I’ve always had a strange relationship with pornography.
Exhibit A: I was conceived as a result of my mum reading a dirty book (banned at the time) called Fanny Hill. It made her so horny that she jumped my dad as soon as he came to bed, ignoring his defence that the rhythm method (which they were using to avoid a third child) meant they should wait at least a few days. Nine months later, I arrived.
Exhibit B: when we lived in Roden Avenue (a house we left when I was six), I would wait for my room-sharing brother to fall asleep so I could do a sexy striptease dance without him seeing.
Exhibit C: I first learnt of the Battle of Agincourt (the improbable English-Welsh victory; how it changed warfare forever; how it led to the V-sign) from an article in Mayfair magazine, which my mother read aloud to me whilst perched on the edge of my bed.
Exhibit D: My brother and I were allowed free access to Mayfair – and my mother’s other jaz-mags – from a very young age, on the understanding we only looked at the pictures because ‘the words are denigrating to women’.
Exhibit E: Actually, I’ve decided not to tell you about Exhibit E. Get me drunk some time.
On recounting the things above, the main thing that occurs to me is this: ‘What the f*** was I / my mother thinking?’ Well, I don’t know about mum, but the asterisks were pretty prevalent in my mind, so it’s not surprising that when I hit my early twenties and discovered there was such a thing as Gay Porn, I was immediately… let’s say ‘interested’. As we all were at that age, let’s admit it (in porn, not specifically gay porn, I mean). But the thing was, you didn’t get to see it too often back then. You needed a VCR, a super-sharp pair of ears and access to a video store where you didn’t have to go for your Schwarzenegger. Porn was like grass back then, controlled by inconvenience.
But then along came the internet. I reckon that, apart from online-dating, viewing porn is the single biggest impact the web has had on society. Shopping – you still do it, you just do it at home. Gaming – you still do it, you just do it with strangers in Iceland. Self-diagnosis – you still do it, it’s just easier to find spurious evidence. But porn? Well, porn used to be a rarity for most of us. Difficult to access, difficult to find the coincidences that made it go undetected (six hours between trains in Paris anyone?), difficult to find your niche. But now, everyone’s at it. When Rolf Harris’s court-case recently revealed his porn habits, it wasn’t ‘Eugh, what a dirty old man looking at porn’, it was hours of deliberation on whether the girls in the videos looked under eighteen or not. ‘Oh,’ I overheard someone say at the bus stop, ‘that happens to everyone. You click on something and you’re a few minutes in before you work out how young they are.’ Society has changed.
So what? Well, two things really.
Firstly, sticky addiction to anything is a problem. My definition of addiction, by the way, is ‘when you don’t want to do something but you keep doing it anyway’. (I made that up, I think.) By that definition I reckon I had a bit of a porn habit up until twelve months ago. Not that I was viewing it for hours a day, I was just viewing it more often than I really wanted to. It got to the point where just opening my laptop made my heart-race faster – like when you walk past a Dunkin’ Donuts and smell all that sugar. But I identified it and stopped it. Now I have a 15-minutes once-a-week maximum . And no, I’m not going to say which day of the week it happens on. Spank-the-monkey Monday, Choke-the-chicken Tuesday, Wanking Wednesday, Throttling Thursday, Feeding-the-pigeons Friday, Satisfaction Saturday, Sinday…..whichever it is, it works for me. Pandora’s box is safely shut the rest of the time.
Again, so what? Well, it’s the second thing that bothers me more. Studies have repeatedly shown that porn works is that by exciting you beyond the norm. And like any drug, your version of what ‘the norm’ is changes rapidly. That’s why, fellas, catalogue underwear-pages just don’t do it anymore. Things have to be a bit more extreme than last week in order to get us going. In the gay porn world, for example, double-penetration used to be a taboo, few ‘stars’ ever agreeing do it. Now it’s a standard scene. (I reckon it’s only a matter of time before somebody manages a triple and I really hope I’m not there to see it when they do). This is the reason the adverts playing beside the thing you want to watch are getting more and more shocking. Because that’s what’s driving click-throughs. And where does this all end?
No idea, I don’t want to find out, but I can’t help but wondering this: maybe a fair amount of the sicker stuff we hear about (and see adverts for) is driven by people who didn’t used to be ‘sick’, but just want to see something even more freaky and unusual than they have before?
Maybe not, maybe I’m being naïve. Either way, I think it’s a good idea to keep a limit of how much porn you watch, if for no other reason than keeping your expectations realistically managed. I saw ‘Under the Skin’ the other day (highly recommended) and was a) shocked to see erections in mainline cinema and b) shocked by how normally sized they were. I’d forgotten how, unless you’re qualified for porn yourself, it really distorts your reality of what people actually look like. It’s terrible to think most straight guys never see a normal-sized guy with a hard-on. You must all be fucking paranoid.
Why am I writing this blog? Because I saw a guy on the street the other day walking to work whilst watching porn on his phone. That’s addiction. And, no matter how candid we all are these days, everyone’s embarrassed about admitting they wank. So I think we need to talk about it. To learn what’s healthy and what’s not, and how to distinguish between the two before we all go blind.