Therapists join pornographers in selling sex short

  • This model of sex peddled by the porn industry and promoted by sex therapists sells sex short. (ABC TV) If you’d rather have a good night’s sleep than all-night sex, you’re in good company. Just don’t tell a therapist.

You could become one of the thousands of men and women being diagnosed with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder – what most of us would simply call a lack of interest in sex.

Of course, women are found to be particularly susceptible to this “disorder”. Some studies suggest one in five women in Australia are sufferers. Medical journals report this as part of a hidden epidemic of Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD).

Coincidentally, this FSD epidemic appeared on the medical radar just after the release of Viagra in 1998. As prominent psychiatrist and FSD critic Leonore Tiefer once quipped: “Thanks to Viagra there are a lot of hard penises out there and you know what they require.”

The problem is, according to clinicians, too often women aren’t interested in performing their wifely duties and providing what is required.

Many men return home from the doctor’s office with a bottle of blue pills in one hand and a chemically induced erection in the other, only to find they have an unwilling or uninterested partner. These unwilling women are being labelled “dysfunctional” and in need of critical medical intervention.

Therapists have a variety of supposed cures for this “epidemic”. Some prescribe hormones in a range of pills, patches and creams. But others recommend hardcore pornography. You can now watch porn on doctor’s orders.

Helen Singer Kaplan, the doyenne of sexual desire theory, paved the way for this trend in the 1970s by claiming that pornography helped to “stimulate healthy fantasies” and that clinicians should prescribe it to treat various forms of sexual dysfunction. Today, many do just that, recommending to their patients everything from X-rated, fetish pornography to soft-focused, therapist-produced erotica and sex education videos. Pornographic sex is being held up as an ideal for heterosexual couples to replicate in their bedrooms.

Sex therapists mostly recommend pornography as a tool for couples to expand and enhance their sexual repertoire. Patients are encouraged to mimic the clothing, language and specific sex acts found in porn. Essentially, couples are told to use pornography as an educative tool, like a textbook.

But what these textbooks teach should be serious cause for concern. Organisations such as the Sinclair Intimacy Institute offer online stores where customers can buy therapist-recommended pornography. The institute claims that pornography it endorses is “sex positive” and yet the films available have included titles such as Jenna Loves Pain, The New Devil in Miss Jones and Deep Throat.

Deep Throat has been repeatedly criticised as the documentary evidence of the abuse of its star, Linda Marchiano, who claimed she was beaten and forced at gunpoint to perform in the film. And The New Devil in Miss Jones contains scenes of piercing, double penetration and flogging. The problems with Jenna Loves Pain are fairly obvious just from the title.

Interestingly, the pornography industry itself is under no illusion that mainstream porn is “sex positive”. My research into Adult Video News (known as the US porn industry bible), found that industry insiders are very open about the increasing tendency of mainstream pornography towards violence and extremity. Few, if any, of these pornographers would claim that the standard sex acts in modern porn are an ideal model for couples to emulate.

But to look only at the content of the films misses the point. Ultimately these are medical professionals endorsing a model of sex in which people are paid to simulate rather than experience sexual pleasure. It is sex that relies on the buying and selling of sexual access to other human beings. This is not sex based on mutuality or respect. It is a harmful sex based on inequality.

This model of sex peddled by the porn industry and promoted by sex therapists sells sex short. Pornography presents, at best, a very limited and reductionist, mechanical version of sex. At worst, it eroticises abuse and violence. To recommend pornography as a guide – an ideal – for couples to follow is not only irresponsible, it suggests a serious lack of imagination.

The experience of sex can, and should, be better, more enjoyable, more equal and more ethical than the extreme and exploitative sex acts found in mainstream pornography today. If violent, hardcore porn is what therapists view as the new benchmark for great sex, is it any wonder that so many women aren’t interested?

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