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Shame, shame, shame

Porn has been fully normalized and mainstreamed, so why do men still feel ashamed about their porn use?
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For many years now, I have been accused of “shaming” people for their sexual pastimes. This is in large part because of my criticisms of porn and the sex industry.

To be fair, I probably have written and said less than positive things about various kinks and fetishes, particularly of the violent nature. I’ve never been particularly shy about my view of men who need costumes, skits, creepy scenarios, or pornographic performances in order to get off. Your body is quite literally built to enjoy sex: just regular old penis in vagina sex. Now, of course, this “regular” sex is called “vanilla” in defense of the people who have conditioned their bodies and minds to need a bunch of bells and whistles just to do what nature intended, long before the invention of smart phones and Hentai. But requiring a silly costume or a near death experience for either you or the object of your ejaculation signals a problem to me.

While in the past porn was something you had to go out of your way to find, often in rather embarrassing ways — stealthily going into Red Hot Video after dark or purchasing a plastic-wrapped magazine from behind the counter at your local corner store — today, it is not only easily accessible, but unavoidable. You really can’t exist online without porn being pushed on you in one way or another — via porn bots in your comments or dms on social media, pop ups on torrent sites, or what is simply embedded into pop culture — music, movies, late night jokes, your fav Twitch streamers, etc.

It is far from taboo — rather, it is expected. Men will often tell women that any man who claims not to use porn is lying.

The overriding message is that porn is a normal — even healthy — part of men and boys’ lives. It is a long running joke in comedy films and locker rooms, but also something girls and young women expect to have to participate in. For the younger generations, “sending nudes” is part of dating, watching porn with your partner is recommended as a fun and sexy way to get in the mood, and performing pornographic scenarios in the bedroom is expected. For young women today, one’s social media feed is an opportunity to display one’s fuckability in exchange for validation from men and OnlyFans is viewed as little more than a side hustle.

Unfortunately, much of the fault lies with modern feminism. The third wave embraced “sex work is work” as a mantra, insisting that porn and prostitution are just jobs “like any other.” Anyone who suggested these were not spaces of freedom, neutrality, or empowerment was guilty of “slut-shaming.”

The reality is, of course, that young women who get into the sex industry tend to get used up and spat out quickly, with little to show for it financially, but instead stuck with a lot of regret, often some trauma and additional mental health issues. The eternity of the internet becomes a lot more upsetting when there are videos of you at your most vulnerable out there for life. The lie told to young women by this industry-approved “feminism” is meant to empower them to feel proud of their choices but fails to tell them the truth: that some choices are harmful, even if you shroud them in a veneer of sexual liberation, and actual self-worth never comes from the superficial.

It isn’t, let’s be honest, sexually liberating to perform unpleasant, degrading, or painful sex acts with men who don’t care about you, that you would never engage in voluntarily. That’s someone else’s sex dream — not yours.

But while women often leave the sex industry with a heaping of shame, what of the consumer?

Men’s relationship to porn tends to leave out the woman factor. Odd, considering the whole point is meant to be the woman on the screen. But to the consumer, the question of how she got there, how she is being treated on set, whether or not she is in fact enjoying herself, or what mental, financial, or emotional state got her there is erased from path towards the main event: orgasm.

Considering the messages we are bombarded with — that porn is normal, a harmless fantasy, and a healthy release for men who can’t access the real thing — you would think men and boys (as I think we all know, most young men start watching at around 11 years old these days — sometimes earlier) would have let that old-fashioned shame go. But they haven’t.

If you talk to men about their porn use, as I do quite often, most will tell you that the minute they orgasm, the sense of shame rolls in. It is often, I’m told, quite nauseating — a sense of disgust with oneself: “What have I just done, I am an animal” kind of thing.

You might chalk this up to shame around sex, as some attempt to, but that doesn’t make much sense. It’s not as though after having sex with one’s partner you feel a sense of regret. In fact, sex is (if done properly) the thing that bonds us and brings us closer in an intimate relationship or marriage.

I posed a question about porn-related shame in my chat yesterday, curious to see what insight men might offer, asking:

“I want to hear from you (men, in particular): why do men feel ashamed of their porn use? Porn has been fully mainstreamed and normalized--we are told it’s nothing more than a harmless fantasy, perfectly natural, and even a healthy outlet that reduces male sexual violence (this is a myth, for the record), yet I hear over and over again that men and boys feel shame after masturbating to porn. Why? Be honest.”

A number of responses stood out. One man named Des told me that “A lot of men have some pretty confused attitudes towards arousal,” pointing out that “Boys can become aroused by the weirdest of things… including things that are taboo or otherwise ‘wrong.’” He went on to say:

“The thing that is especially personal to me, because I wasn't especially ashamed of my interest in porn when I was younger, is the insidious, creeping increase in the ‘extremity’ of pornographic content. It took an experience of being traumatised by some video I stumbled upon in my search for something "new" to make me stop and withdraw from porn altogether. I used this experience as an opportunity to learn about the problems porn presents and to work through the residual feeling of shock and disgust from the awful video I saw.”

This made a lot of sense to me, considering what male friends have told me about their sense of shame around porn use. Essentially, the nature of internet porn is that it drags you deeper and deeper down evermore extreme and gruesome holes. You are fed videos you might not be seeking out, but masturbate to anyway, leaving you with the knowledge you just jerked off to “daddy-daughter” porn, “step-brother gives unsuspecting sister a surprise,” or some facial abuse video, wherein a young woman (and hopefully not an actual girl) is choked and violated until she is brutalized and crying.

If you didn’t feel shame around watching this kind of thing there would be something seriously wrong with you. Yet this is mainstream porn now. It’s not some niche fantasy. It is what will pop up should you end up on Pornhub crusing for something “normal,” whatever that means.

A man named Jacob said:

“Shame serves a social function. I don’t think you do feel shame unless you anticipate/experience social alienation. The excuses and justifications are just defenses of people who are hiding feelings of insecurity. Porn itself is marketed as ‘naughty,’ ‘taboo,’ and ‘barely legal.’ That it’s shameful/anti-social is part of the engine that drives its compulsive use. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think if it really was normalized/mainstreamed to the point someone didn’t feel ashamed, i.e., still felt socially supported and connected, it would just become apparent that it’s not very satisfying or fulfilling. You’re punching a chemical reward button in the brain of a social animal that’s supposed to bring you closer to other humans. You need to feel disconnected first before porn provides any relief. It’s like the Rat City experiment. I don’t think men in really connected relationships would even want to use porn.”

I found this quite insightful. Sex is designed to bond us: our bodies release oxytocin, which is called the love hormone for a reason, bonding mothers with babies and couples with one another. If your body is producing oxytocin on account of watching porn, you’re bonding with a person who isn’t there, isn’t bonding with you, and in a way isn’t even real. You aren’t actually connecting with anyone. Instead, you’re training your brain to crave and seek out the scenarios and imagery you see in porn, which are often abusive or immoral, but also leave you lacking. You have the orgasm but the bond with another human doesn’t follow, so you end up feeling alone, empty, and isolated when you are meant to be feeling the opposite.

What follows is the addiction cycle, wherein you continue to seek the oxytocin, so use porn, get the rush, but then feel alone, empty, ashamed so must seek it out again.

In this context, the shame makes sense: you’re doing a thing that is meant to make you feel good but doesn’t in the long term, only for a blip. It’s never satisfying the thing it’s meant to satisfy.

But of course it isn’t only single, lonely men who use porn. Men with partners are avid users as well.

The fact so many women normalize this as nothing more than a harmless fantasy that has nothing to do with them has always baffled and troubled me. To start, those are real women and girls in the videos your partner is consuming — women and girls who are possibly being trafficked, abused, or raped. They are at very least mentally unwell, and are probably suffering physical consequences from what happens on porn sets as well. One would think you wouldn’t want your partner supporting the abuse and exploitation of women and girls, at least.

But beyond that, why on earth would you be ok with your partner “bonding” sexually with other women?? This doesn’t strike me as any different than cheating. Sure, you won’t end up with an STD, but your partner is engaging in sex acts with strange women regardless. Have a boundary. Come on. You deserve it.

Men in relationships, no matter how much they’ve told themselves porn is their right (After all, she’s not up for it all the time — what is he supposed to do while she’s tired or grouchy or out of town? Suffer?) must know, deep down, that jacking off to 18-year-olds in the basement is not a respectful or ethical act within a relationship. And because you’re probably hiding your porn use from your partner, knowing she won’t be happy about it, even if she is playing out-of-sight-out-of-mind, the porn use functions as an ever-growing mountain of lies, creating guilt — an emotion akin to shame. You might be hurting her, the person you claim to love; you’re hurting your own mental health and ability to connect sexually and otherwise in your relationship; plus you’re actually hurting a whole bunch of women and girls you don’t even know on the other side of the screen.

Not a great recipe for self-respect!

It’s almost like mantras can’t alter biology and people’s inherent sense of ethics. And it’s almost like these industries and ideologies are going out of their way to mindfuck you into being an unhealthy, unethical person so you’ll keep coming back.

Don’t let em.

You can watch my interview with Daniel Principe, clipped above, now on Patreon.

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Meghan Murphy