Our Voices Matter

"How Pornography Affected Me" by Anonymous

I was raised in the US, in an upper-middle-class home. My father was, at that time, a respected attorney and then judge. He was a pornography addict, and I want to write about the effect that had on me… growing up with pornography in the 1950’s.

I did not understand what a sex addict was, or a pornography addict. I was in my forties, when my mother told me with pride how she had managed to hide “his real collection.” Apparently, the Playboys, True Magazines, and Penthouses that lay around the living room were just a respectable cover for the hard-core collection she had stashed away.

On two occasions, I discovered copies of the other collection. Both times, I was seriously traumatized. My father was apparently aroused by “policeman gazette” type magazines, which had photos and graphic details of actual crimes. I remember reading about a young boy, whose father held him under a scalding shower until his skin was burned all over. Another story told of a woman whose face had been disfigured by battery acid poured on her by a boyfriend.

My mother attempted to comfort me by explaining that these things happened to people very different from those that we knew… people who lived in very poor neighborhoods, in far away places like New York City. I was not comforted.

She explained that the magazines had come into the home, because my father had been out fishing with his buddies, and these were just some of the magazines on which they cut bait. Her explanation, even to a ten-year-old, did not seem plausible.

I understand now that I must have stumbled on some artifacts from my father’s secret stash.

What was the effect of this mainstream pornography and “true crime” literature?

I learned my sexuality from the pornography. I learned to feel aroused by the images of the female nudes, who seemed ageless and unreal, and I learned that sexuality was “other”—different and dangerous. What I saw on the television and in the movies reinforced this. I could not see myself in the picture. I was definitely not female in the way that the pinups were, and I was not male. In my sexual fantasies, I would be a predatory male humiliating a woman who was frightened and usually restrained. Sometimes, I would be the woman, frightened and restrained, who would achieve a kind of catharsis in surrendering to her degradation.

I had no understanding of what I was enacting in my mind, except to understand it was apart from my world and my everyday identity, that it was secret and dangerous, and definitely that it was shameful.

Later, as a young woman coming of age in the late 1960’s, I wanted to see myself as tough and as cool. Be sexually active was definitely part of this identity, and I was eager to lose my virginity. When I did, I lied to my partner, telling him that I had extensive experience. He actually married me.

I was preorgasmic for the first year of being sexually active. The discovery of my clit catalyzed my leaving him. It was the beginning of some sense of my own autonomy as a female.

Sex became more and more difficult for me as I entered my thirties, and I began to recover memories of child sexual abuse. I came out as a lesbian, and this freed me to address my experiences of abuse. In my situation, I believe that, as long as I felt that being sexual was part of my identity or necessary to my financial and social survival, I could not fully explore my anger and revulsion of male sexuality.

My sexual relationships with women, unfortunately, were still impacted by the fantasies I had learned in elementary school from my father’s pornography. I was a feminist and an activist, but if I really wanted to reach orgasm, I would close my eyes and return once again to the fantasies of domination and humiliation. I began to talk about this with my lovers. It was clear that I was “going away” for parts of our love-making.

Sex remained dissociated, and, by corollary, sexual relationships remained split off from my regular circles of friends and colleagues. I would frequently date women from other states, or even from another country. I had learned to make my sexual relationships expendable. This was puzzling to me, and distressing.

Pornography turned my sex life into a form of science fiction/fantasy. I became unreal to myself in sex. I was unable to link these fantasies to any real human dynamic or intimacy. Objectifying myself, my sexuality, my lovers’ bodies and sexuality destroyed any opportunity to “stay in the moment.” When I did stay in the moment, I found I was unable to experience arousal, except on very rare occasions.

As a radical feminist, one of the most frequent questions is, “What would our sexuality look like if we had been free to evolve and develop outside of patriarchy?” I can’t answer that question. But I do know that pornography colonized my sexuality and did it so thoroughly that I have never been able to undo the damage. I feel tremendous anger, frustration and sorrow over this.

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