The Secret to a Healthy Porn Habit

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: Do you remember the satisfaction that you got out of it? Not just like the obvious kind, but I wonder what was bringing you back.

S3: Very like a number of years like that was like my sexual experience. If I’m bored, you know, I could just go and like, watch porn.

S4: You’re kind of sucked into this whole world of it, you know, and there’s like all of these fantasies playing out and it’s like kind of an exploration of sexuality in certain ways. And it’s like.


S5: So idealized and so theatrical, you know, that it’s like it’s so stimulating and so gravitating, like there’s just like it almost just became reflexive. Every light came like this thing that just like I knew it was reliable, like I could go there and get this release, I could go there and might feel this good feeling.

S6: This is Tim Sana’s, his real name, which he was uncomfortable using because of the subject matter, which is weird when you think about how popular porn is. According to a joint study between Google and Columbia University, when people search for something online between 13 and 20 percent of the time, they’re looking for porn. That same survey found that nearly 90 percent of guys between 18 and 35 watch porn at least once a week. So we all know that pretty much all of us watch it. But without ever talking about it, this makes it hard for guys like Tim to know just how to feel about their relationship to porn.


S7: And it also leads to a whole lot of disinformation about what’s actually going on in our heads and to our bodies when we watch it.

S8: Hello and welcome to Man Up, I’m your host, a munni my. And on this show, we crack questions big and small about manhood. This week, talking about the taboo.

S9: Was there like one particular moment where you really felt like your relationship to porn was getting in the way?

S10: The image that comes to mind is like me waiting in my house, feeling like really nervous, particularly just about having sex and about like like, is she going to enjoy this? Like, am I going to be able to, like, get an erection and like, have sex? This person like, I want to you know, a lot of these images in my mind is like what sex looks like in porn. And then like mapping that onto, like, who I am. And it’s like I don’t know if I line up with, like, these guys in porn. Pure stamina, you know, and just like ripped abs and all of these like body image things, you know, it’s like, yeah, it feels like that’s the expectation and an actual level like I know that the women that I’m with, like that’s not what they’re asking for of me.


S3: That’s not what they’re like saying that they’re wanting, you know, and it’s not something that I’m wanting. But I think it’s like because I’ve had like all of these sexual experiences that are tied to porn since I was like fourteen, fifteen like that’s where I get worried that like I feel like it’s maybe ingrained in me in a certain way.


S2: You know, everything that you said so far, I relate too heavily. I mean, especially in my earliest experiences with actual sex, I felt like I wasn’t doing it right because my partner wasn’t making all these crazy animal sounds like they do in porn. I almost felt like I wasn’t doing it good enough because they weren’t acting like a porn star.


S9: Yeah. So if you don’t mind, let’s start with the very first time that you were exposed to porn. Do you remember like where you were?

S3: I don’t have like a single memory in my head, but I think it was probably the kind of thing where like. We’re in the computer lab. A kid next to me is like, hey, check this out. And then I look over and there’s just like porn on the screen. You know, like something like that probably in like elementary school or middle school, like years before I ever, like, started watching it on my own. When you see something like that. But the first time, it’s like it’s really jarring and it’s like, what is that? And there’s like all these feelings around it. But again, I think at that point, like, I wasn’t even through puberty like the first time that I saw porn. So then like as I was going through puberty, porn was always sort of part of that.


S9: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that makes sense. You’re growing up, you’re becoming a different person and your body’s changing. I can imagine it’s very easy to develop habits.

S3: Yeah, when I was in middle school and high school, like, you know, we had like one family computer in the house, so I was like, very different thing than like nowadays we’re like, it could just be like on your phone, on your laptop or whatever. In. High school, like I got an iPod Touch and that’s like the first like access to the Internet that I had like at all times, like fully my own device. I feel like I started just like watching porn a lot more frequently. You know, I could just like be in my room at any given time, you know?


S11: What effects are you, do you think Point is having on you that you’d like to maybe protect yourself from?

S12: There’s pieces where I wonder, like, if it gets in the way of like a certain level of closeness and intimacy.

S13: I can have in my relationships in porn, like the sex is all so exciting and so freshens are new all the time. You can just like pull up another video and like find exactly what you’re looking for. And that’s also like not how relationships work in a relationship with a person. Like things fluctuate, things change. There’s good times. There’s bad times. And it’s like I get worried that I’m maybe too quick to just like not commit or to like jump to the next thing to like find that perfect thing, you know, because that’s like that reliable dopamine rush you’re talking about.


S14: Yeah. I don’t know then I don’t know what a healthy relationship important point even looks like. It’s not one of those things that we talk about all the time. There’s like this weird cloud of mystery surrounding it. Everyone’s sort of aware that everyone knows that porn is and watches it. But, you know, I feel weird bringing it up while we’re having lunch. If that makes more sense that.

S1: Yeah, I mean, especially for me, like there’s like this sense of guilt or shame around it, you know. And I think like it’s such a taboo subject that people don’t even go there.

S2: Yeah. Do you, um. Do you know where the shame is coming from?

S15: I think it comes from like I grew up in, like with Christian parents, nuts, hardcore, like they were raised Catholic.

S3: And that’s like their worldview, you know.

S12: I think there’s probably a little bit of like shame in like. Sex in general, including masturbation stuff. But I do think there is something different about porn. Because there’s also like the component of this sense that like women are being taken advantage of are portrayed in a certain light, you know, and those are the things that weigh on me because like I think there’s actually a lot of truth there. You know, and I don’t want to be like contributing to this thing that’s like demeaning and degrading towards women.


S2: Yeah. Now, I’m trying to connect what you were saying earlier and what you’re saying now. So just correct me where I get this wrong. You’re concerned about how women are portrayed in these films that you’re watching. And because these films are sneaking their way into your perceived vision for what sex is supposed to look like, you’re worried that that’s going to those two things are going to intersect.

S9: Like maybe you might become one of those people who takes advantage of women. I get in there. Right.

S12: Yeah. That it’s like internalizing this misogyny and the sexism inside of me. It’s like Mary wrote pattern of like this is what sex looks like. And it’s like nine times out of ten, like the man sort of dominating the woman or like the woman just pleasing the man, you know, like classic like gender roles that like I think are super outdated. And I like very present in porn. Yeah. Yeah. And like playing out fantasy to a certain extent. But like that’s like in a lot of ways that’s light years away from like what actual sex with a person is like.


S15: It’s just about sharing this experience. And like. That kind of connection.

S16: Like, have you tried to do anything about that habit so far?

S12: Yeah. And I think part of where I’m at now and like watching porn a lot less than I used to is like the results of like a pretty intentional effort to cut back. And that’s, I think, related to what we were talking about earlier, where like stealing like porn was getting in the way of me maintaining relationships or even getting into them in the first place. And so I’ve at various times like tried to stop completely or like tried to cut back or just like made a point to like watch porn less. And I think cumulatively over time, it’s like gotten me towards where I am now.

S15: What keeps bringing you back? Yeah, that’s a really good question.

S17: I don’t really know, like other than I guess it’s like that same dopamine rush. It always was. And I guess that worries me too. Like and maybe there is some level of like addiction in the sense of like just coming back out of habit. Yeah. I don’t I don’t know that I that I know the answer to that, which like does kind of worry me.

S6: After the break, a real life porn scientist joins Tim and me to help answer that question.

S18: I’m really appreciating how thoughtful Tim has been about his porn use and all the questions that he’s raised are really good ones and they’re definitely questions that I’ve heard a lot of other people ask about themselves and about other people.

S6: Dr. Emily Rothman has heard this all before for the last few years. She’s been developing a science based curriculum for teens to understand the influence porn has on their lives. She started by wanting to investigate the root causes of domestic violence and sexual assault, but wound up becoming a leader in porn sites. She co-designed and co-taught the very first course on porn at M.I.T..


S19: So I have done a couple of different research studies with adolescents. So people who are under 18 years olds and asking them what porn they’d seen and how they thought it affected them. And I was you know, I was heartbroken about some of the stuff that I heard. There was definitely in one of the studies that I did, girls who’d experienced dating violence were much more likely to say that they had had a partner who tried to coerce or force them or threaten, you know, was threatening them to do things that that that partner had first seen in pornography. And they were pretty young in the sample. And then we interviewed other kids. There were definitely boys who said, well, you know, when I’m with a girl, I just try to do what I’ve seen porn stars do, because I figure they’re the stars.

S18: They know what they’re doing. And it just, you know, makes me go, oh, no. Like, how could the kids not know that this is a product where they were trying to set something up and stage it to make money? This is not supposed to be an instruction manual like this is not a documentary, you know, about how to have good sex. But then it’s like, okay, well, they didn’t have good comprehensive sex ed in schools. I mean, that’s the real problem here, is that, you know, people turn to porn and the kids do think it’s real and they think it’s real because nobody is really out there telling them anything different. So there’s this like middleground about like, well, there are good reasons to be concerned about it. And then there’s some things that we can do about it to try to keep it a little healthier.


S16: I love the fact that you made that point. It’s I think it speaks directly to what Tim and I were talking about earlier, about the big question. Right. The reason why we’re even having this conversation in the first place, because we both want to know, is it possible to have a healthy relationship with porn?

S20: Yeah. I mean, I think I think so. I think it’s like anything else. I mean, you know, I’ve talked to people. You probably have two who have unhealthy relationships with video. Right. Yes. You can think about it, work on it if you have to. If you’re the kind of person who needs to like work on it and you can have a healthy relationship with it. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. But, you know, you have to know yourself.

S18: You have to know what works for you and what you’re safe level of uses. And for some people, that could be none. For other people, they may be able to find that middle ground.

S16: Tim, is all of this making sense?

S15: Yeah.

S21: It’s kind of making me think that, like the weight of the air all this out is by like getting rid of that shame and of not talking about it, because I think like it’s the things that happen in the shadows that are like the pieces that I get scared of.

S12: So like the more open the conversation around it is, I think the more possible it is to like for people to have healthy relationships with it.

S16: Yeah. And I think that’s really important, too, because how do we know if we don’t have a healthy relationship or if our relationship is actually unhealthy? Is there a way for us to find out and beyond that, actually. Is there a way for us to repair unhealthy relationship support? Like where should we start to do?


S18: There absolutely is. So people shouldn’t worry that they’re stuck or something the way that they are. I mean, I will say that there is a small percentage of people that probably do need some outside help and, you know, cognitive behavioral therapy or something like that. If they are really compulsive about it and not able to to think about anything else or to cut it out by themselves. But it’s a small percentage of people. And you do have to kind of watch out because there is this kind of cottage industry of like porn addiction treatment specialists. But for the most part, I think people can change their relationship to any kind of media use by doing the kinds of stuff that Tim was talking about, like setting limits, you know, being mindful about it by talking to partners about it. I don’t think that beating yourself up is helpful. So trying to stay away from self shaming, which just tends to make everything worse and generally treating yourself well, like investing in your own health, making sure you’re sleeping enough and eating right. And like generally trying to like lead a healthy life that’ll get you on track with with everything else.

S22: Do you guys mind if I share like a little about my own personal experience of point? I remember how old I was. I must have been a stupid young. Something like maybe, maybe like 9 or 10 years old. And I was going on one of my first ever sleepovers. I was really excited. And, you know, it was just a bunch of like really young pre-teen boys in the same room together at night with a with one of those family computers. And somebody is a go to boob dot com or go to And we just kind of went down that rabbit hole and found porn and we were watching it think NAS selves like we don’t know what this is, but we’re all going to act like we do. But then like the worst thing happened in the world, somebodys mom came and caught us and we got caught red handed. And so my association with porn for the longest time was this is a thing that you shouldn’t do. And if you ever do it, do it in secret. Don’t let anybody know. And so even in doing this whole interview and talking to Tim and talking to you, there’s still this this wall that I have up about not wanting to show my cards or to even admit in the first place that I have ever watched porn. I wonder if that’s a common thing and if there’s a way to get over that.


S23: Yeah. You know. Well, thanks for sharing that story. And I think it’s definitely a common experience that people have or they feel shame about it. The truth is, is that something likes you know, there’s this nationally representative survey called the General Social Survey that GISS, the best that we can tell round about 70 percent of adult men in the US say that they’ve seen porn at least once in the past year and that it’s been consistent since the 1970s. So it hasn’t changed a whole lot. So, you know, it is a fairly common experience whether people talk about it or law or not, it is fairly common.

S22: Tim, what do you what do you make of that so far? I mean, you’re using a pseudonym.

S15: Yeah, definitely.

S24: It’s it’s like this is this conversation is probably without a doubt, like the most I’ve ever talked about foreign with anybody, which is which is really strange to me and really interesting. And like I consider myself to be like a pretty progressive liberal person. And like, don’t think that there should be any shame around section and porn in general. And I still feel that way. I’m still using a pseudonym. You know, it’s it’s really interesting.

S22: Yeah. So what are some ways to get us to be more comfortable and candid or is that even a good thing? Or is it better for us to kind of keep it secret and personal?

S23: Yeah, you know. I don’t know about that. Like, what’s better for society in general? I think openness and transparency is is probably good. But particularly if what we’re doing or you’re doing is not normalizing thoughtless use, but you’re talking about it and being open about it because you’re having the kinds of questions that you’re talking about here, which is like, I like it because it’s hot and masturbation is a form of stress reduction, which it absolutely is. And yet I’m having some misgivings about what I’m seeing. And so I’m trying to be more ethical or more conscious in my choices. But then there’s a number of other things, too, that that I would say are important. So, number one, you can pay for your pornography. That’s actually a really important one, because you get what you pay for.


S19: And there are pornography creators who are trying to create workplaces that are ethical and treat their performers well. And but in order to have those kind of workplaces, you know, that costs more money. And so when you go to some of the subscription services and you pay for the pornography, it enables the producers to use better ethics when they’re creating pornography.

S22: It’s like free range porn.

S20: Exactly. That is exactly what we’re talking about here. So I’m just going to name some names, because if you hear me say pay for porn and then that means that you go to pornhub and you’re like clicking on random stuff and paying for stuff. That’s not exactly a great one that I will name is Make Love, not porn. Cindy Gallop is the person who created that site. And she and it’s what she does is it’s, you know, average regular people who decide they’re you know, they’re in couples or whatever. They decide to upload some content and you can pay to be a subscriber. I think on a monthly basis and it’s carefully curated and they you know, anyway, so that’s it’s a site where they are super mindful about things like sexual assault prevention and and trying to work with the content producers to make sure that things are ethical. So there you go. That’s one. Angie Rountree is a I’m naming all female content creators and producers right now, by the way. So her Web site is there’s a lot of esses. It’s s s s h dot com.

S19: There’s Erica Lust who makes lust films. There’s pink label TV, dot com. Ashley Fires, Nina Hartley. You know, so you maybe kinda have to know where to look.


S18: And they are different than just random content that you’re going to stumble across on pornhub and and are going into it on purpose, trying to be mindful about creating content that is sexy but also doesn’t promote social norms that we think could be harmful.

S22: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. Tim has become more aware of and I think that awareness has driven him to feel like maybe he needs to stop or protect himself from that kind of influence. Tim, am I getting that right?

S12: Yeah, I think so. JIANG-STEIN It’s also it’s interesting.

S24: Paying for pornography is something that I’ve thought about that in the past too. And it’s like it’s kind of counterintuitive because it’s like that shame piece, like, really makes me want to, like, do it in secret and like, not want to pay for it. Not want to have like a credit card associated with it or whatever. But then like kind of counterintuitively, like it makes a lot of sense that like paying to support, like treating people well would be a good thing.

S13: So it’s like I think that’s a piece of like a healthy relationship with that.

S20: It’s also important to talk with your partner or talk with partners if you’re trying to establish an ongoing relationship. Maybe talk about like your own porn use. You know, allow them to ask you questions or talk to you about your porn use, about their porn use. But just to get that conversation going, because ultimately what I think what I think that I’m hearing a little bit is that there’s there’s a desire to create more intimacy with it in real life partners. And that is something that can actually make sex better. But in order to get there, you have to risk being honest with your partner, being real about stuff. And and that even, you know, we were talking about how porn sets an unrealistic example of what people are going to sound like or what they’re going to look like. I mean, part of what can be the joy of in real life sex when it’s going well is that it actually is kind of goofy. You know, like people like you wind up like accidently kind of leaning on somebody who’s hair and they’re like, oh, I’m sorry, can you move over a little bit? Like, you know, it isn’t like it unfolds in porn where everything has been staged because it’s supposed to be a perfect product to make money.


S2: I wonder if like no porn is the answer.

S18: You know that for some people. Sure, like it doesn’t work for them. They don’t want to see it. Then that sounds like the right answer for them, as is no porn. It becomes a pretty slippery slope when at the societal level we want to declare everything that is sexually explicit as obscene and off limits. You know, you get into situations like in the eighteen hundreds where even married couples couldn’t get information about birth control, you know, or, you know, there’s now we start to have a lot of stigma against, you know, people because of their sexual behavior, their sexual practices. When you start putting things off limiters, calling certain things obscene. That raises a whole bunch of questions that can be problematic.

S14: I wonder if we’re not giving porn enough credit here, though. Can it be used as a tool for people to find out more about their own sexualities?

S18: So we do know from a couple of research studies that there are people, particularly people who identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, who maybe they’re maybe they’re growing up somewhere, small town or a fairly limited access to adult gay community, but they are gay. And pornography is, you know, one space where they’re actually able to see their own sexuality represented or reflected to them. And and that that can be really affirming and helpful to them. So I think there are probably some people who take comfort in feeling like, okay, well, there’s other people like me out there.

S16: Tim, you. How are you feeling about your relationship to porn right now?

S25: Yeah, I I think that I’ll be spending a lot of time thinking about it and thinking about what I actually want my relationship to be with it. I think one thing I’ve gotten from today is just like an easing of a lot of the shame feelings just by like being able to openly talk about it with people. And so I’m curious to see, just like when some of that shame is lifted, like where do I actually want to go with this? You know, like maybe I’ll not have as much of an interest or maybe I’ll have a different relationship with that. So I’m just curious to see where it’ll go.


S14: Or maybe you’ll subscribe to any of these, like paying services. Yeah. Right.

S18: Can I have a final comment, too? Yeah.

S20: Okay. So I guess my main thing that I would want to say is that, like, you know, I get that using porn or even thinking about images that you’ve seen in porn is like a shortcut way to getting turned on getting aroused. And that in the absence of porn, we’re on the spot. We have to use our imagination more or like learn how to work with ourselves and our sexuality or with a partner in a different way in order to feel aroused.

S26: But people absolutely can make sex hot with a partner by talking with that partner, by experimenting with that partner.

S27: You know, it can really be worth the risk of like exercising your own imagination. Plus your own communication skills with a real live human. And you can get there. And I think for many people, you can probably experience pleasure that feels as pleasurable as that quick insta rush that you get from looking at porn.

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