A silly but fascinating article appeared in the New York Times on May 3rd, about Evangelical women using Jesus Christ to cure themselves of self-diagnosed addictions to pornography and masturbation. The piece, filed as "National News," on page A13, featured photos of sturdy womenfolk in Lenaxa, Kansas holding balloons bearing hand-scrawled legends like "self-gratification." The group leader was holding a pin to hers, as if about to pop it.
Neither The Times nor the Evangelicals thought too hard about to what extent pornography and masturbation were separate or conjoined compulsions for this group. Was addiction itself---a spiraling loss of self-control ---as big a sin as self-arousal or the use of commercially produced porn? Would an addiction to gold-cross-collecting or leper-patting be okay?
The women insisted that they didn't hate sex itself or pleasure, but only felt good about sex that Jesus would approve of. That meant emotionally engaged, un-objectified sex with a reciprocally loving spouse. Anything else was a betrayal of Christ's wishes. So, if, in the throes of conjugal bliss a Christian Missus conjured up a jugular-sucking vampire, Jesus would be all over it like blood on the cross.
Of course, this rigor-free article didn't say what the success rate was for substituting church-approved sex thoughts for allegedly twistier ones. Ninety percent? Ten? Maybe there's an optimum balance between sex's sweetness and wickedness that neither the New York Times nor the evangelicals are considering?
And what is interpersonal connection in a sexual context, anyhow? Some psychologists, like the French theorist Jacques Lacan, and philosophers, like Slavoj Žižek, believe that unmediated connections between people are impossible. To them, sex is a kind of mental trick where both parties take a simultaneous leap above the smelly, mottled, blubbery realities of corporeality to comingle their idealized projections of each other. In this view of the human mind, all sex is objectified, fantasmagoric, socially generated.(1)
If there's truth to this, and, given what we know about the construction of self, there is surely some, what the Kansas women are attempting isn't to end sex addictions per se. Their aim is to re-write the narratives they associate with sex and thereby clean up its Qi.
The evangelicals stress that letting Jesus into your heart lets you shed your guilt, and with it great chunks of turgid desire. The Times nevertheless worries that the Christian porn-busters "diverge from secular sexual theory by treating masturbation and arousal as sins rather than as elements of healthy sexuality."
But for women who have
been victims of abuse as were several of the Kansas women, maybe being redeemed by a savior works better than "secular sexual theory". If arousal and orgasm feel too nasty and demeaning, a paid professional insisting that lust is "healthy," "natural," wonderful, etc. might be simply alienating. Again, there are no numbers on offer.
Logic says that swapping an incestuous dad for a loving god is a good narrative mod. But then, logic says that if Jesus is in two people's hearts at once while they're making love then Jesus is sort-of, well, masturbating. So why shouldn't you?
Despite its vague disapproval, the NYT piece does make a bid to include evangelical women's sex story in the post-post-second-wave-feminist index of sexual psych along with "secular sexual theory." I just wish that sex addiction theories could make room for women like writer Mary Gaitskill, who isn't trying to get clean.
For Gaitskill sex is both beautiful and terrible -- a quaisi mystical voyage into that netherworld where life and identity part, where purety and filth have equal power. She writes, in her memoiristic essayish story called "The Agonized Face," that when agony and ecstasy distort women's features into masks of Christian martyrs it somehow elevates us, yet:
"It is easy to be ashamed of the face---and sometimes the face is shameful. ... It symbolizes our entry into emptiness because it is a humiliation of our personal particularity, the cherished definition of our personal features."(2)
Gaitskill isn't looking either for "healthy" self-acceptance in sex or Christian feelings of "purety." You can feel a fear of sexual compulsiveness in her writing, but a tenderness towards those who feel it, too. Like many of us much of the time, she's messy, complicated, mixed. It's a state that can be hard to live with, but it might be as worthwhile to explore it as to flee it in search of a cure.
So, discounting Sex and The City, which we all know is really about gay men shopping, here are the top women's addiction-ready sex video in wide release this season:
Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!: Pop the balloon of degrading desire and you will be free to love god and your husband. Two on one.
Nature Laid Bare: Pop yourself off, it's your party! Sex is natural, wonderful. And so are you, even when you are bent over the ottoman dressed as an otter.
Make It With Me: All human experience is already a kind of interactive pornography. But if you could pop that balloon of illusion all you'd find would be chaos, confusion, horror! So lie back and enjoy your delusion, slave.
S'nuff Said: Inflate desire until the balloon of identity pops and you experience an ennobling nothingness, redeeming---shameful---both, and wet.
And which will you be renting -- again -- tonight?
(1) " . . . the body rots, sags, stinks, is covered with warts and pores and bumps and blemishes of all sorts; and one experiences what little beauty the body does have, and what little excitement it is able to produce, less frequently and less intensely the more one comes in contact with it."
-The Plague of Fantasies (1997),Slavoj Žižek as quoted in my humor book, Self-Loathing for Beginners
(2) Mary Gaitskill, Don't Cry Vintage Paper, p. 59