A Pornvasive Identity Crisis

Electronic technology will only bring us more information, more choices, more contacts, and more complexity. It will push us beyond all the old frontiers of identity—home, neighborhood, country, values, and the natural rhythms of nature. Our old touchstones for forming an identity will fail and we will have a pervasive identity crisis. -Yogi Bhajan, April 1995

The fundamental questions we must answer are: how is our identity being maimed by these so-called advancements and how do we reclaim our power so that we are not at the effects of our screens? Here’s one very personal (and to be honest, uncomfortable) admission…

12068474_10100780672233842_5515505154571984726_oI didn’t’ realize how much I had sunk into the sea of technology until I was nearly drowned by my own abuse of its excess. I was born in 1982, which makes me just barely a millennial. I was the last generation to be born before the internet and the first to feel its effects on my sexual development. I got dial-up when I was 16, which meant that like most horny teenagers I was consuming digital porn before I was dating. Unique to my age cohort is that for many of us, off-line and on-line sexualities were interchangeable. Looking at web-porn or sex-chatting with strangers was often a small piece of a larger sexual development that included plenty of real-time interactions with people you met “in real life” like good old-fashioned dinner and a movie or awkward blow jobs in the back seat of the car you borrowed from your parents. That wasn’t my experience, though; my sexuality was developed entirely online. How I have related to nearly every intimate or sexual experience was cradled wholly by web-browsers and imitated fully from porn-stars.

I was an awkward, shy, and overweight teenager with excruciating acne and crippling self-doubt. I came out as gay in 1998 while living in Gastonia, North Carolina. It had not gotten better yet. I was more afraid of rejection for being ugly than I was being homosexual, though. Coming out was rough, but coming into my own skin would prove to be even more vexing. There’s a stigma that only a certain kind of people look at porn—bad people! I see it as more morally neutral. It’s one of many distractions that can stunt our growth if we let it. Unknowingly, that’s what I did. Today I’m 36 years old and have yet to have a true relationship with another man who is attracted to me. I’ve had a string of odd non-sexual relationships with men, gay and straight, but any romantic or sexual feelings I harbored were not mutual. I’ve had plenty of sex, but never with anyone I was intimately connected to—at least at the time we were physical. There’s never been reciprocity in any of these encounters, a dynamic similar to the one-sided gratification of porn.

Pornography had its purpose, though. The first time I ever saw myself represented in another person was when I watched a gay porno online. It was the year before Ellen DeGeneres came out. Bob Dole was running for President and lots of people were doing the Macarena, but there weren’t many openly gay roles models. Ricky Martin was “Living La Vida Loca” in the closet. I was 14 and spending part of the summer at a friend’s house. One day, we found a hetero porn video in his older brother’s room. I was totally disinterested, except for the rare moments when the camera would pan onto the guy. That’s when I knew this lingering attracting I’d always had to boys was more than a phase. My friend had the internet on his computer downstairs; that night I typed “gay sex” into a search engine. Within minutes (well more like 20 minutes…this was the dial-up era after all!) I was seeing a tall, dark, svelte hunk of a man artfully penetrate the backside of a slender blonde lad. That was my introduction to what it meant to be gay: witnessing two anonymous and nameless men fucking for 5 minutes. I knew nothing about them; they knew nothing about me. Yet, with a powerful intensity, I ejaculated into a tissue with my eyes transfixed on their figures. I’d been masturbating for years, but somehow this was different. There was a rush of something that happened simultaneously, something more than just a sexual release; I felt this magnanimous energy flowing out of my body. It was magic and bliss all at once, laced with a lingering desire for something more, an aching to stay in this state of satisfaction for as long as possible, a yearning to transcend to a level of pure ecstasy. All of that from a shoddy video on a random Geocities website. This is how my sexual identity was born.

Eventually I got my own computer, Bob Dole lost in landslide, Ellen became the world’s most famous lesbian, and high-speed internet made jacking off to porn a whole lot easier.  For the next 22 years, I spent on average at least 20 minutes a day looking at porn, sometimes much longer, often going hours on an endless chase for satisfaction. I kept thinking that eventually I would meet someone who I’d enjoy being around, someone I could exchange this sexual ecstasy and energy of desire with in the flesh. That never happened. There were plenty of guys and plenty of sex. Some of it I enjoyed, some I encounters I just suffered through. Nothing I experienced in the flesh compared to how I could satisfy myself online, though. Somehow my sexuality, this intrinsic part of what it means to be human, was trapped inside a screen, never to blossom outside the contours of a seedy virtual reality. It never made any sense. It drove me mad. I hated my body for not resembling those models I’d see in the videos. I dismissed as boring or substandard any man I’d sleep with who couldn’t hold my fascination. I developed fixations on men who would never be attracted to me; I resented them for this strange and unrequited relationship I developed in my mind.

What I didn’t know is that my individual machinations were part of a larger a crisis unfolding. The old hallmarks of how we previously related sexually were rapidly deteriorating. Sex was no longer something two people did with each other. It became a product one consumed.  Sex was also no longer confined to intercourse, with sexual release found through images and videos that we could pull out of our pocket on our phones any time of the day. Sexual partners were not people we met—sex chatting with a stranger’s screen name on Skype or in a chat room often replacing the need for person-to-person interaction.  How we negotiated sex in the past clearly had not served us, yet how we were navigating this pervasive identity crisis was not exactly a bridge to enlightenment.

Something interesting happens when you start to awaken to higher consciousness: you can’t get away with continuing to perpetuate patterns that no longer serve you. You can continue the action, but you’ll start to feel a very different effect. Overtime, the consequences amplify. It’s not that the action has some new adverse outcome; you were just anesthetized to how low you were taking yourself.  When you’re on the path of growth, though, it’s part of the contract not to be stuck. For me, I had to physically feel the effects before I considered the uncomfortable shift of expanding my sexuality beyond the purview of a screen.

Not long after I started practicing kundalini yoga, I started to notice some distinct physical changes when I would look at porn. I would get this aching sensation behind my eyes that would develop into a throbbing pain in my forehead. When I ejaculated, I felt this instant depletion of energy. I was left with a raw and empty exhaustion that slowed me down for the rest of the day. Overtime that slowdown turned into completely being worn out. There were times I would get flu-like sick for days (and eventually weeks) for no apparent reason. I knew this was my body urging me to shift. At a certain point I just couldn’t ignore the reality I was experiencing: I could feel porn’s arresting effect each time I gazed at a screen. Yet, I found myself unable to escape its grasp. It was as though some force was drawing me in and taking with it my free will. Somehow these machines had become a high-tech jailer.

Kicking a porn addiction was about more than changing a habit.  Pornography was the foundation of my sexuality. I fundamentally didn’t have the framework to experience organic satisfaction. Yogi Bhajan talked about technology brining on a pervasive identify crisis; well, I was having a pornvasive crisis! How exactly do you rewire one of your most personal underpinnings? How do you grow into something authentic after a lifetime of understanding sex to be a manufactured commodity? How do you get to the other side of a crisis when electronic technology itself has become the touchstone by which you experience sex?

You recode your brain, and in doing so you set yourself free! There’s a meditation for overcoming addiction that will literally change whatever programming you have around compulsive habits. My teacher Harijiwan gave this meditation on my first day of teacher’s training. He said that if we did this for 40 days, whatever patterns or addictions we have that are holding us back will fade. If we did this every morning for just 5 minutes we could conquer our darkest haunting forces.

It took a while, but I finally committed to doing it. He was right—the patterns were changing, though not in the instant and easy way I had hoped. Meditation isn’t magic; it’s work. Mediations aren’t pills; they’re pathways. I continued to look at porn after I started the meditation, but there were noticeable physical changes. Within a week of practicing it, I couldn’t get hard looking at porn. I’d see the images and feel the desire but what was happening in my brain wasn’t connecting with my body anymore. I could only ejaculate when my eyes were off it, which made the whole practice rather futile. As I notched on more days with the practice, I started to experience sharp pain in my groin any time I ejaculated after consuming porn (that did not happen with an organic fantasy). As I approached the 120th day, which in daily kundalini practice is the point at which a new habit of consciousness is confirmed, the potency pornography once had was largely extinguished. I assumed it would take years of therapy and addiction counseling to kick this habit, but it turns out all I needed to do was stick my thumbs in my forehead and gnaw my molars silently chanting Sa Ta Na Ma for 5 minutes a day! We don’t get to the light through an endless analysis of darkness. It’s fitting that a simple meditation would be the key to liberation.

The habit has been kicked, but I can’t say I have exactly solved this particular identify crisis. I still have no idea what real intimacy is nor do I even really know how to go on a simple date. I suppose that’s the next step: determining how to grow in a new direction that involves actual connection!  It’s time for some new touchstones.

Whatever happens to me is ultimately unimportant. What is important, though, is that everyone figures out how to overcome any limiting pattern or behavior that’s holding them back. We all have the power to heal ourselves. Just with this simple meditation you can overcome so much! I share this post because I know I’m not the only man to experience this particular addiction. I hope that in offering these words, I can offer a tool to help at least one person find some light!

Advertisements

Pin Up Sexuality

ImageYou can’t quite pin a person’s sexuality to a wall. Sure, you can produce alluring images that reflect a sexual act. You can create art that is titillating.  But you can never capture the true essence of a single person’s complex socio-sexual horizon by freezing it in time.

There’s an element of “pin-up” sexuality that permeates the gay community, and it’s particularly perplexing here on the range. We often turn to pornography or online hook-ups to satisfy our sexual appetites because the inherent isolation that comes with being gay in a place like Kansas leaves few choices for healthier outlets. We rarely talk about it, but those of us in the LGBT community have gotten used to our sexualities being highly compartmentalized. As a result, the sexual relationships we form are frequently fragmented or underdeveloped.

Before I lose you hetero-readers to the “ick factor” of having to think about gay sex, let me remind you that we homos have to stomach more than our fair share of opposite-sexing. Sexual health is part of a community’s vitality, so anyone who cares about living in a wholesome world should be interested in this “pink pin-up problem”. Open your minds a bit and you’ll see this issue is more about sociology than it is sin.

Today, we can get off by cueing up our smart phones. Access to sexual imagery has never been easier. When you’re formulating a sense of your own sexual identity, there really is no digital Pandora’s box. There’s so much more to one’s sexuality and sexual orientation that the carnal act of sex, though. Within that truth, a tangled problem tangoes.

Gay people often see themselves represented for the first time in a porno. That’s a jarring statement that deserves some consideration.

If you are heterosexual, when did you first see another person emulate your sexual essence? If you had straight parents, it was the moment you were born. If you didn’t, I’m sure it was only a few minutes after that! We live in a heterosexual society. We’re saturated with boy-girl narratives in all elements of popular culture. Movies, books, and songs are full of opposite-sex tales. We form our identities, in part, by associating ourselves with representations of who we can become. We color our lives with the paints of others. Our sexuality is one of many elements to who we are, but what happens when there are few representations to draw from?

We want so desperately to know we aren’t alone; to be reassured that we aren’t the only one. That means we’ll go anywhere to find ourselves.

The consequences are complex. Pornographic images produce unrealistic expectations about body image and sexual pleasure. They’re devoid of humanism, making sex a solo activity, and later sexual encounters potentially awkward. Porn is also exclusively focused on sex as a corporal act. To be truly sexual, one has to bring their whole self to their partner. Spirituality, intellect, and sociability matter to LGBT people, too.

It’s easy to “pin up” our sex lives, though.  There aren’t many places outside of clubs or bars to meet gay people in this town. A holistic community is still very much in formation. In the mean time, a lot of us are bumping into each other on Grindr or conversing via Craig’s List. No one teaches you how to be intimate with a person of the same-sex. Even the most supportive of parents probably don’t know how to talk to their gay kids about how to form an appropriate relationship. There’s that “ick factor” again. It’s uncomfortable, so we avoid it. Can we afford to ignore the health problems that it parallels, though? AIDS hasn’t been eliminated. People still get infected with HIV. STDs happen. Beyond the body, though, there’s the soul. We all deserve more than a social media dating app profile.

There are more positive LGBT representations now than ever before in the media, but what about our local community? Celebrities have marginal impact on forming our identities; it’s the people in our daily lives that make indelible imprints. Coming out is a public health issue. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a lack of gay representation will lessen the chance that your kid will be gay. We homos don’t have much choice in the matter. The choice is in how we all live our lives. If you’re straight, encourage your gay friends to talk to you about their dating life. Try to help them out if they’re alone by introducing them to new people. Check in your “inner-ick” at the door. Don’t let someone you care about compartmentalize an important aspect of his or her life.

Let’s stop pinning up our sexuality and start owning up to the wholeness of who we are.