Photo by Alexa Black
Warning: This piece acknowledges the existence of sex, pornography, and sexualized violence.
This month, I will be discussing the creative potential that lays dormant in the shadow of the contemporary erotic imagination. I liken this creative potential to the possibility for sacred union, which I define as a reciprocal exchange of pleasure that benefits the web of life. Towards the end of the article, I offer suggestions that can help transform this shadow energy from an enemy into an ally. For the purposes of this article, I am focusing mainly on the shadow side of mainstream, hetero pornography. Focusing on other varieties is beyond the scope of this work.
Control, Manipulation, and the Secret Chambers of the Erotic
The night before I wrote the song We Are Wise (or did it write itself?), I had a visceral dream which I interpreted as relating to the state of contemporary erotic imagination. Occasionally, I dream in what Carl Jung refers to as Big Dreams. These are intense dreams that seem to have a universal, as well as, personal meaning. These Big Dreams have a cinematic feel to them that is distinguishable from the other more mundane dreams.
In the dream, I existed in a society where women were chemically frozen at the age of 21. The only sex that was permitted was transactional and the only way for the frozen women to earn money was through participating "voluntarily" in this exchange. The women were indentured into a sort of sex slavery that was made to look consensual. Throughout the dream, the women were constantly reminded by those purchasing their bodies that doing this work was "their choice" even though it clearly was not. Buyers were all men that worked high up in the sky in windowless office towers running complicated machines that controlled and altered the cycles of nature. The transactional sex was always filmed and shared, which women were also forced to "consent" to. Any women that had aged somehow (maybe they missed the chemical freezing?) were mocked relentlessly. There wasn't much variety in terms of gender diversity. In this society gender was a clear and hierarchal binary.
In this world, meditation was outlawed, as was any form of non-transactional erotic exchange. Despite this, love, spirit, and creative expression secretly flourished in gorgeous underground chambers. People living in all different parts of this oppressive system would secretly meet in these spaces to connect with spirit, with each other, and with their true selves. These were subversive acts, punishable by death. This space was fluid and free, with sexual, spiritual, and personal/gender expression taking a variety of forms. It was in this space that I met what I assume to be my true erotic imagination and expression, in the form of a male lover, or anima. The mere sight of him enlivened my entire body. We could touch for hours, stare into each others eyes, sit in complete silence. The potency of our dynamic was palpable. It felt like a sacred union, as though our bodies could connect and become a channel for a larger creative force, for the same force that animates all of the natural world. Spoiler alert - in the end, both my lover and I were discovered by authorities and publicly executed by hanging.
I could write an entire thesis exploring the symbolism of this dream but for the purposes of this article I will narrow it down into these important symbols:
1. The society in this dream was representative of mainstream hetero pornography / the contemporary erotic imagination.
2. The chemical freezing represents the control / denial of yin or feminine sexuality or "gaia" consciousness through obsession with the youth stage of the life cycle and the cultural inability to accept the cycles of maturation, aging and death.
3. The work taking place in office towers represents the control of nature/the organic feminine/yin by an ever distant, overly-controlling, increasingly sanitized, increasingly mechanized, technologically-dependent and excessively-yang workforce. It is "top heavy", with its head in the clouds, distant from the elements that are effected by the work and that are the foundation of all that is.
4. The underground chambers and the beings that frolic in them represent the dormant and authentic parts of the human erotic experience - the free flow and expression of erotic energy.
5. The execution represent the stigma and dangers associated with intimacy, spirituality, and authentic sexual expression in the current cultural context.
Pleasure as our Birthright
I'm not writing this article to shame mainstream pornography consumers, or to expose the non-consensual and coercive methods employed by producers. Plenty of material of that ilk exists and I don't feel particularly called to add to it. Personally, I don't need any convincing that the majority of mainstream pornography is at best coercive and exploitative and, at worse, degrading and violent.
Unless one is consuming ethical pornography, one cannot be certain that those involved in the films are doing so willingly, are of age, are not under duress, are of sound mind, are not being filmed against their will, are not being coerced, threatened with violence, trafficked, or exploited. Ethical pornography ensures that consumers have access to material that is produced with consent under good working conditions. This article focuses on mainstream porn, not the ethical variety, mainly because that is what the majority of consumers are watching and that is the majority of what is being produced.
What I would like to explore, and would like to see more resources dedicated to, is how people who have found themselves and their erotic imaginations unhappily linked to mainstream pornography can reclaim their authentic erotic expression. My interest is on how one can rewire the neural pathways carved by mainstream pornography consumption into an erotic expression that feels healthy and authentic to the individual. Healthy expression doesn't necessarily mean vanilla erotic expression. In this case, I use the word healthy to refer to erotic narratives that have internal rather than an external origin.
In our current technological climate, it is fully possible for a young person to witness hundreds of filmed rapes before they even have their first kiss. That is a depressing and sobering fact, but one that certainly should not be swept under the rug. I believe that authentic erotic expression is every human's birthright, that we are born with it as an indwelling force, and that it is imperative to not willingly give the reigns of one's erotic imagination over to the narratives and stories being told by the shadow empire.
Psychologist, Esther Perel states that the best way to heal from sexual abuse or trauma is to fully claim one's sexuality, to make conscious choices about what kind of sexual beings we want to be. It has been my experience that most contemporary people carry some degree of sexual trauma - either from direct experiences, or from secondhand exposure to sexualized violence/coercion in mainstream media/pornography.
It is not too late to take back the reigns, to carve new pathways, to make new choices, to stop allowing these choices to be made for us. What dwells in our secret, underground, erotic chambers? What barriers would we need to break down to discover and express these authentic desires?
We've Been Here Before - Technology, Profit and Manipulation of the Erotic Imagination
After the invention of the printing press in the late 15th century, mainstream access to print material exploded. The best selling book of that era, second only to the bible, was The Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of Witches. The book was sold as a practical how-to torture guide for those labelled as witches and was endorsed by the Pope after he allegedly received a handsome sum of money from Heinrich Kramer, the book's author. Suspected witches were tortured while nude, most frequently hung by their arms until their limbs dislocated. Under extreme pain and duress, they would confess to pretty much any accusation being thrown at them. Once they confessed they were often drown or burned alive.
Although many people used the Hammer of Witches as a torture manual, it is presumed that many were either masturbating to it or wanted to masturbate to it. The manual contained sexualized illustrations and was extremely sexually explicit. So-called witches, mainly female, were described as insatiable sexual creatures, bonded through lust with satan, capable of seducing any good man of God into participating in the most base of sex acts. Torture techniques always involved victims being stripped naked, assaulted, and bound, in front of the fully clothed men.
This book was as profitable as it was titillating. Much like mainstream porn producers with access to the latest internet technology, those with an overt or unconscious distaste for the yin/feminine and access to the printing press stood to make a small fortune by hijacking the erotic imagination of the masses. Mainstream hetero pornography is filled with the same greedy motivations, hatred of the feminine, sexualized non-consensual pain/violence, and eroticized non-consensual oppression / domination. It is statistically consumed in higher quantities in more socially conservative regions and countries. And, just like the Hammer of Witches, mainstream pornography has real casualties.
Heart Medicine and Rat Park
Most students of psychology, addiction, and social work are familiar with the Rat Park experiment. In the experiment rats that lived in healthy rat communities and rats that were isolated in cages were both offered heroin. It was found that the rats that were isolated in cages consumed up to 19 times more heroin than those in nourishing and healthy environments. The study was done in an attempt to prove that one could not make conclusions about addiction and behaviour without factoring in environment.
Last year, YouPorn, the most ubiquitous free mainstream porn site had over 99 billion video views. That is over 12 video views for every human on earth. This is a stunning statistic which has been broken down to draw many conclusions about human desires and sexual preferences. I can't help but think of Rat Park when I read these statistics. These statistics tell us more about human sexual behaviour and preferences that occur primarily in isolation, in the shadows, on smartphones, lit by the glow of laptop screens than they tell us about the authentic nature of human erotic expression. I wonder what form mainstream human sexual expression would take if there were more options, more dialogue, more education, a healthier environment for expression and creation.
Erotic energy is creative energy. When it is dispersed and channeled unconsciously, it builds shadow worlds. When it is dispersed and channeled intentionally, it builds intentional worlds. I imagine these intentional worlds to resemble the caves of pleasure from my dream. Like nature, I imagine these worlds to be varied and fertile, generative and organic, dazzling and dark, always teeming with life and death and curiosity. I imagine worlds of pleasure, of honesty, of exploration. I imagine worlds that cannot be bought or sold or manipulated or frozen in time. I imagine a sacred union - one that serves the web of life and is rooted in reciprocity and pleasure.
Seven Tips for Reclaiming the Erotic, and Transforming the Contemporary Erotic Shadow from an Enemy into an Ally:
1. Understand Neuroplasticity. The narrative can change, but it takes work. If you are unsatisfied with the direction that your erotic imagination has taken, imagine a new story. At first this story may be not be as arousing as the old story but keep trying. Do not repress your sexuality, carve a new channel for it to flow through.
2. Pay for Ethical Pornography. Your clicks create the world. Even when a porn consumer is hidden, deep in the shadows of their bedroom, every click is accounted for, and influences production and demand. If you choose to view internet porn, pay for the ethical variety or follow consenting voyeurs.
3. Get Sexological Bodywork. This emerging field is actually a resurgence of feminine wisdom traditions that were crushed by a puritan culture. Find out if sexological bodyworkers are working in your area and give them a try.
4. Prioritize Self-Pleasure. Our deepest and most enduring sexual relationship is with ourselves. Prioritize this relationship by allowing yourself time and space for self-pleasuring.
5. Take a Porn Break. If you consume porn regularly, take a break and see what changes.
6. Own Your Kinks, Express them in a Healthy Way. Erotic imaginations are varied and creative. Examine and own your kinks so you are able to express them in a safe, consensual way.
7. Focus on Us, not Us Against Them. I believe that everyone is negatively impacted by sexual violence and exploitation. Pain that is not transformed is passed on. Create a more beautiful world by acting in the best interest of all people.
Thanks for reading!
Rhoneil + theInvisibles
More info about one-on-one sessions here.
Rhoneil is a writer, experimental musician, producer, podcast host, director of InvisibleFriends.ca, student of healing arts and a mentor. Her work involves learning the language of nature and of the body, reclaiming innate wisdom, and the power to heal/create. She has released three full-length albums and has toured her work throughout Canada, the United States and Europe. Rhoneil is a life-long learner, studying earth-based ritual, taoist philosophy, somatic therapy, and ecofeminism on an ongoing basis with elders and educators from around the world.
Some links for further reading:
What does feminist porn look like?
Association of Certified Sexological Bodyworkers
My Year Without Porn: Some Surprising Lessons
Porn is more than just sexual fantasy. It's cultural violence.
Journal of Sex Research: Is Mainstream Pornography Becoming Increasingly Violent?
How Porn Makes Inequality Sexually Arousing
Psychology Today: Tantric and Taoist Practices to Improve Sex