Sylvie says that some students thought that type of sex would be an exercise in frustration, but others said they could imagine times in their lives when those options would work—when they were not ready to have sex with a new partner, when they were too tired to have intercourse with their current partner, when they were trying to liven things up with a longtime lover.
After most classes, Sylvie came home and described what she had learned to her husband (who did not attend, because the course was something she wanted to do on her own). "Oh, you know," she'd say at the end of each night's summary, "that reminds me. Let's have sex just for fun."
Then a few sessions later came the "values voting" game.
During this exercise, the instructors asked the class to envision a line on the floor, with one end representing "I strongly agree" and the opposite end signaling "I strongly disagree." Then Detwiler read statements, directing students to stand on the line in a position that represented their values. Detwiler called out things like "It is more fulfilling to be free of commitment than committed" and "If I made vows to my partner during a marriage or commitment ceremony, I would stick to them no matter what." Each person explained why they stood where they did and moved if someone said something to change their mind. About midway through the game, Detwiler said: "Viewing pornography is not healthy."
Sylvie stepped to a place she considered completely noncontroversial. The "sort of agree" spot on the line. "I'd gone to very progressive summer camps when I was a teenager, and a lot of my counselors were strong feminists," she says. "I guess I'd just gotten the message that pornography was exploitative of women." Sylvie did not boycott newsstands that carried Playboy or refuse to stay in hotels that offer adult pay-per-view. She didn't consider herself an extremist, so she figured she'd have plenty of company at her spot.
She was amazed to see that most of her classmates—each a very likable, not-perverse-seeming person, in Sylvie's opinion—were in the "sort of disagree" to "strongly disagree" part of the line. They explained that yes, pornography could be exploitative, but it could also be a safe form of fantasy.
Sylvie went home and told her husband the news.
"The porn I have is on my computer," he said. For the second time that evening, Sylvie says, she was shocked. Her husband said that he looked at it every few weeks; she asked if he could show it to her. He did. Sylvie was surprised to find some of it turned her on.
"I thought married men who look at pornography must be unhappy with their spouses," Sylvie says. "But my husband said, 'No, sometimes when I feel like being sexual I just feel like being alone.' And I thought about that. And I thought, 'Well, sometimes when I want to be sexual I want to be alone, too. For me, that doesn't involve porn, but if it does for him, so be it.'"
Over the next few weeks, as she discussed the subject more with her husband and her classmates, her opinion changed. "My parents had told us that smoking was bad," she says. "So my brother came to think that people who smoked were bad. I did a similar thing with pornography. I still don't think pornography is a great thing for women, but now I don't think people who look at it necessarily want to exploit them."
We Hear You!