The sex that’s lost in porn

What has masturbation have to do with porn?

/ by Steven Fowler

I have the same attitude toward a plot of the usual type as a dentist to teeth.

I built the book on a dispute between people of two cultures; the events mentioned in the text serve only as material for the metaphors.

This is a common device in erotic things, where real norms are repudiated and metaphoric norms affirmed.

                       Viktor Shklovsky, Zoo

 

It is impossible to track the increased frequency of masturbation through human history into the 21st century. But it is likely that it is at its most frequent in human history. It has to be. Even the most self-loving ancestor of ours, be they 100,000 or 10,000, or 200 years in the past, could not have possibly imagined the kind of sexual stimulation that immediate and unlimited access to pornography provides the average person. There are, of course, more humans than ever before, the world population has doubled since 1970, and in western societies, more people are without a partner than ever before, in context. These are grounds on which we must think of pornography and its ubiquitous but resolutely underground presence.

 

There are those who link the golden age of porn to the boom days, when it made untold billions. But this is the porn age, when it’s truly democratic and free. This is the time when millions will flick from social media to xvideos or pornhub, and back, once they’ve finished. It is when pornography has come to be a kind of anti-poetry – I think in these terms because of my personal proclivity to the poem because it is so precisely out of time – a thing that is entirely seen. Pornography is so clearly visible, so intently present that it creates a kind of absence that feels uncanny. Poetry is the opposite, so liminal as to create a kind of other presence, like a ghost of language’s meaning hiding behind the curtains. Pornography is so colourful, so stupid, so immediate and insistent that it is entirely unbodily. It is anti-odor, it is the impossibility of scent. And in its futuristic capturing of bodies slamming against each other, or licking each other, or delving into the possibility of human tessellation and magical perversity, it is robotic in the most obvious of sense. Unreal, satisfying. It is a servant. It is the death of making children. It is a refusal to be graceful. And of course it can be many things. It can be a multitude, and it can represent the ideologies, banal and limited as most of them are, that seem to dominate our online existence, but this is pornography’s sidedish. Really whether it’s “positive” or evoking a horrific sex crime, whether it damages the mind, or teenager’s expectations of actual sexual intercourse (if they still do that) or exploits those who make money from it, what pornography is, at a remove, is something trapped on a screen which unleashes a different sexual reality. It makes Viagra a recreational drug. It makes rimming de rigueur in hook-ups between young adults (anilingus was coined by sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing). It makes condoms look strange on a penis. It makes women, and men, shave their public hair bald, looking like inflated adolescents.

 

What has always seemed mysterious to me is those who have told me they watch pornography for lengthy durations. Full films, as though it were a cinema visit. Sitting in, through the storyline. For away from the question of reality and the future of the human species the tie between us and pornography is masturbation. Have you ever walked in on someone masturbating? I am reminded of the Commedia dell'Arte masks. A capitano grimace. A formulation that reminds me why people seem to be horrified by experimental vocalisation, sound poetry or human vocal atonality in general. It’s the noise they make coming in, and going out. They don’t want to hear that which suggests language in order to reject it for screams and wails, as it’s the birth and death rattle. So the onanistic grimace, a little death mask, suggests repulsion, because it’s the expression that best links orgasm to pain, and eventually, death. For the masturbating, millions of little would-be lives are unrealised or pleasure is had to discover oneself alone.

 

Is this not the backdoor glory of what pornography in its present form has shipped into our culture? If one confessed to masturbating a few hundred years ago, it might’ve have cost you your life. Well under the Spanish Inquisition anyway. In the UK, perhaps prison, or being whipped or stocked, or some other corporal punishment. In the Victorian age, at least utter disgust and accusations of savagery. Up until a few decades ago, something buried, but amusing? From the 60s onward. But before, imagine how satisfying it must have been then, to conjure arousal always and entirely from imagination, in the most safe locales, one’s private space, with only god watching, and then to get away with it. Now god need not watch, now one need only a wifi password and locked door. With excess comes illness. Pornography has left so many people indifferent to sensation, emerging from the divine guidelines of the Bible. Pornography has inspired a million masturbatory crimes.

 

Might we argue though that masturbation is more shocking than the pornography that fuels its immensity, not discounting those couples who seem to have sex to pornography? For while it is quite obviously the most recurrent act of our sexuality, pleasing oneself remains the most benign unmentionable of our daily lives. It is true people will not discuss pornography as though it were a novel, but it is not them who made it. It is not really real, lost in the past, captured in time, a dead event if ever there was one. But masturbating is alive, it is sensory, it can be touched and smelt. And this fact evokes the true reason for our quietude, that still, perhaps properly, we value life above all things. The endless generation of human beings, our species, is against the act. Sperm is alive, it contains potential humans.

 

Pornography wants waste. It may be just watched. It may be something other to those who make it. It may tax the senses of those who use into ineffectiveness. It may permeate mainstream ideas and culture, though far less than people say. It may be a force for whatever moralising or shifting nihilism that breezes through too much theoretical consideration. But what it is, in all it’s remove, vivacity, anger, necessity, absurdity, sorrow and energy is a mirror. Perhaps literally, a computer screen reflecting the figure of human, spread legged or hunched over, trying not to see themselves and their own desire, placing it elsewhere, in pieces, in the past, into the excess of other bodies. Pornography need not insist upon itself then, it is the fantastical growth from the part of ourselves we are as ready to deny now as in anytime during our western past. It is an answer, not a question.

....
Steven Fowler

is a writer and artist. He has published multiple collections of poetry and artworks, and been commissioned by Tate Modern, BBC Radio 3, Tate Britain, the London Sinfonietta, Wellcome Collection and Liverpool Biennial. He is the founder and curator of The Enemies Project, Poem Brut as well as editor at 3am magazine. He is lecturer in creative writing at Kingston University, teaches at Tate Modern, Poetry School and Photographer's Gallery and is the director of Writers' Centre Kingston. 

www.stevenjfowler.com


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