Men on pornography ‘Where’s the harm if I’m feeling lonely?’ (The Times, UK)
Jonathan Porter, 48, accountant
When I was a teenager in the Eighties, I saw pornography in magazines such as Razzle and Fiesta that didn’t turn me on at all. It seemed cartoonish and degrading.
I grew up thinking that pornography was bad and demeaning to women. It actually put me off sex.
Then at university I had my first serious girlfriend. I was surprised when she told me that she used pornography to get herself in the mood. She was the first person to tell me that if you call it erotica then it suddenly feels middle class and OK. She was right. She had a video of sexy scenes from various films and it really worked.
However, when I got married my wife wasn’t into the idea at all. By then it was the age of the internet. I think the Americans and Russians online have given it a very bad name. There was too much of what I call stunt sex; horrible grunting and abusive power dynamics.
I showed her some higher quality work. A like-minded friend sent me a link to a video where the woman is beautiful, the sex is tender and both parties get pleasured. My wife has watched it with me and even she admits that it is not entirely awful.
Without her knowing, it has helped our marriage. I am away working in London three days a week. I love my wife and I would never stray or use a prostitute. If I’m lonely I will turn to my video or one like it — where’s the harm in that? It is such a shame that porn and erotica still have such a bad name. We have two teenagers and I wouldn’t dare tell them how I use it. Social media and sexting has led them back to the dark ages in terms of sex.
I told my son off when I found a Thai sex site open on his computer. It was full of the most appalling images. The young are bombarded with hardcore porn that is full of confusing and damaging messages. Basically, it’s women who are treated like meat. They are dominated and used, or they are grateful and desperate.
It has made me wonder: why has this generation regressed in their attitude to sex? I find it incredible that no one has created quality erotica. Someone needs to come along and dignify it.
Stuart Smith, 27, trainee psychologist
The high-speed internet arrived when I was going through puberty, and I had unlimited access to porn. I could watch it for hours, free; I could have ten videos downloading at the same time. You could see a thousand naked girls in about a minute.
My parents were a good example of a healthy, loving relationship. I couldn’t have cared less. Porn was fun, pleasurable, cool. All my friends were into it. It was a huge part of our teen culture. But when you use it every day, it’s going to affect how you view whoever you’re attracted to.
I became sexually active at 14. I immediately tried to get my girlfriends to do the stuff I’d seen on my computer. The conversations that my friends and I would have, at 12, 13, wasn’t who could kiss the best, it was who gave the best oral sex.
There wasn’t as much intimacy and connection as there should have been. Sex was performance-based. I wasn’t doing what I innately desired, or what they innately desired. I was mimicking what I’d seen. There’s a misconception that blokes who use porn are losers. But I was happy, outgoing, confident and sociable.
Parents are completely ignorant. It’s not their fault. Internet porn was a new phenomenon and they’d been blindsided — they have no information about how to protect their kids, how to inform them. It needs to change. It’s rare to meet a parent who’s had a proper conversation with their child about porn.
I thought porn would make me incredibly knowledgeable, a sex god. I believed that until I was 23 and I went to have sex with a beautiful girl I’d been dating for a couple of months. We attempted sex and I couldn’t feel any arousal, no matter what we tried. So I did what anyone would do — I went to Google.
One test said that a young, healthy bloke should be able to masturbate without porn. I thought: “OK, I haven’t tried that in ten years.” I couldn’t get an erection. I went back to my room, turned on some porn, and instantly got an erection. I was like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I’d rewired my brain so that I desired pixels over people.
That epiphany was four years ago. I haven’t watched porn since. It was nine long, terrible, depressing months before I could get an erection with my girlfriend.
She’d cry and I’d assure her that it wasn’t her. I didn’t tell her the truth until afterwards. When a girl hears it’s porn, she thinks: “I can’t compete with porn stars.” But men who watch porn aren’t watching it because of the attractiveness of the girls, they’re watching it because they need novelty and shock.
My girlfriend was more beautiful than the girls I watched. But when you’re with a real partner, the level of stimulation that your brain is used to from porn isn’t there.
I was so lucky that my girlfriend was supportive. It was relieving and encouraging to open up. We’re still together.
Michael Hall, 52, hotel manager
I was addicted to porn and lost my £50,000-a-year job because of it. I got caught looking at it at work. It’s all about time, access and opportunity. Late at night, the wife’s gone to bed, you’re still up. There’s a searching. Before you know it, it’s 3am.
It’s the accessibility that makes it so insidious. Even at the end of the Nineties there were phone lines, and I ran up stupid bills. I said to my wife: “I’ve been really stupid.” We had a row, I said: “I’ll never do it again.” And we didn’t talk for a few days.
For people in recovery from drink, drugs or porn, the conversations are not really about the drink and drugs, they’re about where you’re going with your life, what you’re trying to achieve, about your relationships. The holes in those things get filled up by drink, drugs or porn because you’re sad, angry or lonely. Pornography becomes something that fulfils a need in your life.
Once I understood porn as an addiction, it became easier to manage. At my support group, everyone would moan about their wives and partners — she’s taken my phone off me, she doesn’t trust me. My wife, who was supportive, took the view: “You’re an adult in this relationship. You might not always behave like one, but I’m not going to treat you like a son, checking up on you.”
Her initial interpretation of my behaviour was: “He’s a disgrace, he doesn’t love me, and it’s all being done to me.” We’ve got through it.
Porn desensitises you physically and emotionally. It can change how you look at sex and how you think sex should be. My wife wants to know that we’re having sex because I love her and find her attractive. When we do have sex, it is amazing, but it’s the modern world, our lives are really busy. You lose confidence if it doesn’t work out. Porn never disappoints. It’s just there, waiting for you.
The thrill is partly around the searching. It’s all about finding that perfect thing, which you never do. So you keep searching.
I now feel much more involved in my relationship. We spend more time together, I give more. The key is to try to be as honest as we can. Denial is not to be recommended, but compromise is necessary if you want the relationship to survive. You can get on with your life without everything exploding. That’s where we are.
George Harris, 35, graphic artist
There’s a place for porn as occasional titillation, but you lean on it when you’re lonely and not in a great place.
Men will have a laugh about masturbation — but watching porn is seen as a sign of weakness, of being a bit sad. It’s private, not something you brag about. It’s quite narcotic, though, providing an easy thrill. But when I used it with my wife it triggered visceral, not emotional sex. Successful long-term sex with your partner is not about visual sex and big boobs. It’s about sex that is emotional and tactile — everything that porn is not.
I realised I was using it alone to avoid dealing with the problem of not being intimate. You get to the end of the day, you want to have sex, your partner doesn’t. It’s very simple to find a video that half does the trick, gets it over and done with.
I confronted my wife, quite aggressively, about her low sex drive and told her what I felt reduced to. She was furious.
She said physical attraction was a big part of it, and while she made an effort for me, I didn’t for her. I was angry and offended, and it took me months to acknowledge that she was right. I realised there were problems I had to deal with, rather than expect her to.
Tim Woods, 50, engineer
In the Nineties I came close to bankruptcy and was looking for the fantasy that would take me away from my problems.
I was depressed. You can’t put a name on this emptiness inside. There’s something missing, and no matter how much you look at porn, the void never gets filled. Afterwards there’s guilt, and you want to run away from it. You’ve got a technique for running away from things, so you end up in a cycle.
Modern technology gave me access to images that I found interesting and exciting; it promised fantastic things. And it became easier and easier.
I got divorced. I had this vision of being alone and I thought: “How did I get here?” I knew exactly. Porn was my way of soothing the fears, dealing with the emotions. Escaping from what you hate in your life.
I met someone else and fell in love. I shouldn’t have been anywhere near her. I should have been with my family.
That’s what killed my marriage. I walked away from it in my head. Neither my wife nor I was good at dealing with emotions. Our disagreements never got resolved. There were times when we went to bed, turned our backs to each other and went to sleep. I remember her saying once that she could feel waves of hate coming from me. Not quite true, but we were two people in the same house, not in the same relationship.
We could never discuss sex; we couldn’t explore and experiment. She wasn’t interested. So I built up huge resentment and blame. We never managed the discussion of, well, this is what I think, this is what you think, how can we make the two fit? She would go “no” or I would say “I want”.
I had a ready-made exit route with the other woman. I’ve got to question how hard I tried back then. We all deserve to be loved, and love is shown in the way that people treat you, in the respect they afford you. If you feel loved, and you’re in a good relationship, I don’t think it would occur to you that porn is more than slightly interesting now and then.
Why men use porn — and when it becomes a problem
Suzi Godson, the Times sex expert, believes pornography is a problem if the habit starts to impose on life and relationships. “For most people, porn is a means to an end,” Godson says. “It’s a tool for masturbation. It has always existed; it’s just that now it’s in a highly accessible form.
“If a man is staying downstairs in the study until 3am and ignoring the real flesh-and-blood woman in his bed, that relationship is in trouble. However, there’s an awful lot of hysteria . . . lots of couples use porn together.”
Godson says that what concerns her is that “nobody is talking to young people about the fact that porn is not representative of real sex. Because young people are sexually active, but not sexually competent or confident, they can’t separate fantasy and reality.”
Cynthia Fogoe, a counsellor and sex addiction specialist, says that a healthy relationship needs “trust, mutual affirmation and an ability to share feelings. It entails taking responsibility for your actions.” If there’s emotional distance, she says, a secretive reliance on porn is more likely. “Loneliness can be a reason that some men use it.”
If it becomes a compulsion, it’s likely there’s an underlying psychological issue. “Addiction is about disconnection,” she says. “These men are using it to avoid feelings. It could be boredom, but it could be anger, loneliness or stress. Pornography can be self-soothing.” Such men don’t know how to cope with difficult emotions.
All names have been changed
Published at 12:01AM, November 14 2015