AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 42/2005

Over-Sexed Society From Pornography to Withdrawal

The more pornographic our society becomes, the more it loses interest in procreation. As a result of the constant onslaught of stimuli, female desire in particular is faced with irreconcilable paradoxes. And men leave the role of the hunter to women.

By Ariadne von Schirach


Scene from Michael Winterbottom's 2004 film "9 Songs."

Scene from Michael Winterbottom's 2004 film "9 Songs."

The first bare bum I ever saw was Patrick Swayze's in the film "Dirty Dancing." It seemed incredible to me. Back then.

I saw the film again recently. It was the night after the great mambo, and the lovers kissed. Fade to the next morning. He gets up, and for a millionth of a second the camera flashes across a tiny fragment of his naked rear end. I rewound the tape. There was nothing more. I rewound it again. Could this be possible? Could this fraction of a second of naked skin have once triggered my desire? Dirty dancing? A rear end? Even the early morning talk shows are more titillating these days.

What happened, I wonder, as I watch Shakira's latest video, "La Tortura," with relatively little enthusiasm? She's been coated in some kind of black substance, and her body undulates endlessly on the floor. The answer, though, is clear. Bodies -- perfectly curved, scantily clad, and expectant -- are everywhere, but we have become increasingly indifferent. All we have left is arousal. Do we live in a pornographic society?

Pornography creates a desire that cannot be satisfied

. Frustration becomes the dominant emotion, and depression is merely a sigh away. Rapper Akon may have filled the music charts for weeks with his lamentations over how lonely he is, but his lyrics seem to have hit a nerve. In a society in which the individual is relentlessly confronted with a massive cultural production of unattainable role models, we find ourselves increasingly under pressure to conform.

How beautiful they are! How slim, how supple and how tastefully dressed! And ever since we discovered what happens in bed with Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton, it became clear that everyone has good reason to be jealous. We are surrounded by tits, asses and washboard abs, and that's just the glittering surface of the TV and advertising world. The professionals have been surfing the Web long before the likes of Pamela or Paris arrived on the scene, and they're abundantly served by an estimated 1.3 million porno websites with a total of 260 million Web pages. All of this begs the question: What is to be done with our arousal?

Porno, Adorno

In a club recently, a young, blonde bartender's T-shirt struck my eye. It was white, tight and sleeveless, and all it said was: PORNO, ADORNO. "Cool T-shirt," I commented and asked a friend to do a little research. I was curious. Is that the kind of T-shirt they sell these days in expensive boutiques? Did she even know who Adorno was? What would Adorno think about the T-shirt? My friend returned from his mission.

"Well?"

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1980s drama "Dirty Dancing."
RTL

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1980s drama "Dirty Dancing."


"She glared at me when I asked her if she knew who Adorno was. And then she said that she made the T-shirt herself."

When I walked into the back room of my local video store, I was surprised by the kinds of men I saw there. What I had expected to see was this vague image of an unkempt, disheveled type of guy, but what I saw taught me a lesson -- a well-dressed suit type browsing through the various specialties, completely without shame. And then there was this cute boy from trendy Berlin-Mitte, true to form with his Friday shoulder bag, absent-mindedly scanning the shelves of porn videos.

I shouldn't have been too surprised by the fashion update. After all, the overwhelming majority of customers for porn videos are men, and obviously the hippest guys are also men. Nowadays, the hottest bars in Paris are strip clubs offering lap dances.

But the French aren't the only ones to be open-minded about sex. Pornography has since become socially acceptable in Germany. But it's a development that raises some very important questions: Is this how Germany is wasting its potential? Is it the reason for the seemingly unstoppable aging of our society? Is masturbation primarily a male problem? Apparently not.

A masturbatory society

The typical reaction to pornography is masturbation. If we live in a pornographic society, it seems to follow that we also live in a masturbatory society. After all, people who spend so much of their time sitting in front of a computer with their trousers down or their skirts up have little time or interest left for relationships.

The omnipresence of desirable bodies and the knowledge that we will never look like that creates a paradoxical web of frustration and desire. Taking matters into one's hands is often the only way to resolve this conflict. Ninety percent of men and 86 percent of women do it regularly. And, in the last 30 years, masturbation among women has increased by 50 percent. In her film "Romance," French filmmaker Catherine Breillat portrays a woman who, unable to get what she needs from her partner, roams the streets looking for sex. Well, at least she gets out of the house!

In the 1970s, masturbation was more of a personal affair. In his 1972 performance piece titled "Seedbed," New York artist Vito Acconci spent three weeks masturbating constantly -- but hid himself in a wooden crate. Contemporary art draws a more indirect comparison between masturbation and alienation. In a 1999 series, artist Sarah Lucas uses casts of male arms with suggestively positioned hands to make her point. In one piece titled "No Limits!" the arm is placed in the appropriate location inside a car. The message? We are frustrated, and so we have two options: Either we masturbate to the point of developing tennis elbow, or we have to work on our sexiness. But there's more at stake than that. It's really about survival.

Obviously, success makes people sexy, but nowadays we have to be sexy to be successful. And once we're successful, we become even sexier. At some point, we qualify to procreate. Unless we're too old by that point, that is. But then again, age isn't such a big problem these days, since we're all getting younger, right?

Bare skin is old news

The upshot? Everyone has to be sexy. But the important issue is how we go about getting there. Women's magazines and the new men's magazines offer plenty of helpful tips. The biggest seller, of course, is losing weight, preferably by exercising. Selling fashion with bare skin is yesterday's news. When I drove past Berlin's Alexanderplatz recently, I saw an image of a beautiful blonde girl on a huge billboard. She was wearing a short blue skirt and a tight T-shirt with the words: "Still Single."

The T-shirts are probably a big seller. Self-marketing has become increasingly important, and it doesn't seem wrong to draw attention to one's status, that is, one's availability. But how do women really deal with this issue?

When you see them in Berlin's clubs at night, you can't help but feel that they're rather laid-back about it. They have great bodies, trendy hairstyles, good jobs or clearly defined ambitions, a drink in their hands and a glint in their eyes. The eyes of female hunters.

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