Getting Off: Brad Phillips Interviews Author Erica Garza About Her Journey Through Sex & Porn Addiction

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In the following interview, Brad Phillips speaks to author, Erica Garza about their mutual experience with sex and porn addiction. In Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, Garza challenges the stereotype that sexual addiction is within a man’s nature, and for a woman, the result of sexual trauma. Recounting a life of “revolting” fantasies both imagined and realized, she lays out a lifetime of orgasmic pressure begging to be released, and courageously retraces her road to recovery. Throughout the conversation, Phillips and Garza share their experiences of responding to fans who look to them for guidance, the benefits of being triggered, and the sexual taboos that continue to plague our sense of moral authority. 

BRAD PHILLIPS: I wanted first to say how happy I felt to discover your book. Having written about sex addiction myself, it felt valuable to read about a woman’s experience with participating and recovering from the same addiction. Particularly in that you wrote about it without nostalgia or redemption. What motivated you to write the book? Was there a sense that this was something you wrote in an attempt to process your experiences, or was it more of a desire to share with other people; make them feel less alone?

ERICA GARZA: It was a bit of both. I've always turned to writing as a source of comfort—a way to get troubling thoughts and memories out of my head and body, and onto the page. When I started writing about sex addiction, I did so in an essay online for Salon. I'd already been experimenting with telling my story in therapy and 12-step, but this was a more public telling. The response I received was overwhelming. So many people reached out and thanked me, and they were from all walks of life. I felt then that I could serve others by continuing to write about this. We aren't often presented the opportunity to help a wide range of people, and this was my chance.  

PHILLIPS: Sometimes there's trouble in writing about personal subjects that are taboo, in that readers develop projections about you, and a sense of attachment. Have you had any response from people who felt like they were connected to you in a way that felt creepy? I also was curious if men reached out to you, ignoring the aspects of shame and recovery you write about, and simply saw you as someone “into sex,” and approached you that way. Has that happened?

GARZA: Several men (and a few women) have reached out to me because they see me as someone “into sex.” This ranges from unsolicited dick pics, to requests to meet up, to full-blown erotic stories they want me to read. I usually block them immediately, or if I have the energy, I tell them they’ve crossed a boundary and we have a discussion. But I receive more messages from people looking for help because they’re dealing with sex/porn addiction. I always try to acknowledge and address these messages because I know how isolating addiction can be. I usually direct them to 12-step meetings because they can offer connection and community, but sometimes this isn’t enough for them. Some people reach out to me as if I’m a therapist, as if I have the magic solution to their pain, and this can feel overwhelming. I am not a counselor. I’m just a person who shared my story as honestly as I could. They have access to this honesty too. The best I can do for those who put me on this pedestal is to bring myself down to eye level. To remind them that I’m just as vulnerable as they are. The biggest difference is that I’ve come out of the shadows—maybe they should too.

PHILLIPS: It’s interesting and disappointing that people might read your book and completely miss all the shame and intense pain you discuss; things which go hand-in-hand with addiction. You mention other people coming out of the shadows. I think that there are certain people who find the shadows themselves sexual. I feel like on some level there would be very little new information to discover about men coming out of the shadows, which again is why I think your book is important. You’ve done mainstream press, and mentioned to me that you were told there were certain words you couldn’t use, or certain parts of the book better left not discussed, because they could ‘trigger’ someone. How do you feel about this climate, where we’re told we need to prevent triggering strangers? 

GARZA: I tend to disagree with the sentiment that there’d be nothing new to discover by men coming out of the shadows. I think the act of telling can help the addict discover a world of new information about who they are or what they want. And other people can be positively affected by hearing these confessions, because they too can confess without fear of judgment or criticism. As far as people being triggered by stories of addiction and sexual language, I’m sick of it. It reeks of Puritanism. We can watch zombies eat off people’s faces on prime-time television but we can’t see breasts. What does that tell us about what we fear as a culture? Our own animalistic primal nature? Our complicated desires? Our grip on control? When I’m triggered, instead of acting out or shutting down, I become curious. Why am I being triggered? What is being reflected to me? By asking questions like these, I learn more about myself.

PHILLIPS: Censorship and the aversion to natural female bodies on Instagram is insane to me. Curious is a good word my therapist uses, it helps take the shame out of self-reflection. I think the complication of desire can feel scary to express because really, we’ve never seen it done. When you say animalistic, do you think it’s elemental to our fear of expressing all the ways we’re still animals? 

GARZA: Maybe being reminded of our bodily functions and the natural impulses we share with animals only reminds us of the other most natural physical experience we fear most—death. If we stick with our intellect, we can form elevated ideas about what’s right or wrong, and we can let religion and the media tell us how to desire and how to express that desire in the same way that religion and media tells us that we don’t have to die. But I think all of that is a distraction from being present in our mortal bodies, accepting and indulging our natural impulses.

PHILLIPS: Having once been close to death I’m no longer afraid of it. That hasn’t helped in managing my daily unease though. I recently read, for a radio show, the entire list of paraphilias from the DSM-5. What shocked me was that the only two paraphilias classified as mental illnesses were sadism and masochism. I’ve seen it be particularly shaming for masochists, especially women, to be told that what they like in bed makes them ‘wrong’ in multiple ways. There is a lot of very quiet research around the idea pedophilia is an innate sexual preference in the same way that homosexuality is. The recidivism rate for pedophiles offenders is above 99 percent. But these are the pedophiles that offend. There are far more that don’t, and by default are repressed. Sympathy for the pedophile isn’t something people want to get behind. Maybe you could tell me how you think these more ‘extreme’ sexual predilections could be managed, or re-evaluated.

GARZA: I think the fear of things like child sex dolls and cartoons for pedophiles mirrors the fear that some have about tolerance to porn, not just the most extreme kind. If you see images repeatedly, those images might lose their charge and so you’ll need more extreme images to feel something again. Pedophilia is one of those subjects that upsets people because the trauma can be devastating and I understand why people shy away from the subject because they are trying to prevent any more harm being inflicted upon those who’ve suffered. They want, justifiably, compassion to be directed to the victims. But I do think that there is value in trying to understand the pedophile’s motives, by conducting more research, and by including them in the discussion. As difficult as it may be to hear their stories and understand the why of what they do, the better equipped we are to prevent future incidents of harm. I think when something has been deemed socially unacceptable and there’s so much fear around the thing that we won’t even talk about it, then it’s a good indication that we MUST talk about it. Silence eventually implodes and the aftermath is rarely pretty.

PHILLIPS: Long ago Susan Sontag predicted ‘image fatigue,’ which she related to the Vietnam War photographs being relayed back to American viewers, and how they would eventually lose their impact. That same thinking can definitely be extended to pornography and the absolute nadir it exists at in 2019. I agree with you and have tried myself to address the idea that if things are uncomfortable or difficult to talk about, then it does mean we should. There is difficulty in seeing both the victim of a crime and the perpetrator as two separate people involved in a scenario from which information could be gleaned.     

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Erica Garza’s book, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, published by Simon and Schuster, is available through Amazon, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble, and likely your local bookstore.

Follow Erica via Twitter and Instagram - @ericadgarza

An Interview of Sue De Beer On Shooting Noir In the Middle East and the Excitement of Unpredictability

photograph by Johnny Gembitsky

Sue de Beer paints a lonely, haunting portrait with moving imagery. She is a filmmaker, but she is ultimately an artist in the sense that her short films exist in a sculptural environment that typically inhabits a physical space – usually a gallery – replete with film stills, three dimensional objects and more. Her films are often inspired or influenced by literary works and deal with identity, memory, and paranormal activity. In her film Ghosts, an occult hypnotist recovers lost lengths of time from peoples’ memories and returns them as if they are new memories. In another film, The Quickening, sexuality and desire is explored in an oppressive environment of Puritanical New England in the 18th century. The installations in which De Beer presents her films creates an almost dreamlike environment that leaves the viewer wondering if the time spent within the installation was a dream itself. Premiering tonight at Marianne Boesky Gallery, De Beer will be presenting The Blue Lenses, which is set in Abu Dhabi and tells the tale of a woman given surgery to restore her vision: upon the bandages being removed from her eyes, she sees people with animal heads instead of human heads. It is inspired by British author Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. Indeed, it is the first time the artist has filmed in the Middle East and the entire exhibition has flourishes of an Islamic theme, but with a film noir slant – even the windows of the gallery have been tinted a jewel-toned blue to hint at the power and beauty of Islam. In the following interview, De Beer talks about The Blue Lenses, rescuing Proust from an apartment fire, and trying to explain American puritanism to German electro-clash musicians. 

OLIVER KUPPER: I want to talk about your first video piece, Making Out With Myself, because it’s a powerful first foray into your future oeuvre, where did the idea to make out with yourself come from?

SUE DE BEER:I made that piece in 1997 - that's 18 years ago now. Wow. I don’t quite remember why that image came up - possibly I thought it was funny that one could do that as a moving image. Funny and lonely. And intimate. It's still showing, that film. Maybe people relate to the awkwardness of it.

OK: Did you grow up watching a lot of films…was there one particular film that made you want to explore cinema as a medium?

SD: I watched a lot of films in my 20s. The filmmakers I continue to think about are ones that use real people and small budgets - like Paul Morrissey, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Abel Ferrara, and Argento. They are all sculptors to me - I think because the budgets are small I can always imagine walking around in the rooms they are shooting in. They have a physical presence. I also like the tension between what's real and what's clearly fake in those films. The bad acting sometimes lends some authenticity to the moment, which is something I think about when I am working.

OK: Literature has also had a profound affect on your work as an artist – anyone from Proust to Maurier to Dennis Cooper – can you remember the first book you ever read and how it made you feel?

SD: I don’t remember the first book I ever read. I first read Proust when a friend of mine had a fire in his apartment, and came to live with me. I went back with him to his flat the morning after it burned - everything was black. We took what few things were left - I remember the selection included a copy of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, a bottle of cologne, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a camera. He stayed with me for 3 months, then left the book with me after he moved out. I read it cover to cover.

I met Dennis Cooper when I was quite young - I want to say 20. My boyfriend at the time was friends with him, and we would go out to LA and stay with him. So I met him before reading his books which is quite a privilege to be able to say. I found them to be frightening and romantic at the same time. The quiet parts are - theres nothing else quite like them.

OK: You lived in Berlin for a spell, and created three films there, do you think that had an influence on your work or do you think it sent your aesthetic in a new or different direction?

SD: Yes. I miss Berlin. It radically changed the color in my work. I was able to build huge sets there, and was able to assemble skeleton crews easily. It was also nice having some distance on American culture, and making work with that removal. I never could have shot The Quickening in the US for example. Trying to explain Puritans to Gina D’Orio and Annika Trost (the two German electro-clash musicians who played Puritans in my film) made me understand Puritans in a new way. They didn’t like the hats, for example. Gina made me explain Thanksgiving to her.

OK: You are not only creating the films and showing them in theaters – you present them as installations with photographs or film stills, sculptures and more…do you feel like you are doing more justice to these films by presenting them in this way?

SD: Yes.

"I like the idea of the audience picking it apart. But also of an audience just getting lost in this world, and not worrying terribly much what is fictional and what is real."

OK: Your film, The Blue Lenses, which premiers at Marianne Boesky tomorrow night, was your first film shot in the Middle East…what was it like shooting there?

SD: Wonderful. 

OK: The installation is also centered around the beauty of Islamic culture…are you subconsciously or consciously trying to paint this world in a different light – a lot of people think of Islam, the Middle East, as a hot bed of terrorism and violence?

SD: I had very little experience with the Middle East before I shot there. I had no idea what to expect, and I purposefully left the shoot open to change - to be changed by the place. I mostly knew images from the news, from Hollywood movies which did not seem accurate, or a little bit of Iranian new wave cinema. I did not want my film to be political or topical. So I shot using this Noir format, which is a western narrative format. A western genre. And I found the images and places when I got there. 

So my film has new images in it - I hope. Ones you wouldn’t normally get to see of that place. But it isn’t accurate which I like. Its a fictional world. I like the idea of the audience picking it apart. But also of an audience just getting lost in this world, and not worrying terribly much what is fictional and what is real.

OK: What is the ultimate overarching theme of The Blue Lenses and why it is important in the context of our current zeitgeist?

SD: That's a difficult question. Maybe the ‘theme’ and why it would be relevant now are two different things. The film tries to describe a man who doesn’t want to be describable. I think the older I get the more impossible it seems to me to fully articulate a person or a place. I am starting to enjoy people most when they reveal very little about themselves. I like sitting silently with people and just watching them do things. How they do things. Daniel I thought would change the way he does things on purpose for a time. To be confusing. 

Why the Blue Lenses would be important to make now is not the story, which is not a new kind of story, or not the ‘theme’, but maybe its marrying this kind of story to that particular place. Maybe it changes your expectations of the story, and changes your expectations of the place.

OK: Is there anything that you are really excited about right now that’s driving your next project?

SD: The unpredictability of the shoot and how I never knew what to expect is still electrifying to me. I would like my next project to have more of that. 

Sue De Beer: The Blue Lenses opens tonight and runs until October 25, 2015 at Marianne Boesky Gallery. Necessary reading: Sue De Beer's comprehensive 2005 monograph. Hans Un Grete is a rare out-of-print document of De Beer's 2002 short film about school shooters. Companion reading: The Complete Box Set of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Food for thought: The Blue Lenses and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier. Must Watch: The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @autremagazine