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Even the most straightforward individual holds hidden depths. Participating in the human condition means possessing a constellation of core needs and desires. After stern physical requirements such as breathable air, pervasive light, nourishing food, clean water, warm clothing, adequate shelter from harsh outside elements and basic safety from violence and fear have been met, the ideal of love and emotional support is one of the most powerful needs in Abraham H. Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs. The phenomenon of sexual attraction reflects both a fundamental need for physical intimacy and the deeply felt desire to be loved and cherished.

In truth, the great majority of people need regular personal contact with other people to remain emotionally healthy. Skin hunger, the simple need for direct physical contact of any kind with other people, is a hidden epidemic among lonely individuals. The cold reality of pornography offers only slick images on paper or on glowing computer displays that contain none of the warmth of genuine humanity. A misguided habit of seeking emotional satisfaction from the mirages of sexually charged images invariably results in repeated disappointments and the growing despair of unmet needs. It’s a little like desperately seeking nourishment from apparently appetising foodstuffs that persistently crumble into tasteless sawdust, leaving behind only an endless hunger that saps vitality and hope.

Aside from the simpler disappointments of pornography, the static images and recorded video contortions of actresses and actors offer only a glittering, unrealistic mirror of sexual desires and romantic expectations that hides the messiness of real relationships. Fairy-tale princes and princesses may swirl and dance across the silver screen with impossible grace and perfection and with nary a blemish or wart, but actual people are far more nuanced. They grow hair in several locations and then self-consciously groom, conceal or remove those patches of hair. They sweat embarrassingly on hot days and muck about with various soaps, deodorants and scents. They smile nervously as they await reactions within social situations to novel garments and shoes. They wonder if they smell bad or are unattractive in some obscure way. They walk around with less than flawless grace and dignity. They occasionally misspeak badly or thoughtlessly neglect to consider the feelings of others. Put simply, they are flawed, imperfect beings who give the lie to the absurdities of pornography.

Society is filled with all the sounds, the sights and the scents of real human beings in all their glorious imperfections. Meticulously coiffed, artfully painted and even airbrushed by talented visual artists or surgically altered by gifted plastic surgeons, pornography subjects typically seem to achieve an ethereal perfection that floats above the noisy vibrancy of reality. To borrow a concept from the world of art, expecting every casually daubed oil painting or joyously scribbled pencil drawing to rise to the glory of the Mona Lisa or a rare display of light and shadow from Rembrandt van Rijn only results in eternal disappointment and sadness. Pornography encourages just that sort of dreamlike and impossible hunt for rare perfection. The chance for happiness with a real partner in life can easily be lost in a vainglorious quest for the unattainable grail of a perfect physical appearance.

Furthermore, slick video productions from pornographers almost always misleadingly portray sexual encounters as wild rides into the unknown that invariably peak in red-faced ecstasy for both participants. In reality, not every bout of lovemaking reaches the heights of passion. A sexual encounter can be a sleepy, comfortable ritual that ends in little more than quiet satisfaction and intimacy. It can also be an exciting interlude that reveals surprising and wonderful aspects of each partner’s personality. Real physical intimacy is genuine in a way that pornography utterly fails to touch.

A healthy romantic relationship includes mutual respect and concern for the welfare of a significant other, honesty about personal expectations and desires, recognition of the equal importance of each other’s needs and perhaps even the emergence of abiding love. Pornography, especially with hard-core sexual images, tends strongly to promote a shallow, detached approach to relationships that easily slips into thoughtless domination or even casual violence and cruelty. Moreover, the brains of younger people typically continue to develop until about the age of 24. Early immersion in the mirages of pornography can permanently warp their ability to live happily with less-than-perfect significant others with females especially tending to adopt a hyper-sexualised view of themselves.

Hard-core pornography is already seriously dehumanising, but even soft-core pornography pushes hard the subliminal message that only perfect body parts such as full, round breasts and wide, softly curving hips in women and rock-hard abdominal muscles and steely pectorals in men are acceptable. Warm, loving women and men with obvious physical shortcomings tend to fall by the wayside in the race for romantic success if they fail to exhibit near perfection in all ways. Individuals conditioned to expect flawless visages and bodies begin to lose sight of far more important characteristics such as a joyous sense of humor, keen insight on the human condition or simple kindness and a talent for paying attention to the needs of others.

In a last note, comparing people to animals has its limitations, but animal research is nonetheless illustrative. In the 1950s, Dr. D. Magnus and Dr. Nikolaas Tinbergen conducted a simple test of butterfly behavior. After discovering which wing markings on female butterflies seemed to most strongly attract male butterflies, the two researchers dolled up a number of cardboard butterflies with brightly painted markings calculated to slam the males with unnaturally vigorous visual signals.

Even though the fake butterflies didn’t move or respond in any way, the male butterflies battered themselves silly over trying to mate with the fake females. Adding the presence of real females with all their liveliness and subtle biochemical signals made little or no difference. The artificial females consistently won the lioness’s share of attention. Human beings are obviously more complex than butterflies, but the lesson is clear. Rising above the lies and disappointments of pornography requires nothing less than exercising the very human ability to think hard about the perils of unrealistic expectations for artificial perfection and then to decide instead to live in the infinitely more satisfying world of real people and genuine love and affection.