Men, Masturbation, & Monogamy

The Baby Boomer-led Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and '70s has had a deeply permeating, catastrophically debilitating impact on nearly all aspects of modern Western culture. Evidence of the societal detritus is everywhere, from the ever-escalating divorce rate, to the proliferation of condom-wearing instruction classes for preteens, to the ubiquity of ridiculously tawdry pop songs like the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” or Lady Gaga’s “Disco Stick” on the radio.

Even cultural conservatives, intent on sloughing off the egregious sleaze and slime that followed in the wake of the hippie era, are more often than not subsumed in its wretched and malodorous ejaculate ooze. A case-in-point of such ironic ideological influence can be discerned in the rhetoric of numerous well-meaning religious groups who have chosen to fixate on pornography, and to expose the supposedly devastating effects that porn-viewage allegedly has on the male psyche.

Indeed, to judge from these groups’ shrilly alarmist and hectoring tone, the very act of scrutinizing a sexy centerfold in Playboy, or thrilling to titular Debbie’s unique adventures in Dallas, is akin to taking a hit from a crystal meth pipe, or worse. Drugs only kill the body, after all; smut murders the soul. Eerily echoing the claims of various scoldy Dworkin-style feminists, neo-Fundamentalist seminar leaders insist that sexually-explicit material turns decent men into misogynistic beasts, causing them to view women as nothing more than objectified prey, fit for no activity more exalted than—ahem—stuffing and mounting.

For example, Catholic author Steve Wood of www.familylifecenter.net ominously warns of the “trigger effect” that results when guys become inveterate smuthounds. In short, they begin to feel that their lives should be one non-stop orgy: women exist only to satisfy their animal lusts. This mindset, in turn, proves to be “ruinous” to marriages—in some cases before they even begin! Wood goes so far as to recommend that young women find out early on if a potential mate has a porn addiction, in order to prevent future heartbreak. And ladies unfortunate enough to be saddled with smut-smitten husbands already have painful months and years of therapy ahead.

Wood mourns how extensively the pornographic mindset has afflicted today’s men, even those with strong religious convictions, all because of the “tsunami wave of cyberspace,” and the frightful deposits it leaves on our bitter shore: an ever-multiplying colony of wankoramic websites, all within the touch a finger or the stroke of a key. Psychological counseling, supplemented by prayer, is the only way to eventually be exorcised of one’s lustful proclivities, Wood avers. And counseling inevitably involves candidly discussing one’s sexual “issues” with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, presumably accompanied all the while by one’s (presumably scowling) wife.

Now I’m sure that Wood is a far better Catholic than I am, and I don’t doubt the purity of his intentions. That said, his prescriptions strike me as a near-certain recipe for disaster. Men with a tendency to lust in their hearts—which is to say, nearly all men who have ever lived—are in danger of being classed as porn-addicts if their carnal desires occasionally lead them to illicit pictorial sources for stimulation. I don’t condone such behavior, but forcing a “porn-addicted” husband to have to recount such moments of weakness before his wife or girlfriend seems an unduly humiliating punishment, one that only a vengeful sadist hopped up on extra-strength estrogen could think actually fits the crime.

This isn’t to say that indulgence in Internet porn-watching is a harmless activity for a married man, or that it’s advisable to use dirty pictures or raunchy images as inspiration to masturbation. But there is something unseemly, dare I say seedy, about being made to discuss your chronic onanism as a prerequisite to reclaiming your purity. It somehow savors of the very mindset it’s supposed to be replacing; moreover, it just seems prurient and appalling.

The fact is that—for better or for worse—men enjoy looking at attractive women posed sexily. There is no deep-seated psychological reason for this; it is strictly biological. Just as naturally—as in “natural law”—such desires ought not be indulged, particularly when one is married. Still, even the best, most decent and well-behaved men can’t always overcome their biological urges. Lust in one’s heart is a sin, of course, and sin is detestable, by definition…but mental infidelity isn’t the same thing as actual, physical adultery. Sin is sin, but distinctions must—and should—be drawn between what is bad and what is worse.

Previous ages understood such distinctions well enough. In the pre-'60s days, one mentioned such transgressions in the confessional booth (or a similar expiatory ritual with roughly the same function), not the therapist’s couch. One did one’s penance, and was done with it. A man certainly didn’t burden his wife with such embarrassing information, nor did his wife care to know about such things. Monogamy was affirmed, and all-too-human weakness was also acknowledged. People accepted reality, received the grace of forgiveness, and and went forward without having to dredge up hurts and resentments over solitary misdeeds committed under sheets and behind closed doors.

Today, however, even those who wish to restore Old School notions of chastity insist upon pathologizing normal and unavoidable drives and functions. Today’s chastity crusaders and coaches seem to think that men could become lust-free if they just prayed hard enough not to get hard so often. They hold our crass, hypersexualized culture responsible for men becoming afflicted with frequent, involuntary erections. And to be sure, our culture has become distressingly hostile towards decency and innocence. Pornography is much more mainstream, and more accessible, than it ever used to be. But porn isn’t what makes men sex maniacs—nature has constructed us this way.

And if nature is but the handmaiden of the divine, then it seems that God Himself put us together like this, for His own inscrutable reasons. But if God planted in us a hunger to screw every halfway decent-looking woman who crossed our path, he also created us with an instinctual psychological preference for monogamy. I wish I knew why he crossed our wires this way. I’d ask Him, but the Almighty, in my experience, is more reclusive than J. D. Salinger and Stanley Kubrick put together. He is an eccentric genius who rarely grants interviews. He compels and puzzles us with his brilliant but frequently troubling work, and only very occasionally drops any hints as to what it all means.