February 15, 2011

The Effects Of Too Much Porn: "He's Just Not That Into Anyone"

porn_viewer_nymag.jpgthat would be a gross misrepresentation of the facts

Imagine you are the editor of New York Magazine.  You want a story that will generate buzz but no one wants to hear how hard it is to be a parent in Manhattan-- so porn it is.  How about an article about how porn is making real sex less interesting to men?  Conventional wisdom at $3 an issue.  Nice.

Gotta have pics.  You can't show porn only because the advertisers don't like it.  So how about some "photographs of men watching online pornography, taken January 25"?

Sweet.  Let's get five random guys and set them in front of the Pornotron:


An observation.  The top guy looks like Dexter, which is good because they are all obviously serial killers.   What's the message here?  That porn leads to meth?


You've read the same thesis before: too much porn leads to too much masturbation and there's no cum left for the ladies, resulting in sadness and gnashing of teeth. 

The article is written by Davy Rothbart, and is a mixture of personal anecdotes, interviews, and expert commentary from a key celebrity, in this case John Mayer.

It's not like there's anything in the article to dispute, it happened to him, he's spelling it all out for you in graphic detail.  Too much porn made it impossible for him to perform with women.  Here he is able to bone up but unable to hose down.  

Had I just given up, things might have played out the way they often did, with shades of confused disappointment and inadequacy on the part of the woman and mumbled apologies and awkward shame from me. But that night, ingenuity struck--unable to actually get off, I found myself flying a fresh route: I faked it.
That's right, he faked an orgasm during a one night stand because porn ruined it for him.

And here he quotes some guy named Perry:

"I used to race home to have sex with my wife," says Perry, a 41-year-old lawyer. "Now I leave work a half-hour early so I can get home before she does and masturbate to porn." Throughout the course of our conversation, Perry insists that he's still attracted to his wife of twelve years. Still, he says, she can't quite measure up to the porn stars he views  online. "Not to be mean, but they're younger, hotter, and wilder in the sack than my wife," he says.

It is a narrative that is impossible to argue with: too much porn leads to trouble, as Perry and Davy will tell you.  And they did tell you, so you're on notice.

And so we are back to first principles: what does the author want to be true?


I won't argue with the hypothesis that gently annoying your penis for two hours, boringly, while you surf the tubes is going to lead to some desensitization.   You have to approach porn like a bank heist: get in, get out, you got 15 minutes and someone tripped the silent alarm.  Leave nothing behind.

That's not this guy's problem.

I realize regular readers are anticipating my punch line, but that doesn't make it less true.  The reason he's semi-impotent has nothing to do with how he views porn, it has to do with how he views himself, i.e. completely oblivious to reality.   Observe that this guy wrote an article, under his own name, about how he can't get an erection with women because he watches too much pornography.  Take a minute.   He thinks this is such a universal problem that far from feeling any shame, he should be applauded for exposing the dark secret of American men.

Run through it: does he want it to be true that he's impotent?   No.  He wants to be true that the reason he has sexual problems is the porn, in the same way that I have no doubt he believes the reason he can't find a job is Sarah Palin.

It is for this reason that I can make the following prediction with 100% certainty: if he never looks at porn again, if he never masturbates again, ever-- he will still have chronic sexual dysfunction.  Pornography is a scapegoat.


This isn't a judgment on Rothbart, it is an indictment of all of you who want it to be true that something is destroying your lives but that something cannot possibly be yourself.

Here's the first paragraph of the article, in full:

I met the woman at a Broadway show, but the night's best piece of acting, I'd say, came from me, back at her East Village apartment, after we'd been having sex for about 25 minutes, with Neil Young wailing the song "Comes a Time" from the laptop on her bedside table. The dried-out condom had a full-bodied choke hold on me, but I'd already stopped twice to put on a fresh one, and I knew, as I kept earnestly pumping away, that one more condom wouldn't make the necessary difference. Had I just given up, things might have played out the way they often did, with shades of confused disappointment and inadequacy on the part of the woman and mumbled apologies and awkward shame from me. But that night, ingenuity struck--unable to actually get off, I found myself flying a fresh route: I faked it.
I don't need anything other than that paragraph to tell me that his problem isn't porn.   Do you know anything, anything about the woman?  Forget her life choices; what color hair does she have?   Hell, even characterize her as just a sex-object, a bimbo, tell me she's got big boobs,  degrade her, anything, but put her in the movie!  How would you cast her?  "Well, it's not really important who plays her."  Got it. 

But I know too much about him, none of it important, all of it branding: Broadway show, East Village, Neil Young, two condoms in 25 minutes.  You could counter that perhaps the story is just made up to illustrate his point, but that only reinforces my point: this is what he imagines to be important to a story about sex.

The article proceeds to offer examples in support of the premise that too much porn leads to an inability to connect with a real woman:

Then there's Stefan, a 43-year-old composer, who has no problem getting aroused when he has sex with his wife. "In order to come, though, I've got to resort to playing scenes in my head that I've seen while viewing porn. Something is lost there. I'm no longer with my wife; I'm inside my own head."
Just like with Perry, above, you're supposed to interpret that as he has to fantasize that he's with a hot chick, but that's not what he's doing.  He's masturbating, but instead of his hand he just happens to be using a climaxing vagina attached to a woman some other guy would be happy to penetrate, which is weird because that's what he's imagining anyway.


Ron says that for the past couple of years, he's had weekly "dates" with his favorite porn stars, which he looks forward to all day and even showers and shaves for, as though preparing for a live-action rendezvous. "Mondays are for Gia Jordan," he says. "Tuesdays for Sasha Grey." Wednesdays he has a reprieve--a Portuguese night class. "I always look forward to Thursdays the most--Kasey Kox," he says. "Then, on the weekends, I hang out with my girlfriend."

So, Ron is insane.  I don't think there's any point in debating that.  Any women who finds his obsessiveness charming and are interested in auditioning for the Wednesday slot should check the casting notice:

Are you right for the part? 

But the point it makes is clear: Ron has an ideal woman image in his head, and only porn can give it to him.   Real women don't measure up.  We can debate the impact on women, that it forces women into gender specific stereotypes and presents women with impossible expectations of their sexuality and availability.  Or something.

But feminists and Ron are reading this the wrong way.  Porn is not causing him to be disconnected from women, he is already disconnected from them, and the only person that will have him is online.    He's not retreating into porn because real women don't measure up, he's retreating into it because he doesn't measure up.  He's not porn material.   He doesn't expect or want that women will naturally act like porn stars in bed, he expects that he will be able to turn them into porn stars in bed, with his massive dong packing her into a creaming pliancy.  It is his failure to be able to do this that drives him back to porn.

Narcissism is about the need to self-identify and to broadcast that identity to others.  Online porn doesn't help you do this because it robs you of your pants, but you can run it as defense: online porn prevents other people from finding out you aren't as good as you think you are.  Everyone imagines they are good in bed, but when you hit 30, 40, 50, and you slow down, now you're no longer as good as even you once were.  And so you will give up sex, actual sex, something you would have previously stabbed a harp seal to get, just so you and she don't have to realize just how mediocre you are.  "No, you're wrong, I simply don't have the energy."  But you can stay up till 2am spinning the Wheel of Anal?

Add to that his own self-image.  When you masturbate to porn, as with all fetishes, you are able to focus on a single piece of something as a proxy for all sexuality.  It is super easy to look down at, say, your own penis manipulated to its max and see it as gigantic, see it as a proxy for the stud that you imagine you could be given the right script, lighting and production.  But the moment the director yells, "action!" the self-consciousness kicks in. You see your flabby gut through her eyes and imagine she can't possibly be aroused by it.  You don't feel sexy, so you are not interested in sex.   Do I need to point out that this is what women used to say about themselves?  Dude, you're acting like a girl.

You don't need to drive more than three paragraphs down to find evidence of this.  Here's what one tool said about being a tool:

"I've always thought it's really hot when women in porn movies say dirty stuff," he says. "Usually, they're just literally narrating the shit that's happening, giving the play-by-play: 'You're fucking me! Your dick's in my ass! I'm sucking your cock right now!' For whatever reason, that's what does it for me. But recently a woman I was with started saying all that stuff, and it just kind of spooked me. She seemed slightly nuts."


Women, noticing a decline in their partners' libidos, try to reenact the kinds of scenes that men watch on their computer screens. Men, as a result, get really freaked out. They don't want their real women and their fantasy women to inhabit the same body.

They're not freaked out, he has assessed them incorrectly.  Remember Sartre's "look?"  This is an anti-look.  This is where, as she's looking over her shoulder at you and screaming out the expletives she's learned men like, you catch a glimpse of her eyes and see behind them, into her soul, and you see that she's pretending, this is just an act, this is fake, this sex is even less real than the stuff on the internet.


Let me be clear: it's not masturbation that we're talking about, neither is it a critique of porn in general, but specifically online porn video clips-- the way Davy and Ron and pretty much the rest of America views it.  What makes it so bad, and how can we stop it?

This is the approach that fails us with social issues, "what can be done about it?"  Nothing, you can't do anything about the porn, the porn is a fact of reality.  You may as well uselessly ask what can be done about giraffes or misplaced modifiers.  Porn is here, ubiquitous, and until the government finds a way to kill you over the internet there's nothing stopping you from blowing out your retinas.  We can Thomas Aquinas this issue for another decade, and maybe it is a moral issue I have no idea, but I do know that it won't change reality.   You can only change yourself, and if you can't change yourself you had no realistic possibility of changing the world anyway.  Stop rationalizing.

We're looking at the porn "problem" the wrong way.  Because there are vaginas in it, we think it has something to do with sex or libido or even power, but strip porn down to its functionality and you'll see it's something else.  Do a rundown: it's not illegal.  For the most part, it isn't even shameful, you say Brazzers and every guy in American will be happy to tell you about it.  "How did you know that?"  "Wikileaks."  It's easy to access.  It's not terribly damaging.  It sucks up a lot of time that you always regret afterwards, Davy and Ron may light candles and dim the lights in preparation for their "date" with but three seconds into the ejaculation they're already planning how to kill themselves.  That's right, mo, that's two hours you could have spent learning to Ricky Jay a deck of cards or dictionary attack your ex-GF's facebook account.  "Hey, what'd you do last night?"  "Hung out."  "Me too.  I'm exhausted."

And: no one climaxes unexpectedly from watching online porn.  You decide you're done.  The first 10 minutes are thrilling but after that you're not holding back from orgasming; in fact, you're trying to remind your penis to stay hard until you find whatever it is you think you're looking for, because you think you're going to want to suddenly come when you find it, whatever it is will be so awesome you won't be able to hold back-- but it's never so spontaneous.  You have to decide the time has run out.  This is why online porn is so problematic: there's no natural end in sight.

And for most, the biggest problem is the drive: you don't do it because you're horny, you do it because you're bored.  With porn that available, you never get to really horny anyway in the same way Americans never get to really hungry.

You're training your penis to resist physical stimulation and key off your mind, which sounds good in theory but you see the results with poor Davy-- you're training yourself to have sex in your head.  So it's not that real women aren't porn-like; even porn, after twenty minutes, isn't porn-like anymore.  What you need to finish is some time afterwards to create a masturbation scenario, and with some real woman squirming underneath you playing her own movie, "give it to me, Julian!" it's hard to concentrate.

In other words, online porn isn't a drug, it isn't an addiction, it isn't a sign of deviancy or a trigger for disease: porn is junk food.  It is a bag of potato chips you eat when you aren't even hungry, and once you start and the initial "mmmm!" passes you're all in, may as well finish the bag, you've ruined your diet/night already, start over clean tomorrow.

After a while potato chips just figure into your routine, there's a passing thought that perhaps you shouldn't but since there aren't any obvious and immediate consequences...  And now it's part of who you are.

But no one would ever say that "other foods don't measure up", no one says that potato chips taste better than steak not because they don't but because no sane person makes those kinds of comparisons.  If you did, if you played it all out in your head and now deliberately avoid eating a steak in order to get to potato chips-- then you have a problem that is deeper than steak or potato chips.

Junk food is stripped of the essentials of real food, leaving just the vulgar, the simple, the obvious of taste: sugar, salt, fat, repeat.  It is the pornographization of food.   The mistake people make is that they think it is delicious, but it's really just easy, comforting, reliable, satisfying.  And that's where we are now: online porn is the pornographization of porn. 


When you characterize porn as an addiction it tells you that it is hard to break free, that it is a struggle, that relapse is inevitable-- all things that have nothing to do with porn.  But when you characterize online porn as junk food, the solution is obvious: don't eat it.

Easier said than done, I know, but the thing I find helps most people is to understand that you can't refrain from doing something you like.  You can, however, change the person you are into the kind of person who doesn't even like that stuff.  Sugar Smacks still taste the same as they did under Carter, but I don't know anybody who still eats them.  Do the same for soda.

In medical school a lot of the guys (who went into ortho) went to the gym and would discuss with euphoria how much canned tuna they ate.  "There's 15g of protein and zero fat!" they'd whisper to each other, and they'd sooner eat salamander eyes than lick a Dorito. That was the kind of guys they were. 

This may not be a reassuring solution to some, but I can promise you that it is the only solution: you have to decide you're not the kind of person who wastes time on that.  Condemning it, banning it, hiding from it-- all will lead to failure.  Lust isn't the trigger,  boredom is, idle hands are something or other, so the sooner you get a default activity, the better.  When your wife walks in on you in the midst of an overhand tug and she moans, "you are pathetic!" she's really a vowel off, apathetic is more accurate and considerably more amenable to improvement.


Davy believes porn messed up his relationships with women.  I don't expect him to  understand that he gravitates to porn because of who he is.

Like any through researcher, I decided to investigate a theory. I had heard about something called the National Day of Unplugging, sponsored by the New York-based Jewish group Reboot, which encourages people to take a one-day vacation from their tech. But I chose to unplug in my own way: by refusing to visit the usual series of tawdry websites I frequent before bedtime.
If you can get past the branding, you can see that Copernicus's porn usage isn't an addiction but a routine.  Routines are part of your identity, like it or not, with the unfortunate consequence that you'll reflexively defend it even if it is foolish.  Here is the very next sentence:

Now, I'm certainly not trying to indict porn, or to conclude that it has no place in men's lives, whether they are alone or in company. And I'll concede that some couples still find it to be something of a turn-on. But realigning one's relationship to it might just improve one's actual relationships--especially if you're often finding yourself in the bedroom, staring into the eyes of a very confused partner.
"Just don't do it" is going to be hard for him, the porn is part of who he is, but-- and this is the part you should focus on-- if he decides to be a different person he can stop that routine, and  if he stops that routine he will become a different person.  But he doesn't want to change, he just wants things to change.

I went without porn for a day. Then I tried it for two. Then three. On the fourth day, I had the fortune of having sex with a woman. And nothing was faked, although I can only speak for myself.

The next 40 years of this guy's life are going to be drudgery, and for anyone else he drags with him.  So if that's you, for the sake of everyone around you, stop eating junk food.



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