Friday, September 7, 2007

My Take on M & P*

What MoHo blog would be complete without at least one discussion of these endlessly fascinating topics?

P. Observation number one. To my way of thinking, using P is a subset of a larger issue that has to do with maintaining virtuous thoughts and guarding one's heart. Jesus said, "Whosoever looketh upon a woman [or, by extension, upon any other person] to lust after her [or him] hath committed adultery with her [or him] already in his heart." What we're not talking about here is the instinctive way our heart leaps when we see a beautiful person. What we are talking about here is deliberately harrowing up lustful thoughts and fantasies while looking at people in a certain, objectifying, ravenous way. It does not matter whether the looking is being done via the photographic lens in print, on the Internet, with a video, or while you're walking your dog when some shirtless hottie runs past. It does not matter if someone has labeled it as pornography, or whether it is a TV commercial, a segment in a movie, a billboard or a print ad. This leads to...

Observation number two. The critical ingredient is where we go with the manifold stimuli that bombard us in this very photographic, very visual culture we live in. Unless we spend the rest of our lives at the top of some isolated mountain peak in Utah or hide in a cabin it the north woods of Minnesota, we cannot help but be exposed to images of the human body that were specifically designed to arouse lustful curiosity.

But even if all the images were gone, we would still walk among humanity. We would still be surrounded by people -- beautiful, glorious people who awaken this hunger in us that reminds us we are alive and human. How do we respond to these circumstances? The law of chastity teaches us to respond in a way that honors others, and that honors ourselves and the sanctity of our feelings. It teaches us to respond in a way that reserves our most intense feelings for contexts of intimacy and love with the partner we have chosen to walk with through life. But achieving this is ultimately a discipline of the mind and heart. This leads to...

Observation number three. No one comes into this world with perfect discipline and mastery of their hearts and minds. That is what we are here to learn. So we will make mistakes. It will be difficult at first. We will slip and fall and get frustrated. So what? Mastery is in the future. Just get up and keep trying again. The quest for a peaceful, disciplined heart is a lifetime achievement. We will continue working at it years after the last time we have perused a pornographic magazine.

Observation number four. Why are we obsessed with pornographic images? I had a dream that granted me some insight into this. In the dream, I am looking at myself naked in a full-length mirror. But the mirror is broken into different pieces, so the image of me looks fragmented. My head is over here, my torso is over there, my genitals are over there. I am trying to figure out how to find an image of me that is whole.

I think we look at images of the human body and images of sex as a kind of mirror. We are trying to see ourselves in the images, figure out how we fit together. We are trying to reconcile our bodies, minds, and spirits. For gay men living in a straight culture, the fragmentation is more extreme, and the hunger to figure out what it means to live in these bodies, with these desires, correspondingly more painful. I think that's what the itch to use P is about. The closer I come to unity of mind, body and spirit, into an integrated, living soul, the less I feel the need to peruse the fragmented print and video images. For me it has been over six months, and I don't feel the need to go back, and it feels very good.

Even without P, I still have to work at maintaining virtuous thoughts and guarding my heart. As I do, I find the Spirit a much more constant companion in my life.

M. Observation number one. The principle at work in relation to M, I have come to conclude, is not to let ourselves get overtaken with hunger. To be masters of our bodies, not be mastered by them. It's a principle not fundamentally different from the problem of over-eating or cultivating bad sleep habits or indulging in any habitual vice.

But is M a vice like over-eating or over-sleeping, where we say just enough is OK but too much is bad? If so, how much is "just enough"? Once a year? Once a month? Once every morning, just after we wake up? Seldom enough to pass periodic worthiness interviews? Or is M a vice like smoking or eating at McDonalds, where no amount is ever healthy? Where complete abstinence is best?

In the periods of my life (including recently) when I have abstained for long periods of time from M, I have been blessed with wet dreams. I never thought I might have wet dreams in my forties. But there you have it, that's what happens, I've found, when I "save myself." This leads me to believe that just as our bodies eat and breathe and sleep, it is also just a normal, natural facet of living in a male body that we periodically become aroused and emit semen. If I get too twitterpated, I suspect this has something to do with normal physiological reactions, and I think there is no sin in relieving myself, just as there is no sin when my body takes the initiative and relieves itself in sleep through a wet dream. The problem is when I engage in M in a way that is habitual or abusive.

Observation number two. What is habitual? When I don't particularly feel the need, but I engage in M anyway because I'm bored. Because I feel numb and I want to feel something intense. I usually don't feel good after engaging in M under these circumstances.

What is abusive? When I see some gorgeous guy walking down the street, and I indulge in lustful fantasies about him, and then that makes me want to find someplace private and indulge in M. Or when I use P. In these circumstances, M becomes a way of intensifying a pattern of thought that violates the sanctity of heart and feeling I find it so important to guard, as I've discussed above in relation to P.

What is necessary? If you are going out of your mind, if you're crawling out of your skin, I say it is better to M than to burn.

Observation number three. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that our body's built-in capacity to experience pleasure is inherently good, and that M as an expression of that is also inherently good, no different from enjoying a glorious sunset, or a healthy meal, or a good night's sleep.

But I will also say that enjoying M can often be a lesser good. Learning self-mastery and saving oneself for a spouse may be greater goods.

The Sufi poet Rumi described M as "growing one's feathers," part of the process of sexual maturation. He did not think it helpful to shame people for indulging in it. I like his approach. Just as I think using P may be a desperate search to integrate our image of ourselves, habitual M may also be an effort to situate ourselves in our bodies, to grow the feathers that will eventually help us to fly within the context of a loving relationship. Again, the greater the integrity we achieve, the easier it will be to find a balance of self-pleasure and self-discipline that is appropriate.

Integrity of body and spirit is our ultimate goal. That is part of what we came here to earth to achieve.

*For those of you unfamiliar with MoHo blog publishing standards, M stands for (read it in a whisper) "MASTURBATION" and P for "PORNOGRAPHY."


Beck said...

There is a lot of truth to this post and I thank you for articulating it so well.

I haven't really spoken about the P as I'm struggling to figure it out and I'm not sure what is going on here, but your post is bringing me out of the closet a bit. I find the "broken mirror" image really interesting - I have a habit of searching on the web for pictures of beautiful guys (mostly shirtless - or guys kissing etc. - but not sexual) and I ask why I do this. I really don't look at them for stimulus for the M. I just collect them I don't even re-review them. It's like the quest for the "perfect image of male".

Why do I do this?

This is crazy! I think it has more to do with me trying to figure out how I fit in that situation or how I relate to my own humanity. Is that wrong? I don't know...

When I say it's not really pornographic (as the images would be rated PG or PG-13 in the movie system)and no sexual activity is going on, I still feel very guilty and like something isn't right because I'm "justifying" it for some reason.

And yet the search goes on... The stimulus, as I've discussed with another MOHO is less sexual as it is more "comfort". There is something comforting in it. It is difficult to explain. I think I'm going insane!

playasinmar said...

Whenever anyone mentions M and P I always think, "What? Marry Poppins?"

And as for broken mirrors... I like that imagry.

Would you believe I know of a song about broken mirrors?

J G-W said...

Beck - Well, I guess it goes without saying that I'm writing from my own experience, and I suspect that this is different for different folks.

I relate very much to looking at pictures of naked men to get a sexual thrill out of it. I relate less to looking at pictures of attractive men for "comfort." That doesn't sound wrong to me in any way. What you describe is more comparable to the feeling I get when I do creative writing (short stories or plays or my novel). I write to work out the kinks in my psyche. That sounds like what you are trying to do by looking at pictures of men. I'd say you definitely should not beat yourself up about this.

You're not going insane, you're going sane. That's why I shared the dream... Some of this stuff is just different parts of us trying to integrate, trying to work things out. It's "soul-making." That's why I'd say shame is an inappropriate response to any of this.

Playa - Somehow connecting M & P to Mary Poppins... That's just wrong.

Beck said...

I know you're trying to relate and be helpful here, but your answer makes me feel even more confused and isolated and weird and crazy and insane as ever, even within this MOHO community.

If this is the path to sanity, then why do I feel so insane? I shouldn't need to be doing this...

I'm sorry - I'm making your post my post... I think I'll disappear now.

GeckoMan said...

I can relate to Beck's assigning shirtless male images into the 'comfort' category. I sometimes go there for an invigorating douse of masculinity! I have thought of it as a mirror of what I hope to be in the resurrection! (yes, some guys are just mortal gods) There is simply a connection to men we have that is not satisfied in isolation. Other forms of comfort for me are blogging, my varied male friends and the touch I receive from both male and female.

We live in a world that is now actual and virtual in realities. Because of my faith and covenants I choose to not act out my sexual hunger to experience physical connection with men; it is easy then to rationalize that P is not as bad as doing the real thing. I think this is the big snare for LDS gay men. But I've learned I also do not want to fill my mind with images of men engaged in gay sex. Virtual promiscuity is also a violation of my marriage covenant. So, indulging in P gets me nowhere and leaves me feeling dirty or compromised; I just don't want to go there. But, on a positive note, the curiosity and challenge of P does provide an opposition by which we school our thoughts and discipline our spirits. I like how you put abstinence from P in terms of honoring ourselves and others.

The M thing can be way overblown in terms of the shame we can install upon ourselves because of it. If I told you to never ever pick your nose would you succeed? How would you feel if you 'slipped up?' It shouldn't be such a big deal. I agree with your positive approach of recognizing and avoiding compulsive behavior and that mastery over self is the higher goal in all spiritual pursuits.

All and all, I think we should focus on the great commandment--to love God--and strive to be concerned with going in His direction. His commandments are clear; we can choose to live them or not. However, if we fail occasionally, then get up, say you're sorry and get back on the the loving path.

playasinmar said...

"If I told you to never ever pick your nose would you succeed? How would you feel if you 'slipped up?'" -Gecko

And what if your 14-year-old body was programed to think about only that one thing?

J G-W said...

Self-condemnation and judgment didn't help me with this. Experiencing God's unconditional love did.

Odd... As long as I saw chastity in terms of law and condemnation, I couldn't seem to free myself from M & P. Avoiding the bad wasn't a strong enough motivation. Things really shifted for me when I found myself able to look at it in terms of goods and greater goods.

GeckoMan said...

Playa, exactly, you got my point. How can young men succeed if the focus is on don't touch, don't touch, don't touch? It's like we're programing them to do some dastardly deed. And then shame only strengthens the cycle of failure.

However, if the focus is on loving God, developing mastery of self, growth and exploring true manhood, I think we would make it much easier on the young men of the church.

"Okay, so you picked your nose, so what? Do you still love your HF? Good, go for it!"

J G-W said...

Beck - As a result of our on- and off-line discussions about this, I felt I wanted to share some of my insights with anyone else reading this further...

I realized that my experience of images of men was much more similar to yours before I ever ventured into hard core pornography.

At one point, pornography felt like a "good" thing to me because it was safer than promiscuity, and I thought it was a way for me to explore and understand my sexuality. Maybe that is what it was, maybe that's how some men experience it, or why we feel drawn to it. That was part of what I was trying to say on my post.

But with the experience of hindsight, and being in a place where I have avoided pornography for about 6 months now, I would say that pornography did not really help me. I think it hurt me in a lot of ways. It is densitizing. It does have an addictive aspect in that you start to feel like you "need" the thrill that it gives you, and you start to feel like you can't get the same thrill without it; and meanwhile, if you have a romantic relationship, your relationship actually suffers from it. Porn desensitizes you to your real life relationship. My relationship with Göran has been so much happier, so much more tender and emotionally satisfying since I said "bye bye" to my porn stash, and made a decision never to use porn again. Now the happiness I get from my relationship is so much better than porn, I literally just have no desire ever, ever to go back.

I think porn also desensitized me to the more innocent kinds of images you have found yourself drawn to. It caused me to stop seeing the emotional aspects in those pictures, and start looking at men as pieces of meat.

I understand "why" we look at porn. As I said in my essay, I think it is a desperate attempt to understand something deep and primal within ourselves. But I don't actually believe it helps us, which is why I think it is best to avoid it altogether. But our "reasons" for turning to porn are innocent enough, which is, I think, why we should never, never shame someone for using it. Just try to help understand why we turn to it, and then help people to realize that what we really need is wholeness, and there are better ways of finding that wholeness.

bill mca said...

I gotta agree with playasinmar, I wish there were some way the Church could not make young men feel so guilty about picking their noses. I was not raised in the Church, but I know that young LDS men struggle with their feelings about this; the only thing I don't know is how universal it is.

Bill McA said...

This thread pretty much died after my last comment (hopefully not BECAUSE of my last comment!). Anyway, I'm curious how many of you as young men dealt with M and your feelings about it while you were growing up LDS.