A Wellness Perspective on Pornography

Did you know that there is not a single book on wellness and pornography? Not only that — no worksite wellness program offers lectures, educational videos or other instruction about pornography. The National Wellness Association has not addressed the topic – not a single session at any of the 30-plus annual conferences has been devoted to x-rated sex. No wonder many employees do not find worksite wellness of much interest. You might think that hardly anybody is interested in pornography or that there is no possible connection between wellness and pornography. If you think this is the case, you could be mistaken.

Woody Allen famously remarked, “Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty experiences go it’s one of the best.” If, in fact, a lot of people are participating in some form of pornography, then the activity is probably relevant to wellness. Why? Because wellness is about quality of life — and pornography must be either adding to or detracting from the quality of life of those who view or otherwise connect with it in some form. Thus, it seems that pornography warrants a wellness perspective.

To frame this discussion, a few basics must be addressed. For instance, what the heck is pornography, henceforth referred to simply as porn?

Well, that depends. It depends on who is doing the defining. There are religious definitions, but many others as well. There is no consensus definition of what it is or how best to deal with it that goes across interest group lines. Some consider porn immoral, but many social scientists do not. I don’t know if I’m a social scientist, but I definitely do not find that porn is always immoral.

On the other hand, I do find most of what I’ve encountered of it, to use a scientific term, rather icky, not to mention course and disrespectful of women. However, when consenting adults are involved in matters related to sexuality in general and porn in particular (let’s not automatically associate one with the other) and there is no exploitation, violence, or offenses to the common decencies involved, porn strikes me as simply entertainment. Some forms of entertainment I like (e.g., Broadway musicals, concerts, novels and triathlons), some (e.g., NASCAR races, reality and quiz shows, televangelists) I don’t. However, the total lack of appeal of the latter does not mean I want them outlawed, demonized or treated like radioactive waste products. A bit of regulation to protect the innocent from corruption, perhaps, but let’s separate evidence-based controls from censorship based on religion-inspired hysteria founded on dogma.

Dictionary definitions consistently describe porn as erotic depictions of behavior intended to cause sexual excitement. That seems reasonable and serviceable as a definition. However, most of us could probably recall times and situations that somehow prompted sexual excitement that definitely were not designed for such purposes. I recall odd stirrings of weird pleasure when Sister Alphonse Maria swatted me on the butt for talking in line while waiting for confession in third grade. I’m pretty sure no photos or video of that scene would ever strike anyone as being remotely erotic, but it sure was to me. In fact, without the incident, I would have been low on material when I stepped into the confessional. As it was, I chose to add the incident to my other transgressions (e.g., disobeyed my mother twice, sneaked candy before dinner seven times, etc.) revealed to and forgiven by Father LaRue. He must have thought the incident depicted a bit of eroticism, too for my sentence was pretty harsh – a dozen Hail Marys instead of the usual two.

Porn is not new, even if it has grown exponentially with the advent of the Internet. If you doubt it, check a few art books for ancient cave wall paintings or read the Kama Sutra. It’s really old stuff; but today’s porn is better illustrated and depicted, as well as more convenient given the internet, DVDs and enhanced photo imagery. For those so inclined, and the numbers are huge, porn seems to enhance life quality, unless of course they get caught looking at it. A Forbes article in 2001 put the sales of porn in this country alone (including video, pay-per-view, Internet and magazines) between $2.6 billion and $3.9 billion. (How Big Is Porn? Adams Media Research, Forrester Research and Veronis Suhler Communications Industry Report.)

Experts on the topic tell us that porn appeals mainly to men, which seems obvious. (More than half a century ago, Kinsey showed that 54 percent of men but only 12 percent of women were aroused by porn. However, porn in the 40′s and 50′s left a lot to be desired by today’s spectacular standards of the art.) Men probably have a greater interest in meaningless sex, which I suspect is characteristic of porn. Not that there’s anything wrong with meaningless sex — after all, life itself is meaningless, save for the meanings we attribute to it. Men probably masturbate a lot more than women, and porn is a convenient, relatively risk-free way to gain the level of excitement needed for orgasm. Unless, of course, you are burdened with religious baggage about sin and all that.

A lot of sex research suggests that males really can’t help themselves, that is, resist porn. Experts in sex studies explain the male preoccupation with sexuality as a condition of evolved genetic makeup. It’s all about chemicals. There are good biological reasons why men favor porn, so back off and leave us alone — we’re victims of nature, don’t you know? Besides, if porn gives men a safe outlet for physical gratification and saves a lot of time and explosive, dysfunctional relationships, is it not a good thing, ceteris paribus?

So, if all porn is not inherently evil and destructive and at odds with all that is good and wholesome, what next? What might be said, for starters, of a somewhat positive nature about the topic in the context of quality of life wellness? Here are a few possibilities, off the top:

* Go with freedom. If something (like porn, for example) bores or offends you and you can’t be sure it is causing irreparable harm, consider ignoring it and getting on with whatever rings your own bells.

* Porn can be good or not good. Depends. Depends on many variables. Avoid simplistic, unsupportive assertions devoid of clear evidence, including all such assertions in this essay.

* Sometimes it’s better to fantasize about some things than to try or scarier still, actually do them. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really great to do them. (At least that’s what they tell me.)

* Fantasy can be a good thing, especially where sexual arousal is concerned.

* Porn can serve a number of wellness skill area functions, such as stress management (e.g., a non-drug temporary fix for negative mood states such as anxiety or even depression), humor and the experience of multiple DBRU equivalents (best of time moments).

* Like food, fitness, a passion for excellence or the quest for the meaning of life, sex and/or porn can be overdone, pursued or indulged in to excess and thereby constitute a key factor in the loss of balance in meeting one’s needs.
* Be attentive to your responsibilities and obligations to others when pursuing any passions or even inconsequential little secret pleasures.

There is a great deal that we don’t know about the nature and varied effects of porn. Examples include if and how to regulate it to protect children and weak-minded folks, how to diminish or even eliminate altogether the typical disrespect for women and how to educate everyone more effectively in order that the market for bizarre and truly distasteful sexuality is dramatically reduced.

It would, I believe, be a very good thing if steps were taken to deal with porn — and the larger and vastly more consequential but related topic of healthy sexuality, as a fact of modern life — and to do so in an open fashion.

Let’s address this topic as part of wellness (quality of life) in a manner as free of guilt, shame, inhibition and embarrassment as it is possible to muster. Let’s do our part to deal wisely and effectively with the negativity associated with our culturally repressed attitudes toward sexuality. The primary issue isn’t so much whether porn is good or bad or right or wrong. Rather, since porn is with us and is not likely to go away, what are the wisest responses to and about it, personally and as a society — and how best to address it in the larger context of wellness sex?