So Sexual!

This article about church counselling for women who are addicted to porn goes off the rails so fast you don’t even hear the squeal. All of a sudden, the train is lying on its side, smoking, its wheels spinning pitifully in the air.

The piece begins innocently enough:

Ms. Renaud, who is taking a DVD course in sexual addiction counseling from the American Association of Christian Counselors, said she started the group and the Web site based on her own experiences. She became interested in pornography at age 10 after finding a magazine in her brother’s bathroom. After that, she said, “I wasn’t able to get enough of it.”

“At school I wanted to go home and look at it more,” she said. “Then I went online. I’d stay late at the library to look at it. Eventually I got into masturbation, phone sex, cybersex.” She also cracked the code on the family’s satellite television service, she said. “That was my life for eight years.” Then, she said, she met a Christian woman who helped her stop.

Porn can be addictive; addictions can disrupt your life. Problem, meet Solution. Great!

Then the article gets wacky:

The programs at Ms. Renaud’s group and at XXX Church diverge from secular sexual theory by treating masturbation and arousal as sins rather than elements of healthy sexuality. Emphasis is on recovering “sexual purity,” in which thoughts of sex outside marriage are illicit.

There you are, Gentle Reader, meandering through the flowering meadows of NYT prose, and out of nowhere, a great white shark bites you on the leg. That is how strange & abrupt this twist is. “Arousal” is a sin? You know that’s biological, right? As for “Thoughts of sex outside marriage,” well, yikes. If you don’t even think about it, how do you know you want it — and what “it” even is in the first place, or what kind of “it” you think you may like when the time comes?

This piece purports to be about porn addiction. What it ends up saying is that there are churches out there — whole faiths, even — that are making biological truths into religious crimes. Maybe not a significant majority of women has a problem with porn, but surely a significant majority thinks about sex. Especially since we are, you know, wired to.

It goes on:

As an adult she needed pornography to be aroused with her husband, she said. “I’m learning the correct way of intimacy and bonds,” she said of the group. “It’s learning what your spouse wants, his needs.” In her first weeks, she recalled, she struggled to avoid masturbation.

I feel awful for that woman. She was using porn with her husband. Consensually! In the context of matrimony! Why does she need to be shamed for that? Why does “the correct way” to have sex have to eliminate the aids to her desire? If she’s already married, why can’t she masturbate? Is it okay if she promises to only think of him?

Presumably porn is titillating because it is forbidden, because it seems “wrong.” It must seem even more so to people whose community norms are so extreme. Vilifying porn, even in the context of marriage — and not just porn but, as the article lists, “Masturbation, Lustful Thinking, Cutting, Feeling Useless, Dad’s Bad Choices, Self-Gratification, Self-Mutilation, Unhealthy Thoughts” — only adds to the cycle and makes those activities more enticing.

Also, part of me wonders whether there is a queer subtext to all of this. Are the women under discussion drawn to porn because they are attracted to women? I mean, of course there are lots of reasons to watch the stuff, but in my experience the men are as gross as the women are fake. Maybe the stigma against admitting an attraction towards the same gender is worse than the stigma of admitting an addiction to smut.

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