Penthouse Retrospective

by Robert Warren Cromey Originally Published: August, 2000

Christian Porno | 20 Years Ago This Month

Condemning pornography is a popular Christian sport. Is it that fundamentalist Christians don’t like sex much? Do they talk about it only to condemn it?

Penthouse Magazine - August, 2000Advise & Consent: Christian Porno

Church bodies oppose homosexuality and all sex outside marriage. That means no sex for teenagers, young adults before marriage, the divorced, widows and widowers, or the handicapped (who may not be able to maintain married life and bear children). It also means no masturbation. This sex-negative attitude is bizarre, cruel, and unenforceable, and makes many Christians feel hypocritical.

I am a Christian, a lifelong Episcopalian, a priest of the church, and rector of a parish. My late father was a priest, as is my brother. My own Episcopal church wrestles with the questions of sex. Some of our members have a legalistic stripe and condemn all sex outside marriage. Most want to leave sexual behavior up to the individual Christian.

I am a very sex-positive person. I believe sex is a good and beautiful gift. While we need to be caring and responsible, we also should lighten up and emphasize the enjoyment and pleasure of sex before, during, and after marriage. We can also see that homosexual sex is natural and normal for a certain portion of the population of the planet. With that in mind, I want to put in a good word for pornography.

An obituary of Brendan Gill, distinguished writer for The New Yorker magazine, stimulated me to write about porno. He said that pornography made him happy. Sexually explicit art does arouse our sexuality and makes us glad. A newsletter from Good Vibrations, the San Francisco sex-book, -video, and -apparatus shop, says its customers are men, women, clergy, doctors, dentists, lawyers, students, teachers, police officers, and firefighters. In other words, people from all walks of life enjoy erotica and pornography.

Pornography is any art form that arouses sexual feelings in people. These feelings usually are filled with lusty pleasure.

Pornography as seen by prudes is any depiction of nudity or people having sex with themselves or another person. If the image arouses sexual feelings, it is wrong, bad, and sinful, they say. A picture of the Virgin Mary with her breast exposed as she feeds the Christ Child will be judged pornographic by some people.

Eroticism, on the other hand, is any art form that depicts love, warmth, and affection between people. In seminars I have run, I have used videos produced for educational purposes that depict explicit sexual activity and show completely nude people. The videos probably sexually aroused some, if not all, viewers, but their purpose is to depict love and caring in order to assist learning about sex.

One education video shows tender sex between a woman and a man severely maimed by a stroke. The woman caresses and plays with the man, massages him, and finally fellates him. The pleasure on his twisted face brings tears to the viewer. Is this film erotic enough to be called pornographic? Is it wrong to depict sexual pleasure in a man who gets so little pleasure out of life?

A producer of male porno gave me a good reason and rationalization for his work. “If a lonely gay man living in North Dakota in the cold and isolation can get some warmth and pleasure by watching two cute guys having sex, then I know my work has redeeming social value.”

A lot of porno videos are dull and repetitious. Some demean women, some belittle men. Many have little artistic value and are best left unseen. But individuals can and should make their own choices and not have religious groups push for legal bans (except for legal limits on the availability to children of porn videos and literature).

Sexually explicit art has been around for a long time. Primitive paintings found on the walls of caves depict sexual activity in most cultures around the world. Chinese and Japanese paintings of sex acts flourish. Indians adorn temples with erotic art. In Peru, small ancient sculptures show Incas in all manner of sexual positions. In Cuzco, the woman who sold me some cheap copies called them matrimonials. I thought, What better way to teach young people about sex?

The author is the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

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