Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

“What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death.”
- Susan Sontag

I watched my first adult film at age 13.

Spending the night at my older cousin’s house promised to be an evening filled with girl talk, Jiffy Pop and Sixteen Candles in the VCR. But what transpired over the course of six hours was more hardcore than any Molly Ringwald movie.

My uncle and his girlfriend at the time were headed out on a date. To my shock, he dropped a dime bag of weed into my 15-year-old cousin’s lap, and admonished me not to tell anyone. Then, grabbing his jacket, he closed the door behind him and locked us in.

Claustrophobia was a hazy noose tightening around my neck. I was sandwiched between my cousin and her 15-year-old girlfriend on a love seat as they passed a joint back and forth, inches from my startled face. Instead of Sixteen Candles, we watched The Exorcist. I grew fearful that we weren’t alone in the apartment, a paranoia spurred by the contact high I was getting.

After a few hours of horror movies, my cousin decided to lighten the mood. Rifling through videotapes, she inserted one of my uncle’s pornos in the VCR. I felt like the heroine in a Donald Goines novel, trying valiantly to resist the pimp’s attempts to turn her out. But it was a battle I was slowly losing. The video was laughable, featuring ugly white guys with thick moustaches and corny names like “Dick Goezinya.” Yet, I was impressed by the skills of one fat, curly-haired man who could lean over and perform fellatio on himself. Ron Jeremy, as I later learned, was an unlikely icon in the porn industry.

More shocking than the sex acts appearing inches from our faces was my cousin and her friend’s reaction to the flick. They seemed stoic and bored, like restless kids trying to stay awake in church. But I became aroused by the moans and gyrations on the TV screen, even replaying the tape after the two girls had passed out on the couch in a bud-induced stupor.

Over the years, my flirtation with pornography became a full-fledged love affair. The video I watched that night at my cousin’s apartment awakened some dormant sexual desire in me. At 14, I would raid my older brother’s hidden stash of dirty magazines, and sneak them to my room to masturbate. When I went to the bookstore, I would buy soft core “Victorian romances” to supplement my diet of Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume novels. My favorite offering from Blume, the beloved teen author? Wifey. I had to hide my dog-eared copy in the back of my closet.

As a freshman at Hampton, I had a small library of X-rated titles “borrowed” from friends that I conveniently forgot to return. But I was growing bored with my hobby. Because I considered myself a critical thinker, porn was viewed as anti-intellectual and anti-woman. I didn't want to see myself as a hypersexualized underclassman who couldn't stop masturbating. I didn’t watch another X-rated movie until junior year. I got drunk with some homies and we picked up a Heather Hunter flick at the video store as a joke. I remember dozing off during her sexcapades, believing that my addiction had indeed fizzled out. For a few years, I developed an aversion to the Caught from Behind and Debbie Does Deliverance films of the world. Around that time, I started attending church, developing new friendships, and disdaining my dance with debauchery. Whatever comfort porn offered shriveled up like a raisin in the sun.

But even dried fruit can be reconstituted.

Earlier this year when Ray-J’s sex tape was leaked, curiosity got the best of me, and I went online to find a copy. In my quest to view the R&B singer’s home video with Kim Kardashian, I discovered several Web sites that boasted free porn. Religious beliefs aside, another reason I stopped watching flicks was the embarrassment of coming out of an X-rated store and being spotted with a tell-tale paper bag in hand. But my laptop became a portable sex shop, and I could browse all the three-minute videos I wanted.

At first, I convinced myself that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. After all, I had been celibate for six years, and at least I wasn’t sleeping around. But I was spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer – sometimes three to four hours a night – surfing sex sites. I knew I had a problem when I started watching online videos at 10 o'clock one evening, and didn’t shut down my computer until 6 in the a.m. After a while, I viewed the choreographed sex acts with the same stoic expression my cousin and her friend wore that fateful night so many years ago. But I couldn’t look away. Disaffection became a disease, and even when it was apparent that some of the women were being roughed up during intercourse, and several of the teens looked suspiciously underage, I didn’t avert my gaze. “MILF,” “facialized” and “cumshot” were unwanted entries in my mental dictionary. I started to feel corrupt, like a pedophile in a raincoat and shades, handing out hard candy to children in the park. But that didn’t stop me from logging onto my laptop every night.

A part of my spirit dies every time I stare through the window of my monitor into someone else's bedroom. I used to cry out of guilt when I did it, but I don't anymore. I know that, at 13, I was an unwilling participant in a perverse rite of passage, yet emotional tribal scars run deep. Maybe it's sexual repression, loneliness, excitement or an addictive personality that makes me turn to pornography. Sometimes, I fancy myself as Sula, the detached anti-hero who mourns, yet wholeheartedly embraces, her own fragmentation.

I mentioned this addiction to a girlfriend, and she warned me about the dangers of forming soul ties with my cyber partners. Her words hit home recently. I turned off the lights and got into bed after hours of net porn, and for several minutes, naked couples copulated against the darkened screen of my closed eyelids.

Here's where I'm supposed to insert: "But my relationship with Christ delivered me from this sinful compulsion." Sadly, I'm still looking for redemption. Sunday mornings have found me strolling the seedier online communities until it's time to get dressed for church. I know that I have many spiritual (and sisterly) bedfellows. According to 2006 statistics from Family Safe Media, 9.4 million women access adult Web sites every month, and 47 percent of Christians say pornography is a major problem in their households. That’s a whole lot of bawdy bandwidth being broadcast into the home.

I’m not proud of my dirty little secret, but I'm working hard to remove this cloak of shame. Instead of three to four hours a night of illicit net flicks, I’m down to 30 minutes every other day. Last night, right before I clicked on a porn portal, my finger hovered above the mouse, unsure. After moments of indecision, I went to my Favorites, and selected an Internet sermon on forgiveness. For me, this is deliverance … and not the kind that Debbie does.