You are here

Status message

Running on | CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/)

Has Porn Ruined Our Sex Lives Forever?

We may occasionally get off, but bringing in that third-wheel has changed the way we have sex. If we get to have it at all.
Written by

Finding porn used to take some effort. It involved bravery, stealth, and location scouting (try under Dad’s bed). The prize—huzzah! Hidden stack of Playboys!—was almost laughably tame by today’s standards.

Now anyone, anywhere, is a few clicks away from being like John Mayer who, in his famous Playboy interview, bragged-slash-confessed, “There have probably been days when I saw 300 vaginas before I got out of bed.” But the observation he revealed was even more provocative. “Internet pornography has absolutely changed my generation’s expectations,” said Mr. Body-Is-a-Wonderland Man. “How does that not affect the psychology of having a relationship with somebody? It’s got to.”  

What does it to do our psyches, our libidos, and our relationships when in .0001 seconds we can find whatever sexual stimulation our dirty little minds demand? 

As it turns out, a lot. Porn is mucking with our sex lives, relationships, and even the way we look. Let’s count the ways:

 

1. Porn leads to disconnected sex.

 

“Nothing else does it for me, not even real pussy” says Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s porn-addled character in Don Jon. There are lots of people like him out there having sex with—or at least near—unsatisfied partners. 

“Having sex with men who are avid porn users feels like I’m being masturbated into. It feels void of intimacy,” says 19-year-old Alaska*. “My partner would watch porn and masturbate while I was laying in bed with him. My role was just to be there. Sometimes he would watch porn for a little while and then want to have sex with me, but most of the time he would prefer to finish himself,” says Elizabeth, 19. Brian Moylan, editor-in-chief of Nerve and former VICE columnist, generally likes watching porn with his boyfriend, but has felt the disconnect, too. “There are times when we’re fucking and watching porn and I feel like I’m just an extra added sex toy in his masturbation fantasy (and sometimes vice versa).”

Behavioral therapist Andrea Kuszewski explains that “if someone relies too much on a certain type of stimulus in order to get excited, it might make it difficult to get aroused in the absence of that particular stimulus.”  She says, “This is the main problem with watching too much porn--the person begins to thrive on the novelty and deviance from the norm to excite them, and all other stimulation, including intimacy, begins to appear dull in comparison.”

For people who know—or sense—what they’re missing, the lack of emotional connection is a real loss. “I think we’re missing out on intimacy and the chance to have a real personal connection. Porn sex teaches young people to have sex without feelings,” says Alaska.

 

2. Hook-ups reign supreme.

Hook-ups are nothing new. And they can often be fun. Except now they seem like they’re the main option. “The guys won’t date. They want hook-up sex, and go from girl to girl,” observes Dr. Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, and founding member of Stop Porn Culture. Dines says that young women often suffer what they describe as “an emotional hangover” after having hook-up after hook-up and blame themselves, thinking they are doing something to attract the wrong guys.

“Dating young guys sucks,” says Madison, 26, who prefers to get involved with older men. “A readily hard cock is a fantastic thing, but with the advent of Viagra, I’d much prefer to be wooed, looked after, and adored (then well-fucked at preordained hours) than to be texted with requests to ‘hang out’ after not having heard from someone for a week.”

 

3. Porn often sets the sexual agenda.

“When I was 21, I’d never imagine someone asking me, ‘Hey, can I come in your face?’,” says Anastasia, 32. “That wouldn’t have even been a question. But it is now.”

If you’re into trying new things, porn can be a handy source of inspiration, but younger women can be freaked out by men who quickly ask for threesomes or daily blow jobs. “These girls are the casualties of porn culture,” Dines told DAME. “The guys want anal sex. They want the rough sex. They like to slap, they like to pull hair, they call names. What the girls don’t understand is that this porn culture is being played out directly on their bodies.”

As porn becomes the visual equivalent of background music in dorms and bedrooms, viewers can get desensitized. Plain old regular sex—which, incidentally would have sent kids a couple of decades ago into sexual paroxysms—becomes dull, and the sexual ante must be upped. This leads to hard-core strains of porn, with increased displays of violence and extreme acts.

“It’s really about how far you can push it,” says Dines. “They want to see just how far you can humiliate a girl and push her body until it breaks.”

Oddly, the rise of extreme porn might actually be indicative of a craving for emotional connection. “If you think about what makes sex interesting, it’s your emotional connection to the person you’re having sex with. If you take that away, as you do in porn, you’ve got to fill it with some emotion. So the emotion you fill it with is anger, rage, hatred,” says Dines. “Pornography, bizarrely, is ultimately boring and tedious so you have to keep bringing in something new and interesting.”

 

4. Increased scrutiny of body parts we thought were perfectly fine a decade ago.

Women have always felt insecure about their bodies. But younger women + porn watching = welcome to body dysmorphia (population: everyone). “My vagina never quite looked like the vaginas in porn. My stomach was never flat as theirs, and my breasts weren’t as big. When I was younger, it made me feel really insecure with my body, like there was something wrong with me,” says Alaska.

Anastacia has now become comfortable with her body and her own porn-watching habits, but was initially threatened by her boyfriend’s habits when she was younger. “I thought ‘These people don’t look like me. Does this mean he’s into blondes with double-D breasts?’ I’m a brunette so I was pretty insecure about it.” 

Now there are ointments to bleach our vaginas and buttholes or—what the hell?—pink em up. Pubic hair is non-existent for women under 30. (Though now, pubes appears to be making a comeback.) And there’s been a sharp uptick in labiaplasty, elective surgery to cut off perfectly healthy sexual bits. Yes, you read that right.

Because, creepily, the parts facing the harshest judgment—labia, boobs, pubic hair—are the very parts that define our feminine sexuality (see also: Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth). This creates an effed-up situation in which something that is an unmistakable sign of feminine arousal—say, a dark, engorged labia—might be altered to be shaped into a tinier, lighter one. How might this be screwing with the biological sexual signals we send to one another?

 

5. Men who don’t know how to properly shtup a woman.

“The positions men try to do with you because they see them in porn. Ugh. They hurt,” says Alaska. “And they clearly weren’t designed with the female orgasm in mind.”

But maybe it’s not necessarily the guys’ fault. Porn has become our primary form of sex education.

“The average 12-year-old boy is not putting ‘porn’ into Google because he wants to see ‘gag me and fuck me,’” says Dines. “He thinks might see breasts or naked women, then he gets catapulted into this world of violence. Remember they have not had sex before. When you’re 12, it’s the only thing you’ve got to measure against.”

Because porn isn’t exactly concerned with portraying the nuances of female desire and how to truly pleasure women and bring them to their peak. If viewers are looking to it to learn technique, they’ve definitely come to the wrong place. “Women are designed to receive pleasure, and experience triggers to orgasm from skillful caressing and rhythmic pressure of all kinds over many, many parts of their bodies,” wrote Naomi Wolf in Vagina. “The pornographic model of intercourse—even our culture’s conventional model of intercourse, which is quick, goal-oriented, linear, and focused on stimulation of perhaps one or two areas of a woman’s body—is just not going to do it for many women, at least not in a very profound way, because it involves such a superficial part of the potential of a woman’s neurological sexual response systems.”

Robert Kandell, who works with men teaching sexual mindfulness at One Taste, explained, “Guys are enthusiastic and they want the connection and intimacy but they’re getting bad information. The cum shot is the ultimate moment in porn and sex is just not like that. The climax of a symphony is the cymbals crashing at the end, but that’s not the main draw. We educate guys to enjoy the whole ride.”

 

6. Men suffering from sexual anxieties.

“The fallout from porn shows up in my practice in the form of several different issues,” says sex therapist Don Shewey. “Guys who try to duplicate the extremely formulaic contortions of porn and find that it’s not that enjoyable, and they think it’s their problem; guys who think it’s their job to perform like a porn star (get hard on cue, fuck like a jackhammer, and spurt without fail every time), or think that their partners expect them to do so, and therefore develop mild to crippling anxiety that makes it impossible to function sexually; guys who are so accustomed to masturbating looking at porn that they find it difficult to impossible to climax in someone else’s presence and guys who don’t have much real-life experience with sex who are afraid even to date because they assume that any partner will expect them to be ready to engage in every conceivable sex act.”

No one’s arguing here that porn should go away. Most of the experts I spoke with said that porn has a place in healthy, good relationships. It can be helpful for a disease-free sexual experience, lending companionship to the lonely, opening people’s minds to variety, allowing couples to talk openly about what gets them hot, or just providing a convenient route to orgasm. “My life is so busy right now, I just want to find something that gets me excited and just get it done. A couple minutes and I’m good,” says 27-year-old Stevie.

Porn can be superhot, all kinds of fun, and a lot of us use it and like it. And yet ... for some of us, it has become a third-wheel in our relationships, making many of us disconnected, desensitized, formulaic lovers. Are we willing to risk becoming lonely masturbaters, fueled by dopamine, endless variety, and ever-increasing stimulation, unable to handle the subtler, more sublime pleasures of real-world sex?

Moylan who detailed his efforts to (temporarily) get off porn in How to Quit Porn and Not Entirely Ruin Your Life sums up the conundrum: “Porn is great if you know it has its place and use it in moderation. I think it can lead to desensitization and habituated behaviors, but nothing gives me a boner faster.”

 

*Names have been changed.

Jill Hamilton writes In Bed With Married Women, a blog about sex. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times. Follow @Jill_Hamilton.

Jill Hamilton writes In Bed With Married Women, a blog about sex. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, Rolling Stone, and the Los Angeles Times. Follow her on Twitter @Jill_Hamilton.
More by:
Jill Hamilton