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.