Dan Mahle is a group facilitator, program coordinator, and occasional blogger on the topic of men and masculinity. His work reaches into many different arenas, from youth leadership and intergenerational collaboration to environmental justice advocacy and men’s work. He lives in Seattle, WA.
Image from Fame Magazine.
I remember when I first discovered internet porn – I was 17 years old (1). Fascinated by this world of unleashed sexual expression and fantasy, I couldn’t get enough of it. As I grew up and began exploring my own sexuality, I discovered just how different watching pixels on a screen was compared to the intimacy of making love with another human being. I thought I’d outgrow my porn habit over time. But I never did.
I didn’t know it then, but porn had become an addiction. And, like most addictions, it was a behavior that I was ashamed to talk about or even admit was a problem. “Yeah, everybody watches porn,” I remember hearing. It seemed so pervasive and culturally accepted that having an actual conversation about it was a total non-starter. So I kept it to myself.
I thought I had my habit under control. I thought I could quite porn whenever I felt like it. I even tried to quit a few times and then rationalized my eventual return to the addiction.
I didn’t realize how much watching porn manipulated my mind, warping my sexuality, numbing my feelings, and impacting my relationships with women. And I was not alone.
According to a recent study, more than 70 percent of men ages 18 to 34 visit porn sites in a typical month. And it’s not just guys watching sex online. It is estimated that 1 in 3 porn users today are women. Now, I want to be clear here that porn use extends beyond the male/female gender binary, but for the purpose of this post I am sharing my experience with porn from the perspective of a heterosexual, cisgender, White man.
Let me also state clearly that I don’t think all porn is bad. I’ve seen some great videos of couples engaging in intimate and respectful sexual encounters – of course, these are often only found on feminist porn sites or in the “female friendly” category (It’s interesting to note what the category name “female friendly” implies about all the other categories). But I’m not here to judge anyone else for what they choose to watch. I’m simply sharing the impacts that porn has had on my life and what has changed for me since I’ve stopped using it.
To me, what is worrying about porn is not how many people use it, but how many people – like me – have found themselves addicted to it.
As Dr. Jeffrey Satinover stated in his 2004 testimony to the U.S. Senate subcommittee on pornography, “Modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction.”
Impacts of Porn (2)
A lot of studies have been conducted on the impacts of porn on men and women in society. Of all of those impacts, three most resonated with my experience:
1. Violence Against Women (3): This includes an obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them (voyeurism), an attitude in which women are viewed as objects of men’s sexual desire, and the trivialization of rape and widespread acceptance of rape culture – fueled by fake depictions of women in porn videos often pretending to desire violent and abusive sexual acts.
2. Numbness & Disembodiment: This can include erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm when not watching porn, detachment from your physical body, emotional unavailability and numbness, lack of focus and patience, poor memory, and general lack of interest in reality. Furthermore, these outcomes in men have been linked to boredom with their sexual partners, higher levels of sexual promiscuity, adultery, divorce, sexism, rape, abuse, and suicide.
3. Fear of Intimacy: Watching porn contributes to many men’s inability to relate to women in an honest and intimate way despite a longing to feel loved and connected. This is because pornography exalts our sexual needs over our need for sensuality and intimacy; some men develop a preoccupation with sexual fantasy that can powerfully impede their capacity for emotionally intimate relationships.