One day I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There was an exhibit titled “read my lips” about women’s voices. There was one exhibit where a woman had someone pushing helium-filled water balloons onto her face and into her mouth, mimicking a lot of porn. Initially, this just made me very uncomfortable. Yet the longer I watched, the less uncomfortable I felt and the more I saw how it revealed a very important part of attraction. That sexual desire demands that we be at least one step removed from the reality of the thing. Her miming of sexual behavior laid bare what the act itself is: fluid being dumped on a person’s face while they yell for more.
In Buddhism, a common practice in my tradition is to contemplate the body, often in 32 parts (or more, or less). Seeing the body as it is. When you do this, it’s hard to be aroused because your liver seen as it is, isn’t attractive, nor is skin, hair, nails and so on. Every sexual desire rests upon a fabricated fantasy overlaid or entirely removed from the thing itself. When we look at the human body in itself, as it is, hair, skin, nails, teeth and so on, it loses its luster. In the context of that exhibit, you’re set up to watch the video not the way you would porn, yet in the sense of looking at it for something deeper. Despite wearing a shirt buttoned up to her neck, the artist portrays sexuality in a deeply naked way, especially the acted sexuality of pornography and other sex work. In doing so, the mechanism of sexual desire itself can be seen when we look back at our own minds.
I think it helped deepen my own practice of celibacy. To see how reality as it is, as it really is, doesn’t prompt desire. Similarly, years ago when I was doing drugs I attempted to have sex on LSD. I had the experience of seeing not the fabrication of form and feeling to prompt sexual desire, yet the bodies themselves, limbs, nails and eyes. Totally unattractive when the narrative, the story, the fantasy is removed. Like an ant crawling over dirt; like a porn star crawling across the floor; like a baby crawling across their pen.