David Mura's classic essay "A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography and Addiction" has just been reissued for Kindle. It is an absolute must read for anyone interested in how male sexuality interacts with pornography and other sexual addictions. More broadly, it speaks volumes about male sexuality in general.
Much has been written from the female perspective - this is the best essay I know of that speaks to the issues from a man's point of view. Moreover, Mura brings the poet's heart and deep personal and psychological understanding to this territory - as only a writer can - in such a way that make his arguments and insights extraordinarily compelling and catalytic.
I cannot recommend this work more highly. It has been enormously helpful in my understanding and care of patients with sexual addictions. Men who have suffered from addiction describe the essay as "liberating" and bringing them a new peace that was unavailable before. Mura's essay goes right to the heart. It has vast transformative potential and makes it possible to "cure" pornography addiction in about 10,000 words that stimulate deep reflection and maturation. It is available here.
I'll begin with a sample of the essay, and then follow with some of my own notes.
Start with the premise that a person - generally a male - may be addicted to pornography, and that this addiction may be part of a larger addiction to any number of other sexual "highs" - affairs, visits to prostitutes, anonymous sex, exhibitionism, voyeurism, etc. See where this premise leads.
A man wishes to believe there is a beautiful body with no soul attached. Because of this wish he takes the surface for truth. There are no depths. Because of this wish, he begins to worship an image. But when this image enters the future, it loses what the man has given it - momentary devotion. The man wishes for another body, another face, another moment. He discards the image like a painting. It is no longer to his taste. Only the surface can be known and loved, and this is why the image is so easily exhausted, why there must be another.
What is this danger that lies beneath the surface? How can it hurt him? It reminds him of the depths that he has lost in himself.
At the essence of pornography is the image of flesh used as a drug, a way of numbing psychic pain. But this drug lasts only as long as the man stares at the image. Then his pain reasserts itself, reveals the promised power as an illusion.
What is it to worship an image? It is to pray for a gift you will never receive.
There are certain states of mind that the closer one understands them, the closer one comes to experiencing evil. This is certainly true with the world of pornography. The experience of those who view a pornographic work dispassionately, without a strong sexual response, is not pornographic, though they may capture some flickerings of that world. For in pornographic perception, each gesture, each word, each image, is read first and foremost through sexuality. Love or tenderness, pity or compassion, become subsumed by, and are made subservient to, a "greater" deity, a more powerful force. In short, the world is reduced to a single common denominator.
"Its power comes from a wild forgetting, a surrender to entropy, to what he knows is evil...the rush is more than an attraction. He is helpless before it. Completely out of control."
In Part II, "The Etiology of Addiction", Mura lays out a scenario of sexual abuse that involves power and control, while making the point that seemingly "consensual" behaviors involve victimization. For example, some argue that the women in pornography are "willing victims", and that "freedom is the liberty to do anything to anybody." Mura points out that this kind of liberty cannot and does not exist in the world - that certain acts require an abuser and victim. The addicted man not only abuses women, but also himself in the process. "He becomes his own victim."
Part III explores feelings as a form of knowledge, and how they can be covered up - a wonderful example of intuitive empathy.
Part IV is a poem that illustrates the addictive cycle quite poignantly. In the subject's quest for pornography, there is a profound feeling of emptiness, the need to attach oneself to images of others in a vain attempt to patch the hole in the man's soul.
In Part V, "Economics and Pornography", Mura writes "[T]he endless consumption of pornographic images derives from the mistaken assumption that one can feed a spiritual hunger through a desire for control, distance, and eventual destruction...As long as the addict receives his drug, he is not likely to ask society to change." We may begin to become very uncomfortable when Mura says "freedom, as defined by our society, is not actually freedom at all." We don't have the option, really, to "choose what would ultimately nourish us: the freedom to stop consuming images...the norms of the society constantly fight against our choice not to look. The energy required to overcome those norms constitutes our invisible bars...Pornography is just one extreme of capitalist consumption and the production of false desires...Pornography is instead the ultimate example of capitalism...No wonder people want to ignore the whole issue...No wonder they argue that any sexual pathology or compulsion must be looked at separately from the images that feed such pathologies or compulsions. More than pornography is at stake here. It is the whole fabric of our society, the very structure of our lives."
Part VI, "The End of Addiction" first makes the point that it makes no sense to attribute pornography and sexual addiction to so-called "natural" urges. The mere fact that there are men who give up these addictions should call "nature" into question - nature is mutable. "We do not turn to the diabetic and say, there is nothing you can do, you must enjoy your disease." The addict feels anger towards himself - justified and unjustified. "[T]he addict is out of control, is controlled by a process and by laws which were written inside him as a child and which he has no power to resist." But ultimately, realization can occur, and "the addict learns to accept responsibility without denying the worth of his self. In this learning, a separation is made between the actions one commits and one's soul." (Which sounds like Albert Ellis's Universal Self Acceptance!)
Mura provides a hopeful and compassionate conclusion in Part VII, "Coda: Spirituality". "Is the vertigo of the addict, that rush or high, merely a false substitute for the letting go of the self that comes with the spiritual?...What is the soul?...It is the goodness inside us that resists evil."
And indeed, I found that this essay was a signal flare from the depths of the psyche, a deeply compassionate and influential work of spirit. So much of our society is built on images of women, and superficial views of women and men - this essay restores what could be lost to consciousness.
Pornography and sexual addiction are rampant when power and control form the matrix of experience. This creates conditions ripe for the victim to become an abuser, and then a victim again through sexual addictions. The addiction may even be seen as a form of freedom, where in fact it limits freedom and keeps the person from experiencing themselves as whole, from truly seeing their soul. Our minds will only be truly free when the foundation of human relationships is eros, not power and control; when the marriage of Eros and Psyche is complete. In other words – pornography is not love, and love is our highest calling.
If I were to suggest ways to use this essay in therapy, I would recommend first understanding and empathizing with the patient's perceptions of the problem, and then exploring family dynamics, especially relationships with the primary caregivers. Issues of trust and power might arise - and it is important that the patient knows that you are allied with them as a developing human being, but that you'd like to help them develop limits around self-destructive behavior. The essay can then be received as a part of the supportive and dynamic work.
© 2012 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved. All quotes from his essay are © David Mura.
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