Friday, September 30, 2011

Pornography as fiction.


Be kind to me internet, the subject matter in this one is a little personal and probably isn't for everyone.

I stopped watching porn a little while ago after watching it as much as I could for an embarrassingly long time (read: years). I stopped for a combination of reasons, and I feel good about the decision. This post summarises my understanding of porn from a personal perspective and from the perspective of other people that I have talked to about porn. It's not an argument per-say but more a set of observations based on introspection. The only academic article I have used is this one ( and the authors deserve credit for my discussion about the genre's of pornography. The rest of the blog is my own thoughts combined with the hive-mind of the internet. I've tried to avoid the most common anti-porn arguments about feminism and degradation and have instead focussed on the psychological effects on the porn-watcher rather than the effects of porn on the actors involved. This blog post is primarily aimed at those that watch excessive amounts of porn like I did - If this is not you please excuse the tone in which I have written this blog, I went for a personal approach. 


Watching Porn: Faux-Participants and Voyeurs

Do you remember when you first watched porn? Think about what went through your head when you saw naked flesh and sexual acts for the first time. If you're anything like me it was probably like all your fantasies had come true - like your imagination but far more vivid. You'd watch the porn as a faux-participant, imagining yourself nailing the girl or having your cock sucked. The porn would be an aid in fulfilling your sexual desires. This is important to remember, because you probably don't watch porn in the same way now. 

What are the times that you find yourself watching porn? When I was a heavy porn user I'd watch it because I was bored, because I was having a shit day, or for no reason whatsoever. Occasionally I'd watch it because I was genuinely sexually excited, but on reflection I realise that these times were probably in the minority. Most of the time I'd watch it because I knew that masturbating felt good - Simple as that. If your motivations for porn-watching reflect the description that I just gave then your attitudes and psychology towards porn have probably changed. You probably watch porn more as a voyeur than a faux-participant and difference is an important one.  As a faux-participant porn- watcher your motivations are based on direct sexual desire, you want to be a part of the sex. But as a voyeur there is not nearly as much interaction; for the voyeur the porn itself is sought out as a sort of 'pleasure dispenser' rather than being sought as an aid to fulfilling particular sexual desires. In other words: For the voyeur watching porn becomes intrinsically valued rather than instrumentally valued

Another interesting difference between the faux-participants and the voyeurs is the viewer's perspective and the type of porn that is favoured by these different personality types. The faux-participant adopts a first-person perspective and might enjoy gonzo-style pornography where the viewer is made to feel like they are in the film - POV (point-of-view) style pornography is a common form of gonzo. Voyeurs, however, adopt a third-person point of view and simply watch other people doing sexual acts. Voyeurs tend to watch a larger range of porn than faux-participants because they are not limited by a first-person perspective. Thus, a voyeur could watch transsexual porn despite having no attraction to transsexuals and enjoy it solely for the sexual content regardless of their personal sexuality in the real world. 
One last difference between faux-participants and voyeurs is the way in which they seek porn. The faux-participant is more likely to have a fantasy and then search for it ((Fantasy -> Porn) -> (Fantasy -> Porn)) whereas the voyeur is probably engaged in a more cyclic relationship with porn where porn influences fantasy which then influences more porn and so on ((Porn -> Fantasy) -> (Fantasy -> Porn) -> (Porn -> Fantasy)). 

I imagine that most porn-watchers fall primarily into one of these two categories - Both of which necessarily involve entertaining an undesirable state-of-mind. 

How we interpret and understand porn

Porn is fictional. Even the most natural-seeming of porn is still only a representation of reality. For some people this is precisely the intrigue of porn - In porn-land women like nothing more than having their face's covered in semen and men are always hugely endowed and eternally erect. Many fetishes pander to these overtly fictional worldviews to capture the many sexual eccentricities that exist. One example of this might be porn that caters to masochists. In this fictional porn world women enjoy being beaten, bound, or humiliated. I would argue that this type of porn is so different from the actual world that it is almost certainly acknowledged by it's viewers as being fiction.

Another common genre of porn might be called 'mainstream porn' and is typically characterised by pseudo-real-life stories about the sexual escapades of sexy-maids and six-pack bearing pool boys. (think This type of porn has a different aim to the obviously fictional porn described above. Mainstream Porn is aimed at the faux-participant viewer and encourages the viewer to believe that the scenario depicted might actually happen in the real world, however wishful thinking that might be.

I think that most forms of pornography fall into one of the aforementioned genres: either it will create a fantasy-world or it will aim for some degree of realism. The reason that I have pointed out the distinction between these porn genres is because it has some bearing on a common feminist argument against pornography. The feminist argument states that porn encourages us to engage with a fictional world in which un-egalitarian sex is constructed as desirable. Furthermore we are likely to export these detrimental values into the real world - or so the argument says. You might immediately notice the similarities between this type of argument and the recent debate about computer game violence and the possibility of it leading to real-life violence. The argument that fiction has an influential power is fairly plausible even when the masses of literature in support of it are ignored. From a personal perspective I can think of several fictional books that I read as a child that have subtly changed my thinking. Fairy-tales, for example, are a paradigmatic example of fiction that is intended  to influence - There is a always a hero and a villain, a lesson to be learnt, a moral of the story. 

It has been argued (here), and I agree, that the aforementioned argument is largely dependent on the genre of the entertainment in question. I focussed on the different types of porn watchers and the genre's of porn that typically attract their attention in the previous section. I suspect that the worry that un-egalitarian porn could normalise un-egalitarian sexual practices in the real-world would only apply to mainstream-porn (or porn that aims for realism). In these cases I think that influence argument should be taken seriously in the same way that a video-game that rewards players for cruelty would cause concern. Engaging with violent acts in an obviously fictional genre is completely different to engaging with violent acts in a genre that tries to emulate real-life.

NOTE: Most First-Person-Shooters (FPS Games) reward players for strategy and precision aim rather than cruelty. A successful FPS gamer does not feel proud after a 'kill-streak' because they have inflicted pain in a virtual world, they feel proud because they have managed to effectively predict the moves of their opponents and have maintained an accurate aim in difficult circumstances.

 The lose-lose scenario

There is plenty of literature about the negative aspects of pornography - many of these arguments are based on feminist theory or desensitisation. I am not going to talk about those arguments here (although they are important). Instead I'd like to look at the way we psychologically process porn as a type of fiction. I know some pretty head-strong people who watch a lot of porn and claim that they are immune to the negative effects because they watch it in the right state-of-mind. I've been thinking about porn in a lot of depth lately and I've come to the conclusion that I don't think there is a 'right state-of-mind' to watch porn if 'right state-of-mind' means immune from harm. No matter how you watch porn you will cause some sort of harm to your psychology - the only variable is what type of harm you cause yourself and whether you judge the pleasure gained from the porn to outweigh the likely harms.

The faux-participant, and mainstream/realism-based porn 

Watching porn as a faux-participant entails a sort of doublethink where one acknowledges that the porn is fiction yet attempts to deceive themselves into believing that it is real for optimum pleasure. On balance I think that this way of watching porn is preferable to being a voyeur because it places an importance on the fact that sex is an active pursuit to be enjoyed in the first-person. Unfortunately, however, by engaging directly with the pornography the faux-participant leaves him/herself open to negative influences, and in mainstream pornography there are MANY negative influences. As previously discussed mainstream-porn is teeming with unrealistic sexual relations that are uncommon outside of porn. If you are a faux-participant porn watcher you are particularly vulnerable to be influenced by the porn into believing that the acts are normal. I don't mean to say that if you watch porn once or twice you're going to go out and attempt to have anal-sex on a first encounter or give somebody a facial but you might well inadvertently adopt certain attitudes towards sex that you wouldn't have otherwise had. 

The Voyeur, and fetish porn 

The voyeur is a psychological train-wreck. In order to watch porn as a voyeur a strange disassociation with the self is required. The voyeur creates a sort of false consciousness devoted to porn watching that differs to their sexuality in the real-world. For example a voyeur can comfortably watch all sorts of strange and horrible stuff (bestiality, scat, etc) without being perturbed because they watch the porn rather than living through it. This is the opposite attitude to that of the faux-participant and has a different set of problems. Comparatively, the voyeur is less immune to the possible influences of pornography than the faux-participant however they at risk of losing track of their sexuality entirely.

For the voyeur the porn becomes both the creator and the facilitator of sexual desires. Because their actual sexuality is not present when watching porn their internet sexuality is defined by whatever seems to be the most arousing at the time. Typically this will be whatever the viewer is least desensitised by and hence begins the rapid digression into the caverns of the internet. Apart from the obvious problem of coming to grips with the fact that now like overweight, inter-racial, poo-porn there is also the risk that your porn-sexuality will begin to overpower your actual sexuality. It is easy to lose track of what your sexual desires actually are when you can, and do, watch anything and everything that the often depraved internet has to offer whilst at the same time are experiencing very little actual sex. It's also easy to forget (or ignore) the fact that porn is fictional. 

I doubt that this splitting of the self is consciously performed by voyeur type porn-watchers, however having read a lot of posts on internet forums about porn-watching I realise that it is quite a common phenomenon. The voyeur is blasé about their internet sexuality and is confident that it is no big deal but if the voyeur does not experience an actual sex life in conjunction to the porn-watching (and let's face it - if you're watching porn it's probably because you don't have a great sex-life to begin with) there is a risk that the porn watcher will become complacent in accepting the fictional representation of sex (porn) as actual sexual activity. Imagine it: You've spent the last year of your life watching and enjoying BDSM porn but have never actually had sex, you convince yourself that your desire to watch BDSM is different to your desire in real life. But how does this work? It seems odd to think that one person can have 2 sexualities. Even if you can have two sexualities which one is the sexuality for the real-world? And where did the fetish originate, did the fetish come first and then came the fetish porn, or did the fetish porn come first and then came the fetish. This is a serious question about autonomy and self-agency - Someone who is completely in control of their sexuality does not experience this type of confusion.  

This binary of sexuality becomes a serious problem when the porn watcher is shunted back to reality with the prospect of actual sex. Often heavy porn watchers will experience copulatory impotence, desensitisation, and Erectile Dysfunction as a result of the confusion between their internet sexuality (masturbating as a voyuer to unrealistic fantasies) and their actual sexuality (which is often based more on subtle sensations of touch, etc, rather than in-your-face gaping vaginas). I'm not just hypothesising here, there are whole communities of porn-watchers who have unwillingly fallen victim to the over-use of porn.  

Actual Sex and Sexuality

Sex is great and I really hope that it plays a large part in my life. Porn, and masturbation to porn, is also pretty great. The dilemma is that the evidence suggests that watching a lot of porn AND also having an entirely fulfilling sex life is difficult to sustain. Perhaps it is possible; maybe you're one of the lucky people that can do both without any negative consequences. Or maybe you're kidding yourself and the negative consequences just haven't hit yet. Either way it's becoming clear to me that watching porn is not worth the risks of losing track of reality. 

I guess the whole point of this post boils down to one essential point: Porn is not real. It is fiction. And like any other type of fiction if you spend enough time with it you risk having it change you. I guess I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to my own life so the idea that I've got something that is changing me in subtle but significant ways really irritates me.

So I stopped. And it's been good. And you can too. 

If nothing else you'll find that by stopping porn-watching you'll have a lot more free time to do other fulfilling activities - You might even find yourself in an actual sexual relationship! 


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