On a damp night in London in 1848, the art critic John Ruskin saw his new bride naked for the first time. He was horrified. For years he had studied classical statues of the female figure in the British Museum, but these had been chiseled out of bald marble, and represented a censored depiction of reality. The sight of his wife's vagina pelted with pubic hair disgusted him. He did not consummate the marriage that night, but instead became an obsessive masturbator for the rest of his life.
Ruskin personified the Victorian Age, a cultural straightjacket which suffocated natural desire and drove it deep underground. The Victorians considered sex to be indecent, sinful, bestial, not to be mentioned or even alluded to in polite society. But this forbiddance of the libido only titillated the imagination, and the Victorians saw evidence of sex everywhere: "naked" table legs were clothed in fabric and the glimpse of a woman's ankle could arouse a man to a frenzy of lust and shame. Encased in floor-length gowns, women were idealized as asexual goddesses (like Ruskin's statues), and if a young girl showed overt interest in sexual pleasure, she could easily suffer a clitoridectomy or undergo shock treatments in a mental institution. But the sexual urge is too ancient and too inexorable an imperative to be strangled down by human convention. When any urgent emotion is bottled up, it will always find a way to seep out through the cracks in the psyche. So the Victorians invented a society with a bicameral moral code. A husband slept with his sanitized wife only for the purpose of procreation; for pleasure, he visited a prostitute. But "pleasure" is a subjective term, because the 19th century brothels were peculiar torture chambers which symbolized the subterranean conflict between natural impulse and culturally enforced guilt. Many men came to these places not for intercourse, but to be whipped with birch rods, punished like wicked boys with dirty thoughts. When sex is forbidden, the result is perversion; and when sex is withheld, the result is pornography and rape.
The legacy of this forbiddance reverberates through contemporary society-in fact, it is the key to the understanding of modern sexuality and to why women are able to prostitute themselves. The apotheosis of women into idealized goddesses was not a 19th century inspiration, but is deeply rooted in the culture of the Western world. During the Middle Ages, it was fashionable for knights to worship the objects of their desire from afar, without any hope of consummation. Men even cloistered themselves in monasteries rather than surrender to "impure" lust. The Church exerted a profound influence over common thought during these dark ages. Almost pathologically misogynistic-after all, Eve the Temptress had been a woman-it had condemned sex (outside of procreation) as sinful. Such a mandate obviously segregates the genders. The secular world exalted women, absolving them of any corrupt sensuality; the religious world vilified them. When the Renaissance blew a cleansing wind through medieval Europe, human beings suddenly felt their pulses pounding again, as if they had just awakened from a coma. Artists began to glorify the naked female body in floor-to-ceiling canvases vibrant with lush skin tones. Only a few years before, the world had been flat and two-dimensional;
now perspective had been discovered, and it was like blasting a tunnel through the human psyche.
But women were still elevated on pedestals, lavishly painted though they were. Eve the Temptress had been canonized into Eve the Goddess. Women were abruptly glorified into the lusty Venuses of Correggio, Titian, and Tintoretto. They began to assert their rights to educate themselves. But the specter of the Inquisition haunted the Renaissance, and so this was an age every bit as dichotomized as the Victorian or our era. The stink of sinful sex still tainted the rarified air. A woman may be considered the objectification of beauty and chastity, but she still could be a sorceress who had to be burned at the stake. Art celebrated the female body; the Church tortured it.
This duality of submerged drives pitted against cultural restraints has plagued humanity since the dawn of civilization. It is the difference between instinct and culture. Again, the key is forbiddance, and it is the epicenter of problems between contemporary men and women. Nature has programmed males to find the female body erotically stimulating3, and society-up to a point-allows them to express these natural urges honestly. Women, on the other hand, are taught to muzzle their sexuality, to package it and sell it. Men are allying themselves with nature; women are warring against it. In a repressed-and hypocritical-culture like our own, such an arrangement is pernicious because when women taunt men with their sexuality, and then withhold it for sale, sex itself becomes forbidden, and forbiddance is the essence of perversion.
3 Studies prove that the size of the female breast has nothing whatever to do with the amount of milk production. Therefore it must be assumed that the breast's primary function is a sexual attractant. And perversion needs only to lean an inch or two in the wrong direction and the result is sex crime. Individual sex crime (for example, urban rape as we know it) was virtually unknown until the 19th century, when the clamps were screwed down on sexuality and women began to overtly practice dishonest prostitution. This was partly due to the stranglehold the Church had locked on people's imagination (if you sinned, you would go directly to hell), and partly because prostitution or lust in general was culturally endorsed. But the Victorians made the mistake of pushing it too far: it is one thing to preach that sex is sinful, but quite another to dam it up as if it doesn't exist at all. The result was the bursting of the dam. In 1892, the psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing published his Psychopathia Sexualis, a weighty volume which detailed some of the weirdest aberrations ever conceived by the human mind. Two centuries before, languishing in the Bastille where he would spend a good part of his adult life, the Marquis de Sade indulged in fantasies about torturing women. But his writings were like the tantrums of a wicked little boy who delighted in shocking the proper people around him-that is to say, his crimes were of the imagination. But Victorian London spawned the monster Jack the Ripper. De Sade might have daydreamed about flogging prostitutes; Jack the Ripper disemboweled them.
Our contemporary culture is sanctimonious, simultaneously prudishly repressed and openly licentious. A good example of this phenomenon can be seen in the entertainment industry. Mainstream movies regularly display naked bodies and peep in on sex acts, but on television nudity and overt intercourse are an eternal taboo. The message is clear: sex must be paid for-you have to shell out the price of a ticket if you want to see breasts or butts. Society still idealizes women as goddesses with a sanitized sexuality-or no sexuality at all while men are seen as vile deviants, consumed by "dirty" thoughts. When a man makes a pass at a woman, he's a lecher "with only one thing on his mind", but when a woman ogles a man's behind, everybody thinks it's cute and chic. If a woman subscribes to Cosmopolitan or Playgirl, she's hip and liberated; but if a man even casually flips through a Penthouse, he's a "pig". When a woman goes topless or wriggles into a thong bikini, only dowdy old ladies complain; but if a man exposes himself, he is hauled off to jail. Men who want to volunteer as scout troop leaders or to teach grade school classes are looked on with suspicion of being child molesters, but women perform these roles with impunity. The clear implication is that men are sexual, women are not; women are pure, men are dirty beasts.
The modern incarnation of forbiddance is withheld sex, the sex of dishonest prostitution. It is a scourge which lacerates male society; it is the root cause of the escalation of sex crime. Rape is not an act of domination and violence, but a criminal short-cut out of frustration. Women rightly condemn rape, and, as always, blame men for its occurrence, but the truth is that every time a woman withholds sex, or tantalizes men with her body to get what she wants, or offers herself only to men with money, she is deliberately creating the conditions for her abuse. Rape is entirely a woman's fault. If a man can't afford to buy a woman-that is, date or get married what is he to do? If he is a criminal, he rapes; if he is an average guy, he rents an adult movie.
As it was in Victorian Europe, the modern pornography business is booming. A variety of magazines, sex phone lines, and especially home videos are abounding. Internet entrepreneurs are making a fortune with sex-oriented web sites. Obviously a need for such eroticism exists, and such a need does not occur in a vacuum. Pornography exists because women are withholding sex and selling their bodies to the highest bidder, and most men can't afford them. A generation of foolish women, cocooned in their "romantic" fantasies and in denial of their venality, desperately listening to the tick of their biological clocks until "Mr. Right" magically rings the doorbell, would rather stay home alone on Saturday night than "waste time" on a date with a man who earns an average income. They cling and wait while their flesh sags and wrinkles crackle their faces, still kidding themselves that their mummifying vaginas are still worth paying for. These aging whores fail to realize (or admit to themselves) that the men they desire know that they are quite able to buy women, and the women of their dreams are young and firm-fleshed and bursting with life.
When the "average" man is sneered at, and denied an outlet for his sexuality, the result is painful frustration. To men, sex is one of the great joys of being alive. But testosterone makes this a commandment rather than a choice. Pornography helps displace some of this inner tension-it bleeds off frustration. Adult movies portray women being sexual because they like it, because it feels good, not because a man has bought them dinner. No time is wasted in "romantic" head games. A man without adequate means cannot hope to court and win a woman, but for a rental fee he can interact, for an hour or two at least, with women normal and unrestrained about their sexuality. The sex may be two-dimensional, but it's honest, and the price is right.
Feminists rant that pornography objectifies and degrades women, but nothing could be further from the truth. Such an unenlightened interpretation only underscores their hysterical agenda. Men's magazines and X-rated films glorify the female body. They celebrate women, not as abstract ideals, but as real people enjoying their sensuality. And this is precisely what the feminists can't stand, and why they have to screech so loudly against pornography. When sex is forbidden, prostitution thrives-it is a gold mine for females. Natural lust and honest sexuality are virulent threats to the average woman, the dishonest whore. Feminists condemn pornography not because it dishonors women, but because, like rape, it is sex without charge.
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