How watching porn affected me—Nikki’s story

1) What effect did porn use have on your ideas about sexuality and your sexual behaviour?

There is nothing I am more certain about with porn than the fact that it warped my ideas about sex permanently and completely. It’s now about five years since I quit it, but I have barely even begun to untangle myself from the previous decade of conditioning.

I’ll attempt to do the abridged version of the story. To set the scene, I’m a white woman approaching 30, raised on the upper edge of working class in a conservative but not extremely religious part of the U.S. Basically, I started on porn at about 14 or 15 in the age of dial-up internet. For the first few years, until I went away to undergrad, porn consisted of jpegs of what would be considered very mild sexual activity now. I think for the most part I was doing my own searching, but I’m sure friends were linking me things via chat programs as well. It was more internet friends I talked about sex honestly with than people I knew in person. I definitely lied to sound more experienced than I was so that no one would think of me as naïve or immature. I gave myself a sort of pornified persona as part of the hardass outer shell I’d constructed in an effort to protect my sensitive young self from further harm. When I went away to undergrad and finally had access to high speed internet, I started to get heavily into watching what I believed at the time to be amateur porn, mostly short clips on streaming video sites. As the research has shown time and again, the more I watched, the more I was looking for harder and weirder stuff. I don’t think I went to extremes either way (certainly not killing, bestiality, and that sort), but I did look for a lot of fetish stuff and of course some types of BDSM. What I watched was often not anything I actually wanted to do, but the scenarios burrowed into my mind to the point where sometimes imagining things was ‘better’ than the real sex I was actually having. I’ve always felt guilty about this happening, but it’s never a conscious act.

Unsurprisingly, I had a boyfriend or two who loved that I was into porn. One of them ended up taking naked pictures of me without my consent or knowledge. We also had sex on webcam for a mutual friend once, and I don’t think he recorded it, but I have no real way of knowing. Generally I was careful about keeping my image and my activities private, but I unfortunately slipped a couple of times. The worst part is knowing that when it comes to the internet, anything you say or do is out there forever and you have no way of controlling or even necessarily knowing about it. If I’m lucky, those pictures and video were never posted anywhere, but it’s impossible to confirm that they weren’t. There’s not much point in worrying about it, because what’s done is done. I hope that they won’t surface and ruin my life, but I take some comfort in knowing that I’m not in the sort of high profile career that would be ended by dirt-digging into my past. Radical feminism has helped me to name the perpetrator and know that it’s not women’s fault when men use our sexual history against us. I’m sure it would still be possible to hurt me in various ways if those images surfaced, but I refuse to feel ashamed for doing what our patriarchal society had groomed me to do as a girl growing up in the early years of internet porn.

Porn also, I think, warped my perception of my own sexual orientation in ways I’m still trying to sort out. I figured out that I’m bisexual when I was about 14 or 15 (so after I had been exposed to porn, but before my use got heavy). I know my physical attraction to women and love for them as people is as real as anything, but the mystery to me is whether this attraction is somehow innate or is the result of the extreme sexualization and objectification of women in our society. (My bisexuality is also something my boyfriends loved because it meant that we got to objectify women together and potentially engage in one of those most widespread of dudely fantasies, the threesome.) Being a bisexual woman who’s into porn is disturbing and incredibly confusing because you can never really be sure whether you’re identifying with the person being fucked or the one doing the fucking. Porn/porn culture has not only screwed up my own sexuality, but also any genuine expression of sexuality I could have with another woman. Every attraction has to be vetted for objectification, and that’s difficult when you don’t have an idea of sex that’s fully independent from our pornsick and objectifying culture.

2) Did you notice how misogynist it was and how did you react to the misogyny?

Part of being a “better than other girls, more like one of the guys” special snowflake growing up is finding a certain level of misogyny either acceptable or desirable—if it’s directed at some other woman, or at our own traits we have internalized misogyny against. Before I considered myself a feminist, and then while I aligned myself with liberal feminist so-called sex positivity (negligible difference), I didn’t see the depth of this misogyny for what it was. I had no systemic analysis and saw acts of misogyny as part of the ‘bad mainstream’ porn as opposed to the ‘good indie’ porn I imagined existed behind the camera whenever a woman wasn’t being called a cumslut and being forced to lick a toilet. In my worst anti-feminist days, I probably believed on some level that the women deserved it.
When I was newly becoming interested in radical feminism but not quite there yet, I started to hate the overtly misogynistic stuff and avoid those videos for others that seemed superficially more respectful. As my analysis got better, there was less and less that didn’t disgust me, and a growing understanding that even if nothing terrible happened on screen, the video was very unlikely to have been made with equal enthusiastic consent from all parties.

3) What made you stop watching it?

Ultimately, I stopped watching porn because I could no longer deny the truth of radical feminist analysis of sex commodification and its myriad problems.  The greatest factor was the reality that when you watch porn, you can never be certain that it’s not rape, or that everyone involved consented to being filmed and posted for the world to see. If there is even one such rape on tape in service of someone’s getting off, that is an unacceptable amount. And we know—I believe we all know, whether or not we’re willing to admit it—that porn is saturated with rape. The knowledge that I have most certainly gotten off to another woman’s rape is beyond disturbing and I can no longer look at people the same way when they knowingly watch porn and consider these women acceptable casualties.

4) What observations have you made in your friends who watch porn and how it affects them?

When I was young, my female friends didn’t really talk about porn. The male friends who knew about my viewing it, though, were very interested in talking to me about it—and it should come as no surprise that these boys and men were older than me, sometimes very much older. Most were happy just salivating over the idea, but a few tried to pressure me to have cybersex, phone sex, and so on. I found those things too cheesy and had secondhand embarrassment from them even then.

Now that I’m an abolitionist, I notice so much more misogyny and callousness in people who are proud of their porn habits. Yet again, as research has shown, they don’t take sexual violence against women seriously and are much more likely to side with perpetrators than victims. It’s become easier to deal with men who admit their full ignorance of feminism than the ones who believe they know something and know it better than actual feminists. It will surprise no fellow radical feminists to read that some of the most misogynistic men I’ve known are vocal supporters of the kind of ‘feminism’ that doesn’t inconvenience them by asking them to stop exploiting women for their orgasms. I used to try to make them see reason, but right now I’m at a point where I’m reevaluating whether or not I want to let people into my life when some of their ethics oppose mine, and sex commodification is one issue at the core of it. It can be difficult, let’s say, to believe that someone sees your full humanity when they give you a little hug goodbye to go home and watch racist slavery-themed BDSM, gang bangs, double penetration, and so on.
And finally, porn has not only warped my sexual behaviour and orientation, but my ability to have purely platonic friendships. I find to my dismay that when I’m around porn-addled people I otherwise like, I feel a subconscious pull to pornify myself; to act more outwardly sexual even if I don’t have the intent of making that relationship a sexual one. I can easily spot what’s happening and why, but the conditioning is so deep that I have difficulty stopping it. I have recently mucked up one of my closer friendships that way, and it’s made me withdraw significantly from putting myself out there because I know I’ll probably do it again. I’m not proud of the fact that I’m influenced by something I despise on an ethical level, but there it is.

It’s not all fantasy. It’s not all harmless fun. It’s real people, real women being hurt in ways they may never be able to heal. This is the reality of what a porn habit can do to a woman, and what people have to come to terms with when they defend this industry.

This post is a part of an ongoing series of interviews from women who have watched porn. If you would like to share your story of how porn affected you, please email psage681@gmail.com. 

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2 thoughts on “How watching porn affected me—Nikki’s story

  1. “I know my physical attraction to women and love for them as people is as real as anything, but the mystery to me is whether this attraction is somehow innate or is the result of the extreme sexualization and objectification of women in our society.”

    That’s an interesting question. I remember that, when I was a child, I had some fuzzy notion that sex was only had by women who wore high heels and fishnet stockings and make-up. That was what sex “was” to me.
    I’m so glad I was not exposed to porn, considering what “normal” media did to my brain.

    Like

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