust and the need to ejaculate on every woman he sees.

There is an extreme form of pornography that I find interesting, called bukkake. It's the Japanese word for pouring soup over your rice, and the porno culture word for a scene where a woman becomes the projection screen for cups and cups of semen, to which she becomes a kind of receptacle: men cumming over and over again on her body, into her mouth, onto a plate which she licks up, and so on.

The real woman is not available to a porn consumer, but she serves as a kind of mirror in the imagination; the symbol of the woman who takes it on. A common male expression for ejaculation is blowing one's load. Load is equivalent to burden and it is the woman whose role it is to take on this burden, symbolically or in reality.

Imagine if we put an actual mirror there in place of the image of porn, and the guy masturbating had to be the one who did the witnessing; who encouraged himself to feel good and let go and receive himself. Given that usually this role is projected onto a female, he would likely need to contact his inner female to do that particular bit of service.

This whole ritual potentially evokes homophobia from the get-go. After all, a guy is watching him and he's getting off to the image of a guy doing so. That is awfully queer! There is no stand-in for femininity; he has to find it in himself, or throw it off entirely and relate male to male. There is the implication of narcissism, or the reality. It's not just a guy he's getting off to -- it's himself! This is queerer than queer. It's altogether easier to have a hot looking chick spreading her pussy lips for the occasion. Those pussy lips say, go ahead, it's OK. I know what you feel. Feel it now.

But suddenly, when there is a mirror, there is a live human being available to do the empathizing. He just looks a lot like you. And the results of the experience stain the mirror. One cums onto the image of oneself, and that mark can remain there on the mirror, existing between oneself and one's image of oneself. That self-image can be continually decorated, clouded, and seen as a constantly changing, developing image of oneself covered with the results of one's own desire nature.

In many ways, this is the lens through which men look at women. And the influence is so strong that it's the way that I think women see themselves: their reflection is seen and indeed searched for in a cum-coated mirror.

Yesterday, I photographed a 65-year-old woman looking into that particular mirror. Before we started the photo session, she said: “You have no idea how literally this reflects my experience.” She told me the story of working for a lawyer who was always getting his cock near her (while she was sitting and he was standing) and finally she came into work one day to find her keyboard and monitor covered with his semen.

Which from the point of view experienced by so many men is perfectly groovy, because someone else has to deal with it. And on this basis I say: skip the porn and get a mirror. Don't clean it off. Let it accumulate, and associate your self image with what you see in that mirror. Give it a try -- try seeing yourself as others may see you, or as others have to see themselves in the results of your feelings.

Would you clean up that mirror by licking it off? Or would that be too gross, too queer? If not, then you know exactly how your female partners are capable of feeling when they don't quite want you that way, but receive you because they feel they must, or out of simple compassion for your need. And if you get to the point where you do clean it up that particular way, you will feel some of the emotional surrender that your female partners feel when they accept you that particular way.

The first thing you may have to encounter about your inner female aspect is that she doesn't want you so much. She is alienated from you. But if you can form a relationship with her, and cultivate some mutual desire, you may be able to shift your relationship with women just enough to get some, most or all of what you need. At least you will learn to live with something about yourself that others also must live with, but which in the gleaming mirage of the male ego is often so conveniently denied.

It would have to be. Imagine a chief executive officer with a cum-coated shaving mirror on his desk, instead of a picture of his wife. It would not exactly command authority. Anyone who glimpsed in that mirror would see something too closely akin to the truth.

I HAVE ANOTHER fantasy, which is that every image of a woman depicted in porn have an inset photo of a man masturbating right next to it. This would help complete the picture. It’s is a little like an actual mirror -- it's another man rather than oneself. We could take this a step further: the image of you is what's  going to be broadcast alongside the porn model, who is usually the only one exposed. You'll appear in a pop up window, your face revealed. Hey this sounds like a great concept for an erotic site.

The side of porn we see is specifically the model rather than what she inspires. The resulting male masturbation that is absolutely synonymous with pornography is the shadow side of the equation. There is a presumption underlying this: the shameless image of the woman is the vessel of purity, or of publicly accepted sexual corruption or shame (whores and porn models oddly stand for both). The shadow, male masturbation, is secreted away; masturbation is a closeted activity (and most of us prefer it that way, because when male masturbation is exposed, it's pervy).

I suggest men claim this perviness. I suggest you claim it like queers claim queerness and the term queer. I suggest you put away your porn and trade it for a mirror, and never wipe it off. Look at it every day.

Imagine what it would be like for the women in your life, or the women you desire walking down the street, to see themselves in this reflection. Imagine if they could study you reflected there. Imagine that you see them all in this smeared image of all that you project.


From Foot Massagers to the Family Monitor by Rachel Asher

Fucking Like a Feminist by Betty Dodson