Confessions of an online porn junkie
By Ryan Duggins
Young men have been looking at pictures of naked women ever since a giggling Stone Age teenager daubed a crude outline of one of the more shapely females of his tribe on a cave wall, without her bearskin on, and grunted to his mate: ‘Come and have a look at this.’
The medium for these provocative images has, of course, changed over time. A Victorian gentleman might have had a private collection of beautifully drawn erotic sketches hidden in a desk drawer, while my grandfather’s generation would have passed around saucy postcards of statuesque women posing in assorted states of relatively innocent undress.
Compulsion: Ryan Duggins is a self-confessed online porn junkie
It wasn’t until my father’s generation that, if you were brave enough and tall enough, you could walk into a newsagent and buy a magazine from the forbidden top shelf and gain access to a whole new world of the ‘full frontal’ centrefold — those glamorous models spread-eagled across two pages with come-to-bed eyes and staples through their midriffs.
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But my experience has been very different. I’m part of the first generation of men to grow up with internet pornography as part and parcel of everyday life. I’ve never had to pay for pornography; I’ve never faced the embarrassment of asking for it and, when I tire of one image, there’s always another?.?.?.?and another?.?.?.?and another.
Type the words ‘free porn’ into an internet search engine and you’ll get more than 25 million hits, with most sites containing hundreds, if not thousands, of pornographic images.
I was aware that most women don’t like porn and that they are not the sort of pneumatic, buffed and waxed sexual athletes I was watching on the internet
Internet porn was part of my life throughout my late teens and into early adulthood. But now, at 23, I’m increasingly aware that I have a problem. I’m not yet ready to describe myself as an addict, but there’s no denying that internet porn has become a deeply ingrained daily habit. Indeed, I struggle to get through a day without at least one visit to one of my favourite sites.
Now, I’m sure many of you will be mouthing a quiet ‘Yuk’ as you read this and I entirely understand your reaction. But what you need to know is that I’m certainly not alone — I’m convinced that virtually every man of my age will access internet porn sites on a reasonably regular basis, as will many men twice or even three times my age.
Ryan says it wasn’t until his father’s generation that you could walk into a newsagent and buy a magazine from the forbidden top shelf
Men, by and large, like porn and enjoy using it; it’s getting caught using it that they don’t like. And like most men, my interest in looking at women with no clothes on began at puberty in my early teens. The internet had not yet kicked in, but some of the terrestrial TV channels, particularly Channel 4 and Channel 5, used to broadcast fairly racy programmes late at night.
I remember sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch shows such as Eurotrash and Real Sex. From there, I graduated to the satellite sex channels. Not, of course, for the programmes you had to pay for with a card (I was still too young to have one) — but for the titillating 10 minutes they broadcast free to attract new subscribers.
When I reached my mid to late teens, the internet came into its own. Early porn sites just provided access to still photographs — the internet equivalent of a top-shelf magazine — and in the days of dial-up connections and noisy modems, it seemed to take an age to download a single picture.
But as connection speeds improved, accessing porn sites became easier and quicker. Stills gave way to video clips, and now you can stream a high-definition porn film just as easily as the last episode of Downton Abbey. However, it’s the content of these porn sites that has changed most dramatically. Thirty or 40 years ago, most pornography was definitely ‘soft core’ — women posing alone and displaying their bodies in a relatively passive way.
Today, soft-core porn barely exists. Internet porn is now almost entirely ‘hard-core’ — which involves female and male models graphically engaged in an extraordinary variety of real sex acts. For years, I thought my internet porn habit was having no effect on my relationships in real life. I was confident I could keep internet sex and real sex separate.
After all, I was aware that most women don’t like porn and that they are not the sort of pneumatic, buffed and waxed sexual athletes I was watching on the internet. But now I’ve realised that I’ve been deluding myself; internet porn is undoubtedly beginning to damage my real-life relationships.
Indeed, it is true to say that it’s why I’m not in a relationship today. My last proper girlfriend dumped me when she found out how keen on pornography I actually was. But it’s causing other problems, too. Although I’ve had sex with dozens of women, I’ve had only four ‘proper’ relationships since I was 16. And they’ve all ended because I’ve cheated on them.
Now you can stream a high-definition porn film just as easily as the last episode of Downton AbbeyI’m convinced this is because using internet porn is a form of cheating — after all, I’m lusting after the body of a stranger rather than my girlfriend — and that once you’ve grown accustomed to this online infidelity, real-life cheating becomes much, much easier.
But it’s also increasingly difficult to keep what I watch online separate from my love life. I seem to have crossed a line without realising it, and I’d have to admit that those experts who talk about porn having a ‘desensitising’ effect — that, over time, regular users of porn require stronger and stronger images — may have a point.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the buzz I get from using internet porn is diminishing my ability to emotionally invest in a woman. It’s not that I don’t want to fall in love, but I’m beginning to feel like I don’t need to. If the sex life I’m having vicariously online is better than the sex life I might be having in the real world, then I’m not sure what the incentive is.
I don’t want to sound too cynical, but men have always seen relationships as a means to regular sex, while women have always used regular sex to consolidate an emotional relationship. Porn on the net and the ready availability of casual sex with women I meet in bars, clubs and occasionally online (women my age may not like porn but they do seem very keen on no-strings-attached sex) have disturbed that convenient equilibrium; at least for me. At the moment, I simply don’t need a relationship.
As yet, I’ve haven’t sought treatment for what I can see others might describe as an addiction. But like most of my friends, I do try to give up internet porn every now and then — rather like some people give up drinking for January — and, again like most of my friends, I end up not quite succeeding.
Why am I speaking out now? Partly because I think it’s important to be honest. I may be a slightly heavier consumer of porn than some of my peers but I’m not atypical, and I think it’s important that women, parents and society generally are aware of that.
The well-spoken teenager your 16-year-old daughter has just brought home for the first time will have seen things online that you barely knew were legal or physically possible. So, too, will the good-looking hunk from accounts who’s just flashed you a smile across the photocopier, as will the handsome divorcé that you’ve just met through online dating.
Internet porn has become an element of the modern male world. I don’t expect women to understand or approve of that, but it’s important that they know it. Men are changing, and while I don’t know what the answer may be, I do know what the problem is.
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