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!


Naked Emotions

When you bare your raw emotions, you’re as good as dead.

Fiction. Ish.

“I can’t be naked with you physically because we’ve already undressed each other emotionally.”

That’s what he told me late at night while we were standing in the kitchen downing shots of tequila. Both of us were trying to numb a certain pain. He didn’t know how to be alone. I had no idea how to be with someone else. I needed another gulp of poison to wash down the words. Even in an inebriated state, I understood their meaning.

Neither one of us knew how to form a healthy connection. He was an intellectual who chased after twinky blonde guys whose waste lines matched their IQs. I was an artist who created disaster by falling in love with men I could never really have. He gravitated toward shallow bottom feeders who abused him mentally and physically. I was propelled to intriguingly complex men with vast potential who clearly had no interest in me sexually. He became muted accidently by the expressive cruelty of others. I was always conquered electively by unrequited entanglement. He had lots of hot sex and a leash to keep him close to his lover’s bed. I had endless lonely nights and the freedom to roam the world answering to no one. Both of us consented to such machinations. Perhaps we envied the other’s position. But if we did, we didn’t know how to move toward it.

An awkward truth always permeated our friendship. When I met him, I did what I always do. I made him my obsession. He was cute, fun, smart, and interesting…a package of essential qualities typically lacking in the wasteland of my home in Kansas. You can usually tell within the first hour if you’ll ever have sex with someone; with him, I knew the answer was a definitive no. I didn’t get interested in that first hour, though. At that point, he was merely a sex object, and not even one that I found particularly appealing. My fascination built over time. It wasn’t until I understood how truly multi-layered he was that I wanted him. By then, the friendship discourse had settled in. “Just friends” is how we described each other. It’s funny how the word “just” becomes a mitigating qualifier to something that was actually a lot deeper than a causal connection.

So, we were friends. Just friends. He and I.

We got to know each other quite well over the course of several months. Therein lies the problem. I only ever go after guys I can’t have. My interest is only ever piqued when their desire for me is squelched. This is the point where we should both part ways, but long ago I learned a secret spell: instead of offering my body for a sexual connection, I can offer up my soul for a weird sort of meta-physical mind fuck. I can be the person who understands them better than they do themselves. I can be the one who makes them feel safe. I can be the only individual who knows their darkest secrets. I’m the one whose untenable loyalty and consummate kindness commands a part of them not even their closest lover will ever have access to. This keeps them coming back more often, and with more to give, than if I were actually blowing what’s in between their legs.

It’s an odd sort of voodoo I’ve enchanted over half a dozen guys with. I told myself he would be different, though. This time, the magic would work! Unfortunately, truth is the ultimate dispeller.

He would never be with me because we both knew too much about each other. Somewhere in the dance of our friendly courtship, he told me too much about his childhood, and I volunteered more than he needed to know about my adolescence. I knew too many of his secrets, and he held more than a fair share of mine. Details about our lives—small and large—amalgamated into a strange sort of shared tapestry. We blended.

I wanted to believe this was the making of love. But really, we both knew better. This was us not wanting to admit what we knew about love. In order to allow someone to love you, you have to first actually be in love with yourself. He knew that just because you’re having sex with someone you call your boyfriend doesn’t mean you’re actually in love with him; it means you don’t know how to be alone. I knew that my witchy efforts to coerce sex out of intimacy were futile, unfulfilling, and unfair; I was so afraid of my own body that I didn’t know how to let someone else enjoy it. Both of us knew the truth.

So one night, we found ourselves downing bad tasting, cheap alcohol for hours in a lame attempt to intoxicate ignorance. It’s a sad, simple fact: gay men are pretty much handicapped when it comes to achieving true intimacy.

And no, Maggie Gallagher, that’s not because God created Adam and Eve. The universe is challenging us to connect at different and higher levels. A man-on-man marriage of raw carnal knowledge and expressive sentiments is the latest trial in the human condition. Lucky for most, only the “G” and half the “B” in the sexual orientation alphabet soup have this has their karma. For he and I, this is our destiny.

We gay men are masters at compartmentalizing our emotions. We box up the most vulnerable pieces of ourselves so that no one will ever see how truly fragile we are. We hide this case inside a closet, and we hope no one ever discovers it. Inevitable, though, we let our guards down. When we do, we make sure the person who discovers our pain will never penetrate it. We’re so afraid of what’s on the other side of agony that we deny ourselves the ecstasy of real intimacy.

Maybe he and I really should be together. He could stop being shallow and co-dependent. I could stop living out fantasyland versions of my life in a lame attempt to copulate. He could just accept that the person he needs to be with is the one who knows him best, even if he turns him on the least. I could deal with a less than developed partner as long as I was getting the intimacy.

Or maybe I should just do what he said to me the morning after, when the tequila bottles were empty and we could both conveniently pretend those words from last night were never said.

“You should be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them.”

He’s right. I should. But I probably won’t. That, it seems, is my fate.