Porn — and why I stopped.

(until maybe I start again, who knows… mostly an experiment at this point, really)

I am a 26-year-old German dude. I went to the UK at 24 after my undergraduate degree, to do my MA at a London university. Recently, I was finally able to order my thoughts on a topic, which lead to the realization that it makes most sense to me to quit watching porn.

Let me tell you how I got to that point.

When I came to London, I moved into a student accommodation and met a lot of very interesting and fun people. Some of the people I started hanging out with were just starting their undergrad, and were between 18 and 20 years old, so quite a bit younger than me.

I found the UK, the university, and living in halls very pleasant. I am still really enjoying myself in this city and I’ve made a few very great friends.

A thing that always stood out to me here, in contrast to Germany, was sex. I couldn’t really articulate what it was exactly, so I didn’t consciously concern myself with it for a long time. But it always caused me a certain level of unease. I didn’t really know what it was, maybe people had more sex here, maybe it was more openly discussed? Then again, I was living in a big building with 700 young people, many of whom lived on their own, without oversight for the first time of their life. Of course sex would be a big thing, as well as partying and getting wasted in the most creative ways. I don’t think me and my friends when we were 18 differed all that much from the people I met in my halls. Also, I had just emerged from an environment of people in their mid-twenties, buried in libraries to write their bachelor-dissertations or looking for jobs after living alone for at least 3–4 years already.

Maybe this was just a culture clash of sorts. A life situation clash.

I’m not sure how weird I am coming off right about now, so I want to make sure to share some more about myself. I never had any issue with sex, was one of the first in my social environment to lose his virginity, had long-term relationships, one-night-stands, brief sexual relations and have done some things I am not particularly proud of. I like to talk about sex. I think it is fun, important and just a great conversation topic.

However, sexuality here in London just felt peculiar to me. I felt like I might just be a bit of a prude after all. But then I witnessed the following conversation.

Some friends of mine were talking about a girl they worked with in a café. One of my friends, let’s call him Paul (19), had just come out of a relationship and wanted to take his mind off things. Therefore, he considered asking out this girl from his workplace. My other friend, let’s call her Emma (20) really liked the girl from work and consequently didn’t think this was a good idea, as she would really like to be friends with her.

“Dude, please don’t put your dick in her, I really want her to be my friend”, she said.

After some contemplation, Paul eventually realized that it didn’t make too much sense to attempt to shit where you eat and put the idea to a rest.“I mean she goes to UCL, I bet she gets all kinds of dick there anyway,” were his final thoughts on the matter.

That’s when it clicked.

I am not sure how bad this conversation sounds to the reader, but let me assure you that both of my friends are lovely and very intelligent people. Also, people might just shrug this off as banter among friends, which is certainly part of it, but I think it is also a symptom of a more endemic issue, that I had not identified until then. Paul was not trying to be derogatory towards his colleague. He wasn’t calling her easy or thought there was anything wrong with the fact that she might be sexually adventurous. That’s just how he often talks about sex.

And that is the whole point.

The thing I always found odd and off-putting was never sex itself, or the fact that people might be more open with it in London, or might actually have a bit more sex than in the environment I was in before coming here (which quite frankly I didn’t mind at all). It was the way people thought and talked about sex. It was just so much more explicit and raw. But not just that. It was highly depersonalized. It seemed to see sex as a dick fucking a pussy. Which, admittedly can be quite an integral part of it if you’re heterosexual, but then again isn’t there a lot more to it?

I think the reason why it took me so long to realize this is that I just assumed that this was a language difference. However, you could translate these sentences in German, the thing is that I had never really experienced anyone talking about sex in that way. At least not in the environment I knew before I left.

When I talked about this realization with another friend (my age, but from the UK), I realized that this was not really a particularity of the English language or even a cultural difference (which I still don’t rule out, as I think its part of the reason). He had a similar reaction to the story as my gut had had the whole time I have been here.

“Dude, what the fuck, that’s horrific, why would he say that?”, he said as he looked at me, cringing.

My friend told me that he has experienced similar differences in language and attitude between himself and people that are just a couple of years younger than him. We made jokes about the fact that we sounded like grandparents, talking about the way the current youth behaves.

But it got me thinking.

I tried to think of reasons why people that are just a bit younger would behave so significantly different in this respect. This is what I came up with:

I went into puberty and started having sex before ever watching internet porn. When I meet a 19-year-old person now, they don’t even remember a time in their pubescent lives without the internet.

I know this might sound a bit far-fetched, but bear with me. Also, this is not supposed to be a rant against porn. I think porn can be fun. I don’t want porn to be banned or criminalized and I also don’t want to demonize it. I think people should be able to do whatever the fuck they want. But again, that is kind of the point.

Let me elaborate.

I talked about this a lot with a very close female friend of mine. And she said that she never really had any kind of significant sexual education where she grew up. Porn however, was there very early on. At this point she enjoys watching porn and has a healthy amount of sex.

She also told me that in her opinion, most girls put on a bit of a show in the bedroom.

“You know, the way you talk, how you move, how you sound, you wanna be cute”.

So far, so good.

She also told me that she doesn’t feel cute or feminine, if she doesn’t do certain things that to me sound a lot like porn. Also, after talking about this for a while she realized that she enjoys guys doing things that fit the way in which sex is depicted in porn.

This is something I had actually realized a long time ago. Why would anyone fantasize about coming on a girls face? Is it an original thought? Does it come from inside of the person? Or is it something that has a certain remembrance value, because one has seen it so often online? Or is it the only thing that the brain registers as proper sex at a certain point?

I have no idea. Hard to say.

I think it was Erich Fromm who once wrote that the way people act in sexual intimacy is one of the very few areas of life that are relatively little influenced by your parents or society.

Who else is calling bullshit on that?

I think to say that porn does not influence the way that we individually and societally think about sex is not defendable. Is that influence good or bad? Who knows. Maybe it is a bit more complicated than that.

Firstly, I want to point out that I really appreciate a sexually open culture. I think talking about sex is good and healthy. And having sex even more. And I think we could all do with a bit more sex. And maybe porn has played its part in this change for more openness. And that’s great. But I am slightly concerned if people are exclusively learning about sex through porn. I am slightly concerned that sexual identities are being built on what should maybe be understood as something theatrical; an exaggerated depiction of something, that leaves out some things, focuses on others and exaggerates the rest. But how can you understand these distinctions if it’s your first introduction into sexuality?

I think the point that I am trying to make becomes a lot clearer if we consider a more extreme case:

I recently picked up a book in a bookstore (look at me, hipstering away). It was something about sexual liberty and sexual oppression of women in modern times. It featured many letters to the author, who is doing social work with women. One stood out to me.

It was a letter from a 13-year-old girl that said she was terrified at the prospect of ever HAVING to have sex. She talked about how a lot of her classmates were openly sharing porn on their phones in school. She found the images scary and felt dreadful about the fact that she would HAVE to do THAT in the near future. After all, many boys were constantly asking her whether she had done it before and whether she wanted to do it with them.

Just think about what’s happening here. This person first of all gets the idea that sex is what she sees in porn, and only that, nothing else. For some reason, she also feels that she HAS to do exactly the things that are being shown in porn at some point in her life. Because that’s what sex is apparently, and at some point that’s what you do right?

Obviously, this applies to men in just the same way (just wanted to make that clear). A friend of mine pointed out that if women’s sexuality is massively reduced and simplified in porn, then that is even more extreme for men. Men in porn are reduced to their dicks. They barely even speak. To be honest, I never really picked up on that. Maybe because I had at least a bit of sexual development before being introduced to porn, maybe I am just quite confident about my body and porn never caused any anxiety in me about it, or maybe I am heavily influenced in my way of having sex which impedes me from even noticing the peculiarities of how men act in porn. I would say men feel like that they have to act in a certain way in bed just as much as women do. And that image of how to act, to be dominant, what to say and what to like is heavily influenced by the images we men see in porn.

And the influence of that is certainly not confined to behavior in the bedroom. After talking this over with friends and slightly uncomfortable strangers in bars and coffeeshops, I realized that many guys seem to have a strongly skewed image of sex. Skewed towards porn, as you might guess. But they also seem to connect sex with a lot of anxiety. Especially related towards their performance and certain physical, but also behavioral traits.

And that is further carried on by the way many girls speak about men (Yes ladies, this works both ways.) The first thing that a female friend of mine recently asked her friend when she told her about her night with a guy, was about the size of his dick.

If you don’t have big dick, you’re not going to be a good fuck. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Again, I found it surprising that I didn’t even pick up on that myself, but had to be reminded of it by another friend of mine.

But I feel porn does more than just that to your understanding of sex.

If you are skeptical, does the order of doing things in your bedroom match the sequence in which sex is presented in porn? How much of your sexual fantasies are inspired by something you saw in porn first? Do you feel like you have to do certain things, perform a certain way or say particular things in bed? If you think hard about it, where do you think did that initially came from?

Every opinion or ideal that you have is heavily influenced by a whole host of factors. Your family, the people around you, the way people treat you in school, the teachers you have, the media, the culture of the country you grow up in, etc. To call anything that you do an original thought is a bit of stretch in my opinion. It doesn’t just appear in your head uninfluenced. There is a long chain of past decisions and events that ultimately leads you to think, act or react in any particular situation.

In the same way porn influences your sexual behavior and the way you talk about sex. Sure, there are other factors that surely also contribute to people getting the feeling that you have to play a certain role in the bedroom. Obvious examples are sexualized advertisements or gender roles in society more generally. However, none of these factors are as explicitly directed at sexual behavior as porn I would say.

I think sex should be thought of as less technical than it is often depicted in porn. Sex isn’t about how intense your orgasm is or how crazy the position you’re doing it in is. If anything, these things are secondary. And sex should never include an implicit checklist that everyone feels obliged to adhere to. “Dude, she didn’t even suck my dick, what the hell. I mean that’s just common courtesy.”

And ladies, please understand that reversing these kinds of statements and saying the same stuff about men has nothing to do with empowerment, but makes you just as much of a douchebag.

When you share intimacy with someone, there is so much more going on. Even if what you experience with the other person is really just physical and nothing else. I don’t even want to talk about deep emotional connections here. But just imagine you meet someone at a party that you have never seen before. Your eyes meet and you start talking. You’re attracted to the way the person looks, and how they look at you. You laugh. You’re excited because you hope that the other person likes you too. Then there is this short moment before your lips meet. That little moment when you realize the smile on the other persons’ lips and your heads move towards each other. The excitement when you walk home together, the anxiety and the slight unease about the situation. The moment when you touch an unknown naked body for the first time and discover each other. You feel affirmed, wanted and confident.

There is so much magic in these moments, regardless of if it’s with a stranger. And I haven’t even mentioned that you might actually have a really interesting conversation, or just met someone that you would love to meet again.

None of these little aspects of sleeping with someone are depicted in porn. But porn also doesn’t have these ambitions. It merely shows you a very small part of what sex is or can be. However, if you reduce sex to just that for yourself, then you risk depriving it of almost all of its magic.

Whether people are conscious of it or not, porn influences your sexuality and what you expect from sex. While that’s not necessarily bad, I feel like I have identified some effects that I don’t deem to be positive for myself. My favorite quote from Foucault is: ‘Nothing is bad, but everything is dangerous’.

Excuse me for sounding so pretentious, but I think this applies perfectly to porn. And I am not confident that merely being aware of the fact that I am not watching real sex, keeps me from being influenced. However, that doesn’t make porn itself bad. And maybe some people are better at differentiating these things. But I am curious what happens now that I have stopped consuming it.

I’ll keep you updated.