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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Lex Hall hal­llex@

As part of my in­ad­ver­tent train­ing to be­come a jour­nal­ist I spent some years as a garbage man. Few jobs re­veal the foibles of so­ci­ety like that of col­lect­ing other peo­ple’s de­tri­tus. Top of the list of re­cur­rent refuse, along with the soiled nap­pies and food scraps, was, be­lieve it or not, pornog­ra­phy. Not a day would go by with­out an up­turned bin re­veal­ing an il­licit cargo of mag­a­zines and video­tapes.

Th­ese days, of course, as any garbo will tell you, the bins are free of porn. Not be­cause peo­ple have changed their ways. Quite the con­trary. Like most things, the good old in­ter­net has stepped in to fill the breach. Per­haps the most sym­bolic proof of the re­dun­dancy of porn mag­a­zines at least is Play­boy’s re­cent de­ci­sion to do away with nude pics. The same goes for its videos and DVDs. It seems re­sis­tance to the tide of on­line porno­graphic of­fer­ings is fu­tile. Not even the erec­tion of a hap­less web­site pay­wall will im­pede you in your quest when you log on. Gone is the awk­ward ex­change at the newsagent, the tit­il­lat­ing smile of the Hus­tler cover girl frus­trat­ingly sealed in plas­tic. Nowa­days, to para­phrase that ad for the all-in-one home gym: You got a lap­top? You got a sex life.

We con­tinue to hear, as an ABC panel show sug­gested ear­lier this month, that more and more Aus­tralians are go­ing on­line for their fix. Even Hol­ly­wood, in the form of films such as Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011), has tack­led the sub­ject of porn ad­dic­tion, al­beit in­con­clu­sively. As Sam Parker wrote in a re­cent Esquire ar­ti­cle, “men are not seek­ing out porn when they’re happy and horny and in need of some re­lief, but us­ing it to anes­thetise them­selves from the emo­tional ups and downs that come with be­ing young”.

In short, so the think­ing goes, men, es­pe­cially young ones, are de­vel­op­ing a warped view of sex as well as per­for­mance prob­lems be­cause of their ad­dic­tion to porn. And women and re­la­tion­ships are suf­fer­ing along the way.

How­ever, just when you thought that ev­ery guy (for let’s face it, porn is pre­dom­i­nantly a male predilec­tion) was crouched over the lap­top scour­ing the net in search of an­other bon­er­at­tling or­gasm, along comes a counter cur­rent.

Amer­ica may be the driv­ing force of on­line porn but it’s also home to some of the world’s most zeal­ous con­verts to ab­sti­nence. They’ve even in­vented a prud­ish ono­matopoeiac eu­phemism for their anti-porn, anti-onanism move­ment: “no fap”. This cryptic ne­ol­o­gism refers to none other than the sound of one hand not “fap­ping” — or, ahem ... mas­tur­bat­ing. Fair enough. For I sup­pose call­ing this be­havioural push some­thing a lit­tle more ob­vi­ous (say, “no wank”) would risk making light of what is for many, ac­cord­ing to the var­i­ous web­sites de­voted to it, a crip­pling prob­lem.

Apolo­gies for the hy­per­bole but let me quote one no­fap.com tes­ti­mo­nial on the ef­fects of “re­boot­ing”, or do­ing away with porn and mas­tur­ba­tion: “I have a sense that a seed is planted and swelling to life, that a tide has turned, and that mas­sive, mas­sive change is afoot.”

Of course, de­bate has raged over the harm or oth­er­wise of auto-sat­is­fac­tion. As Woody Allen’s char­ac­ter in An­nie Hall protested, “Don’t knock mas­tur­ba­tion, it’s sex with some­one I love”. On the other hand, Freud posited that ab­sti­nence from sex­ual plea­sure helped achieved “sub­li­ma­tion”: an artist, for in­stance, by har­ness­ing and chan­nelling his sex­ual en­er­gies into his work was a step fur­ther to­wards achiev­ing per­fec­tion. An ex­am­ple of this trans­fer­ence of sex­ual en­ergy is said to oc­cur in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, where the pro­tag­o­nist, Gus­tav von Aschen­bach, a writer, trans­forms his de­sire for the young Tadzio into a source of in­spi­ra­tion for sublime poetry.

And judg­ing by some of the tes­ti­mo­ni­als on “no fap” sites, or­di­nary blokes are find­ing this out for them­selves. Of course, it’s easy to make light of all this. But if more men are ab­stain­ing from porn per­haps it fol­lows that they’ll be less prone to “re­venge porn” and other per­ver­sions.

That said, what you do when the cur­tains are drawn (or un­drawn, if that’s your thing) is none of my fap­ping busi­ness.

theaus­tralian.com.au

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