UPDATE/ DISCLAIMER: It has come to my attention that some readers are interpreting my publication of this article as an all-out recommendation for everyone to watch the film. Make no mistake, this film is not for the weak-hearted. The filmmaker transports the viewer into the mind of a pornography addict, and forgive the gross understatement, it is NOT pretty. Watch at your own risk. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
In 1997, a company called “Cherry Blossoms” found success in the poverty-stricken Philippines (the country from which my parents immigrated). For a fee, Cherry Blossoms provided “matchmaking” services between older American males and young Filipino women. For some of these women, a rich American husband was the only way out of the densely populated and filthy squatters’ towns populated by makeshift houses made of scrap metal.
One customer wrote to a potential bride:
There are two young ladies…who have written that they would do ANYTHING for me…if only I gave them… the opportunity to come to the United States with me. Tell me, Vilma, how do you feel about that?…Would you do anything I ask?“ He describes a particular sexual activity, then writes, "My preference is [for a] partner [who] would be willing, able, and skillful enough to perform that activity for me, at any time.
Christian Author Gary Thomas mentions this story in his book Sacred Marriage, and likens it to "lifetime prostitution.” For these men, sex is something they expect to receive, not what they expect to give.
Ask anyone to describe the purpose of sex, and you’ll get varying answers. Is it individual pleasure? Connection to another person? I would argue that true sexual fulfillment comes from giving up of oneself in body, soul, spirit and will; not taking and using someone as an object of satisfaction.
In the film Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, the protagonist Jon Martello (also played by Gordon-Levitt) attempts to satisfy himself not only with a series of one-night-stands each weekend, but more so with his pornography addiction.
In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Gordon-Levitt, who is also the screenwriter of the film, gives some insight on his character.
Everything in Jon’s life is…a one-way street. He is not connecting or engaging with anyone…He doesn’t listen; he just takes. At the beginning of the movie, he is finding that dissatisfying because there’s the sequence where he brings a young lady home from the bar and he is comparing her to this checklist that he has got of what he likes to see in a pornography video. Obviously, a real human being is not going to map onto that because there is a fundamental difference between a human being and an image on a screen.
What follows are “unrealistic expectations that…lead [him] to objectify people or to not connect.”
When Jon meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a “dime” on his buddies’ rating system, he expects to find a cure for his pornography addiction. He finds his viewings decrease, but somehow even real sex with “the most beautiful thing [he had] ever seen” doesn’t compare to the beloved women on his computer screen.
When an older woman and classmate Esther (Julianne Moore) befriends him, she offers him advice that takes him by surprise: “you have to lose yourself in another person. It’s a two-way thing.”
Pastor Nate Larkin was married with three children when he became addicted to hardcore pornography. He shares his story with the Christian organization I Am Second.
“I think we’re all made for intimacy,” Larkin says. “But intimacy carries its risks. People can reject us. People can disappear. They can die. Pornography offers this artificial intimacy with no risks. Every day I said hello to the woman who wouldn’t laugh at me, or who found me attractive, engaging. And every day, I gave a piece of myself away. It left me emptier and hungrier every time.”
Contrary to what most movies and pop songs purport, others do not exist to please me. Too often, we use each other as mere objects of satisfaction, instead of treating others as individuals made in the image of God. Each of us are human beings with intrinsic value, who deserve to be appreciated and accepted, apart from what pleasure we can bring to another person.
In The Gift of Sex, sexual therapists and authors Clifford and Joyce Penner (Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and R.N., M.N., Clinical Nurse Specialist) offer an alternative view to sex.
Lovemaking cannot be just physical…If there is to be a fulfilled relationship, there must be more to it than meeting physical needs. The total person–intellect, emotions, body, spirit and will–becomes involved in the process of giving ourselves to one another.
The Penners narrow down the root cause of sexual addictions like Jon and Nate’s to a lack of true intimacy: “Neither the Internet nor magazines demand a relationship. The images cooperate completely with the needs and fantasies of the addict, who never has to give of himself and his own needs.“
Although the average person may not struggle with pornography addictions like Jon or Nate did, many of us are still plagued with the temptation to use others as a means to satisfy ourselves, especially when it comes to sexual actions. Like Nate, we may avoid true connection in an attempt to experience “artificial intimacy with no risks.”
There is always a risk in putting yourself out there, always the possibility of not having our love reciprocated. But losing oneself in another person is the only way to connect and have a truly fulfilling sex life. We must be willing to lose ourselves in another person in the sexual experience, to be totally open and vulnerable.
As with most Christian principles, the biblical purpose of sex is paradoxical. If one pursues individual pleasure, he soon finds himself unsatisfied and lonely. Yet if he pursues a total connection of emotions, body, spirit, and will, he finds contentment.
The Penners summed it up perfectly: "Sex is not something we do to someone, neither is it something we do for someone. Rather, sex is a with experience.”
Resources:The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner
[All images from RogerEbert.com]