How watching porn affected me—Hester’s story

1) What effect did porn use have on your ideas about sexuality and your sexual behaviour?
Porn meant that I objectified women (though, oddly, not myself). I was attracted to women, and had close relationships with girls from a young age, but I still objectified girls I didn’t know well. Porn also drastically affected how I expected heterosexual sex to be. I think I was lucky in a way in that my exposure to lesbian sex was much healthier, mainly since I was much younger at that point and it was before I really started watching porn.
With sexual behaviour, I felt like my experience with porn made me expect men to act in a way that I would now find unacceptable. I expected heterosexual sex to be rough — I didn’t expect men to think about how it might feel for me, so the fact that it was almost always painful to the point where my vagina or throat would hurt for several days afterwards seemed normal to me.
I think part of absorbing the misogyny of porn, too, was that I wanted to be a ‘cool girl’ — I wanted badly to be seen as sexy and ‘not like other girls’. To me that meant being up for any sexual acts — meaning really pretty much anything. Sex was like an endurance test for me. I let men have anal sex with me with no preparation, treat me in ways I knew were dangerous for my health, urinate on me, ejaculate on my face. Most of this was without prior permission; it was just part of what we both expected from sex.  I think a lot of those men would not have done what they did to me with someone who set more boundaries from the start, but I probably made it obvious I would accept that treatment.
It’s worth saying I think porn was a factor of the specific way in which I countered my huge insecurity, rather than the reason per se that I let myself be treated badly. I felt I had nothing to offer as a person other than permission to use me in that way. Porn was just what made me aware that that was in itself something to offer.
2) Did you notice how misogynist it was and how did you react to the misogyny?
It took a long time for me to recognise the misogyny in porn, but once I did I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t seen it sooner. Having sex is part of what helped me to see this. I had watched porn since I was very young, but I didn’t really have an idea of what penetrative sex with a penis felt like, since I had only slept with women until my 20s.  Once I had experienced it, I realised how painful porn sex must be for women; I find it hard to watch now in the same way it’s hard to watch someone getting repeatedly punched in the face.
I think I responded to pornified misogyny in the same way I responded to the wider misogyny I was constantly exposed to: I assumed I must not be a woman (and I know this response is not unique by any means). I didn’t ever identify as transgender, since I didn’t know women could be transgender, but I felt like I was ‘internally male’. For me objectifying other women was part of how I separated myself from them. I was different: I liked sex without emotion, I looked at women along with the men, I was logical and academic, and women were feely and got easily attached and couldn’t be rational, detached, or sexual (as in autonomously sexual, rather than being ‘sexy’). It put me in a position where men would talk to me in a way they might not with other women, which is part of what helped me realise how deep our culture’s misogyny runs in so many people.
3) What made you stop watching it?
A few things stopped me watching porn; it was over time, though, rather than a conscious decision. A large part of it was involving myself more in what I guess might be loosely described as a ‘scene’. I ended up, through a convoluted path through working in the fetish world, working as a cam girl while I was at university. It was a genuinely interesting job for a while, and I still enjoy telling stories about it, but it was also draining in a way I find it hard to explain to people. It made me look at porn, and prostitution, in a totally different way — I was very aware camming is the nicest, safest, least difficult edge of ‘sex work’, and yet I still found myself feeling, sometimes, invaded, or disgusted, or just skewed. I think the part that drained me was the feeling of pretending to me what these men wanted. It wasn’t the pretence that was draining, though, it was the knowledge that this is what people wanted. I think the closest I can get to describing the feeling is if everyone you knew came to tell you secrets all day, and all the secrets were either things about you they’d always hated, or horrible confessions about people they had abused. I know not everyone is terrible, but when all you encounter all day is men who want unreal women (not physically, but emotionally), or who want to show you their sleeping wife, or tell you about masturbating into their daughter’s knickers, you start to feel like everyone — or at least men — might be concealing that kind of side to them.
At the same time, I started noticing the way my friend/sexual partner at that time talked about women in porn or in camming. He watched a hell of a lot of porn, and talked about it constantly, and I noticed how much he genuinely bought into the kind of myths porn told. I noticed that the more I moved away from acting out those myths, the more annoyed he became with me, complaining that the old me was much better.
Quite quickly, I realised that so many things I had understood about the world to be sort of ‘tongue in cheek’ or ‘knowing’ were completely genuine. He wasn’t joking when he said horrible things about women, or about me, and neither were other men like him.  That made me see porn in a totally different light, and made it hard to watch it without being constantly bothered by that background feeling of something like disappointment and offense.
4) What observations have you made in your acquaintances who watch porn and how it affects them?
I observed in a few girlfriends who watched porn that they seemed to approach it in a similar way to me. When I was younger I used to see those girls as other ‘male minded’ girls like me, but as I got older I realised they seemed to be experiencing the same kind of reaction to internalised misogyny that I had had.
With men, I think it’s hard to say, since I only know two men who do not watch porn (my partner and a good friend). Those men are very much exceptions so I don’t feel I can hold them up as what the world would be like without porn (though that would be wonderful). I always felt, though, that the men I knew who watched porn a lot tended to be immature and to live a little in a fantasy world. This is not necessarily a sexual fantasy world, but more that it was comfortable for these men to live in a world where their interactions with women were controlled (porn, webcamming, prostitutes) so they weren’t at risk of rejection. These were often very anxious men, and I could relate a lot to their feelings in some ways, but for me it represented a big divide in growing up as an anxious man and growing up as an anxious woman. These men were able to construct a world around them where women did what they wanted, at least in their relationships with women, where my response to anxiety was to let anyone do what they wanted to me. (That might be getting too personal/specific, there, but it is how I saw it at the time.)
5) Anything else you want to add.
I think the focus in discussions about pornography tends to be — and rightly so — mainstream, studio-produced pornography. On the sites I used, though (and I don’t think I was necessarily atypical in this), there was a huge variety of amateur porn which was generally just couples in their house having ‘normal’ sex. In this porn, there was a variety of bodies that I’ve never seen anywhere else other than women’s changing rooms, and I think that was a healthy thing for me to see.
I’m conflicted about how porn made me see my body. It’s a part of a deeply damaging patriarchal culture that I felt my body needed to be sexually attractive to be valid, but within that shitty paradigm, porn did help me have a more forgiving attitude to my body than I think I would have had based on mainstream media alone. Mainstream media alone made me feel my body was unacceptable even when it deviated only slightly from the norm.
I still feel like there’s a lot I don’t understand about porn. I read Gail Dines and I know that what she says about porn is completely true, and I understand her analysis of it and tend to agree with it, but there’s still a part of me that feels uneasy with the conclusion. I know that men watch this abuse, I know how many men, I’ve seen enough to know that descriptions of women being gagged and choked and made to vomit or urinated on are, in many cases, describing these things pretty mildly. Analysing it, I see that so much of porn comes from a place of a blatant disgust and anger at women. But I find it hard to grasp that that is true — I don’t see where it comes from, but I see that it exists. I still find it hard to think that we really will never know how much men hate us, I guess.
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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7 thoughts on “How watching porn affected me—Hester’s story

  1. OMG Hester, it is so heartbreaking to read that you thought it was normal for your vagina and throat to be sore for several days after sex. This is not the way sex is at all. I used to have sex with men and I didn’t enjoy it the way I enjoy sex with women but it never actually hurt me. If sex hurts, that’s a sign that something is wrong—you’re not enjoying it or are not ready. And some activities are inherently painful and you do not have to do anything that hurts you. I’m glad you shared this here because this is a sure sign of what porn is doing to young women—it’s grooming us into accepting sexual abuse. I hope you are able to articulate now that what you’ve experienced is abuse. Sometimes it takes a while to name it as such, but it seems like you are getting there. You said most of this was “without prior permission.” Dear Hester, these men were not making love to you, they were making hate. They are abusers. In your final paragraph, you say you agree with Gail Dines’ work but are uneasy about the conclusion. I totally get you there. It is really hard to start seeing just how much men hate us. It’s shocking and many of us just don’t want to see it. But I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing. Read the anti-porn research and analysis, and criticize all of popular culture as well, because as you mentioned, there’s plenty of misogynist media outside of porn. I don’t believe that men are inherently evil, but I believe they have been taught that they are allowed to dominate women and that this behaviour is acceptable and even sexy. I think there would be far less abuse if our culture wasn’t promoting abuse so much. We can change this culture, and we must.

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  2. Thank you for publishing this here and commenting.

    I – happily – know now that that’s not how sex with men needs to be :-). I struggle with the idea that the sex I had was abusive, though. There are definitely elements to what history where I know that things were done to me without consent (the most common being people removing condoms without permission and without telling me – I’m not sure if I blame this on porn but I think it’s tied in with how sex in porn is portrayed). I consented; I went in making it clear I found rough sex acceptable. I can see how from there people thought it was acceptable to go further. With most of it I think it comes down to (what I think is a relatively typical) ‘I didn’t say no’.

    For me, probably the thing which most changed my perspective was when my partner told me he was not willing to hurt me – he didn’t want to do that and didn’t think it was acceptable. It was a revelation for me to see it from that perspective: just because someone says they want you to hurt them, doesn’t mean that’s an acceptable thing to do. When I think about it like that, I couldn’t hurt him, either, even if he wanted me too, and even though I do have a deeply sadistic streak. I don’t want that to be part of what I feel about him.

    The consent issue obscures so much. It’s strange to me that people are so accepting of the idea of free choice: it just seems like such a ridiculously flawed idea to me. Like, in what sort of situation would we consider someone’s choice to be limited, and in what sort of situation is their choice free? Do we accept that culture shapes choice? That circumstances can? That coercion and consent aren’t clear-cut? I don’t understand why those questions aren’t (generally) discussed when we talk about consent.

    I agree that we’re taught domination and abuse, and that it’s something we should be trying to change. I’m curious as to whether people feel like this is something we can change, though. I think I eventually came to the conclusion that we are too far along to change this, now. Perhaps in a few generations people will start to want a change… I don’t know.

    I listened to this podcast today which touched on this, though… it’s about a group of baboons where all the dominant males died out due to tuberculosis… they ended up with a much more peaceful society… a lot more grooming, females were more likely to approach new males in the group where before they were suspicious… it’s an interesting listen if anyone is interested :-). Maybe it’s hopeful.

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    • Hello Hester, thank you for sharing. I think you are illustrating something really important here that I am also in the process of figuring out. Sometimes women consent to a behavior that is abusive, and we need to examine the reasons for that. You consented to “rough sex” but look at how much grooming you experienced to make you think that this roughness was sexy. What we’re seeing a lot in porn culture is women believing that abusive acts are normal and sexy and then we volunteer for these acts and maybe even enjoy them somewhat in the moment. But when you take a step back and look at the situation, something like “rough sex” where a man physically injures a woman during sex is an inherently abusive act, even when she volunteered to be there. It can get confusing for a woman who volunteered to be in a situation when she starts to realize that what she volunteered for is abuse. It’s hard to name it as abuse when there isn’t anyone forcing her to be there. That’s why we need to look at the bigger picture and not just the individual. All girls are groomed by porn culture and the people who benefit are boys and men. Sometimes the perpetrator of the crime is not the individual boyfriend, but the system itself that sets us up for this situation.

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    • Porn & the sexualizing of young girls to get them ready for ever more degrading sexual scenarios is increasing at an alarming rate. The real problem is heterosexuality is the cornerstone of male supremacy. Heterosexual mens sexuality is based on dominance/sadism, they only date women for sexual relief & to make themselves feel “manly”. That is why they are sexually attracted to females in the first place. They love, worship, idolise & admire other men, they do not date them (usually) as they lose their sense of superiority if they do & are reduced in “manly” status. Their “love” feelings (which are for other men) are completely separated from their sex feelings (this is true for all men except for a few gay men). There is only one other use a male has for a woman & that is as a mother to his children & servant (wife), he then considers a woman his property & will be possessive & protect it from other men interfering with it. This is not done out of “love” anymore than a man stoping another male from vandalising his house means he “loves” his house. Males also need women to stroke their egos so they can feel superior, these are the only uses males have for women. If a woman refuses these things she will be called a man hater.

      We live in a woman hating, phallocentric, male worshipping culture (as its run by males), so most girls/women will internalize that to one degree or another, it can be unlearnt though. Once a girl/woman hates herself & romanticizes males (thinks males are superior) it is very easy for her to descend onto masochism, in order to be heterosexual a woman has to be submissive/masochistic. Heterosexuality can not exist without S&M which is why it is extremely unhealthy for women. Frankly i think any woman who considers herself het has had her drives corrupted into completely unhealthy ways. This can be unlearnt the same way that any “psychological addiction” can be unlearnt. The brain is plastic & neuro connections can be unmade & remade, therefore we can unlearn any behaviour pattens that have been conditioned in us. What we feel are our “innate” “natural” drives are really just conditioned responses that have been learnt by exposure to environmental social influences & accompanying positive reinforcement. In order to undo that one has to expose them self to more healthy social environmental influences & repeat behaviours that are healthy & positive in relation to those healthy influences. Whilst at the same time disengaging from the negative unhealthy social environmental influences & behaviours, this is hard at first, but will be accomplished in the end with persistence.

      Males do hate us, they see us as an object to be used for male sexual gratification, as a possession (wife) & as an ego stroker. This is all we are to males, it is what they believe our purpose is, it is very painful for women to accept, but there is absolutely no use in trying to reform males as they enjoy their sense of superiority. When has a oppressor group ever willingly given up oppressing? All that happens is a male will not say what he really thinks & will become more manipulative. Most het women still like to think they can reform males, they never will, they are just wasting their time trying. If they worked on themselves instead then they would no longer have a desire to reform males, as they would realise they dont need them, but that is too frightening a prospect for many women to accept. Womens liberation will not come about by women trying to make men see their error of their ways, it’ll only be achieved by women rejecting males. You said about feeling sadistic, it is natural to feel angry, all women feel angry, it is normally directed inwards & results in self hate & masochism, our righteous anger needs to be directed at the correct source which is males. Women have every right to be furious at males & shouldn’t be afraid to express it, this is the most healthy of responses when someone despises you & will do anything to degrade, humiliate & keep you at an inferior status.

      Whether males are born naturally “evil” or not is debatable, they do recognise they are without empathy, just look at Simon Baron Cohens work, he maintains it is innate with his “male brain”. They are definitely self entitled, selfish & manipulative: narcissistic, throw their sexual sadism in & you have sociopathic behaviour traits which vary in degree from male to male. Whether they are inherently like that or socialisation plays a larger role is debatable. In the end does it really matter, we know (& they know) they are like that now, at this point in time. We can’t change them, they have no motivation to change, all they see it as is a loss if they do. We can however change ourselves & reject them.

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