Recently, I received a letter from a reader who asked me if I thought it was a good
idea to put a “no porn” and “no strip-clubs” policy on her dating profile.
I think it’s a terrible idea.
First, because of the medium – online dating.
It’s its own ecosystem, and one in which positivity is far more attractive than
negativity. Because there are no other social signals like body language or facial
expressions, the emotion of your words get exaggerated, hanging out there in
cyberspace all on their own.
So I counsel both genders to emphasize what they love about their lives in their
profiles, what positive qualities in others they value – and in general to offer a
picture of how nice, warm, fun, enriching and loving it would be to share in your life.
Stick with positive messaging.
Unfortunately, that’s not always what happens…
Many women, frustrated by men who are over-sexual, under-empathic, rude,
demanding and offensive, tend to put up what I call “hey a**hole” profiles. That
is, profiles that sound like, “Hey a**holes, don’t write me if you are a player or a
mama’s boy or anything less than a real man!”
This kind of negativity chases away the good men as well as the mama’s boys.
So no, I say to the writer of the letter, focusing on what you “don’t” want is not a
policy I’d recommend.
If you know anything about the “13 Victories” that I show you how to evoke in your
online profiles, then you’ll understand why I might to suggest to her to take that
same desire and “flip” the emotion.
She could say something like, “I am the kind of woman who, when in a devoted
relationship, will make your life so happy and so pleasurable, you’ll look at other
men who depend on porn and strip-clubs to be as if from another species, because
you’ll be so happy at home.”
Now that’s a tasty morsel. Inspire him with the promise of a deeply devoted and
delicious sensual life at home that will leave him not only happy and fulfilled… but
That is a male fantasy by the way.
I don’t think most men “like” to go to strip-clubs or watch porn.
Yes, young men want to see what’s going on out there in the big, naughty world, and
driven by a high testosterone-count, will seek to sate their sexually hungry eyes.
And, when away from their wives and girlfriends on business trips, plenty of men
will group-travel to a strip club so they can have the facsimile experience of a
younger woman offering affection, stilted and rehearsed as it may be.
(Just as many married women will read romance novels to experience a vicarious
thrill and ritualized warm fuzzies)
For men and for women, we have our ways of allowing our endorphins to be
released, which is a pleasant if temporary vacation from the bills, traffic, anxiety,
bickering, competition and frustrations of the day (not to mention shooing away
intimations of mortality).
But I think it’s fair to say that most men consider a trip to a strip club or time spent
hunkered over porn to be a kind of “failure.”
A man would rather be with a real woman, a woman who knows and adores him,
who admires and supports him. THAT is the great victory in life for most men.
In the absence of that victory, a strip club or a porn video will provide the rush of
endorphins and serotonin that makes him feel a bit better about himself for a while.
But think about it…
The route outward from a porn or strip club experience is generally a tip-toeing
from the shadows, and then a cautious re-emergence into the familiar and well-lit
world of family, colleagues and actual love.
Rarely do you see a guy put aside porn and shout, “woo hoo! I am SO proud of
myself! I LOVE my life! I am “the man”!”
There is no triumph in it.
If we, as men and women, are to support each other and help each other self-express
and evolve into more aware, considerate, loving beings, it begins with empathy.
So, here’s my dose of empathy for the day…
Its important for you to know how much men crave the presence, aroma, touch,
attention and ultimately the appreciation, of the feminine. It not only makes us
merely “feel better,” it actually gives us the energy to go on. To do. To build. To
It gives us the mojo to do anything at all, really.
What I want you to know is that the reward for our labor is the surrender of your
smile and the lavishing of your attention (which explains why porn actresses are
instructed to look into the camera).
In fact, one of my teachers liked to observe that the modern day strip club is a
desacralized descendent of the old goddess worship temples – where men will
actually weep and cheer the ephemeral beauty that drifts out through the sinuous
movements of a woman’s body.
And, just as in days of old, men throw money as an offering of gratitude and
I want you to understand that this is real…
And that seen this way, strip clubs are less “filthy holes of sin” for sick men, and
more an outlet for men to feel in contact with and, in a temporary, staged but felt-
real way, wholeheartedly accepted by the feminine.
Sex is Communication by Other Means
When my sons were young, they asked why sex seemed so off-limits and made
adults act weird when it was discussed.
I told them that it was an area of our life that didn’t “make sense” in the social
structures – such as school and work – where we spend most of our time.
I told them is was a “wild” and “untamed” part of us where we felt and expressed
emotions that didn’t “fit” so much in other parts of our lives.
I would have told them that sex is messy, but having expended so much energy over
the years trying to veer them away from messiness, I didn’t want to associate sex
with spilled paint, clothes on the floor or chocolate on the walls (although, now that
I read it, that sounds like it could be a pretty sexy night!)
But sex is, definitely, messy.
Because humans are messy, despite our excel spreadsheets, traffic lanes and
To recast Clausewitz, I believe that sex is “communication by other means.”
And when our bedroom doors close, and our ordering social structures dissolve like
scaffolding turned to sand, all our raw emotions come burning through…
Fierce tenderness will express in tears and murmurings.
Old pains will be triggered and fury, regret, revenge and fear will express itself in
pounding fists and wild words, biting teeth and thrashing.
Repressed joy will express as demonic screams escaping from hidden cells.
Shadow desires will find expression in the search for exquisite pain or restraint.
It is unpredictable. It is explosive. It is dazzling and shocking.
All the colors of the human emotional rainbow will blind us in flashes of sexual
discovery and release.
Sexuality is not monochrome.
It is as varied as our full range of emotional reality. As such, sex allows us to feel
parts of ourselves that remain otherwise unfelt and simmering.
Which I celebrate, rather than excoriate.
I believe your and your partner’s sexuality should be explored with a hearty
curiosity, flavored by kindness and profound compassion, as well as by daring and
My sense is that the writer of the letter to me would rather that her future partner
not “need” or “want” the kind of sexual curiosity that makes porn or strip clubs
My guess is that she has had disappointing experiences with a man around this issue
in the past, which is why it hangs as such a red flag in her vision.
But rather than pre-shackle his imagination with a “no,” how much more delicious
and promising would it be to fashion herself into a resoundingly sexy and
enthralling “yes!” For him. And for herself.
To so embrace sexuality as a fluid vehicle of our humanity’s divine secrets and dark
corners so thoroughly that he would not even want to look elsewhere – or have any
energy left over to do so…
This is the path I recommend to all players in the monogamy game, men and
Be awesome! Be nuanced, sensitive, varied, exploratory, rigorously clear, playful,
true, fiercely honest.
And Yet And Yet…
Even if you were to make yourself the most skilled and thrilling lover who has ever
existed, your man, driven by millennia of stimulation-attraction, may still like to
look at a bit of porn now and then!
As the teacher David Deida has pointed out, and I’m rewording it here, if you offer
a man the choice between looking at a picture book of nudes – all of one woman,
even the most beautiful woman who ever existed, or his one true beloved – or on
the other hand a book of lots of different women – he will almost always choose the
Porn is popular. In fact, it’s insanely popular.
On principle, I think it is repressive and unrealistic to “demand” that a man not look
at porn, even when in a relationship, although you can certainly request it.
On the other hand, I think it is REQUIRED to set blazingly clear, mutually agreed
upon boundaries on actions involving other people – from simple things like what
kind of touching is appropriate all the way thorugh having affairs.
Clear agreements around the actions we take create the safety that allows intimacy
But I don’t believe that in intimacy, one should police another person’s imagination,
erotic or otherwise.
That said, there remains lots of porn that makes so many women rightfully queasy,
and I believe that men need to be sensitive to this.
For example, most porn is generally made by men for men who are not having sex
- so there is a lot of anger being acted out in those scenarios. What feels titillating
to men will often seem terrifying to women on a visceral level, often calling up
memories of abuse or experience of deep unsafety.
Second, in porn, the pleasure of the woman is almost always subordinate to the
visual completion of the man. And the connection that so many women crave from
men – tenderness, communication, eye-contact, intimacy, protectiveness, care -
is missing from most of porn’s sexual interaction, and tends to debase the whole
experience. Women find it difficult enough for men to slow down and smell the
roses (to say nothing of feeling the stems), without a kind of sexuality that dismisses
their needs and desires filling the brains of their guy.
Finally, and maybe worst of all – and everyone should consider that impact of this –
too much porn destroys the authentic intimate contact between people, because it
becomes the filter through which sex is so commonly experienced.
The viewer turns into a consumer and actual intimacy can come to be experienced
as yet another consumer event, a mirror of what has been consumed online. (Years
ago, Walker Percy among others explored this problem of the loss of authenticity
of experience across the board because of the ubiquity of consumer images, so the
problem is not limited to sex, but that’s another and longer discussion).
Human sexuality offers a varied and fascinating lens into what it means to be
human. Over the last couple of years, new studies such as “A Billion Wicked
Thoughts” have revealed, with massive amounts of data analyzed, what people
actually seek when they log on to look at sexually oriented sites. The book “Sex
at Dawn” shows how monogamy is not only not the human norm historically, but
rather an anomaly.
Because there is so much fear of the “messiness” of sexuality, this boisterous bull in
the china shop of civil society, we are still learning the basics.
So as we progress along this journey of self-discovery, I want to offer some food for
thought, that I offer as a springboard for your discussions with each other on porn
and strip-clubs and erotica…
1. Yes, men are more visual than women when it comes to sexuality. But
remember, just because he watches it, doesn’t mean he wants to do it. So if he
wants to see something kinky online, don’t think that he about to break out a
spanking new set of hoists and pulleys. Similarly, men watch Mixed Martial
Arts to “feel” their warrior hormones and armchair-strategize their imagined
victories. But they’re not going to put on the tight shorts and climb into the
cage with a bruiser. It’s vicarious pleasure, but it is real pleasure.
2. If a man looks at erotica, porn or goes to a strip club, it does not necessarily
mean he doesn’t love you or that he doesn’t respect women or that he is
dishonoring you. Masculine sexuality is pre-programmed to be allured to
variety and to youth. If he wants to look at videos to temporarily feel his
inner virility, it’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean he doesn’t
find you attractive. Women often remind men that actions speak louder than
words. Well, it’s especially true here. If he doesn’t take action on his normal
sexual feelings by having an affair or keeping a mistress, but likes to look
from time to time, no artillery need be fired from your camp.
3. As Jung said, that which gets repressed, will be expressed. Repressive
sexuality is far more dangerous than expressive sexuality as “honor killings”
in some Muslim countries and the shattered inner lives of countless Catholic
boys will testify.
I find that the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, wherein every human
experience is a “yes” that can be raised to the sacred and nothing is pushed
away, offers an evolved and more humane approach to the “messy” parts
of our psyche. It accepts all instincts and tries to institute practices not to
repress them down, but to raise them up in service the good of all beings.
I believe that freedom is a supreme value, when one person’s freedom doesn’t
directly physically harm another, and individual’s freedom should be allowed by
others to flourish.
Freedom is neither pure nor purely good. It carries dangers and will often leave
feelings hurt and the status-quo threatened.
But it is far more dangerous – as well as a waste of the human experience – to
strangle other people’s freedom.
Within the context of intimacy, clear, mutually-agreed upon boundaries on actions
actually promotes a whole new realm of freedom.
So to the letter writer who inspired this response, and to women in general, I would
recommend that rather than telling men what they can’t do when they are on their
own, instead, advocate for yourself what you desire and be compassionately curious
about what they desire.
If he says he likes to look at what we used to call “naked ladies” back in the innocent
old days, gently find out why, and try to stay empathic to whatever needs or tastes
he may have. It’s not a rejection of you, and its not a predecessor of his taking
action. Again, remember, men also like to watch war movies, but it doesn’t mean
your guy’s gonna screen “Saving Private Ryan,” then don a helmet and go look
for “Krauts” to bayonet down at the local Wal-mart.
All cultural forms, including erotica and porn, give us all a chance to feel and accept
parts of ourselves that we normally don’t.
It is messy? Sure!
But as any theater-goer will attest, so is Shakespeare.
As any art lover will tell you, so is Picasso.
As any pundit will tell you, so is politics.
As any therapist will tell you, so is the human heart and all its hurts.
People are messy.
And we are each stumbling our way toward self-understanding.
And if that means that a man slips into a strip club now and then to contemplate the
wonders and the glory of the female form, or the suburban mother hurries her kids
off to school so she can dive into the shadowy anterooms of “Shades of Gray” before
putting on her pants suit for another day at work, rock on.
Let’s turn it all into raw material for our self-evolution, our sexual self-expression
and our deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.