A Narrative Study: Porn & Intimacy
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
College-aged males speak candidly about porn, sex, and how they conflict*
*names have been changed for privacy
The first time I ever heard the word “sex” I was in third grade. All of the girls were separated from the boys during health class and they giggled at us when we reconvened and had little baggies full of maxi pads. The next time I talked about sex was when we were deemed old enough to have a co-ed sex ed class and still, the terms they used to describe it were vague and “abstinence” was preached more than anything.
I never had the formal “talk” from my parents and most of the things I thought I knew about sex were from kids talking on the school bus or snippets I read from my sister’s diary. To say that my sexual education in school was less than comprehensive would be an understatement. I know that in America, in comparison to our foreign counterparts, this experience is not unique. According to Advocatesforyouth.org, the ineffectiveness of sexual education is leading to an array of public health problems including teen pregnancy and the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in young adults. As Brigid McKeon of Advocates for Youth wrote: “The U.S. government has spent over one billion dollars supporting abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Although the U.S. government ignores it, adolescents have a fundamental human right to accurate and comprehensive sexual health information.”
As a member of a rather sex positive millennial generation, I wondered where this liberation came from. It clearly did not come from the open dialogue around sex in the classroom because that didn’t exist. It did not come from our parents, at least not for all of us, because many of my friends and the subjects I profiled never had a legitimate birds and the bees conversation with them. It definitely did not come from the popular culture sensationalization of sex because even then, “sex scenes” were ambiguous and confusing to the virgin youth. Was this newfound phenomena of sex positivity the result of the experimentation and exploration into the intricacies of sex that took place once our curious generation reached the age of consent? Did sex positivity start on college campuses as individuals found themselves being liberated by the possibility of engaging in hookup culture? Or maybe, as a generation, we became self-taught about sex by other means… like porn.
I wanted to find out if this narrative held true for the multiple college aged males I got the chance to speak with. My goal was to see if the gap in their sexual education not addressed by school curricula, their parents, or their back and forth with older, more experienced friends, was fulfilled by these other means. Could pornography, despite its unrealistic representations of sex and intimacy, have prepared these individuals in some small way for their own sexual encounters? Most of them thought so, at least at the time of their first pornographic experience.
Now, as adults reflecting on their first time watching an explicit video and their first time actually being in an intimate situation with another person, they recognize the flaws of the industry. Some, at the peak of their porn habits, were drawn to a certain “look” of a female porn star, for others it was a certain subculture of sex like BDSM, for most, porn was just a sure-fire fix to a natural, hormonal, teenage urge.
And although their video preference may be nuanced to each individual, many common themes about hookup culture, intimacy, and sex are consistent for each narrative. They watched porn as virgins and formed an idealistic view of sex in their heads which led them to be unprepared for the reality of it: the jerky movements, the discomfort of it all, and — as one subject so candidly put it — how “hard it was to actually put my penis in.”
Now, as 19 to 22 year olds faced with the option of sex with an actual person on a small, liberal arts campus, they see the silliness of depending so heavily on a hyperbolic, unrealistic video to help them get off and fulfill their utmost animal urges. They also consciously consider the treatment of porn stars behind the scenes and how that affects their consumption, for one subject this enlightenment led him to quit watching porn altogether. For others watching pornographic videos “is like a chore now,” mainly because, as another said, “the actual feeling of another person can never be replicated.” These brief excerpts are proof that the problematic nature of the porn industry is evident, even to those that continue to consume. Nevermind the suspicious nature of some videos, the blatant disregard for safe sex procedures in most pornos, or the perpetuation of sexist stereotypes, it can be an educational tool that fills a void left by the sexual education we depend on in our youth.
When I first watched porn, I was actually I believe in third or fourth grade. I was on the internet and it sort of just occurred to me that there could be naked women on the internet. You could google pictures of, I don’t know — corn fields or something and get pictures of corn fields so I was like, “That probably works for naked women, too!” I googled some stuff and all of a sudden there’s two women in an act of love with each other. It was one of those ones where you try to exit out and the whole fucking screen freezes so I told my mom what I did the next day and then she looked through the computer history. I think she thought it was funny — a little worrisome, but funny. She was just like, “Why don’t you take a few days off before using the computer?” Not really as a punishment but I think more as a slap on the wrist.
It became a more steady habit, of fairly innocent things, I’d say. I mean in 8th grade I probably watched pretty innocent stuff, it didn’t get explicit until like high school. My normal behavior at one point when I was really hormonal, during the change from child to adult, was a lot. My record for watching porn is seven [videos] in a day. That was probably 8th or 9th grade and then my watching habits leveled out, it was probably a bit out of hand.
Porn taught me a lot besides the health aspect of sex. I think actually having sex was way more helpful than sex ed. Obviously we need sex ed to teach us about STD’s and not knocking people up, but that’s not everything. Porn will never teach you, “You can get the clap!” I think that there were benefits to sex ed because of that, but the actual “how to do it” part of it can be taught by porn. I think it’s a huge aspect of the education of the world’s youth, or at least in America.
I’d say if anything I was more prepared after watching porn for real sex. It’s not the same because porn is different than real life. Real sex is not as rhythmic. But I think, if anything, I would’ve been really fucking confused as to what I was supposed to do with this person that I was naked with if I had not watched porn. I wouldn’t know as much about sex if it weren’t for porn. Of course, actual sex is really jerky and awkward compared to what’s online. I was expecting that as a human being I’d be able to compose myself in a way to get through it smoothly the way they do in the porn videos.
The ease of the progression in porn is hard to actually accomplish. I mean, it’s scripted, so the other person is automatically okay with it. You don’t have to worry about: Is this too far? Is this something I should be doing? You know, they like meet each other on a bus or some stupid bullshit like that and just randomly go home to an apartment. I thought it would be a nice progression of pleasure like that and it was kinda just jerky and awkward.
Porn takes away the awkwardness of an encounter, though. When you have an “appointment” with someone you just kinda go and have that awkward small talk at the beginning, and then you do it. Sometimes you feel kind of bad afterword. Especially if maybe you sober up a bit. But sometimes you just have to get your nut — it’s important for everyone. That’s an interesting spot where real sex and porn conflict because a lot of times if I’m completely sober and I arrange a hookup or something afterward I’m like, “Was that necessary, couldn’t I have just watched something? Did I really have to degrade myself to the degree of going somewhere, doing it, then just leaving?”
My porn intake has definitely decreased since getting the real thing was an option. To be blunt about it, if you have a memory bank of actual physical encounters, you have that to draw from... if you know what I’m saying. The actual feeling of another person can never be replicated by porn. That’s something I was not prepared for — how much better it would feel with an actual human being there. But if it’s been months since you’ve been laid you forget what certain things feel like.
The single greatest con of the porn industry is the fact that children can be exploited by it. That’s the obvious one. I mean adults can also be forced into it, so that too. I guess I consider myself, like, a media literate porn consumer. If you’re a consumer, you’re a consumer. The jacket I’m wearing could have been made by kids that were forced into labor, and are underpaid — barely enough to eat. There’s a difference, between weird shit you see on the side of Pornhub — like with a sheet as the backdrop or something, that’s probably something you should stay away from. I think you can be smart about your porn choices. It’s like… I don’t know where the things I’m wearing right now are from, but I would never buy a real fur coat. It’s a rare thing for me to do now, anyway, so I try to go straight to where I need to go. I watch mainstream videos, I’ll look at the thumbnails, the views and kinda see if it looks normal and not sketchy.
I don’t watch kinky shit. There is porn that is very straight-forward and doesn’t necessarily show dominance outright, it just shows the very act of sexual intercourse. I find that I’m pretty lazy in what I choose. I mean, I might choose something based on a title that uses words I actually wouldn’t say. It might say, “Fucking her,” and I probably wouldn’t use that term but I hear people use it, not just in titles of videos. It sounds gross and aggressive to me. It sounds like she’s not enjoying it or something. It feels weird but somehow your mind switches into a different gear when you’re in the moment. I don’t like to put it in those terms when it’s with a real person, though.
I think I choose more professional porn, if that makes any sense. If I’m gonna watch porn now, then it’s just something that needs to be done right then to satisfy whatever urge I’m having. So I kinda just find something efficient. I’m not trying to look through Pornhub for an hour and a half. Having to sift through videos of a random girl in her living room or something. I’m not about that anymore. I need to get it done, get on with my day, go get some popcorn or something [laughs].
If you don’t include accidentally stumbling upon stuff in fourth grade where I’d frantically exit out, I probably watched porn for the first time when I was thirteen. I’d go onto Pornhub.com or Mobile Boner, a mobile porn site. but I must have been thirteen when I really first saw porn. It wasn’t like hardcore porn or anything... you know how HBO and certain channels after 8 o’clock show like softcore stuff? [laughs] Sometimes I would sneak downstairs and watch it because we had a downstairs room that’s completely closed off from the rest of the house. I’d go down there and watch — wait, what was it? — I think her name was Casey Morgan or something. She had a show where she would talk about sex and she was topless during it. And my thirteen year old ass was like: “Wow, boobies! This is tight!” So that was the first time I watched porn.
I definitely actively sought it out because I would see it on the TV guide after 8 and some of the programs would have sexier names so I was like, “Oh what’s that? Let’s see what that is… Oh boobs? Word!” But that doesn’t really count as porn... that’s softcore stuff. I don’t remember ever watching anything super hard core back then. It was mostly just strip tease stuff because I didn’t have any developed fetishes. So it was videos of girls on Pornhub taking their top off. It wasn’t vulgar. I’d watch stuff like that and that changed big time as I got older.
I really don’t watch porn anymore because I’m really anti-porn now. That’s a whole other thing. But back when I would watch it, maybe once a day, once every other day. I’d watch mostly hardcore stuff which is pretty much the reason I stopped. I’d think Wow, this is hard core stuff. Sure, it’s consensual. It is, for the most part. At least, I’m told that it’s consensual. When you open up Pornhub.com you assume that everything there is consensual but I learned later on that’s not really true. At the time I’d watch hardcore videos with choking and eventually it moved on to slapping and face-fucking. And that’s when I stopped. I was like Okay, this isn’t good for my psyche. By giving these people attention, I’m giving them money and I don’t really feel right doing that. There’s this one site called Facefuck.com or something and they do really, really hardcore stuff. That site is really abusive. They spit on the girls a lot and stuff. It’s just terrible. I feel guilty that I used to do that — not that guilty — but I feel bad knowing I put money into that industry.
These kinks definitely come from porn. What came first the chicken or the egg? I think the porn came first. It made us, as a culture, into choking and stuff. I’d be baffled if they could prove that choking during sex has been around that long. And now we almost all do it… it’s fucking weird. You can tell the porn industry has caused people to want to be rougher with each other and push each other around. To me that’s problematic as hell.
Porn has affected how we all interact with each other, how we all have sex. I’m not sure if it’s perpetuating hookup culture — I don’t really think it is — but we’re so instantly gratified by sex right now and I think we translate that to the real world. The fact that you can pull out your phone right now and look up porn and feel like you’re having sex makes you want that but with a real connection. So I feel like porn has changed the game.
There’s porn about rape fantasies and people can act out those fantasies through watching and not actually go out and rape someone. That’s a gross excuse. I really dislike that excuse, fuck that. We’re giving an excuse for people to have those fantasies in the first place. But porn can fulfill — not those sorts of fantasies — but I see rougher things in porn. There’s so many fetishes I can explore. I can be so much more comfortable with myself exploring the fetishes in porn and saying to myself Okay this looks cool, this looks fine… This isn’t cool and this isn’t fine versus doing it with an actual girl. I can watch rougher stuff that I can’t really do typically, at least at this stage in my life.
It takes a lot of time and energy to ask a girl to do a certain thing. There are some girls that are into that freaky stuff so you get to act out and experience those things you’ve seen in porn. There are girls that are into it and say: “Oh you saw this?” or “I saw that… wanna try it?” It’s high risk, high reward because you can ask a girl to do something and she can be totally turned off. It can ruin a potential relationship. If I say, “I kinda think I’m into blank” she can just say “Well I think that’s disgusting!”
With porn, though, there’s no emotional connection. An emotional connection isn’t always there during sex but I mean [whispers – this is so weird] at least you get to feel a real vagina. Me jerking off isn’t as fun as me getting a blowjob or something. I mean sometimes it can be. Sometimes I’ll just, ya know, jerk off and not go out. It makes it so much easier sometimes. I have girls that I will call up if I have no one else to come over and I’ll hook up with them and think fuck, now they have to sleep here? There are a lot of times when I’m like: I can either have this girl come over, spend half an hour talking to her, time making out, potentially getting her dinner or… I can just beat off. One option is a lot cheaper.
As a generation we’re are a little too sex positive — we forget that there is a lot of exploitation of women in prostitution and porn, we bunch all of that together as “sex positive.” There are a lot of trafficked women that are in porn and that’s a big deal. Even if we can prove that every woman in the United States is not trafficked, we can’t prove that those women in Canada or Mexico that do porn aren’t. We say “a girl can do whatever she wants with her body!” but that’s a huge blanket statement when it comes to porn and prostitution and things like that.
There’s ulterior motives to all of this “sex positivity.” There’s “I respect women” but there’s also “I respect women so much that I want them to go and be strippers or porn stars!” In reality, not all of these people feel safe. Celebrity strippers and porn stars might, but that doesn’t mean those people in bum-fuck nowhere feel safe and love what they do. There are 10 or 20 really famous women making money off of porn but we forget the thousands that are making nothing. It’s so problematic to me that we take the testimony of the rich and famous who love what they do. We don’t take the stories of those in rural towns. If you’re choosing between eating and doing porn, that’s not consent at all. There’s nothing sex positive about that, but the idea comes from a good place, I think.
We want to believe that everyone has the right to do what they want... bodily autonomy. I don’t want to ever say that a girl can’t do those things — she can — but we forget that there’s a lot of bad that goes into it. I agree there’s something wrong about me saying women can’t do what they want but there’s something worse about exploiting women in general. Through both porn and prostitution men are the ones that are making more money, they’re thriving off of it. Everywhere you turn with stuff like this — porn, prostitution, stripping — a man is making more money than a woman and he’s not doing any work. It’s ridiculous to me. Porn producers… all male. Porn videographers… all male. It just weirds me out.
When I was younger, I guess in 6th grade, I started looking at nude photos of women and then videos of women — but just, like, women with other women. And then I talked with one of my friends about it and he was like “No you have to watch it with a dude!” And I’m like “Ew no, I don’t wanna see his dick!” and he’s all No, just watch it and pretend it’s you, it’ll be fine. I don’t think there was a time that I accidentally saw it at too young of an age. It was more of a “steal my parent’s computer and run up to my room” thing. I was not subtle about it at all. Once I remember the battery died and I didn’t even think about it, I just took the computer back downstairs then I was upstairs about to go to bed and thought about it like, Fuck! I better turn that back on or they’ll see it.
When I was in high school I remember I literally would think: If I get my school work done in time I can go jack off. It would be a motivator. Then I read an article, my friend showed it to me or something like that, in high school — this is before I’d ever had sex — we were talking about how porn seems to give these sort of unreal expectations about sex and everything. I know in high school there was a while when I actively did not watch porn, I’d still masturbate but I chose not to for a little while. So I guess the first time I did have sex, I already told myself that it was going to be different. Those people are professionals! They do what they do in the videos to feed into what people want to see rather than what’s actually going on.
So in real life it was a lot more shitty — no, not shitty — but just like two people. Not like a performance, that’s a good way to say it. The first time I had sex I didn’t realize how hard it would be to [pauses] put it in. Like that was a big thing for me, I didn’t know! It was her first time, too. So yeah that was a whole thing. It was much more tiring than I expected, I thought it would be a lot easier. The whole act of having sex I was like “Oh, this is a lot of work.” Afterward I was like, “I need to do more cardio!” [laughs] It’s not as formulaic in real life. Also a disclaimer, it did not work out with that girl. [laughs] It may not have even been a physical connection between us at first rather than just two people that wanted to have sex and… just happened to be there. I don’t know how brave it was of either of us. I think having sex there’s a level of physical vulnerability. Especially if you haven’t done it that many times. Maybe I’m wrong but… yeah, no, there’s a level of physical vulnerability on both ends and that’s sorta what creates that sort of intimacy — the fact that you’re both naked having sex with each other.
Physical intimacy could be supplementary to emotional intimacy. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. I know for me after having sex for the first time, with that girl I didn’t feel more emotion until after we started to talk more. I don’t think you can meet at a party and establish that intimacy in that one night. I remember one night last semester I met a girl prior, we messaged, then we went to a party and went home together that night. I remember we were lying in bed together and she said to me, “I could lay here forever.” And I remember thinking I’d prefer for you to leave right now. After that I just felt very empty. That was sort of a moment for me when I was sorta just like, “What’s the point?”
I just recently started to get into an actual relationship and once I started to really like her — before we were actually dating — I just find that I don’t care to watch porn as much. I still will, but it feels so unrealistic and part of it has such a level of fantasy. When I was younger there would be like threesome videos and stuff but now it’s not like that’s something I would really care to obtain in real life. When I see all of these people in the porn videos I just feel like I wouldn’t care to hook up with someone that would be like them or look like them. I find myself getting distracted by the person I actually care about.
At this point watching porn is just tedious, I just have to get through it because if I started I can’t stop it at that point. And then that’s just it. I mean also having a roommate is a determining factor [laughs]. It’s like a chore but I also do it semi-frequently. Me and the girl I’m dating haven’t had sex yet and I’m not trying to rush it at all. So every time after we hook up I feel the need to masturbate. I’d feel uncomfortable in the morning if I didn’t. But it feels very tedious. It’s more a physical need that a psychological want, completely.
I try to separate porn and reality — emphasis on try. It’s can be good, especially for kids going through puberty and stuff like that... people get horny. Porn is some way to satisfy that but I definitely think it creates a superficial and disingenuous expectation. Especially for guys. That’s why for a time it was something I tried to avoid.
Even though I’m aware of this, it’s something I can be more conscious about it. If guys only see degrading behaviors, even if it’s not completely upfront that does create behaviors that can be more selfish. Watching porn as a 13 year old is a lot different than watching now, as someone trying to be an adult. I feel like for us now it’s easier for us to talk about it, now that we have sex and try to have genuine relationships. When we watch porn now it’s easier for us to say “This is a video, this is what is happening behind the scenes” and you’re just watching it to masturbate.
That’s different than watching it as a young kid. Back then you have no reason to think that it’s unrealistic. At first my expectations were that sex was much more about me than about the girl which is something I got from porn. When I’m watching porn now I want to masturbate which is obviously only about me, one person. Sex or anything to do with that, there’s two people, and that clearly changes things.