A Lot to Bear

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Question

I'm a 21-year-old female and regularly masturbated to porn as a teen. Now I am bored with a lot of it and find I need more shock value to get aroused. I'm concerned about this, because for the first time I watched bestiality. I think it is wrong, and I would never consider doing it, but I watched it nonetheless because it had that sexual "shock value." Is there something wrong with me? Is this common, and what can I do?

Answer

Help, you are bringing up an issue that almost always arises when some-one is publicly accused of sexual depravity: does a paraphilia or proclivity lead to more damaging behaviour? I would highly encourage you to read the book Pornography, by Debbie Nathan, for some answers. "As sex therapist and researcher Judith Becker has pointed out," writes Nathan, "sex crimes committed by adults and teens are linked to childhood sexual and physical abuse and to being drunk, but not to being exposed to pornography."

Its very subject matter makes pornography polarizing; what one person can't get enough of, another can't get far enough away from. And "shock value" is a common term used when pornography is brought to the table as the cause of someone's escalating need for "more."

Many reasons involving issues of consent and deviance mean bestiality is questionable. Most of us don't want to have sex with animals and would agree that the level of consent an animal offers in this exchange is nebulous at best, making it reprehensible.

But there is no doubt that our relationship to animals and their own very basic relationship to sexuality is one that holds intense fascination. Animals act on a primal wisdom that we as humans have complicated with religion and morality. For millennia, we have made anthropomorphic images using animals as totems and used their body parts in elixirs and ritual apparel, hoping to capture a fundamental essence. We are unable to speak empathically about these things without feeling profound guilt or fear of aligning ourselves with remorseless psychopaths.

"Shock value" and "more" are complex issues. Let's look at a recent case where I feel they came into play.

"A depraved double life," blared the Toronto Star headline over two photos of Colonel Russell Williams, one in one of his victim's tankinis, the other in pristine military garb.

The Star got in hot water for publishing this pairing of images. Why? Certainly not because it suggested that a man who cross-dresses is more ethically and emotionally challenged than a man who is employed by the military, an organization that regularly commits all the acts (kidnapping, intimidation, torture, rape, forcible confinement, souvenir photography of victims' torment, misogyny, murder) perpetrated by Williams. Or because by showing a man in a woman's personal garments the Star is perpetuating the Silence Of The Lambs stereotype that men who cross-dress are compelled to escalate their proclivities to rape and murder.

To me, it's the man in uniform who represents the potential for detached, methodical violence than the man in the bikini. (I won't even go into the blatant sexism involved in the demonizing of femininity. You can read more about that in this book: juliaserano.com/whippinggirl.html).

I know that many people in the military do not commit these acts – certainly not outside the context of conflict. But it is a wonder they don't, considering that they are, for the purposes of their job and without the reassuring stipulation of fantasy and consent, inured against humaneness, many at a very young age. Throughout history, soldiers have routinely expressed shame and complained of lack of support when they talk about the real effects of conflict on their bodies and minds.

Still, those who followed the Colonel Williams case may have the impression that it was Williams's propensity for cross-dressing that was the springboard to brutality rather than the desensitization to committing and witnessing soul-crushing atrocities under the banner of honour and freedom. Men who dress in women's lingerie are almost always depicted as horrific, but in my dozens of exchanges with cross-dressing men, I have yet to meet one who terrified me in the same way as the image created by the media. From my point of view, you don't need a pairing of images to convey Williams's double life. The one in uniform says it all. What we expect soldiers to endure and then remain compassionate is unreasonable.

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