Contemporary Sexuality, December, 2011, Vol. 45, No. 12
In this documentary, psychotherapist Diane Israel chronicles her personal journey with obsessive exercising and eating disorders. Throughout her troubled childhood and years as a champion triathlete, she was terrified of becoming fat. Her journey to understanding attractiveness and love brought her face-to-face with America’s cultural ideals about beauty and competition. In “Beauty Mark,” Israel offers cultural commentary from experts, including Eve Ensler, Naomi Wolf and the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign research group. In a bold and touching conclusion, Israel brings her narrative back full circle to her family to share their perspectives.
I had mixed reactions after my initial viewing of “Beauty Mark.” Based on the documentary description, I expected an academic study of body image concerns and how the media creates or exacerbates these. However, this was Israel’s personal tale of body struggle, competitiveness, family dysfunction and transformation. The story went in many directions, without depth of explanation. And, although the conclusion with her family was heart wrenching and brought tears, I was left wanting more. What happened next? What can we do about this? Gratefully, I found the DVD bonus feature, in which Israel shares details of her life two years after the film- ing. This quenched my need to know how she was dealing with her family and personal demons and what is working for her in recovery.
With such mixed feelings, I showed the DVD to my Women & Health college class. My students are primarily women with an average age of 21. Their anonymous written feedback was overwhelmingly positive. My students were touched by Israel’s story. They thought the message was personally valuable for validation and hope. They also found it educational for college women overall. We did not have time to view the bonus feature, yet only a few students voiced a sense of incompleteness. They specifically wanted to know how Israel helps her clients with their body image concerns.
Israel concludes there is no single factor to blame for her self-loathing. This realization and her acceptance of herself allowed her to return home. I think this is a powerful and thought-provoking documentary for high school and college students. The final message, with a shift from blaming to acceptance, by way of courage and compassion, is a lesson for all.
Beauty Mark: Body Image & the Race for Perfection By Diane Israel, Carla Precht and Kathleen Man. She-Art Production. DVD, $250.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sex Therapy, Marriage Counseling, and College Sexual Health Speaker
Vision Magazine, February, 2010
A recent Canadian study measuring the impact of pornography on 20-something-year-old men was unexpectedly cancelled. The reason? Researchers were unable to find a control group of men in their 20s who had not consumed pornography. I think that many men would chuckle after hearing this. And I think that many women could be dismayed—especially the women who are dating those 20-something-year-old men. Pornography is a loaded topic, evoking both titillation and deep discomfort. However, the typical knee-jerk reactions do little to help us understand the complexity of this prevalent yet taboo topic.
Pornography touches on many people’s deepest fears and desires—namely sex, pleasure, power, gender relations, idealized beauty, trust, guilt, and self-worth. For this reason, a better understanding of its personal impact is advantageous. The term pornography in this article refers to visual depictions of sexual behavior intended to arouse the viewer through the Internet, DVDs, and cable shows. This article focuses on gender differences, and the potential harms and benefits of pornography consumption.
It is not surprising to learn that males are much more likely to enjoy and consume pornography than females. While there is “feminist” pornography, directed by women and featuring more plot, romance, and foreplay, mainstream pornography is primarily created by and for men. Men tend to enjoy visual stimulation more, and seek out sexual novelty.
I asked a 39-year-old single male to explain the appeal of daily viewing of porn online. “I find it titillating—I use it for masturbatory fodder,” he openly responded. “It’s lazier mentally because it’s easier; it’s right there. I don’t have to conjure up an image. Looking at porn moves the process along more rapidly.”
A 27-year-old man stated, “Women don’t understand that men can have a disconnect with porn—it’s physically stimulating with no emotional attachment.” He tends to choose visual stimuli of women who are different than his current girlfriend because the fantasy of what he does not have is more exciting. He explained that masturbating to online porn keeps him satisfied when his girlfriend has her period, plus offers ideas for positions and scenarios.
Click on this link to read the entire article at Vision Magazine.
Vision Magazine, October 2008
In a society with an inclination to plaster sexual images everywhere, sex is still very much in the shadows. Sexuality is often laden with shame, embarrassment, guilt, judgment, and stigma, so its shadows can be heavy and frightening. It is imperative to address the shadows of sex to see it is a natural human experience, as well as a powerful force. When such a topic is mired in silence and misconceptions, it can lead to many personal and societal problems, such as abuse and exploitation. The politicians and religious leaders brought down by public sex scandals are perfect examples of individuals whose shadow elements have surfaced in unhealthy ways.
The shadow aspects of our sexuality are those parts of ourselves we dislike, judge harshly, or deny. To find your own examples, reflect on whether any of these experiences trigger your defenses: having had an abortion, being a closeted gay man, childhood molestation by a family member, shame about a college rape, a herpes diagnosis, the inability to orgasm, early ejaculation, dislike of body parts, being called a slut, being called a prude, feeling inadequate in bed, or having shameful sexual fantasies. Do any of these experiences strike a cord?
The causes of shadowed sexuality are abundant. Growing up in the U.S., we receive many mixed and negative messages about sex through our families, peers, religion, schools, the media, and the government. My “favorite” ambiguous message is “sex is a dirty thing you save for someone you love.” It is no surprise that there is so much fear, discomfort, and denial associated with sex. But denial of what we fear does not make it disappear. As the holistic adage declares, “what we resist, persists.”
Click here to read the entire article through Vision Magazine.