7 Things to Remember When You Watch Porn

The Paradox Of Porn

At the non-traditional seder I attended at Randy’s house a few years ago. I don’t recall whether the canonical four questions were addressed. I only remember the rather startling question that Mathew posed out of the blue: “Why are gay men so bad at having sex?” Since more than half the men in the room had been to bed with Mathew, it took a few minutes to ascertain that he wasn’t making an accusation but sharing a genuinely philosophical inquiry. I had plenty to say in response, from my perspective as both an active-duty slut and a gay male sex therapist.

Many forces stand in the way of gay men’s healthy sexual and emotional development – external shunning and internalized homophobia, religious- and/or family-based shaming, consumer-capitalist encouragement to treat each other and ourselves as commodities – all of which converge in the paradoxical pleasuredome of pornography.

Porn has done gay men a great service by providing resonant images that validate our desires, liberating us from ignorance, opening up possibilities, activating our erotic bodies and our imaginations, allowing us to vicariously enact experiences beyond our reach, and giving us a safe way to navigate through times of fear and loneliness. At the same time, porn has done us a great disservice by distorting our ideas of what constitutes normal bodies and normal sexual functioning, liberating some inhibitions but installing others in their place, enslaving us to libidinal impulses at the expense of our health and mental well-being, luring us into dark pockets of obsessive-compulsiveness that leave us isolated and shut down, and modeling a culture of sexual behavior that is so narrow, mechanical, and emotionally bankrupt that we hardly know how to treat each other as human beings.

It pains me to hear and see gay men struggle and fail to find sexual fulfillment. In my experience sex has been a spectacularly rich arena for physical pleasure, self-knowledge, ecstatic embodiment, spiritual wisdom, and intimate relationships. It has been a pathway to deep love and self-acceptance, albeit a pathway lined with plenty of troubling questions, painful losses, and shameful mistakes. And I guess I want that for everyone.

I want, as the poet-sage Smokey Robinson sang, “more love, and more joy, than age or time could ever destroy.” I want gay men to drink deeply from the well of horniness that porn both manufactures and feeds. And I want us to be smart and skillful about interrupting the negative consequences porn can have in our lives if we let them go unexamined.

So in my guise as community Daddy-Top, I’m going to put on my best battered baseball cap, jockstrap, and lace-up black leather boots to deliver Seven Take-Aways from The Paradox of Porn, in hopes of inspiring gay men to have better sex.

1. Don’t confuse the sex you see in porn with sex in real life.
At its best, porn is erotic theater for an audience of one. Relish the free play of your imagination without having to cater to anyone else’s opinions or preferences. When you’re having sex with someone else, be present with that person. Make eye contact. Let yourself breathe. Notice when you’re putting pressure on yourself or your partner to Perform Like a Porn Star, and see if you can let that go. Follow what feels good.

2. Choose what you’re doing.
Be intentional. There are any number of reasons for looking at porn and/or to have sex. Yes, duh, getting off is one of them, but it’s not the only one. You might look at porn and get off to put yourself to sleep at night, to relieve stress and anxiety during the day, or for the sheer pleasure of busting a nut. You might also look at porn with an intention not to get off, to get your juices flowing for a creative project, to build energy for a playdate, to conduct research about new sexual techniques, or to replenish your catalog of arousing images. If you’re someone with a tendency to lose yourself in looking at porn online, consider setting a timer and putting it in another room to see if that helps you enjoy your porn-trance and bring it in for a landing. If you’re making the same choices over and over again, maybe they’re not choices anymore. You may be stuck on an obsession or compulsion. It may be that what you’re really craving is something emotional or physical that no amount of getting off will bring you.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk.
One of the pleasures of jerking off to porn is not having to worry about what anybody else in the room is thinking or feeling. But pornography tends to reinforce the common belief that talking about sex (other than moaning “Fuck! Fuck!” or “Verb that noun!”) spoils it. I completely disagree. I contend that not talking is a set-up for bad sex. Then you’re at the mercy of whatever fantasies are running in each other’s brains, which may be miles apart. There’s a widespread misconception that somehow your partner is supposed to magically know what turns you on and if you tell him then he’s only doing it to please you. First of all, how’s that working for ya? Second of all, don’t you want him to please you? How is he going to know what you like unless you tell him? You don’t have to keep up a running commentary, and you don’t even have to speak in words. I’ve never met a dog who speaks my language, but every dog-owner knows when the animal is hungry or needs to go out.

4. Examine your rule book.
I’ve noticed that many people conduct themselves sexually according to a list of unwritten, unspoken rules, and they have no idea where these rules came from. For instance, porn encourages sex without preliminaries or pauses. Once you get naked, there’s no stopping until everybody cums. That can be exciting, or it can be over, super-quick, or it can become so arduous that pleasure has left the building. That’s a good sign that there’s a rule here that needs to be challenged. Try something different just for a change. Plus, as one my clients said, it’s fun to break the rules.

5. Include your whole body.
Most of us have a tried-and-true methodology for self-pleasuring — when we do it, where we do it, what supplies we have on hand. We know what works. But the same efficiency can lead to staleness and boredom. Online porn tends to encourage masturbating while staring at a screen, sitting or lying down, in a sedentary or constricted posture, while the rest of your body goes missing in action. Then that same limited amount of embodiment gets carried along to sex with a partner. “Most Western sex is necrophilia — one dead body having sex with another dead body,” as the pioneering sex educator Joseph Kramer once said. Kramer established himself as an erotic visionary by founding the Body Electric School in 1984. During the AIDS crisis, his “Celebrating the Body Erotic” workshops changed thousands of men’s lives (including mine) by introducing them to non-ejaculatory sexual practices involving conscious breathwork, massage, and intentional distribution of erotic energy. As the internet took over as our primary source of information and all-purpose porn warehouse, Kramer adapted his teachings to the digital age by creating online courses and videos for his New School of Erotic Touch. He has developed a practice called Porn Yoga. The concept is simple but brilliant: stand up to masturbate. He recommends raising your viewing screen to eye level, free up your hands to touch all over your body, circulate pleasure by thrusting and rotating your hips, imitate the motions you see onscreen, turn your back to the screen sometimes, and experiment with different rhythms, including stopping and starting. Try it. You’ll notice the difference right away.

6. Find a recipe that works for you.
I know there are some recipes for unsatisfying sex, such as saying yes when you feel no and saying no when you feel yes. In my experience, the best way to run a sexual relationship into the ground is to define the terms of sex too narrowly — it’s always about squirting, it’s always about fucking, or whatever. My own recipe for satisfying sex calls for a balance of PCM: your own Pleasure, Connection with your partner, and Mechanics (what goes up and down, in and out). If you tune into the P and the C, the M usually takes care of itself. Feel free to try that on for size. Revise it, give it a remix, add your own ingredients.

7. Take a break periodically.
Whatever pleasures you enjoy almost always benefit from the pause that refreshes. As they say, even the best piece of meat loses its flavor if you chew it too long. That applies to booze, weed, social media, or porn. When you’re starting to notice diminishing returns, scale back. Take a week or two off, or a month or two. Grindr and Scruff will still be there when you get back. That includes mobile devices. It’s fun to shoot homemade porn. Everybody does it. But performing for the camera can become a mindless habit that gets in the way of intimacy and pleasure.

The bottom line is: do whatever it takes for you to wake up to the joy of life in a body.

Excerpted from The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Culture by Don Shewey (Joybody Books, 2018).

Tags: Books, gay sex

Latest videos on Advocate

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()