I’m Right Here. See Me.
Vox Nova is happy to present this guest post from Leah Perrault.
It’s me, too. I’ve been turning over magazines in grocery line-ups. I’m sick of the silence on the portrayal of women and girls as sex objects and our shared constant exposure to unreal and over-sexualized images of women and men in advertising and media.
Alongside the other voices in the blogosphere who have been taking up this issue of late, I have had a series of fascinating conversations lately about pornography and its prevalence in our culture. In Premarital Sex in America, the authors suggest that 86% of young men between 18 and 23 use porn on at least a weekly basis, and that porn use among women is growing too. When I think about this, I have trouble naming three people in my world that I think use porn. Call me naïve – I am. In conversation, it has been suggested to me that these statistics may be conservative. With a multi-billion dollar porn industry, logic tells, if experience can’t, that someone must be buying it and looking at it.
But here’s the thing. I can’t imagine who these men and women are – and I don’t want to. Inasmuch as I don’t want my body reduced to my sexuality and further reduced to how the image of my body can be useful for another person’s sexual gratification, I don’t want to think about other people being seduced by sexual gratification that is absent of the human touch, love, growth and life offered by real, committed sexual relationships (the kind the Church teaches about and celebrates, as it turns out).
I want to live in bubble where sex is beautiful, respected and has a role in making me, my spouse and the rest of the world better people in the bedroom and when we leave it.
I don’t live in that bubble. But here’s the thing: even though I am living it in my marriage and grateful I have been spared the sexual abuse, trauma, experimentation and regrets that so many of my friends and neighbours are healing from as they live beautiful lives, a culture of pornography stops us from really seeing each other.
In my neighbourhood, I want to know that my children, a son and daughter, could run out of the house after their baths on a warm summer evening, having escaped the privacy of our living room as I ran to answer the phone, and that a couple walking their dog on my sidewalk would see tiny children reveling in the freedom and beauty of grass on their toes and their backs.
At the beach, I want to know that my bathing suit is celebration of God’s gift of creation – of sand between toes and sunlight reflecting off water, and bodies who have given birth and weathered into wrinkled form. I want to know that when human beings meet on a warm day, we can see the joy in one another’s bodies and share the gift of recreation in a world that works too much and too hard.
When I go to my office or stop at the grocery store, I want you to see me. Is that too much to ask? I want you to see that I’m 29 and female, pretty, but in a clean and bookish sort of way. I want you to see that I’m tired, having given too much today and in need of a smile. I want you to hear my ideas and tell me that you
disagree with me. I want you to wonder where I come from and I want you to be amazed at the miracle that is proclaimed by my body. And I want to really see you too.
Porn (in its soft forms on magazine covers and toothpaste billboards and its harder, less socially acceptable forms) preys on our longing to see each other and to actually be connected by real relationships. It’s multi-billion dollar industry thriving on its success to sell us a cheap imitation of the real human communion for which we were made.
If we are going to really see each other, we need men and women alike, feminist or not, to stop putting up with the fake images that promise us intimacy without commitment, beauty without age, pictures without personalities. I am not a stereotype: Christian woman with a repressive attitude about sex, miserably unhappy in a perpetual turtleneck. I am making a good deal of my living talking and writing about sex and sexuality. My sex life is making me a more generous, playful, honest and real human being. And I’ve never looked at any form of pornography that hasn’t been forced on me at the grocery store. Obviously, I am not going to change the porn culture by myself. I’m more than a little underqualified to even begin to do so.
But I can speak to the fact that porn is stopping people from seeing me. I have been looked up and down by men I otherwise respect. I have been told that my dress is causing others to sin when it has been entirely appropriate. I have followed my instinct when I have known that it is not safe for me or my children to be alone with a human being who has threatened our sense of sexual safety. I have been deprived of friendships with beautiful people because their significant others were uncomfortable with my femininity. People have failed to see me because we live in culture captivated by porn.
We need courageous men and women to stop using porn and start talking about their experience. We need parents to warn their children about it so that they won’t be drawn in by it. We need real men and real women to be seen, in their strength and in their weakness so we can all stop pretending that we could ever measure up to pictures of sex and caricatures of human people.
I’m standing right here. Please see me.
Leah’s new book, Theology of the Body for Every Body is available from Novalis. She is co-author, with Vox Novan Brett Salkeld, of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating. Together they are Tobias and Sarah Ministries.