Sunday, February 3, 2013

Getting Here Part VIII; Peep Show into My Soul

One day during the mid-nineteen-sixties an establishment opened on Walnut Street directly opposite Rittenhouse Square. It popped-up between a couple of boutique shops and above the cement stairs between them. It was a different type of business. (These stores are no longer there. Today a large parking garage is on these lots.) It was not fancy. In fact, was quite plain and sparse inside. I had never seen anything like it. The two rooms contained a counter with a clerk who would make change (all quarters), and these old time Nickelodeon machines. I had only seen such contraptions in the Penny Arcade at Dorney Park. There was a viewer atop them that you pressed your eyes into much as you do with binoculars. You dropped a quarter in a slot and a film began. At Dorney Park the films were old cowboy movies. Here each film featured a lone, but different woman. Each woman would dance about a bit and then removed a piece of clothing. This would continue a few minutes and then suddenly the screen would go black.When you dropped in another coin she would pick up where she left off (or should I say, "taken off") peeling her layers. She would soon be only in her underwear and bingo, the screen would darken once more until another quarter plinked down the slot. After dropping in a dollar worth of coin the woman would be cavorting completely naked.

This was the opening salvo in the so-called sexual revolution.

It was not long afterward that the first adult bookstore opened, I believe on West Market Street or perhaps Chestnut. Soon adult bookstores popped up here, there and everywhere. Eventually, perhaps by city edict, these adult bookstores and peepshows coagulated on Arch Street near the Reading Terminal. A whole block between 13th and 12th Streets became one big sex tease. (Picture on right. The last of these was torn down to build the new Pennsylvania  Convention Center in 1993.)

There had been a few so-called "Art Theaters" in Philadelphia, such as the Art Holiday (in its heyday on the right and after it closed in 2007 on the left). We sometimes went to these movie houses. They showed grainy short reels of well-known strippers, such as Blaze Starr [ real name: Fannie Belle Fleming] and Tempest Storm [real name: Annie Blanche Banks] along with the occasional Naturalist (Nudist) flick with the requisite volleyball game. But as the 'sixties progressed, so did these theaters (if you can call this progress). They had to. By the 'sixties even mainline theaters were beginning to show Russ Meyer sexploition films and in the early 'seventies hardcore pornography such as Deep Throat (1972) was playing on main street. The little fringe art theaters soon were featuring live shows.

It was in these places, the peep shows, adult bookstores and art theaters, I spent my spare time and my spare dollars. And over those years I progressed as well. Before these establishments opened I was content with the popular men's magazines such as Playboy. My wife had even given me a subscription to Playboy for Christmas one year. Once I had a taste of what was in those Nickelodeon machines such magazines became too tame. The repetitious centerfolds gave me no thrill and as the years went by that thrill became more and more elusive. The magazines and films had to grow more explicit and then more kinky. Let me just say there is little in the way of deviate sexual acts I have not vicariously indulged in through flickering images or printed page.

Was I addicted to pornography? I know there are psychiatric professionals who hold there is such a thing. Personally I chalk it up to a weakness in character. I liked doing it so I kept doing it not thinking there was anything wrong in doing so. Today we don't want to recognize that people are at fault for their own failings, so we must redefine our behavior as a "disease" of some sort, which absolves us of guilt. We couldn't help it! I think I could have stopped it, but simply didn't want to. 

Nonetheless, The American Society of Addiction Medicine believes there is such a thing as pornography and sexual addiction calling it non-substance addiction and defining it thus:

"Food and sexual behaviors and gambling behaviors can be associated with the "pathological pursuit of rewards"

Furthermore an expert in sexual addiction research has even defined a reason for sexual and pornographic addiction. According to Dr. Patrick Carnes this addiction usually results from a child "growing up in a dysfunctional family, especially one with rigid rules, little warmth and affirmation, abandonment, and sexual or emotional abuse."

Certainly this description comes very close to my own childhood experience, with a couple of notable exceptions. First of all, I was never sexually or physically abused, but I was emotionally abused. The other exception is "one with rigid rules". I grew up with little in the way of rules or guidance. However, there was a lack of warmth and especially affirmation. We were not a hugging family. In fact by my teens I had developed an aversion of being touched. I dreaded those aunts or family friends who insisted on greeting me with a hug, or worse, a kiss. As far as affirmation, there was very little. There was no positive encouragement, but there was a lot of negative criticism and discouragement. Also, although technically there was no abandonment in the usual sense within the family, there was definitely the feeling of abandonment in my psyche. My father had "abandoned" me by going to war. That was something most children of my generation had to deal with, but he further "abandoned" me by becoming a long-distant trucker who was seldom home. My parents reinforced such feelings by sending me to my grandparents on the weekends when my father was home. I also felt strongly rejected in the last year of my grandfather's life when he sunk down into a sea of alcohol. My grandfather had been closer to me than my dad, but when he turned to constant drink he turned mean and berated me. 

These conditions at home combined with the bullying and rejection of my peers at that time contributed to me being a very troubled adolescent.

Dr. Carnes further outlined four core attributes leading to pornographic and sexual addiction.

1. The person believes they are basically bad and unworthy. I don't ever recall feeling I was a bad person, but I did often feel unworthy. I never felt I could live up to anyone's expectations: dad, teachers or other kids.

2. The person believes no one could love them as they were. This is certainly something I felt as a teen. I constantly complained no one would ever like me and no girl would ever date me. I was too skinny, I wore glasses and I was too shy. I wished all the time to be completely different than I was. I wanted to be tough and aggressive. I dreamed of being six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, because in a lot of what I read this was given as the ideal he-man. I did eventually obtain this dream. I grew to be six feet tall and in my thirties I reached 200 pounds and then some, and I will tell you I never want to cross that 200 pound boundary again. It wasn't being a he-man; it was just being hefty.

3. The person feels their needs will never be met if they must depend on others. This is exactly what happened to me. I did not trust anyone else. I preferred to work alone and  learn in secret because I feared ridicule if I failed in front of others. I also did not trust any kind of help from anyone. This self-dependance could have easily have gotten me killed. Since I feared my father's badgering to learn to swim, I went off alone one day to a lake when there was no other soul in sight. I walked to the deep end and I jumped in. That is how I learned to swim. Obviously I succeeded, because there was no one about to pull me out if I sank.

4.  The person believes sex is their most important need.  "When a child's exploration of sexuality goes beyond discovery to routine self-comforting because of the lack of human care, there is potential for addiction. Sex becomes confused with comforting and nurturing." For example, a lonely and abused 13-year-old finds comfort in masturbation and pornography. More and more, he or she uses that for solace. As years go by, the type of sexual acting out may change. It can involve promiscuity, affairs, and visiting massage parlors or prostitutes."

Here I divert from this last core rule. I never felt sex was my most important need. Perhaps because by the time I experienced sexual feelings I was already using writing as my escape. My writing had become the most important need by the time I was thirteen. But I did also find escape in sexual fantasy, although I still really didn't know much about sex. (This is not as weird as it sounds today, the idea that a boy age 13 to 15 could be very ignorant of sex. Sex information was not as common in the 1950s as now.) I suppose you could say I found comfort in pornography since I was then getting ahold of such magazines, but I knew nothing of masturbation at that time. I was indulging in some playacting that bordered on it, I suppose, but with no awareness of why my pretending to be captured by scantily clothed lady pirates (don't ask) made my body feel so good. I certainly never visited a massage parlor or a prostitute.

In the 1960s, when I became a regular at the adult bookstores, peep shows et al, I still didn't consider sex as the most important aspect of my life. I didn't indulge in any affairs since my relationship with my wife was just fine. We were not neglecting each other, and of course, my wife shared in some of this be going to the art and Burlesque theaters with me. In the summer we made regular visits to Atlantic City and we always went to the shows at the Globe.

I saw nothing wrong in such behavior. Who was being hurt? It was just pictures or performances. I was not having trysts with anyone. I never had sex with anyone else but my wife. By all worldly standards I was an exemplary husband. There was no cheating, no committing of adultery.

I emphasize none by worldly standards. God's standards are somewhat higher, but in those days I was an Atheist, so what God wanted didn't matter to me.

But by the 1970s my life was to become more tied up in both sex and Atheism. I was to become much more an activist in both. And in the meantime our dead children were piling up.

To be continued...

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