A blogger recently asked for my thoughts on unsafe sex. Here is my response:
“Unprotected sex” is an interesting phrase. Sex among men is one of the great achievements of humankind, an unthinkably complex and beautiful behavioural language that has been developed over the course of our 85-million-year history as a species. It is one of the essential anchors that ties us both to our own nature and that of the world around us. Regrettably — and perhaps ironically — in this time of eco-awareness, our sexual nature — a priceless heritage — is itself more and more unprotected and in danger of being vitiated (through commodification and control) and forgotten.
Recently ornithologists did some interesting studies in the rhetoric of birdsong. They recorded the songs of a particular species of birds, broke the songs up into their constituent parts and removed some of the “syllables” of the songs. They then substituted these rearranged and reduced songs for a small group of fledgling birds who otherwise would have heard the complete songs in nature. When these fledglings grew up, because the complexity of the song had been tampered with, they hadn’t learned some of the basics of being a bird. Among other things, they couldn’t fly. The information necessary for this essential behaviour had been in the subtle arrangement of all the parts of the songs: intelligence embedded in patterns beyond the intellectual comprehension of both birds and men.
The same is true for men and their sex. There is meaning in the complexity of sexual behaviour that goes deeper than pleasure and certainly far deeper than pornography’s commodification or public health’s reductive dicta. Constrain the sex, render it rule-bound, dictate it through the artificial and short-sighted social and “health” optimizations of biopolitics or the homogenization of commodification, and you run the very real risk of losing information that enables us to be human and to be the exquisitely calibrated thing called “men.”
Our sexual culture is currently at a point of dangerous low ebb. Where we once had vital and creative practice, we now have almost infinite access to images of sex coupled with a reduced access to real sex. But our eyes are not substitutes for our bodies.
To my way of thinking, it’s the responsibility of porn to engage the viewer with sufficient reality and sufficient information so as to inspire him to engage in creative and real sex himself. Optimally, porn should aim not only to excite, but also to incite. This requires showing every reality of men engaging with men in ways that are real, creative and honest. This is dangerous because the social order is afraid of what can happen when men learn the power and pleasure of true fucking, true cocksucking, true fisting, rimming, real and unfettered connection. A world of men having limitless pleasure among men is a domain of meaning that’s commensurate with that of any other value system that society deems profitable or stable or politically viable. To put it bluntly, sex is more important, more powerful than money, status or political power.
It’s sad but it’s true that when men form groups and become political they tend to favour simplification. Not only the rights of the individual, but the very meaning of being an individual human are dulled, generalized, lost in the battle for political presence and power. The body politic doesn’t favour the seemingly irrational, complex and elegant drives and needs of the human. When one is fighting a battle for “gay rights” that’s pitched in the context of several decades of recent history, it’s extraordinarily easy — convenient, even — to ignore and lose behavioural truths and subtleties accrued over millennia of sexual evolution.
Now, in order to fully inhabit and own their humanness, men need to do the perilous and the impossible, the far-fetched and unreasonable. We climb Everest despite the fact that one out of six who make the effort die. It’s who and what we are at our deepest and most meaningful: there are those among us who must explore the unexplored, become familiar with the forbidden. Consider Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition (I think the best recounting of his adventure is Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance, a really great book). From the point of view of nearly anyone seeing his absurdly dangerous trek from the outside, what he and his team did was quite literally insane. It would have been more reasonable, safer, for him to stay home and putter in his garden, tend his flowers.
There are those for whom sex can easily be confined to what would be commensurate with a brief and utterly safe garden stroll. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But then there are men for whom nothing will do but to explore the darkest and most forbidden regions of human sexuality, who are by their nature — yes, from birth — drawn inexplicably into the very wilds of it. And they do this not because they are weak or lust-addicted, but because it is who they are. They are the carriers of the deepest resonances of our human sexual spirit. And as explorers, as courageous men, as climbers of the Everest that’s in every body, they are representative of the best of the species.
I can’t tell you how often in the course of my own sexual life I have wondered if what I was experiencing was survivable. There is a realm of experience in male sexuality — easily attainable sans drugs, by the way — that takes one inestimably beyond what one thinks of as pleasure or even bliss, far beyond the kin of consensus consciousness. If you’ve been drawn to this range of experience and have done even rudimentary exploration of it, you know what I’m talking about. The cultivated everyday self is lost, obliterated by the raw power of nature that one encounters and embodies. And this is nothing less than revolutionarily utopian precisely because it’s the birthright of every man.
The great problem today is that sex is indeed more and more “unprotected.” That is, what we call sex is less and less protected against the rationalist incursions of shortsighted and unwise public and political exigency. As you know, gay men have made great strides in gaining visibility, acceptance, political presence. This is undeniably a positive thing for which we justly feel a great communal pride. But one of the costs has been the near loss of vast tracts of our primal heritage as physical men: our deep exploration of sexuality is under attack by those who deem it irrational, unnecessary, socially unwise or unseemly.
The sex that men have with other men is far more important to our survival as a species than heterosexual sex. It is an art, a philosophy, a way of life, a religion. I call the sex men have with men the hidden fine arts, a repository of behaviours, connections, meanings, acts, patterns and information that enable us to survive and to be complete. The freedom to explore this world of sex and to do so with nerve and passion should be protected at all costs. It is, in a very real sense, that for which a generation of men gave their lives. To fail to protect and exalt it with everything we have would be to fail their faith in us as stewards of their infinitely precious and fragile legacy.
This is why I am a pornographer. It’s why I’ve given myself to documenting “unsafe” sex in an environment that is increasingly inhospitable to the world of timeless meaning and beauty that each man carries in his body, his genitals, his semen and blood, in his very bones.
Paul Morris is the owner of Treasure Island Media. This article first appeared at treasureislandblog.com.