Madness in the Message

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This column is in reaction to my viewing of the Canadian release of Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones.
I was excited about seeing this production, billed as “A guy addicted to porn discovers that love is stronger than fantasy.” Surely it would deliver some hot sex scenes, and I was curious about how the writer/director David Sutherland would address each of these elements (addiction, pornography, love, and fantasy).
The film was visually stunning. Vibrant colours danced with physically beautiful actors. Early scenes of our protagonist in his local video (porn) shop resonate with believable neighbourhood familiarity. When the hero and heroine meet, their chemistry is unmistakeable. Though this new acquaintance looks quite different from the lead’s favourite porn star (who infuses the movie with humour and seduction), he happily adds her to his ‘hot’ list. As their courtship hints at sex, she informs him that she is celibate.
His reaction? A ‘talk’ with his celluloid sweetheart and an inability to achieve an erection when his real-life date lifts the ban. This didn’t surprise me. The get-away-closer message would have been sufficient to wilt the most ardent lover, but the movie interprets his response as his failure to transfer his arousal from masturbation with his fantasy princess to intercourse with his date. Our leading lady is righteously horrified to learn her seemingly ‘normal’ new boyfriend enjoys (echk) porno films, to the point where she calls him names when she discovers that, during a (finally!) successful sexual encounter, he is watching a video over her shoulder. She gives him an ultimatum: it’s her (the porn actress) or me.
Now our hero faces a real dilemma. Without his learned erotic response to viewing porn, he cannot meet his girlfriend’s requirement for him to perform with her on demand. He is able to satisfy her with oral sex in what was probably the most erotic and beautiful scene in the entire movie; nevertheless she insists that only coitus counts as sex and if he can’t deliver the goods on her terms and without his erotic triggers, she will leave him for the lousy lover she labels him to be. The protagonist eventually banishes his on-screen lover by sublimating his erotic attentions to his far-more-highbrow artistic expression of photography and the relationship is saved.
Aside from the main message, I liked this film.
But, oh, what a message. Remember that this was billed as a study in addiction to porn. Addiction? If the protagonist golfed twice a week, would golf be an addiction? Only if we believe that watching people make love/have sex/fuck is bad does such watchful measuring make any sense. The truth is almost all men masturbate, and almost all of them use visual fantasies to fuel their arousal. That’s how the system works. It isn’t bad…it’s the basis of our sexuality.
(By the way, most women masturbate, too, although their relationship with visual fantasy often differs from men’s. Women tend to fantasize romantic and emotional stimulation more intensely than they do visual cues. Perhaps it is because women don’t understand this difference that they distrust it. We’re often down on what we’re not up on.)
In this movie, masturbation is a distant second to partnered sex, with intercourse at the top of the heap in the sexual activity hierarchy. Though the most moving and sensual scene in the film involved our uptight heroine enjoying cunnilingus, she was clear that she wouldn’t be happy until her lover could deliver real sex. It’s this sort of thinking that devastates marriages when a husband undergoes nerve-damaging prostate surgery and believes that, because he no longer achieves erection, that sex between the couple is over. We need to learn that intercourse is but one item on a vast menu of possibilities, all of them fun.
We need to take masturbation off the deadbeat list. It is a lie that masturbation hurts us. Masturbation keeps our genito-urinary system in top running order throughout our lives. It teaches us to be good lovers. It feels consistently good. It is not masturbation but shame that hurts us.
Porn, too, gets an undeservedly bum rap. Some of us like viewing others being sexual; some don’t. It’s really a matter of (personal) taste what gets our mojo going, isn’t it?
Being sex positive means being expansive, embracing all that we can learn and do and be. If we view sex as a positive force in our lives, then we would logically promote incentives to arousal.
The title of the film, Sex, Love, and Eating the Bones, comes from a reference to sucking the marrow out of the bones, the richest and rarest part of the meal. How I wish the story had lived up to this hopeful notion inviting us to suck every morsel of joy from life, to find delight in the smallest wonder, and to indulge our human pleasures graciously and generously.