Pornography or Eroticism?

When I was young and in search of the facts of life, there was no discernible pornography. The closest we ever got was a book we found hidden in our parents’ bedroom called “The Physiology of Love,” that offered up textbook how-to drawings.

We’d heard on the playground that some issues of National Geographic portrayed bare-breasted natives so we pawed through dozens of fading piles in a dusty corner of the attic until we found a topless pygmy grandmother somewhere in South America. Even the women’s lingerie section of the Montgomery Ward catalog was a step up. Playboy arrived in the mid-fifties, but the only copies we ever saw were behind the counter at the local Texaco station.

Fast forward 20 years… My daughter was doing a homework assignment on the White House. The Internet was new to us and she’d searched on “The White House,” which brought her to an infamous porn site. Though I had to admit it would have been the holy grail of my own childhood, as a parent, I was appalled.

Nowadays, porn permeates our marketing, culture, networks, and language. The warning “You must be 18-years old to enter ” is like saying, “Don’t eat these cookies.”

It’s unfortunate, because porn inures us to eroticism, the naturally-occurring grace of sexual arousal. Eroticism catches us off-guard and demeans no one. It’s never clinical, a mere resonance calling on our imagination, like a haiku… an unfamiliar smile, the gentle rise of breasts beneath a blouse at the intake of breath.  Neither posed nor affected, it may even occur in nature, as in Baudelaire’s poem Correspondences – a clearing, riverbank, or birdsong that recalls a former tryst or desire.

Pornography is lonely, insular and narcissistic, has nothing to do with affection or love. It’s a man-made blunt instrument that’s fetishistic and exploitive, even lethal, and blinds us to the delights of Venus’s unexpected smile.

A friend and photography editor for a famous travel magazine who also produced art books, once hired leading porn stars to pose in what they considered their most flattering conventional attire.
On the opposite page, they’d been photographed naked, in un-seductive “body shots.” He brought us a copy that my children happened upon – and since it was again too late to spare them this propulsion into adult matters, I asked them what they thought of it.

When they expressed a strong preference for the images of people fully and beautifully dressed, I knew they understood the author’s purpose and meaning.

Happy Valentine’s

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