Porn Is Desensitizing

Porn Will Make Me Need Harder Stuff

This is another unverified claim, and no studies have shown, proven or given any truth to the idea that viewing pornography is a “gateway drug” for anything.

That’s like saying that someone who tries hot sauce and really likes it will never be satisfied until they set their tongues on fire. Some people will want to see scary movies that are increasingly outrageous, but it only feeds the viewer’s appetite for ridiculous fiction.

The concern here is desensitization to explicit sexual imagery.

The New York Magazine has an example in “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone: Even, and perhaps especially, when his girlfriend is acting like the women he can’t stop watching online.” I think it’s worth a close look. The author’s point is that some modern guys (especially himself) think that porn over-saturation is interfering with their day-to-day partnered (heterosexual) sex lives.

There are currently two increasing trends in articles about the impact of lots of free internet porn on relationships. Unfortunately they are all heterosexual conversations. That then makes several of the points about sex acts made into unsupportable statements. But I think we’re all interested in what’s being said here in general about the way Internet’s porn on tap is, or may be, changing how we relate to masturbation, sex, and our love relationships.

The new fear we’re being fed here is that “drowning in porn” results in “the vanishing male libido” – interestingly opposite of the former (equally unproven) anti-porn approach, which was that unlimited access to porn makes men into uncontrollable rapists. This new trend supports the harmful anti-porn myths that porn leads to harder stuff (false, unproven), and that men who “need” porn can’t have real relationships (again: false).

He’s Just Not That Into Anyone is a great piece to examine. Some guys are having problems, and we’ll talk about that in a quick minute. First, we want to strip away any potential problem that the person writing the article may have an agenda: an anti-porn agenda, a pro-het-marriage agenda, or a personal problem with sex. Davy Rothbart appears to want to be neutral about porn, so this minimizes the chance of him using unsupported statements to convince us of whatever he’s selling. Rothbart writes,

Porn’s allure and ubiquity isn’t exactly titillating news. The question that still remains, however, is how this tsunami of porn is affecting the libido of the American male or, more selfishly, mine.

Fair enough: we all want to know this, male, female, LGBTQ, all of us. Consumers of all genders and orientations have, since the beginning of porn time, wanted a way to target, search for, and zero in on exactly what they want to see, right when they need to see it. It’s like dialing your vibrator up to top speed to get you over the edge.

Now that we’re getting that through technology, we’re getting what we want, whether it’s Andrew Blake’s undulating models or a fast clip of comeshots – neither of which are limited to interest by gender. The myth that only men like porn, or “unsavory” porn, is just that. If you took the time to do market research, you’d see that women seek out and even pay for scenarios that they are “not supposed to” like. This is left out of the article, and all wider discussions on this new meme.

Rothbart then introduces us to the article’s undoing, which I have been meaning to address since I saw the article on CNN:

First I came across a post on Sanjay Gupta’s blog by Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor, who wrote that he noticed a distinct rise in the number of men approaching him with concerns about delayed ejaculation. Kerner went on to attribute much of the problem to a “rapid proliferation of Internet porn” which leads to “over-masturbation,” something I’m very familiar with. (…) Kerner went so far as to coin the term “sexual attention deficit disorder.”

Ian Kerner should not be referenced as an expert on “How Porn Is Changing Our Sex Lives” or for anything outside a Dr. Phil or Dr. Drew context – no matter what URL pedigrees the blog post. The most glaring reason in this instance is that in the referenced CNN blog post, Kerner has decided he now gets to “dub” “disorders” (his language) without a clinical study – which if he was a psychiatrist would result in a review of his medical license.

Kerner recently wrote a very misleading article for Fox News for Fox on Sex about the ‘evils of pornography’ – in which he framed women in receptive roles who just don’t “understand men” (because women don’t masturbate, let alone to porn?) Kerner mansplains to the ladies that for guys, porn is like gorging on candy, which they can surely relate to. I am not making this shit up. Kerner’s overall porn agenda in both pieces is that jacking off to porn will destroy “normal” sex (between a man and a woman). So we’re back to porn destroying (straight) marriages, with the female masturbator and female porn consumer totally invisible in this family values based set of assertions. There’s more, but you get the picture. Always consider the source.

Let’s get back to He’s Just Not That Into Anyone. Rothbart interviews men who explain that they feel detached, and have erotic interference with arousal and feeling present with their female partners, while they have reliable sexually satisfying interactions with porn and the fantasy world they have with their favorite performers.

The missing wider context is that this is something that has been going on for at least 40-50 years; only in the past 10 years have seachability and discovery taken away the “raincoat” and turned it into a hipster shrug. Men (and to a lesser extent until the internet, women) have always been able to “drown in porn” and oversaturation is not a new thing.

The real discussion to be had here is the male individual relationship to sexual fantasy, masturbation, and how that fits into their relationships – and the men who are finding themselves compelled to “fake it” with their partner choices are having to ask themselves tough questions about what their real fantasies are, and if their current partner can (or will) try out or realize unfulfilled desires – or if these are fantasies that just remain fantasies.

The fear, uncertainty and doubt being trafficked in “Fox on Sex” and CNN blog posts is that men are helpless and uncontrollable animals when it comes to sex; specifically the instant-arousal trigger that porn can provide. It is a myth that women do not respond sexually to erotic images (Ellen Laan; University of Amsterdam 1994, many more). Everyone does.

But since male sexuality is a constant double bind of living in fear of articulating their sexual fantasies to their partners while having to be in control and have all the answers unless they want to risk losing “being a man” – like many humans, we find it’s much easier to just partition our wild sexual fantasies (which we can see in porn) from the real risks that come with moving those fantasies into our relationships. Then we think we’re doing something wrong.

No one ever told any of us that private fantasizing during sex is not only okay, it can make your partnered sex live go through the roof. And it is not cheating.

There is nothing wrong with having a reliable masturbation technique (or several) that work. Many women go through much of their lives *only* having satisfying orgasms alone, when they masturbate. Bringing it into a partnered situation does not always work, but we women can keep trying it until it works without the event being interrupted or stopping. If we want to we can fake it until we make it, and most of us have no problem running a fantasy video in our heads to get us to the summit.

Basically the author of Just Not That Into Anyone is grappling with checking out during sex, and it’s scary and confusing. He knows that porn is a reliable and enjoyable – and safe – place he can get off. And that makes him feel like a man, which is important. He is not “broken.”

If you’re checking out during partnered sex, first ask yourself who this is a problem for. And what would you like to do about it? That’s where you start. Then ask yourself the hard question of what would you like to see happening instead. If the answer is that you’d rather be alone jacking off to porn, then go get it out of your system. Don’t set a time limit on how long that might take. And don’t damn yourself to a relationship where you will never get your fantasies and desires met (hey – you can even use porn together). If you’re crazy-hot for pegging or BDSM or deep throat or anal, and you know your partner would never do that, you MUST decide if you can live with this, or if it’s time to do some couples’ counseling, or time to find someone who really wants to know who you are, and share that. If you want professional feedback, find a sex-positive therapist.

Remember that your sexual interests and turn-ons will evolve and change throughout your entire life. None of these articles will tell you this. One of the most common and awful Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt points the Fox and CNN outlets try to make you believe is that your frustration will never end. It’s a lie.

When media con men (and women) make up sexual problems they do so knowing they will never get fact checked or questioned in a sexually conservative media landscape. And they know they have made you into a patient who – conveniently for them – will never be “cured.” The chemistry of “brain addiction” and oxytocin are woven in to support their FUD, but are unfounded and unproven in any unbiased or objective studies. Don’t ever forget that.

People of all genders and orientations can – and sometimes do – become habituated to certain kinds of sexual activities and sexual stimuli. When you find something that works, you mine it for all its worth. It’s not the end of you, and this too, changes. You can change it yourself if that is what you want to do.

Oversaturation of all kinds happens to everyone. Even I need a break from porn, but I still use it (very productively) even after ten+ years of porn blogging- my tastes and uses are just more precise and refined. I also haven’t let anyone tell me it has any more power over my libido or my shared sex life than I do.

At the end of He’s Just Not That Into Anyone the author quotes a random woman to support the idea that women are socially coerced into waxing their pussies to up the ante for men, but that’s just not what the porn market has shifted to, so it’s an expressed (repeated by anti-porn feminists) fear that holds less water every day. Rothbart concludes with a contradiction that porn-loving guys really don’t want girlfriends who act like plastic circus-performing porn stars, and in that he’s right. Maybe P Diddy does. But the funny thing is that the truth is at the end: people know the difference between fantasy and reality, between cartoonish wank material and a good wet lay.

I don’t think that an article based on random quotes to support statements about porn making men “shut off” is any kind of real investigative piece of journalism. It’s actually irresponsible on many levels. But it gave us an opportunity to look at this recent round of OMG PORN MAKES MEN AND WOMEN HELPLESS for what it is.
The notion that men are brutes who will become desensitized to love, intimacy and real-life sex by needing harder and harder pornography is simply unprovable. Porn can’t make a man care less about the welfare, safety and respect of a woman unless he already has low regard for women: parents instill these core values. This theory remains a myth because there is no substantiative proof that makes it fact.

Watching pornography does not give you some unquenchable thirst to find something harder, more extreme — you already have this urge before you turn on the computer or TV. It’s true that when you grow comfortable you will crave variation — but always only within the bounds of what is sexually comfortable for you.

One Response to Porn Is Desensitizing

  1. Pingback: Our Porn, Ourselves. | UBC Psychology 350A

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