Jesus never gave Christmas porn

My family loved our quirky holiday tradition of flesh mags -- until the year I became a born-again Christian

Published December 23, 2013 1:00AM (EST)

          (<a href=''>Steve Cukrov</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(Steve Cukrov via Shutterstock/Salon)

As a boy on Christmas morning I would rush downstairs, rip open my stocking, and discover among the toys and knick-knacks a bright, glossy, end-of-the-year special edition pornographic magazine.

Yes. My parents gave me pornography. In my stocking.

As the youngest male I got a Playboy. My next-older brother received a Penthouse and the oldest got a Hustler. Notice the progression. If I’d had any more older brothers we might have seen an issue of Hard Core Whore’s Jugs or Fist Fancy. My younger sister received a Playgirl. (There’s an image of a tanned penis, like a stuffed leather sock with a come-hither bend, that still haunts me today.)

Now the question arises: Why the hell did my parents, both respectable family doctors, give their children pornography to celebrate the birth of Jesus?

My father grew up as the son of a minister in rural England. He never embraced his own father’s faith. Instead he became a practical man of medicine who viewed sex as a pleasant and necessary part of the human life cycle. Sex was never a taboo subject in our house. Sex was something to talk about, laugh about and responsibly explore. Sure, buying your kids pornography might seem at tad unorthodox, but at the heart of the gift was my parents’ desire to instill a healthy view of sex in their children.

There was another reason my parents felt compelled to give flesh mags. Pornography was a way to simultaneously celebrate the holiday and keep its more religious themes at bay. Christ got no preferential treatment in our house. Baby Jesus had to keep to his spot in the trough of the tabletop nativity set. That is, until we lost him. (My mother still displays the baby-less nativity so that Christmas appears to celebrate some archaic form of agriculture, complete with a slew of robed farmers circling up in a barn for no apparent reason.)

So the magazines were my father’s way of declaring his and his family’s independence from the dogmatic solemnity of his youth and a non-verbal approval of our burgeoning sexuality. None of these ideas occurred to me in those early teen years. I was too much in awe of the yearly gift to question the motives behind it. All that mattered was that Christmas signaled the wonderful renewal of my pornography supply.

And remember, this was pre-Internet -- those bygone days when pornography actually meant something. For a 13-year-old boy in 1985, a fold-out photo of a naked woman was as rare as an albino tiger, and far more intriguing.

I treasured the yearly issue, examining it slowly, careful not to rush through the glossy, smiley nudes. Like Charlie Bucket with his yearly Wonka bar, I savored every morsel, deliberately restraining myself in an attempt to make the bounty last. By the following year, I knew each of the women intimately. I knew their hobbies and shaving preferences. I could sketch their moles from memory.

We always received a December issue, so for a good chunk of my young life I believed pornography necessarily included novelty reindeer antlers, faux polar bear fur and cartoons depicting the Christmas Eve shenanigans of naughty elves and a randy Mrs. Claus. No matter the season -- high summer, mid-spring, early fall -- I took frequent Christmas mini-vacations. Like a reformed Scrooge, I strove to keep Christmas in my heart all year round.

After 11 months, just as the pages were beginning to wear skin thin and the staples were tearing free from the binding, just when I was growing numb enough to the static images to consider reading the articles, the Christmas season would roll around again and I knew a shiny replacement would soon be appearing. Carols rang with anticipation of new centerfolds; every seasonal greeting whispered the promise of erotic fantasies to come. To this day, I can’t watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade without getting a little aroused.

But then things changed.

The summer of my 16th year, I spent a week at a Christian summer camp and came back home a born-again Christian. The very night I returned, before my bags were unpacked or my new Adventure New Testament was cracked, I opened my bottom desk drawer, removed three years of well-used Christmas pornography and dumped it in the trash. I didn’t even take a final peek.

With one swift act, I replaced my father’s humanistic view of lust for a moralistic, evangelical view. Lust, I now understood, was in itself a sin.

Years later I would abandon this faith, but at the time nothing mattered more. I spent much of that fall in Bible studies and acoustic-guitar-led worship services. I also spent hours around the family dinner table or on the back deck trying to explain to my parents this new-found passion for Jesus and urging them to join me.

“You don’t understand, Dad. He took our sins upon himself.”

“Owen, my father is a minister. I’ve heard this before.”

“This is different. I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about Jesus.”

Robert Heinlein once wrote, “Each generation thinks it invented sex.” I was never under that delusion. But I did believe I had discovered God. I thought I was wrestling with concepts my dad had never pondered and it was my duty to guide him to the truth. I put my parents through laborious conversations and countless clumsy metaphors, trying to get them to see what I saw so clearly. They were patient, nodding at my testimonials and refilling their wine glasses, but they were not to be moved.

Christmas was approaching. My first Christmas as a Christian. And I knew (I knew so very much) that pornography, lust and sex before marriage were sins. Poison for my soul. I also believed I had the most important gift to give. I believed I had discovered the secret to knowing God and I wanted my dad to know Him too.

I came downstairs early that Christmas morning and I could see, sticking out of the stockings, the traditional magazines. My siblings dove in. I opened my stocking and placed my Penthouse (I was older now) to the side, unopened. I did it as inconspicuously as I could -- but a 16-year-old not devouring the naked images offered to him is about as inconspicuous as a clown screaming. It’s eerie and wrong.

What did I give my father that year? A Bible verse. I cut out a section of brown paper bag and wrote out the opening verses of 1 John in heavy black script.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

I rolled it up and tied it with string. It was an unintentional mirror of the glossy rolled gift from my stocking. How strange it must have been to see his son embracing with vigor the very religion he had rejected? How strange for me, too. That necessary and off-putting feeling all children eventually feel: the sensation that we are judging our parents by living lifestyles other than theirs.

We sat in our living room on that Christmas morning, he with the scroll of verses and me with an unopened Penthouse, both feeling his gift had not been appreciated, both sure the other just didn’t get it, both believing the other was drifting down a path that led to something like damnation and wanting more than anything to rescue them. I was trying to save my dad and he was trying to save me. And neither of us knew how.

By Owen Egerton

Screenwriter and novelist Owen Egerton is the author of "The Book of Harold, the Illegitimate Son of God" and "Everyone Says That at the End of the World." His short story collection, "How Best To Avoid Dying," will be released February 2014 from Soft Skull Press. He also performs with the Alamo Drafthouse's award-winning Master Pancake Theater.

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