Porn has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Including the young people who watch it.
"Is this a problem?"
Is one of many questions I find popping into my mind while watching porn. Of course, the thought quickly gets pushed t0 the back of my mind as I meticulously skim graphic thumbnails (some of which are GIFs, fancy right?) in hopes of picking out my next thirty minute f@*k fest. Internet porn is so commonplace nowadays that I have a hard time deciphering if my frequent viewing of it is triggering other psychological, uhmmm -lets call them anomalies, and more importantly, if it could be considered an addiction.
I'll never forget the first time I saw porn *screen fades to indicate a flashback*
I was nine years old, me and my friend Lee were scowering the early internet, desperately searching for Slim Shady's (as he was more commonly referred to back then) newest single Without Me. You see we were on a mission to download and memorize every single dirty word on it so we could impress our classmates with our sick rhymes that Monday. Lee, being the young online guru that he was, suggested we download the torrenting software Limewire; a remnant copycat program of Napster which was currently in the process of being sued by millionaire heavy metal drummer Lars Ulrich. If todays internet safety can be considered a gentrified New York City where hipsters are free to Snapchat their super cool and ironically comical lives in peace then 2002's internet might as well have been Queens in the 80's where you could get stabbed, robbed, and catch an STD all in a single block. Every click and download held potentially dangerous gigabytes full of trojan viruses and Mackeepers that would make your desktop completely unusable underneath a mountain of pop-ups. Of course, Lee and I were willing to take that gamble much to the anger of our parents. We downloaded the software (and a slew of other problems I'm sure) and basked like the children we were in the literally endless candy shop that was illegal downloading. Every song, every music video, every movie was right there for the taking. Granted it took like three hours to download an album but still it was all there and even better, it was FREE!
We began searching and downloading all the songs our little hearts desired. Not paying attention to what we were actually downloading. Like, oh I don't know, a picture of a done up blonde woman with boobs the size of my prepubescent head. Lee and I stared at her for what felt like hours. She was straddling a chair and lounging in what looked to be the indoor pool of a cheap motel. Upon further inspection we realized that she was moving. This was a movie. Just as soon as she removed her two members from the blue bikini that barely kept them contained another member made it's way into frame. One that looked familiar to me but was much more "mature" looking and seemed to have far more confidence if you catch my drift. She gracefully grabbed it and began sucki- CLICK! And with the swift swipe of a mouse and click of an X the first naked woman I had ever seen in my life was gone.
But it wouldn't take long for my blonde beauty (and many women just like her) to literally pop up again in my life. By the time I was a freshman in high school the sexual acts I had briefly seen had been neatly copied, categorized, and posted on thousands of websites. All you had to do was power on, type in what you were looking for, and press enter. In the same fashion Limewire stuck to sharing it's media, sites like Pornhub, Redtube, and Bangbros pumped out a seemingly endless library of content, most of which was completely free. No strings attached. How could a testosterone filled young man such as myself resist? I totally couldn't. I began watching porn almost regularly from my archaic Dell laptop. I still felt the same kind of rush I'm sure my father did when he snuck one of his dad's Playboys out of the house to be ogled over by his friends in their tree house fort (it was a simpler time then).
My peers and I would be rudely awakened to find out that real life sex was far more awkward and uncomfortable then the movies made it appear. We seemed to make the subconscious decision that maybe the porn was better. There was certainly less effort and embarrassment involved. Years went by and I continued clicking my way through all types of genres. All of which were pretty standard; never venturing into the stranger stuff. I was never one to find feet particularly attractive. I firmly believe animals belong with their own species. And being tied up evokes memories of Tarantino films, not pleasure. But when I started to recognize repeats of those graphic moving thumbnails I suspected that maybe I had gone too far. I cautiously probed my friends to see how much they viewed and to my surprise they reassured me that they were pretty much on the same level. Maybe I was being too hard on myself (no pun intended). I never chose porn over, say, dinner with my family or a hanging out with my friends. I always got my school work done and was doing well in my classes. Most importantly, I could separate what was real and what wasn't in terms of how you treat women. So I could safely say that this wasn't an addiction. More like a habit.
And it remained that way until I was out of high school and meeting women on my own. For some reason the thrill of putting in the work to meet and be with a women just wasn't the same as looking one up online. It wasn't that it was better, just different. In a way my sexual needs were being met through porn while my emotional needs were being met through the real women in my life. Now I know this sounds totally crazy and slightly disturbing, because well I guess it is. Turns out there are websites and message boards full of people who feel the same way though. They call themselves fapstronauts, which is the Millennial internet term for masturbating in case you were wondering (the more you know!), and they all seem to be young dudes born in the early nineties who lived through the internet boom and suddenly felt less investment in real life sex and relationships. These sites claim there is scientific evidence that proves a lifetime of watching porn will desensitize you to real sex and ironically lower your self esteem and testosterone levels. The sites claim that this "evidence" hasn't been widely published or further studied do to it's "embarrassing nature." While I can't personally say I believe those studies I will say that they kinda make sense in a way. All those accumulated hours of extreme images of sex, you can't un-see that shit. A mental bar has been set over the years and it must be difficult to bring that bar back down to where it started. And this is where I started to panic, what if I could never get that bar down again. So I stopped watching porn for a while. To my surprise it felt good. I started seeing someone, ya know, like in a romantic kinda way. Three weeks later I realized that I hadn't watched porn the entire time we had been seeing each other. Not because I would've felt any guilt about watching it, but because I didn't feel like I needed it anymore. Had my casual viewing of porn morphed into a sad substitute for actual human affection? Was that the reason I started watching porn in the first place? I still watch porn every now and then and the twist is that it actually doesn't really get me off the way it used to. In a way I became porn's one night stand. I feel enticed, entranced, and turned on by it at first. Try things that I never thought I would but always wanted to. Then wake up feeling unfulfilled and slightly used the next morning.
So, is internet porn addictive? I think it can be sometimes. I have heard instances where people give up whole days just to sit at home and watch hours of the stuff. But there are plenty of people who just watch it once or twice a week over a span of years with no issues at all. Again the science, if you can call it that, on this stuff is still pretty vague and not fully credible yet. What I find most interesting though is that we don't even have the context of our parents to go off of. While I'm sure our parent's viewed plenty of still images of semi-natural nude men and women before they had sex of their own, we watched hours of impossibly perfect models engaging in graphic acts that were more performance than pleasure before we even got the chance to put our hands on each other (consensually of course.) But this is a big part of what sex was with our generation. We were the guinea pigs for this stuff. So tell me what normal is first, then I'll tell you if this is a problem.
Check out more of Cole's writing at his blog colefremed.wordpress.com or on Twitter @Cfremed