I recently met with my high school senior English teacher to talk about writing, sex, and sexual identity. (Yes, I still talk to both my 11th and 12th grade English teachers and yes, we talk about sex… sometimes. LOL) She reminded of my senior research project and that the topic I chose was “erotica.” (WTF?!) I couldn’t believe that she even remembered that paper! I was one of 500 students out of her high school teaching career and she remembered MY paper… Needless to say, I was shocked and honored. She also told me that she still had the original and was willing to give me a copy if I was interested in having one. YES!!!
The next day I sat with a copy of my senior research paper on “erotica.” One of the first things I said to myself before I even read the paper was, “I was a freak even in high school! What 12th grader writes a paper on erotica/sex?” But as I continued to read, I noticed that I had some thought provoking questions that I still have today. I was amazed that I answered these questions at 17/18 years of age. The person felt they were experienced enough to discuss the topic, which makes this even more interesting to revisit.
I decided to have a conversation with 17/18-year-old Reaux and revisit some of the points in her paper. (Note: 17/18-year-old Reaux will be identified as "1997.")
Are men more visually stimulated than women?
1997: “’…men are more animalistic while women are more emotional…’ (classmate direct quote). When guys are attracted to me, it is mostly a sexual response that they have; it is not because of my intelligence. But when I am attracted to guys, yes, I do have a sexual response, but there is something else that I am attracted to, such as intelligence, humor, etc.; ‘…women are taught not to like [visual stimulation] and that it is only for low class women’ (Amber, 80). When I watched a form of visual erotica, sure enough it aroused some sexual feelings, but then I felt very guilty about watching something like that. I felt like I had done something very bad about what had excited me, as if someone was watching me and was going to tell my mom.”
Reaux: It is interesting that you make the case for men being more animalistic than women. There are plenty of women with the same animalistic desires as their male counterparts. However the issue, as you mentioned, are the feelings of shame and guilt. I believe that these feelings have been taught to us as women because we have been trained to believe that either we should not have a sexual identity or that our sexual pleasure is only for the use of our male counterparts. Basically, we did not and still do not have control over our own sexual pleasure. This has always been for someone else’s usage. I have always stated that our sexuality is ours, it is powerful, and we control who we choose to give it to or not.
Is pornography considered perverse?
1997: “…Perspectives on Pornography by Douglas A. Hughes… tells me that ‘a pornographic work represents social acts of sex, frequently of a perverse nature… that encourage fantasy involving masturbation’ (Hughes, 5). Well, that does make sense, but not total sense. Most pornographic work that I have seen may be a little perverted and it may cause masturbation, but does that automatically make it pornographic? Does a picture that encourages masturbation make it pornographic? Are nude bars pornographic? These questions can only be answered by one person and what they believe is porn or not porn. There are some pretty perverted things in the pornographic world, but if it helps someone to get to know and feel more secure about their sexual identity, then it should not be considered pornographic. It should be considered ‘self-help,’ but America is not going to let that happen.
Reaux: You make some great points! I don’t agree with the stated definition of pornography either. We have to start with the idea that “pornography is perverted.” First, let’s acknowledge that we are not talking about acts of pedophilia, rape, or harm. We must be careful about generalizing to sub-topics that are demeaning and detrimental to the whole self and are illegal. Second, while pornographic work may inspire masturbation, that is not always the case. You indicate excellent examples of this like Gentlemen’s Clubs and pictures/art works. Yes, the idea of what is pornographic can only be defined by the person viewing the image, but, society has “relaxed” their view on what is deemed sexually explicit by stating that its intended purpose is to stimulate erotically and not focus on the perversion. This eliminates the judgmental perception that watching or engaging in pornography is inherently bad. Now keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that individuals won’t judge us, but, I think we have made some strides. Society has become more accepting of porn, however there is still a secrecy about it – “just don’t talk about it”- which is a totally different conversation all in itself. *LOL* While I don’t think we haven’t gotten to the place where we are openly accepting folks using porn as “self-help,” I do believe as a society we have relaxed our judgmental ideas of people who view pornography.
Some sort of closure?
1997: “…after about two months of searching, getting facts together, and writing the paper, it was time to come to some sort of closure. At first, I looked at this opportunity as a chance to explore homosexuality, but then something steered me the wrong way. It was a chance to look at myself and how I have grown sexually. It’s true that I am old enough to make my own decisions about certain morals and issues, but this was something that I didn’t want to just tuck away and ponder about after I had settled down. I wanted to bring it to the forefront now, so I wouldn’t have any surprises later, plus I felt very [secure] that I could handle a topic like this. In talking to my uncle, he told me that “…learning about your sexuality is an ongoing process that only ends when you marry because that is when have found it” (Uncle). It is statements like this that make me look forward to being married because you know your desires and dreams; you know what stimulates you…”
Reaux: I am super proud of you that you took the opportunity to examine your ideas, beliefs, and politics around sexuality, particularly centered around your own sexual identity. To do so in high school when most students haven’t even figured out who they are is a feat in itself, so I truly applauded you. I don’t think this paper “steered” you in the wrong way; it just so happened that throughout your search you began to learn more about yourself than your original topic. This became more important than analyzing someone else. I will offer you this advice being that I am your future self: Learning about your sexuality is an ongoing process, however, it does not end when you marry. You will come to realize that that is an extremely male-centered point of view that will not serve you. Yes, look forward to finding your mate (because eventually, eventually you will), but being with your mate will not “finalize” your sexual identity. It will continue to evolve even as you go through adulthood. That should give you something to look forward to. *SMILE*
A reality reflection:
When my English teacher told me that I had completed this paper, I had no memory of this assignment AT ALL… until she described it to me and then all of the memories came flooding back. I could remember the classroom, the conversations, the research, sitting with her and discussing strategies of how this was going to be accomplished, and even turning the paper in to her. What I didn’t expect was to read the paper and feel like I could have a conversation with my 17/18-year-old self about our sexual identity. Of course, there were moments where I thought, “I was trying to be mature but actually wasn’t,” but for the most part, I was truly impressed by this young girl who wanted to discuss her sexual identity and felt that her high school senior research paper was the best forum to do so.
If I could say anything to her now, I would say: You have been the foundation for my sexual identity and politics as an adult. I appreciate your openness, your inquisitive nature, and your love to make the world a better place of those around you, sexually. It is because of you that I have been able to be and do.
References from the paper:
Amber, Jeannine. "A Peep Into Porn." Essence. February, 1997: 78-80, 138-150.
Hughes, Douglas A., Perspectives on Pornography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1970.