Guest Blog by Elijah Irving LPC CAADC
I remember vaguely the first time I saw this movie. I may have been twelve and fourteen years old at the time. The only memory I had was of the last scene where Michael cuddles next to Jasmine around a firepit with pornography films engulfed in flames. Obviously, at the time I had no understanding about the film, other than a guy throwing porn tapes in a fire.
Years later, I revisited this film with “new eyes” (which is going to be a theme here) and realized not only is it a film about porn addiction it is a film about black people with porn addiction. Research with this specific population is non-existent and I think that this film is one of the most important films (if not the only film) that has people of color dealing with porn addiction. With the lack of research aside, I think this is a great film that needs more recognition for individuals in recovery. This film could be utilized to help others articulate their relatability to Michael and the issues that he encounters.
The issues that he encounters are similar for individuals addicted to porn, such as erectile dysfunction, having the sexual attraction to your partner but not being able to sexually perform due to sexual desensitization, performance anxiety. frustration, decrease of quality in relationship, guilt and shame.
In the start of the film, we can see that Michael is young man in his mid to late twenties who is employed as a security guard. We find out that he is also an aspiring photographer. We see that he has a collection of pictures of women that he would tape to the wall at his job like the generic teenager’s celebrity crushes on their wall. This shows that he does objectify women to a degree and the wall of women serves as foreshadowing for the variety of porn that he consumes from the porn shop that he frequents.
Aside from the mundane security job. Michael seems to be struggling with finding love and motivation for his photography. But when he meets Jasmine, things start to turn for the better both conventionally and unconventionally. After a few dates with Jasmine, they attempt to have sex and he could not get an erection. Moreover, they both become frustrated, Michael proposes to try to get an erection and have sex while porn is playing in the background. This makes her uncomfortable and she then leaves Michael. This is a common issue with some partners of porn addicts in which they would have low self-esteem or personalize the fact that the addict can only have an erection by watching porn and are not stimulated or aroused by the partner. If the use of pornography continues the addict could form an intimate relationship/connection with pornography instead of the partner. Such realizations could be devastating and sever the relationship.
Throughout the film we could see his addiction manifest itself as his favorite porn star. She would come out of the screen from time to time while he would be watching porn or occupied with processing film, asking him to “spend time” with her. This is an accurate representation of how a personification of the addiction would be. Personification is a great tool that I use with my clients to get them to put the addict-self outside of themselves to make the addict-self more of a conduit to refuse the behaviors that the addict is asking for. This could also be looked at as a personification of a trigger or urge being that voice in the mind triggering/urging the addict to act out or masturbate.
There is a scene in where Michael wins a chance to do a porn scene with the same porn star. He ironically plays a security guard in the scene. As she pins him against the desk and attempts to do down on him, suddenly the porn actress’s face warps into Jasmine’s, he panics then yells “cut!” and runs off the set. This was the moment when he realized that the porn is not “real” and different from watching from the couch. That porn itself is just a fantasy and not a real human sexual connection. It also looked like he was experiencing performance anxiety and/or erectile dysfunction while on set like what he was experiencing with Jasmine. In another thought, he may have to think about Jasmine in order to get an erection and have sex with the porn star.
After all this time that he has been watching pornographic media, he decides at that moment to seek out an organic sexual connection/relationship that is not influenced by pornography. He then is seen siting in a chair talking to a counselor saying, “I just want my eyes back”. This was a great metaphor for getting his eyes back from pornography and get it back for his love of photography and a healthy relationship between him and Jasmine.
Michael and Jasmine end up getting back together after he professes his love for her and wants to commit. Lastly, we see them having sex and both climaxing at the same time as they ironically turn to the camera and say, “What are you looking at?”. This showed the rewarding effects of rebuilding the intimacy and abstinence from pornography in order to facilitate a deeper intimate connection.
As a therapist, the rebuilding of the intimate connection takes time in the real world. In therapy we would recommend abstinence from sex with the partner (in addition to abstinence from porn) for a significant amount of time (anywhere from 30-90 days) which could help reset dopamine levels and time to work on rebuilding the other intimacies of the relationship. Which may be alien to our hypersexualized culture in which intimacy does not always mean sex. Just to be clear, intimacy also refers to emotional, physical and mental connection.