porn-industry

Globally, the porn industry draws in around $97 billion according to a study out of New Mexico State University. The US represents about 10-13 billion of this figure. There are various figures thrown out and I’m not sure how that number is exactly derived but I don’t doubt they are in the ballpark. The porn industry is enormous. For it to be that HUGE of an industry it means a lot of people are looking at it and paying for it.

But we aren’t talking about it.

We aren’t talking about it with each other, we aren’t talking about it with our sexual partners and friends and we aren’t talking about the ramifications of all this use in our lives and our society as much as we need to be.

Porn is a hot topic in the world of sexuality education and therapy. Hell, it is a hot topic in a lot of worlds. Those for it and others against it. There are a thousand angles on it. There are so many aspects to examine that I am going to do a short series on it. I will be exploring porn addiction, the effect of porn use on partners and relationships and porn and teenagers. Today’s installment focuses on my general thoughts of and experiences with pornography and some things for you to being considering in your own life.

There are consequences for all this use. Let’s dive in and stop being afraid. If you are looking at porn you should be talking about it too. Part of the problem, though, is that we don’t know how to talk about it and we carry a large amount of shame and embarrassment about porn. Not enough to make us stop looking at it, of course, but enough to continue shrouding it with secrecy and taboo laden shame.

I’ll go first.

I’ve had an interesting relationship with porn over the years. I remember the first time I saw a Playboy magazine. A girlfriend found a neighbor’s stash and showed all the kids the collection during a block party. I was shocked, slightly horrified but also intrigued. I wondered why he had it, I wondered what his wife thought about it and I wondered why he hid it because he must like them if he had so many of them. There were a few more times of exposure-a friend who was babysitting and found the couple’s homemade sex videos and she shared them (yikes! That horrifies me now to think of that! Lock that stuff up people! ), another friend who found a huge box of VHS tapes in her friend’s dad’s closet and told us about it. It was always a curiosity, a stunner and something that we all new was secret and most likely ‘bad’. But why? We weren’t taught about it in sex ed. Our parents didn’t talk about it and I don’t remember much in the news back then. But we knew this was something that was private and embarrassing but also really interesting.

It wasn’t a huge part of my life and I’m not sure I saw much more of it for years except a nude magazine here and there and a neighbor’s bar glasses that when liquid was poured in it the ladies’ clothes disappeared to see their naked breasts. I am not sure what I thought of all of this in depth but I remember thinking it would be nice to have bodies like these women so men would want to look at me like that. I didn’t really understand what I was looking at but I knew people liked it and my puberty stricken heart wanted to be liked and desired like these women seemed to be. And I knew these women looked differently naked then the women I saw seeing at my local gym locker room. I just didn’t understand what was different or what that was teaching me.

In college, we joked about porn and there were a few VHS tapes that were shared secretly. One night a group of us girls decided that we were all going to sit through a whole porn video together. Like it was a test or a mission to accomplish. A whole porn video. We watched it like it was at Sundance Film Festival. It was an anthropological study. Someone borrowed it from a frat house friend. It was beyond absurd but also hard to not be aroused by it too. Such an odd sensation. It was sex and people were having it and we were watching it. One of the scenes was so silly—something with a man with a lampshade on his head pretending to be a lamp while a couple had sex next to him. One night at the frat house, we acted it out as our own private joke and several of the guys were half horrified and amused we had seen it. They recognized that scene because they had watched it too. It was an unspoken something between us all. I do remember thinking they didn’t know how they felt about us watching porn and I didn’t know how I felt about that.

Beyond joking, we didn’t talk about porn much. It was a guy thing. Right? No… of course not but that’s how we all acted was the case.

As I grew older and technology progressed, DVD’s became a thing and then the Internet and porn access grew along with us. There were times I was fascinated by it but too embarrassed. I watched it, I shared VHS or DVD tapes with a few girlfriends. I hid them. I didn’t think much about why I hid it but I knew it was important to have a double secret location for your porn stash and you needed a porn buddy who had the location just in case you died unexpectedly….your porn buddy would swoop in and take it out so your parents were spared the horror of finding out what a freak you were with your porn stash. Now a days your porn buddy needs to grab your phone and laptop and do a double down hard drive delete.

The Internet has changed a lot of things in porn land. It is easy to hide it with privacy settings on browsers, it is easy to look at it because of free sites, and it is easier to buy memberships because billing is more discrete and slightly more acceptable to join (depending on the site).

I see the good and bad in porn world both personally and professionally. There have been times I thought porn was a positive thing in my life learning more about sex and sexuality, sharing it briefly with a partner and finding that fun or claiming it as something I’m not embarrassed to admit to looking at time to time. For a national sex therapy accreditation, I took part (twice in my career) in a two-day workshop that we watched and talked about porn exclusively. I saw things in those workshops I can’t unsee but I also learned a great deal about what turns me on and what doesn’t, my biases towards things I never even thought of and I learned to talk about it with others in a normal fashion and how important it is to have these non shaming conversations.

I left those workshops thinking “ MOST OF US ARE LOOKING AT PORN. Why don’t we talk about it?”

There have been other times in my life that pornography has been negative. I think a lot of it is degrading and gross, I am surprised by what I think it arousing, I hate knowing the pay disparity and treatment of some of the actors, and I was in a relationship where my partner suffered a terrible addiction to it and it effected me greatly. Just because I can talk about it, see and experience positive aspects of it and admit I’ve watched it doesn’t mean I think it is all fantastic or that I am immune to the negative aspects of it.

Porn is a complicated topic.

I’m asked a lot what I think of porn…is it ‘bad’, is there ‘good porn’? There is no quick, full answer to those questions but here is the down and dirty response. Porn is not all ‘bad’ and yes there are good aspects of it. I find porn to be a cautionary tale of sorts. It boils down to context for me. The context of porn use matters when examining all angles of it and porn isn’t inherently ALL bad or ALL good.

Let’s start with –what is considered porn? Seriously, what is porn these days? Still shots, artistic massage videos, live cams, web chats, porn movies, artistic photos, HBO’s Real Sex or Bunny Ranch, amateur videos, sex exhibitions….. the list is vast these days and for porn is defined individually. So I’m including all of these things to the definition and open to more additions to the list.

[Warning – what you are about to read will likely make you look at a part of your sexuality that you may not want to or are afraid to examine. Don’t be afraid. . . this is the first step in really getting real about your sexuality and practicing self examination. Remember the judgment you had about me in reading everything I just wrote about my relationship with porn?  You know you did….now it is your turn to get real about your relationship with porn. Except suspend the judgment. It doesn’t help the process. The below stuff may also bring up questions about someone in your life. This is all okay. If you have questions or want to share your story/experience, write me, I’ll try to address your questions or points in my series.]

Context to consider in examining porn use:

How to use the following: Read the questions and see where you fall with your answers. Pay attention to areas you haven’t thought of, what questions make you squirm, what areas peak shame, what topics feel good and are easy to answer? It isn’t about where you fall right now but about starting to ask yourself these questions and finding comfort with the examination and conversations within yourself and pertinent and safe people in your life. Start talking about this with safe people in your life. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself or others.

AGE:

I will be touching the specific topic of teenager- early 20’s in a different article but in general I will be talking about an adult in the mid 20’s and up for most of my series. Age does matter. Age of first exposure and age of most frequent use are the most important factors because of brain development and addiction habits forming with a developing brain or habit forming brain. Another intersection with age is where you are in your lifespan and the developmental tasks and life happenings at that age (are you in your early 30’s cementing the formation of your marriage with young children? Are you in your mid 40’s and about to launch your teenage children and figuring out your career focus and reconnection in a 20 year old marriage? Are you in your late 60’s and finding fluctuations in libido and finding new areas of interest in your life post retirement?). What is the age of your most frequent use?

AMOUNT

This is a really important contextual element. How much porn do you watch? Of course you want to pay attention to addiction levels of watching it and there is an obvious amount that tips to addiction (you meant to just watch a few 3 min videos and you are sitting there 6 hours later still surfing porn) but there are lesser variations of it that matter too. ( I will explore this more in a different article.)

Is your porn use daily? Weekly? Once a year? There is still a lot of gray area with problem usage, addictive tendencies and full out addiction. The word “addiction” gets thrown out a lot but often it is misused as a way to cause shame or to draw attention to a problem within a couple who is experiencing different needs in regards to porn use. Absolutely there is porn addiction-this IS a real thing but there is not enough conversation in every day life and amongst us to really have an accurate view of what constitutes addiction and what doesn’t.

When you watch porn, how long do you watch it? Do you surf until you find something that interests you for a few minutes, watch 3 minutes and then are done or do you surf for longer to find what you like? Do you watch for an hour?

Do you stick to one viewing or do you like or need to watch a montage of more than 5 before you use is done for that time?

Do you look at a Tumblr account and scroll through it like a Facebook feed or do you go to a certain site and stay there for under 10 minutes? Do you set limits to yourself and keep to them or do you find yourself spending a solid amount of time on it?

OPENNESS/SECRECY

There is a saying that we are as sick as our deepest secrets. I think there is a lot of truth in this statement. How open are you with your porn use? Do allow space for others in your life to talk about their porn use or ask you about yours? What part(s) do you leave out?

Are you open to talk about porn use in general or is the topic too much to broach and admit to? Is porn use something that you are okay with but a topic that you think shouldn’t be mentioned?

Is there a particular part of your porn use that you keep secret? Is it the amount? The type of porn? Memberships? Are you open about some of it but not about other parts?

With all context areas, I don’t care where you starting point is with your answers. We will all have a variety of answers and we would have different answers to these questions at different points in our lives too. This is all okay but it is really important to ask these questions. And to keep asking them. It is an issue if you use porn but don’t talk about the truth of it to anyone. I don’t think you need to talk about it daily with everyone of course but if you are keeping it secret, it is something you need to examine. Why are you keeping it secret—will your partner be upset? Is it against your religious institution? If you are looking at some sort of porn and keeping it a secret, you are creating layers of shame and blocking intimacy in your life. And this is an issue and it will surface in your sexuality and in relationships.

REACTION

Pay attention to your arousal levels, your physical arousal response and your emotional interest in looking at porn.

How do your mind and body react to watching porn? The most important piece of this context is do you notice a numbing effect when you view porn? Is there a numbing effect with progressive and extended viewing? It is normal to have a numbing effect to the same footage/shot /scene….I’m talking more about do you need to watch a greater amount of porn or more shocking porn in order to be satisfied or to be aroused or reach orgasm?

REASONS FOR WATCHING IT

Do you watch it or look at it to get off? Boredom? Stress? Curiosity? Horniness? Can you have an orgasm by yourself without it or do you always need pornographic aid during masturbation? Is porn satisfying something in your life that your relationship isn’t? If so, what is it satisfying?

What makes you stop watching it? Orgasm? Fear of getting caught? Over it? Need to get back to kids or work?

Are you looking at it for research for something you want to try in your life or just want to learn about?

Again, the answers don’t necessarily matter unless you are concerned about problematic habits but the process of asking yourself these questions are really what matters.

SEXUAL INTEREST IN REAL LIFE

There are ways that including porn into your life has little effect in your sexual ‘real’ life and there are ways it effects it. If porn isn’t a secret and you and your partner are mutually supportive of it/have an understanding of it then that element is pivotal to it not effecting your sexual life with humans you are interacting with face to face. It can, however, creep into intimacy issues. It can create distance between partners and it can decrease your interest in pursuing sexual activity or closeness with someone in your life because you have already ‘satisfied’ it with ‘someone else’.

If you do not have a sexual partner, you can fool yourself into thinking you have sexual intimacy and satisfaction because you have sexual exposure through porn. For others, porn primes the pump and keeps sexual energy flowing if life has gotten in the way of sexual activity or if you do not have sexual partners currently. It can be an addition to your sexual life instead of a replacement. This certainly is possible. It is most likely to be the case if you don’t look at porn more than a couple times a week for short bursts of time for stress or orgasmic release. This isn’t a steadfast rule but a general feel I see in people I work with and are honest about their porn use.

You need to know how it affects you personally and how it effects your relationships. Do not be afraid to examine this context-in fact it is a crucial element that can not be ignored.

TYPE

I think this is one of the fun ones to consider and can give you insight into your sexuality. What arouses you and what interests you is a safe peak into your sexual world. Similar to your fantasy life.

For example, I’m asked a lot by women what ‘it means’ if they only enjoy watching girl on girl porn but are not interested in that activity in their actual sexual life. It could ‘mean’ a whole slew of things but in general I find that women are less turned off by girl-on-girl porn because they don’t feel like the women are being objectified or taken advantage of or in pain with the activities within it. This isn’t necessarily true but it may be what plays into the arousal. Or it could mean she is further down the sexual orientation continuum than she previously thought. Or it could mean she can relate to the pleasure she thinks the woman is feeling with that activity. Or something completely different. It is, however, very normal and very common.

Do you have a fetish that you like to watch or are curious about? A technique? There are a lot of different categories within porn—pretty much any subcategory you can think of—high heel fetish, young and older partners, just blow jobs, orgies, bondage, masturbation, bigger body types and the list goes on for hundreds of pages. Do you have a go-to category or do you like to try new things all the time?

There are different kinds of ‘feels’ too — romantic, brutal, feminist, real life, professional, amateur. Do you have a preference? Do you know how to seek out different kinds of porn?

Do you like recorded vs. live web cams? Do you have an interest in interacting with a live person and asking them to do things for you in live time or do you prefer detachment to pornographic material?

I’ve written before that I recommend staying away from the Wal-Mart clearinghouse porn sites like youporn and pornhub but I do understand they have their place. They are free, they expose you to some sort of variety and you can get a quick feel for the popularity of a video if you believe their rating system or agree with the general feel of those who go on the site.

There are also private, membership ones too. www.beautifulagony.com is one that I recommend. It isn’t expensive and shows the faces of a wide array of individuals experiencing self-pleasure. It is real, gives an authentic feel to how pleasure is communicated in sound and facial contortions and can give you new techniques to self-pleasure even though you don’t actually see any anatomy. Individuals upload their videos and are paid for them. From my research it is a site that is really on the up and up and that many find positive. There are some free snippets you can watch if you are curious and don’t want to pay to see it.

CONCLUSIONS

How does porn fit into our sexuality? It depends on all of the above. It does hit every aspect of our sexuality as I’ve described previously in the Circle of Sexuality articles. In a world where pornography is a reality and a multi billion dollar industry, we need to deal with it. We need to stop lying about it to others and most importantly to ourselves. We need to figure out what is right for us individually and what is right for our society. We need to encourage the industry to use safer sex practices, to pay equally, and to treat actors well. We need to talk about it—without shame, without embarrassment. Because I know you are most likely looking at it or at the least exposed to it and I know you most likely have mixed feelings about it.

And with all that combined, I know it has an effect on your sexuality and that matters.

Share your stories with me. Ask your questions. I’m here with you.

Xoxo, Dr. Juliana

P.S. I am launching a new product soon called The Wanting. It focuses on libido/desire and I can’t WAIT to put it out in the world and into your hands. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll put you on the list for the pre-launch information! drjulianamorris@gmail.com

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