Friday, December 21, 2007

Internet Pornography- Part One

I've wanted to post on this for a long time, but the fear of spammers and cyber-bullies had me intimidated. As a reminder, if you happen to know my name, please never use it in comments or they won't be posted. Let's start.

You don't get a picture on this post.

It's so funny. In 1996 the research chair at the University of Illinois asked each of us in my doctoral cohort what we thought we'd be interested in studying for dissertation. I had been treating a woman who had a "hot chat" addiction, something relatively new at the time.

I'd like to study Internet Addictions, I said.
I published an article on it actually.

He almost laughed me out of the room. Boy, how dumb. I mean, the article was a case study. How in the world would I get enough subjects for a real research project? How could anyone measure Internet addictions? Ridiculous.

That was 1996. Fast forward 11 years. We hear about Internet porn or Internet addictions once or twice a week. Compulsions are part and parcel of my work, and you guessed it, I'll hear about this kind of thing at some party or another, relatively often these days, social animal that I am. I just got an email from a woman who wanted to know what she should do about her husband's addiction to Internet porn. They're in their early twenties. Religious.

A little background here. In the early 1980's, FD and I did a co-therapy rotation to study the treatment of sexual dysfunction with Domeena Renshaw, MD, a world-renowned psychiatrist. She started the Loyola Center for Sexual Dysfunction in Maywood, Illinois.

Loyola is a Jesuit outfit. To be treated at the center at that time, you had to be married. I don't know if those same rules still apply today. But over many, many years, Dr. Renshaw's patients and students must number in the tens of thousands. Her book, Seven Weeks to Better Sex, interestingly, downplays the idea of sexual addictions.

"Sex," I can just hear Domeena say, "is like eating, breathing, and defecating. It's a normal bodily function." Pressed to opine on sexual addictions, she might add, "and if you can get too much breathing, then you can get too much sex, too. It's the natural tranquilizer, by the way."

In the early 1980's Dr. Renshaw's program did not discourage pornography. In fact, therapists and physicians-in-training were to suggest a visit to the adult book store to help patients get comfortable with what turns them on, basically permission to feel sexual. Domeena also strongly suggested that women try vibrators.

It's likely that the novelty and variety of sexual toys these days far surpasses what the stores had to offer then. You can buy such things now on-line, but if you are friends with the right people you might get invited to sex-toy parties that are on the order of Tupperware parties. These sex toys, I imagine, cannot hurt you, and patients do swear by them. But consult your local physician (or clergyperson) if you have any questions. And don't swallow any batteries.

You should know that FD and I took a royal pass on the idea of suggesting visits to adult book stores to patients. I'm glad we did. We simply skipped over that part of the program. Such a recommendation is especially tres politically incorrect these days. Pornography is and always was exploitative.

Sometimes it's hard to see that. Posing for pictures, acting in blue films is a job, after all, a living. Same goes for all kinds of jobs where being a female who is very female, or a being a male who is very male, is a major plus. I think of Hollywood, but the same could be said for positions in virtually any office or service establishment.

Many years ago I had a lovely couple in treatment. Let's just say that she had a nice job as a professional and he supervised a machine shop. Blue collar roots, although it doesn't matter, we've changed the demographic data of the case for this illustration.

She didn't like that he frequented a neighborhood restaurant where the wait staff had to show off a good deal of torso to get a job. She insisted that he stop eating in the restaurant.

"It's exploitative," she said, "making women dress scantily to keep a job."
He, on the other hand, couldn't see anything wrong with it.
"These are women working," he insisted. "It's their choice."
They got nowhere with the argument, and at some point I could stand it no longer. I spoke to him. She was pregnant, by the way.

"Perhaps look at it like this. Maybe you'll have a little girl. She grows up and goes to college. One day she tells you she's got a job waiting tables. The job is at one of those restaurants. (It happens to be a huge chain of restaurants. This is not inconceivable, her getting a job there. The name of the chain would be a good clue for Charades, by the way.)

"No way," he says. "It would never happen."

"And why not?" I gently ask.

"We wouldn't let her."

"How could you stop her?"

"First of all, no daughter of mine will have to work her way through college or anything. I'll make sure of that."

I say, "That's assuming that you stay well, but you never know what can happen, right? G-d forbid. We're talking eighteen years from now. What was your second of all, your other reason for thinking it could never happen?"

"She just wouldn't want to do that. She'd have too much self-respect."

I nod, consider what he says, take a breath.

"But what if you hit bottom financially somehow, and your kid is in school, and she doesn't want to take out thousands of dollars in loans, or she isn't eligible for some reason, and she takes the job, and men are grabbing at her, staring at her, leering, propositioning, all between french fries and a burger. It's not about self-respect, it's about poverty."

I finish the soliloquy, flip my pen in the air, a trademark.

You should know that this is lousy couples counseling, the process is all wrong. A therapist should be instrumental in getting a couple to talk to one another. We're omniscient, there for punctuation.

But she's been trying for a very long time to communicate the importance of this issue and either he isn't believing her or he won't give her the point (more likely). And there I am, a young therapydoc, full of words, taking over, despite my better judgment, knowing deep down that I have joined her and disempowered her at the same time.

He stopped going to the restaurant nevertheless.

They stayed together and seemed happy at the termination of treatment. Who knows where they are now. I know they had a baby girl, got a picture in the mail.

The point?

Men and women who allow themselves to become objects of sexual fantasy, either in restaurants or in titillating videos or pictures, don't usually want the job. Wouldn't you rather practice law? These individuals volunteer, it's true, but many feel they HAVE to volunteer.

Once I saw a beautiful college student who lived with her parents and seven sisters and brothers. She couldn't stand living at home anymore. They used her for child care and housework and it was hard to study. But she couldn't afford to leave. "I think I should make movies," she told me. "I've been offered a good deal. There's really good money in that." I tried to discourage her, discussed a few of the emotional consequences (we'll get to them in another post) and she dropped out of therapy.

It's a living, see?

There she is, your little girl. Earning an honest buck.

Emotion aside, here's how it translates psychologically at the restaurant. The patron is buying the memory. He's stealing her image by burning it in his brain. He takes her home with him, mentally. Or she takes her home with her. We try not to be heterosexist on this blog.

These days anyone can shoot a guy or a girl's picture with a telephone. No imagination necessary, even, no need to burn an image in the brain. Progress there, and your tie-in to pornography.

Enough for today! Any questions? Be patient for the posting of comments and answers. I don't work Friday night to Saturday sun down.

copyright 2007, therapydoc


Curiosity Killer said...

That really shows how men compartamentalize reality and their own lives... insisting that it will never happen to them... in the meantime...

of course women can face the facts. Waaaaaay sensible.

Anonymous said...

I'm conflicted about this post. I'm a healthy adult male who "just happened" to work in the adult film industry for many years as a younger man. Not because I 'had to,' but because it was an amazing experience and I chose to be there. No one coerced me into it, and it wasn't a financial decision. Is it exploitative? I don't know...isn't acting in non-porn films equally as exploitative? Modeling shoes? How do we justify the degrees of exploitation in adults? Then we get into the actual uses of the end-product. Isn't that where the exploitation is perceived? If I don't feel exploited, am I being exploited? Great, now I'm going to have to think about this more. Doh!

Joylene Green said...

I agree with you therapy doc. Even if some would say they WANT to be in the erotica field I think most would admit that it is about power and economics if they are honest.

Jennifer said...

Hi therapydoc! Thanks for linking to me. This is interesting and Christian has an interesting question about being exploited if you don't feel exploited. My gut answer is yes, but I don't know if it's that easy. Please expand sometime if you feel compelled in that direction... jpd

therapydoc said...


The problem isn't in the present, it's in the future. Not everyone who models or acts is embarrassed about it at some point or another. (and there are cultures that think acting in ANY kind of movie is whoring, too, btw). The problem is when you feel badly about it later. When that happens, it's a problem.

It's like abortion. Women are counseled that it's fine, better for them, better for the unborn child. Then later I'm hearing about it in my office, we're dealing with issues, BIG issues, and I'm saying things like, You couldn't predict, how could you know, you made a decision that felt right at that time, and now it doesn't. We'll get through it.

So no, if you don't feel exploited, then perhaps you haven't been exploited. But at some point you might look back on it and go, Now THAT wasn't a great decision on my part.

Taking a job at a K-Mart for minimum salary isn't always a good decision either, and it can be regrettable. But you don't see yourself quite in the same way when you look back on it.

So if I have a girl in my office who is from a Catholic family, who has been raised to believe that taking her clothes off for a cameraman is a sin, and luring men into sex is also a sin, then for sure, no matter what her beliefs at the time, I'm going to say, "It might not bother you now, but you're stuck with that brain-washing from your childhood and it will probably bite you in the you know where eventually. See you then."

therapydoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack Steiner said...

But at some point you might look back on it and go, Now THAT wasn't a great decision on my part.

That is one of the great challenges in life. More specifically, it is looking at our actions today and trying to determine how we'll feel about them in the future.

Anonymous said...

You've got great style. I enjoy reading your responding commentary. I get to take my professional bones out for a walk when I visit, which is nice because I utilize different neural pathways in my blog livingroom, currently decorated in shades of "let's play, ferchrissakes".

Diversity, yum.


therapydoc said...

Thanks, Psycho. I'm going to assume that was a clean comment.

I reread what I wrote, of course, about abortion and took it down. Better to read me like so:

Please don't take that as a position paper on abortion. The stand I take on abortion is that it is a medical/religious/personal decision, but if elective, it does have the potential to backfire emotionally on a person at a later date. And like suicide, it's not reversible.

Katy Murr said...

'isn't acting in non-porn films equally as exploitative? Modeling shoes?'

Depends what kind of a society YOU have been brought up in. If you're told that your penis/ vulva/ breats/ forehead/ chin/ [whatever other body part] is 'private', that is is to be raised in importance above all other parts, that it is 'correct' and morally 'right' to cover it up, bar for people with whom you share a close, caring relationship, then yeh, it's going to be a hell of a lot MORE exploitative than whatever other body parts are happily shown to strangers in your culture.

Acting in porn films, rather than non-porn films (or films where people are not naked for sexual activity - for sake of definition) is very different. It's different because of what we are taught is 'sexy', what we are taught is 'precious'. These kinds of things can't just be abolished by taking a stance of, 'well, it's kind of silly that some body parts have more emphasis than others, that they are supposedly more sacred' - because yeh, it might be silly, but that's the way our society is. And because we're brought up to think this, it's going to influence what we see as 'right' or 'wrong', and thus, likely, our conscience.

Katy Murr said...

therapydoc -

I'm not 100% what you're saying about abortion. By likening it to suicide, to me it seems like you're insinuating that it is 'killing' another being?

I get what you say about potential backfire, but wouldn't carrying a being for 9 months, then giving birth to it, then having to give it away (once a bond has been established), or bringing it up, be more likely to have emotional suffering, if the being isn't wanted in the first place?

therapydoc said...

Hi Katy,
I tried to be clear but I guess I failed. I only meant it as final, a decision you can't take back.

I have no idea what the comparative suffering or consequences to the unborn fetus might be.

Anonymous said...

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Hiya TherapyDoc!

Merry Christmas! May God bless you!
Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget. With this thought, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, all the Happiest Holidays and all the luck the New Year could possibly bring!

Greetings and lotta loves from Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to clarify your clarification on abortion....

Pregnancy is a state that you can't take back. And for an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, any decision after that is going to be emotionally challenging and difficult.

Your post seems to imply that while abortion is the only irreversible choice. While that might be techncially accurate, adoption cannot be "reversed" without horrific emotional suffering and pain. In fact, it extends the emotional trauma beyond the bio mother and the child.

Please don't take this as a defense of abortion -- I simply want to point out that the "point of no return" is the pregnancy, not abortion.

therapydoc said...

So true, so true. I think there's a movie out right now, Juno, that I'd like to see that deals with that.

I think that when we generalize about most things the exceptions will catch our attention. Thanks for correcting me. A little prevention, worth a ton of cure.

frumhouse said...

I have read articles and seen documentaries that discuss porn starletts - it seems that many of these young women, aside from having financial difficulties, also had abusive relationships with their fathers or no relationship with their fathers, and there was a high percentage of rape/molestation in their backgrounds. Yes, they may have "chosen" the path of pornography, but the point is - they didn't feel they had any other opportunities on the horizon. Choosing between poverty/abuse and instant "stardom"/money isn't much of a choice.

Anonymous said...

'But at some point you might look back on it and go, Now THAT wasn't a great decision on my part.

Taking a job at a K-Mart for minimum salary isn't always a good decision either, and it can be regrettable. But you don't see yourself quite in the same way when you look back on it.'

The point about making decisions is interesting, more so that you make value judgements about decisions.

The truth of human existance is that we have evolved by making mistakes, we learn by our mistakes, and it is good to make mistakes. It means you are evolving, individually. I have made some terrible mistakes in my life, two involving the irreversibility of death (being people I loved), and all I can say is that it has made me a richer and better person for it. The only problem with participating in pornography, as far as I can see, is if it is a situation of no choice - mainly because the sense of one's own sexuality (with all it's inherent beauty, vulnerability, ego, and self acceptance, and issues of, including the need to be accepted and loved) are not able to be present. If they are, then is it totally unacceptable? Is it truly regrettable? Isn't the morality about this?

But my main point of disagreement with this discussion is the negative value placed on 'regretful' decisions. Yes, we can abhor what we have done, but we can also forgive ourselves for it as well, simultaneously, and learn a lot from it. This is the getting of wisdom.

therapydoc said...

What a GREAT comment. Thank you so much. I see it now.

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?