My good friend Angus decided to stop watching porn a few months ago. Because I am infinitely frustrated by the “all men watch porn” myth, I decided to interview him. Proof! All men don’t watch porn and, if you do, it’s possible to stop. Here’s our conversation:

Angus: HI MEGHAN.

Meghan: Ok are you ready?

Angus: YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM.

But otherwise, yeah

M: Do you remember how old you were when you first started watching porn?

A: As with most men of my generation, my first experiences with porn really were the scraps of Playboy and Hustler found in the forests and parks of boyhood. These things were coveted and stashed and revisited as often as possible, and it was tremendously exhilarating to seek out these forbidden stashes, as often as not having found them to have been destroyed by weather or raided by some other boys. These were community experiences and they would have taken place between the ages of 8-11, I would say.

After that, I recall a couple of instances in which we found porn videos accidentally left in a parent’s VCR, and the occasional successful raid on a closeted or garaged stack of magazines, and these experiences, say from 11-13, were still communal. It’s hard to remember precisely, but because we hadn’t yet broken that pubescent glass ceiling, I think most of our experience with porn was more rebellious than sexual. We knew what sex was and we coveted the representation of it, but we were, in every sense, dogs chasing cars.

M: So porn use was more communal than private at first?

A: Absolutely. And it would not have occurred to me that there would be anything strange about that, as the communal aspects of porn were more or less presexual.

M: I’m assuming it was less focused on masturbation then, at that time… So when did it become a private thing?

A: With the onset of puberty came an escalation of tactical rebellion, and it was at the age of 12 or so that the tendency to steal just about anything not in a safety deposit box, freedom of movement, and access to time alone coincided with the hormonal makeup necessary to facilitate the acquisition of pornography and the inevitable masturbation that followed. This was not a communal activity, I should point out.

M: Did you talk to other boys/men about it at that time? Was there an understanding that everyone else (males, that is) was using porn?

A: Of course! You have to keep in mind that, at that time, porn itself was a commodity. This made it, like stolen hood ornaments, a status symbol. As for the actual “use” of that porn, I’m convinced that we all said we used it a lot more than was physically possible and I’m pretty sure that some of us didn’t use it at all but wouldn’t be caught dead admitting it.

M: Interesting. So porn-use was part of learning masculinity/participating in ‘male culture’?

A: Without question.

On an aside — so much of this KIDS TODAY won’t understand. Ha.

M: Because of the internet?

A: Yeah

M: Right. That has changed things, hasn’t it.

A: I’m not sure how much though. I mean, the methodologies are different, but the basic elements of secrecy, evasion, collection, and cultural participation are present. But the internet has definitely intensified things while at the same time making something once extremely rare — almost mythical – commonplace.

M: Along the lines of having to say you use porn (even if you don’t) — I’m sure you’ve heard the line that says “all men watch porn” OR “if a man says he doesn’t watch porn, he’s lying/trying to appease you/trying to get you (and by you, of course, I mean me) into bed?”

A: Well, obviously if you don’t watch porn you’re a fag, right? In which case you would watch gay porn, so yeah, the assumption is that all men watch porn!

As for men telling women that they don’t watch porn, and why they say that even if they do, I think there are a couple of things at play there…

Before I stopped watching porn, I would usually tell women that I “didn’t watch porn very often,” or that “I tried to watch as little as possible” (which is, in itself a pretty twisted proposition, logically). I’m not sure that men do this consciously to try to get women into bed — though some surely do — but there’s certainly an element of shame invoked with these statements that probably has a couple of sources.

I think on some level men don’t want to portray themselves as not being sexually prolific enough to “need” to watch porn in order to get off; and at the same time there must be some understanding that porn is viewed negatively by women.

The second thing is probably why men lie to “get women into bed.” And also why men brag all day and all night when they are dating a woman who likes watching porn. Conversely, men often, in my opinion, lie to other men about watching porn with their girlfriends in order to mitigate shame and exaggerate their sexual experience.

I’m not talking about our friends here, but I have spent years working in trades, and this is really, really common.

M: Why would a man brag that his girlfriend watches porn with him?

A: I would guess that the tacit approval of a woman, as well as the incorporation of porn into reality both heightens the pornographic fantasy, as well as removes any subconscious stigma of the loneliness and shame of the experience of using porn. Just guessing, here…

There’s something else I want to touch on from your previous question.

I think that when men say they don’t watch porn, or as I might have said, watch porn infrequently, there’s something wishful about it. Like when an alcoholic tells you that they’re not partying much, taking it easy these days, has things mostly under control, etc. I think that, for sensitive people especially, porn has an inescapably alienating effect and when asked by someone who may disapprove of porn use whether you use porn, that alienation becomes more immediate or real.

M: Right. So I know men who don’t watch porn. Who aren’t lying to me and have no reason to lie. Yet when you say this to other men, those other men deny it. They say,as I mentioned earlier, that any man who says he doesn’t watch porn is lying or trying to get you into bed or whatever. What’s that about? The need to say ALL MEN WATCH PORN — even though, clearly, all men don’t watch porn. Even if maybe “most” do.

A: Well, obviously, if EVERYONE does it, then it isn’t a question of choice but of consensus. Usually when we can agree on something like that, we are quick to confer on it the qualities of being “natural.” And if that doesn’t absolve one of all social and political responsibility, I don’t know what does.

A reason to say that men who claim to not watch porn are just trying to get women into bed is that it implies a kind of betrayal: “All men do it, he’s just throwing the rest of us under the bus so he can get some in real life.”

And then there’s the implied moral high ground, if you can wrap your head around that, held by the man who watches porn and proudly proclaims his honesty.

M: I feel this perhaps ties in a little bit to that “man code” we discussed way back when — wherein your true allegiance should be/is to men, not women. So the only reason you could be telling such a thing to a woman would be to fuck her –not because you’re having an honest conversation with a human being you respect.

A: Yeah, I don’t think you’re wrong about this. I mean, there isn’t enough space on the whole internet to explore the lies that men will tell to get women into bed, so it’s a very convenient label to put on anything a man says to a woman that another man feels threatened by.

I think it’s safe to assume that men who take the stance that men would only say they don’t watch porn in order to get women into bed are too insufficiently developed to merit much attention.

M: It’s funny because even women will say that too sometimes. Though I think they’re trying to come up with excuses as to why they can’t oppose or be uncomfortable with their own partner’s porn use…

A: Obvs

M: And probably because her boyfriend told her that… I suppose it’s all about normalization and negating any chance for critique/change.

I wanted to touch on the shame factor because it seems to come up a lot. I mean, many men I know do watch porn (again, not all) and many of them have talked to me about the shame they experience around that or that is attached to the whole process of masturbating to porn. Have you experienced this? What is that tied to?

A: Oh the shame tsunamis I have experienced, Meghan. Wave after wave  after wave.

I think, for me, the shame has had two main sources.

The first is an extension of inherent insecurity and feelings of social inadequacy. I don’t know how common this is. I have felt like I should be able to attract sex partners, and my inability to do so at any given time would be correlative to porn use. So the consumption of porn becomes a conscious replacement for human sexual relationship.

So really it’s just stacking loneliness on top of inadequacy, on top of loneliness, and it’s not great.

The second source of shame is the awareness that I am consuming something that I am socially and politically opposed to

M: And do you think this is common for other men? Re: the shame factor?

A: That’s a really good question — I don’t know about common, necessarily, but I don’t think it’s unheard of.

M: So is it fair to say you and some other men feel “ashamed” or “guilty” after using porn?

A: Yeah you would think so.

M: In which case I wonder, if one is politically and socially opposed to porn and feels ashamed when they consume porn, why they would continue to do so?

A: Well, men will fuck anything, generally — especially their hands — and porn is a readily available aid in this endeavour, so there’s that.

Also, I think there’s an element of entitlement to convenience and gratification that pervades our society. And it’s always a lot easier to move your conscience to the side, especially where hormones are involved, and then reconcile your behaviour with your conscience after you’ve received the gratification.

This is true of a lot of things that aren’t porn, as well.

The thing about porn is that it’s mostly private. There’s a limit to how many times you can secretly fuck your brother’s girlfriend before having to reconcile your behaviour with yourself and your community, presumably. But with porn, the shame comes in fairly small doses and tends to not last very long.

So the brain’s “is this worth it” function tends to err on the side of “aw fuck it, I’ll convince myself this is ok, or feel bad that it isn’t, then I’ll make a sandwich, get dressed, go to the club and lie to a girl about whether or not I did it.”

M: On an aside(ish), do you think that’s it’s accurate to say that “men will fuck anything?”

A: I thought you’d ask me about that… No, I don’t, though if you add enough drugs and alcohol… I mean, there’s a ratio you can rely on, if you know what I’m saying…

M: Which would tie to the question of whether porn is defensible because, of that stereotype/popular idea that says men have higher libidos than women, are more ‘visual’, need more sex than women, etc.

A: If you ask me, that’s just a lot more of the same “BUT I LIKE IT” argument that we are always talking about. Are people who make those arguments suggesting that you can’t masturbate without porn? I would call those people unimaginative, not to mention historically shortsighted.

M: Well yes. That was the next question I was going to ask you — there’s this assumption, from a lot of men, that masturbation and porn are so connected that they are one in the same. So when you ask a man to stop using porn, he thinks you are asking him to stop masturbating.

A: Well, not to get to personal here, but I stopped watching porn recently, and let ME tell YOU…

Haha

M: Ha.

Or there’s that idea that you wouldn’t want your boyfriend using porn because you should be “enough” or because of jealousy…

A: Well, that’s a stupid argument.

But look, even if what you say is true, about men needing visual stimulation, more frequent satisfaction, etc. (and I’m inclined to believe the anecdotal evidence I have come across regarding this) it’s not relevant in a discussion of whether or not it’s ok to sexually exploit women to satisfy that need. (And I don’t give a shit about statistically irrelevant hipster porn that claims to be non-exploitative, just to be clear).

M: I’m thinking that maybe a lot of men don’t think mainstream porn is exploitative either… Which is why maybe they don’t feel inclined to stop? Or do you think they realize this but just don’t care? Like they just think it’s people fucking for the camera/money and hey if they want to do that bully for them/dudes who watch porn…

A: It’s probably a little bit of both, I mean it depends how much you really care versus what you’re willing to sacrifice, and I say sacrifice because men have convinced each other that porn is absolutely a right, while downplaying the harm it does.

And the argument that you just put forward really is what most men tell themselves — it’s what I thought for basically ever.

M: Right. Because I know a lot of progressive men who use porn and have no desire/inclination to stop… Not to mention the regular old douchebags.

A: Of course you know men like that, just as I know a lot of progressive men and women who use iPhones. Myself included. So, just as I care about having a smartphone more than I care about people in China, progressive men you know may care about sexual gratification more than they care about the socially, sexually, and economically exploitative nature of the porn industry.

The reason that I make that comparison (re: iPhones), is that the production of both things is far removed from our consumption: “Why can’t the girls in the porn I watch be happy college students who love dicks and just needed a bit of extra money to get their law degree?”

Because porn is based in fantasy, it’s not much of a stretch to extend that fantasy to avoid thinking of the girls as sexually abused children sold to pimps and moved to Miami in shipping containers, the whole while becoming increasingly dependent on drugs.

M: So do you think porn has shaped your sexuality and/or impacted the way you see and relate to women?

A: I don’t really know. I think I’m more convinced than I might have been that every woman in every situation is just a couple of lines of dialogue away from group sex.

M: Ha.

But it’s hard to say because you can’t really give yourself a developmental frame of reference very easily. Also, I’ve had group sex in real life after only a couple of lines of dialogue, so who knows whether or not that’s because of porn.

I do think that porn has absolutely changed the way I look at women. Like physically.

You sent me an article recently where a guy was complaining that his mind had become a whirlwind of sexually depraved thoughts at all times and I feel like that very much applies to me. And I think it must have something to do with porn.

One of the things that evidences that connection is that I feel like a creep a lot of the time. Like, if I was checking out women in a natural, non-porn-influenced way, it’s unlikely that I would feel a sense of shame about it, maybe?

M: Yeah. Maybe if you didn’t feel like you were objectifying them or fetishizing their body parts?

A: Exactly.

M: Or turning them into porn or a source of visual/sexual pleasure for you? Or something? I’m just guessing…

A: Yeah it’s pretty unclear to me.

M: Ok but so do you think it’s shaped your sexuality? Or the way you have sex?

A: I’m not really sure. I don’t think I’ve ever found myself consciously mimicking the more absurd physical contortions that you find in porn, nor have I ever been comfortable with degradation in my sex life. So if you’re asking if after years of watching porn, have I ever tried to fuck a girl in the ass while holding her head in the toilet, the answer is an emphatic “No.”

But I will tell you this: There’s a running joke among men that goes something like this:

“Man, I’ve been watching so much porn lately, and I’ve been finding weirder and weirder shit! Pretty soon, I’m not going to be able to get off unless there’s at least four Japanese schoolgirls, a kangaroo, and black man dressed as the pope!”

But I’ve had candid conversations with men that have said that the “joke” is very much based in reality.

M: Right.

A: As for how porn has shaped my sexuality, that’s going to be difficult to analyze; for obvious reasons, I can really only speculate as to the developmental effects. But if we’re talking about how porn has shaped my relationship to sex in general, that’s a little easier.

As you know, I haven’t been dating since I started recovery at the end of 2012, and the specifics of recovery have led to a sort of ‘perfect storm’ scenario for porn use, one based on isolation as well as the removal of normal methods of achieving instant gratification, like booze and drugs. Suffice it to say, my porn use went from moderate to ludicrous, while my actual sex life became non-existent. After a while this started to make me pretty nervous.

I think it’s relevant to point out here that I have always been drawn to porn that is “as little like porn as possible.” So the fantasy becomes a reality replacement in a very literal sense. It’s inconceivable to me that this wouldn’t be damaging to my relationship to real life sex and the people that I want to have it with. Not to put too philosophical a point on it, but how long can one subsist on fantasy alone before reality starts to seem a poor facsimile? At what point does fantasy, whether we will it or not, become the metric by which we judge our experience?

M: Ok so you recently decided to stop watching porn — Can you tell me what the process was like re: changing your mind about porn and then what made you decide to stop?

A: I wouldn’t say that my mind changed about porn. I haven’t defended my porn use with anything other than “BUT I LIKE IT” for a lot of years, so the intellectual foundation for not watching porn was existent.

I’ve already discussed how my current situation made me acutely aware of the effect porn was having on me. So, one luxury of this period of my life is that the amount of time I necessarily spend reflecting on choices I’ve made in the past, how I define myself, leads quite naturally  to spending a lot of time thinking about how I want to define myself in the future. Now that I’m making wholesale changes in most areas, what kind of person do I want to be?

So because of the mechanics of this kind of personal change, it kind of dawned on me one day that if I didn’t want to feel my sexuality warped by porn, and if I didn’t want to feel shame as a porn user, and if I didn’t want to contribute, as a consumer, to something that I am philosophically opposed to, then maybe I shouldn’t watch porn anymore.

And it’s funny, because it felt like a total “eureka” moment which, you’ll agree, is pretty ridiculous.

M: You talked about the ‘harm’ of porn, as well as your being politically/socially/philosophically opposed to porn/the porn industry — Can you elaborate on that?

A: Yeah, I think the harm of the porn industry is pretty well documented, but I’ll talk a bit about my position. (My position on the porn industry is mostly intuitive; so don’t expect a high level of scientific analysis here…)

I think that there are people much better qualified to speak on the nature and effects of rape culture, but can we take it on spec that I have read a lot of these people and agree with them?

M: Yes.

A: The main thing for me is a problem of social and economic oppression.

It doesn’t pass the smell-test that anyone who is otherwise mentally sound, from a reasonably stable socio-economic background would be interested in being sexually exploited for a living.

I think that this position is confirmed by statistics, as well as by the fact that the worse off some of these women are in any of the above categories, the more thoroughly they are exploited and the less substantially they are compensated. That would appear to be the system; enough that variations are, once again, statistically irrelevant.

So what that is, is a system where the most vulnerable women are taken advantage of sexually for the pleasure of [mostly] men. This is not a system that I am comfortable participating in.

M: What if the women in the porn you were watching were freely! choosing! blow jobs and anal sex on camera for fun! I mean, do you think porn is simply not “good” for women? Or for men, for that matter?

A: Oh good, the “choice” argument.

While I’m not one to discount the role of free will in any human behaviour, I think that it’s important to look at how our society arrays the choices that we are presented with.

We live under an economic system that values women’s bodies in a certain way and puts a price point on that value. Some people would argue that this falls under the aegis of commerce and our market economy.

As a socialist I take exception to that system and the choices that it provides, which are designed to perpetuate an environment of class oppression. And this cannot be divorced from the social aspect of the deal, which is that if women were valued as equal to men in all other ways, instead of valued first as sexual commodities, their choices would be such that working in pornography would be substantially less appealing and never at all necessary.

So the consumption of porn, to me, amounts to the tacit approval of systemic oppression that is both gender based and class based.

M: You told me recently, when you made this decision, that part of the reason you wanted to stop watching porn was that you hope to, at some point, have a relationship with a woman and that you didn’t want to be using porn while in said relationship. Can you talk about that?

A: I think that when I look at the deleterious effects of porn on the collective cultural psyche, and on my psyche specifically; and when I look at what it does to my relationship to sex in general, it seems necessary to ask if my relationship to sex, as it is affected by porn, is likely to affect my relationship to, well, relationships.

And I end up answering that it most likely can’t be good.

I think that when we’re single, and possibly even when we’re in relationships, we tend to think of what we would like to see in our “ideal mate”– Like a human Mr. Potato Head with a soul, if you will.

M: Yes. Like that exactly.

A: And, ideally, we usually want to spend our time with someone that shares our values wholly, at best, and at the very, very least respects said values.

So it would follow that I would like to be with a woman who is also opposed to the things that I am opposed to. And this has the possibility, if I were to continue to use porn, of creating a lot of the situations that we discussed earlier — Such as a compounded sense of shame from not only betraying my ideals, but those of my partner as well as the possibility of a situation where lies are told to get my partner into bed, and then the perpetual conflict that comes from a relationship where you’re lying all the goddamn time.

M: Right.

So have you told other men about your decision to stop watching porn?

A: A couple, yeah.

M: And how did they react?

A: Well, my friends are really smart so the ones that I told absolutely understood my position, but it was still a little weird; there’s a pretty weighted moment where everyone is trying to figure out how serious everyone else is and whether or not there’s a bunch of judgement about to be laid down. Kind of like coming out of the closet as someone who doesn’t watch porn, for me, and for them I imagine they’re trying to figure out how much of a moralizing prick I’m about to become. Also, there’s an immediate detente, I think, because “not watching porn” is a pretty hard position to attack without coming off as a slimeball.

 

This interview was conducted in July 2013. Angus has been living porn-free for four months and his penis has yet to shrivel up and fall off.