19.1.15

XXX - Pornography from a Pagan Perspective

Auguste Rodin - The Eternal Idol (1889)
Pornography is a controversial topic even nowadays when sexuality is much less of a taboo than it was before. It seems that every religion/faith in the world has a defined opinion of it...so what is Paganism's stance on the subject?

It's worth noting that Paganism is not an institutional religion; it is a spiritual path. As such, it does not require that its practitioners have a uniformed opinion of something. In turn, not all Pagans have the same attitude towards pornography. I came across two interesting articles that prove this point. One is "Druid Thoughts: Pagans and Pornography" and the other "Sex, the Occult, and the Witches Who Do Porn". I was curious to see whether opinions differ so widely among Pagans in my country so I posted my question in a few Pagan Facebook groups I am in. And indeed, the answers did vary greatly.

The reason why I find this topic interesting for Paganism is because reverence for sex as well as sexuality and fertility are an integral part of Paganism. Pornography can be seen as a free expression of sexuality as well as an effective way to stimulate one's sexuality. Yet, the main question I want to deal with here is whether pornography fits into Pagan morals and worldviews.

But just to be clear, I make a distinction between pornography and porn actors. I will not deal with Paganism's stances on porn actors because, as with all people, they have a right to decide what they want to do with their bodies. Criticizing them would imply taking away their free will and the option of sexual expression. As long as they aren't harming anyone, I see no problem with their profession. There are many porn actors who enjoy what they do. Of course, there are also those who are forced into this profession. There are also many types of pornography which promote cruel behavior (e.g. rape, sadism, abuse of any kind etc.) - this is the ugly side of porn which I don't want to get into now.

Let us get back to more positive topics, though.

Paganism and Sex

One would expect Paganism, as a fertility-oriented spiritual path, to be very liberal and open to all types of sexual expression, including pornography. I have discussed the topic of sexuality in Paganism in previous posts such as "The Great Rite and Sexuality in Wicca""Ritual Nudity" and "Homosexuality and Paganism". The general message in all of these posts is that sex and the naked human body are completely normal and are widely accepted in most Pagan paths. In fact, sex is usually seen as sacred in Paganism. But it is precisely this sacredness that implies that sex(uality) should be healthy, joyful and pleasurable. Then again, many people have different preferences (fetishes in this context?) and the very notion of what is pleasurable/joyful/healthy varies from culture to culture and from person to person. This is all very relative. But, as long as all the participants of a sexual act give their consent, I see nothing wrong with any fetish.* If they give their consent, then I assume that they enjoy what they are doing at least to some extent.

*Note: contemporary sexuality education and sexology believe that sexual intercourse with children is not acceptable on the basis that children cannot give their consent.

Still, there is a difference between private displays of sexuality/nudity (with oneself, with a partner, or even in a group such as the case may be in skyclad rituals) and public ones. I believe there is a time and place for sex and it seems that the law would agree with me since public sex is prohibited in most countries. There are many reasons for this, most of which are simply of a social nature i.e. they exist due to conventions. If society were different then its rules/laws would also be different - but it isn't. So there's not point in discussing this here. As things are now and have been for quite some time, sex is thought of as private and is therefore reserved for private settings. In fact, even the Great Rite is usually performed in private (all coven members leave the room while the High Priest and High Priestess do this part of the ritual).

But before I continue expressing my thoughts on the subject, let's see what my fellow Pagans thought about pornography's relationship with our faith.

What Modern Pagans Think about Pornography and Paganism

Most Pagans I asked about how pornography fits in with Pagan worldviews had positive opinions on the subject, although there were those that had different opinions. The exact question I asked them was: "Is watching and taking part in pornography contrary to Pagan principles?". So here are some answers I got (note: I promised to keep the comments anonymous out of respect and I translated them from Croatian myself, so please keep this in mind). 

"I think that it [pornography] is a normal cinematic display . . . We all do it [sex] and it's natural, it's just that it has become a taboo."

"In my opinion, pornography is a cause-and-effect product of Catholic inhibitions. Without inhibitions, it's just a sexual experience with variations."

"This opens up a much more interesting question - are 'alternative people" simultaneously liberal? Many followers of 'alternative" faiths are actually extremely conservative. Let us take Asatru as an example. From this stem several more questions: what society creates pornography; liberal or conservative? Historically speaking, pornography flourishes in conservative, sexually repressive societies, while erotica develops in liberal societies. Therefore, in a hypothetical Pagan-conservative society, a strong form of pornography would surely develop as an escape method from repression."
This same person said the following: "I'm not sure that pornography isn't harmful. But I believe that porno is an independent phenomenon. In my opinion it comes from sexual repression and a lack or erotica."

On this note, another person commented: "I also agree that it can be harmful, and very much so, but in a liberal society it somehow seems to lose its role...or it just seems that way."

"A person who is interested in pornography, who watches it or creates it and in doing so harms nobody, isn't doing anything wrong."

"Sex is natural per se, but if one goes to deep into it and gives into physical pleasures, one may stray from the meaning of their existence and the harmony of one's own spirit with everything that surrounds it, which is in some way the core of Paganism. Still, I think that Pagans are extremely neutral towards this topic, as are most people."

"In practice, it seems that there are a lot of disclaimers on the idea that Pornography satisfies the "harm none" principle. You simply can't know who the producer was, where the money came from, whether the actors are trafficking victims...a hundred questions. You also can't know in what circumstances pornography will be watched and what will be understood as the main message . . . It turns out that both those watching it and creating it should have some sort of kosher certificate."

"Pornography has existed since humans have been having sex; not out of repression but simply because of the way our brains are structured. Since very ancient prehistory we have been representing and creating sexual toys, images and so on . . . displays of sexual acts in all their promiscuity are normal . . . redtube ftw!"

"Christians didn't invent sexual repression. Roman Pagans forced their Vestal priestesses to remain virgins and if they broke their vows, they were cruelly tortured and killed."

"...everyone has their own choice of how to approach sex and how much attention to pay to the principles of the Pagan path they follow."
This same person said: "Sex is as sacred as you believe it to be, not just because a principle says so. On the other hand, you should enjoy natural things, but the amount of enjoyment is up to the individual . . . Sex is sacred in many religions, but as long as a person doesn't harm anyone, they can do what they want."

I thought the following comment was particularly interesting: "What's in question here is actually a different interpretation of the same thing. While Pagans respect the human body and sex, pornography reduces it to cheap commerce. Of course, nobody judges those who watch such content. Better that than through other peoples' windows."

"I also cannot connect sacred partnership, sex with the goal of continuing a lineage and creation, fertility or the transformation of energy with pornography in which the actors possibly see each other for the first time and get all worked up while others watch. Very very low frequency..."

"Pornography is harmful for those who consume it and gives a wrong depiction of sexuality, or rather what the reason for a sexual act should be."

And this one just made me laugh :D :"Pornography has to do with sexuality as much as Harry Potter has to do with magic."

The following comment refers to pornography in photography: "Generally all of these photographs turn out to be more or less crude depictions of female meat (kudos to the exceptions), but I don't blame the photographers for this as much as I blame people's attitudes towards this - the market wants what it wants . . . We can deceive ourselves and call things by another name, even art, talk about some sort of subjectivity and the individual's perception, but in this man's world, everything is supposed to be subordinated to men, including women as objects. As a female Pagan, I find this inconceivable. And actresses are usually victims of pimps, or perhaps, on the other extreme, women who want to make it big overnight by selling their bodies. Still unacceptable no matter what my faith is...what's in question are values; human values."

"It's not a matter of what sex looks like, or how the very image of pornography is created, but in stead of the social context, or rather the situation in which pornography is presented. This isn't about derogating (or not) the human body, primarily the female body, but about the fact that social positions, whose attraction is defined as a 'fetish', exist in pornographic scenes. But really, this is just a reflection of the power of a certain social position. So the image of sex isn't being distorted, but what is being distorted is the fact that a person's social position is more important than the person."

"I don't think it's possible to speak about exclusively one aspect of the media's imposition of ideals. I can criticize pornographic actors only in the spiritual/occult sense because I believe that someone who changes sexual partners often isn't capable of any sort of serious spiritual work. And I don't say these because of moral reasons, but because of the imbalance of energy which manifests itself in such cases. Of course, there are exceptions even here if the sexual act is carried out precisely for an occult work."

"I think that in all of these discussions about where pornography is good or bad, people forget about those that are actually in it, to which this profession is their 'daily bread' and which are marginalized because of the general stance of the population towards pornography. But in fact, they have the same needs as all of us; to be accepted and have a spiritual faith in which they feel accepted. In most religions they are actually rejected. I am interested in how such a person would be accepted in the Pagan community and if their profession would be looked down on as a lower, sinful, or less worthy profession."

As you can see, opinions really do vary widely, but this was to be expected. After all, not everyone has the same mindset or worldviews, especially when it comes to controversial subjects such as pornography.

While researching this topic, I found two very interesting articles which are, interestingly enough, contradictory to one another:
Druid Thoughts: Pagans and Pornography
Sex, the Occult, and the Witches Who Do Porn

Both articles had an impact on me and, since we're on the subject, it's time I expressed my thoughts on this subject. :)

My Thoughts on Paganism and Pornography

Of course, you don't have to share my opinions (nor do I expect you to) but I do feel the urge to express them. To be honest, my thoughts are much closer to those expressed in "Druid Thoughts". I would just quickly like to recap the 10 reasons why the author of this article finds pornography to be at odds with Paganism and add a few of my own thoughts:
  1. Pornography "isn't about consent or personal taste" (and if you remember, I mentioned consent as an important factor for sex) because other needs, such as the need for financial security and psychological factors lead people to do what they otherwise wouldn't be willing to do. This brings into question the free will of those participating in pornography (though this doesn't mean that all or even the majority of porn actors do this, or feel this way, but there are those to which this statement applies).
  2. Pornography creates a distorted picture of sex and the human body. To elaborate, the porn industry chooses those actors that are exemplary in any way (either due to their stature, the size of their sexual organs or special "capabilities"). This leads people to have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their sexual partners, it distances them from their own bodies (makes them feel ashamed, incapable, less worthy etc.) and, as the author points out, may even cause people to feel so dissatisfied with their bodies to want to change them using plastic surgery. As a Pagan, I find plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons unacceptable (plastic surgery for health reasons is a completely different story) because it just alienates people from their natural state, disrupts the person's mental stability and creates even further complexes. I think it would be much more productive if people could learn to accept their bodies the way they are  or, if they do want to change what they look like, try to "sculpt" their bodies as best they can using natural methods.
  3. Pornography represents sex as "something sleazy, dirty and forbidden". Pagans understand sex and human sexuality to be sacred, completely natural and far from forbidden. It is both pleasurable and necessary for the survival of our kind. And if there is something more to it than physical attraction, then this is all the better and by no means sleazy or dirty but in stead very pure.
  4. "Porn frequently depicts aggressive, disrespectful relationships between people". This kind of behavior goes against Pagan morals (you can understand them as the "harm none" rule, the ideal of love or in the context of aesthetics...either way, such contemptful behavior doesn't agree with any of these notions, but I recommend your read my post on pagan morals for more details).
  5. "Pornography perpetrates unhealthy beliefs about women and the female body – that women exist to be used, that the female body is only good in so far as it gives pleasure, that women are sex objects. No Goddess worshiper could find this acceptable". I couldn't have said this better myself. Though I would also like to add that women aren't the only victims here but that men also can be presented in a very stereotypical and sometimes even unnatural way. It forces both men and women to believe that there is only one type of man/woman that is right and that any behavior/physical appearance that doesn't coincide with the one they see in porn is wrong.
  6. "Porn devalues sex and commodifies it, which is wholly at odds with ideas of sacred sexuality held by Pagans". Pagans revere any form of fertility and thus also human sexuality. To debase it in such an extent is, at least in my opinion, very disrespectful to all humans.
  7. "Watching porn gives gratification with neither a sense of responsibility nor relationship. This is at odds with the ethics of most Pagans. We are encouraged by porn to forget our responsibilities to the people we watch — to forget their humanity, and our own. This is not Pagan". This is a point I don't wholly agree upon. One cannot have a (meaningful) relationship with a pornographic movie/photo or any such object and we cannot be expected to sympathize with every person we meet, let alone see on TV, or in a picture. We watch documentaries which sometimes retell horrific stories, dramas that depict tragic real-life events and even reality shows that sometimes deal with difficult topics. In a world where we are bombed with imagery and stories of all kinds, we cannot be expected to feel for everyone and everything because this is simply too exhausting. Also, it is especially difficult to feel sympathy for people (porn actors) that seem to be enjoying themselves (and honestly, many porn actors do enjoy their jobs) and even more difficult to do so when these people are objectified (which is often the case in porn). In addition to all this, I don't see why any consumer of porn should have to take responsibility for porn itself. The average person has no part in making the pornographic content they pleasure themselves to. After all, we all enjoy many things and don't take responsibility in them. We drink coffee but don't think about the conditions in which the coffee beans were collected, we buy clothes that are possibly made by child factory workers in horrible places but we don't even flinch. These are just a few examples, but this isn't the main topic. I believe that Pagans should definitely be aware of their responsibilities (towards themselves and the people around them) and the repercussions of their actions. If the individual doesn't see how watching porn can have a negative effect on anyone around them or themselves, then why not go for it? The main idea is just to be conscious of your own actions.
  8. "Porn isn’t that sexy. It is often functional, lacking emotional engagement and devoid of sensuality". I agree that porn isn't sexy, but then again, not everyone has the same taste. It does lack sensuality and erotica, but some people don't mind this. In short, I don't think anyone has the right to tell people to what level their sexual lives or interests should be emotional/sensual/erotic.
  9. "Porn increases a fear of all things sexual in a significant number of people who do not like it. The more porn there is, the greater the risk that anything sexual (naked Pagans included) will be assumed to be much the same". I think this is true, but this is mainly due to the unrealistic depiction of sex in pornography. Any smart and sexually well-informed person will be aware of this and will ultimately dismiss pornography as a relevant sample of healthy sexual behavior, healthy human relationships or the human body (though, to be fair, not all pornography falls under this category).
  10. "Porn distracts from the real thing. It’s no kind of substitute for the joy and magic that actual people can create with physical love". While I also agree with this, I believe that "alone time" is necessary sometimes. If someone prefers to use pornographic content while masturbating, for whichever reason, then they are free to do so. Plus, there isn't always the possibility of experiencing "physical love", as the author puts it. It isn't that hard to find a one night stand, but this generally doesn't create love. And even if one is willing to wait for physical love to happen, that may take a long time and in the meantime, sexual needs simply have to be met (this is just biologically programmed).
I don't want you to get the wrong picture so let me just say something very clearly: I don't think that Pagans aren't allowed to watch pornography or that one isn't a Pagan because they watch pornography. I just think that everyone, including Pagans, has to be aware of the effects of pornography and if you want to grow as a person (in a spiritual and/or emotional way), you have to be aware of your actions (and their repercussions), the positive and negative effects that things can have on you and, ultimately, you have to stick to your principles. If a person finds more positive sides to pornography and believes that it really does fit into their Pagan worldview in a certain way (and if they are able to incorporate it into their belief system using reasonable explanations), then I'm certainly not one to judge or negate that person's paganism.

The author of the above article says: "If you are doing something that in you to love, to feel connection and a sense of the sacred, you’re living your Paganism". Well what if someone sees watching porn or perhaps taking part in it as an act of empowerment and liberation, the expression of free love, a chance to connect on a more intimate level with someone or let the gods of fertility act through them? Well in that case, they too are "living their Paganism". It is precisely this second article (Sex, the Occult, and the Witches Who Do Porn) that explains the other side of this story. I truly recommend reading it because it includes interviews with Pagan porn actors who explain how they combine their professions and spiritualities. But I will let you read the article and develop your own thoughts on it.

All in all, I can't object to pornography on the basis that it depicts naked human bodies (because I believe the human body to be natural and beautiful) but I do object to it on other levels that I explained in this post. Although, I do simultaneously understand people who find pornography exciting, empowering, liberating and so on. But there are just too many factors that have to be taken into consideration when talking about whether pornography is "good" or "bad" (or rather whether it does/doesn't fit into the Pagan worldview). We could even divide this discussion into three topics: (1) watching pornography; (2) taking part in pornography; (3) the porn industry. If we try to define what fits into the Pagan worldview simply from the moral perspective of "harm none" and similar rules, then watching pornography and taking part in it generally aren't immoral (unless somebody is being hurt in the process in any way), whereas the porn industry is mostly understood to be exploitative and dehumanizing. But we can also try to analyze the issue from many other perspectives. But basically, I don't think we can give a singular answer to this issue because almost every Pagan will have a different opinion.

In the end, I can only urge you to be aware of your actions and decisions and think for yourselves. I decided to express my thoughts on the subject simply because I felt the need to do so, but also to lead you to contemplate on this topic (even if this contemplation leads you to leaving angry comments on this post...but at least your have your own principles and you stick to them so kudos for that!).

I hope I didn't raise too much dust by writing about this issue. But even if I did, I'm not too sorry about it. :p

So until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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