Should a Gentleman Stop Masturbating to Online Porn?

Sensible answers to the questions of modern manhood.
July 10 2013 7:30 AM

Mind the Fap

Should a gentleman stop masturbating to online porn?

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

As a 27-year-old, I belong to the transitional generation of men first exposed to the Internet right at puberty.  Because my parents did not understand the Internet, I quickly discovered the digital land of lusty ladies. 

As I got older, masturbating to porn became a daily routine, with ever more variety and preloading of additional tabs.  When the time came for the real thing with my girlfriend, it was so different from porn that I could not orgasm. Later, we were able to have good sex (sometimes), but when we broke up, I went back to the pron and it got worse. Now I find myself unable to have casual sex and experience arousal issues generally. (It is not physical; I got a checkup.)

This is not an uncommon issue, and many communities are springing up for men to help each other. I am undertaking the no-fap challenge, and I have not masturbated in two months.  What is your opinion on the accessibility of porn online and the effect it is having on modern men? 

—Fap Free

I thank you for your letter. I believe I can give your question its due without providing any NSFW links, not that it seems to matter, necessarily, as so many Americans report watching porn in their places of work.

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That said, I should warn you that my response will spell out the unexpurgated titles of some saucy entertainments, any number of which may trigger erotic turbulence within readers hoping to make it through the day without unbuckling their seat belts, as it were. I don’t mean to be gratuitous, but one cannot meaningfully discuss Internet porn without at least a passing reference to the enduring chic of Sasha Grey, for instance, and I don’t see the point of shrinking to mention that Ms. Grey’s most distinguished efforts (“An unusual degree of intellectual seriousness!”—A.O. Scott, New York Times) include Cum Buckets! 8, Gag Me Then Fuck Me 3, and Wet Food, identified by its distributor as “director Jonni Darko’s entry into the blow-bang genre.”

Those were your disclaimers; this is your context: Back in my day, a lad had to walk five miles uphill both ways in order to contemplate a friend’s stepdad’s March 1984 issue of Oui, and the joy of a slumber-party screening of Debbie Does Dallas—on Betamax, one full decade after the film’s 1978 release—could bring a roomful of eighth-graders to tears, among other bodily fluids.

Though the content of Debbie Does Dallas is hard-core, its tone is soft-hearted. Here’s a qualifier: Yes, of course, it’s filthy, as a glance at one noteworthy summary of its semblance of a unified plot confirms. This particular synopsis merits mention because it appears in the 1986 final report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography—Edwin Meese’s attempt to "determine the nature, extent, and impact on society of pornography in the United States.” However, it must be noted that the Meese Report is so rife with inaccuracies and misjudgments as to seem deliberately skewed; the Debbie synopsis, for example, omits any mention of the film’s car-wash scene, thus grossly distorting the context in which Rikki licks Mr. Bradley’s semen off Annie’s back.

Oh, don’t give me that look, Mr. Average Male. Unclutch your pearls, Ms. Statistically Significant. I have just spent several hours studying data about your Internet-porn-viewing habits, and though the only statistic I’m willing to print is that I lack 100 percent confidence in any particular study, it is clear that tons of you are gorging on material exponentially more coarse and aggressive in tone than the porn of the analog era—and that your teenagers are smart enough to disable the Net Nanny.

Now, you don’t have to be Andrea Dworkin to realize that the so-called Golden Age of Porn was no simple paradise; next month will witness the release of a Linda Lovelace biopic, starring Amanda Seyfried as the star of Deep Throat, whose miseries I don’t even want to talk about. Nonetheless, reasonable people will agree that the easy sleaze of yesteryear is no match for the elaborate hyperspace filth-propulsion system of today. Our collective core has gotten more hard. The degradation of women is a foundational premise of modern pornography (meaning pornography produced since the term was coined, in the Victorian era, alongside daguerrotypes and hypocrisy), but what once was latent has become a driving point. At this writing, the most popular performer on the most popular porn website is one Lisa Ann, who began her career in 1993, when Internet porn was in the larval stage of Usenet (alt.bin.pictures.erotica.brunette, etc.) and who most famously portrayed a vice-presidential candidate in Who’s Nailin’ Paylin?. Lisa Ann’s credits include Feeding Frenzy 11, Mandingo Massacre 7, Deep Anal Drilling 4, Facial Overload 2: MILF Edition, and—a film titled with warranted confidence of its potential to spawn sequels—Super Anal Cougars 1.  That is to say: Debbie Does Dallas is a linear 90-minute film that affords its characters trace amounts of a few personality traits other than horniness; the mainstream porn of 2013 encourages an accelerating spiral into a dimension exclusively populated by degenerate sluts, by way of the same device where you conduct your virtual social life.

In this arena, science seems no more trustworthy than Meese in ’86 or statistics-mongers since. Amanda Hess—this magazine’s smut correspondent and also the recent chronicler of Jessica Stoyadinovich, the acclaimed star of Power Fuckalerts us to one recent non-study of online porn and sexual development. Its authors conclude that “it is unclear whether pornography is more extreme and violent today than in the past,” which tells us only how little attention they are paying. Meanwhile, the latest trend in discourse around troublesome auto-erotic habits is derailing productive conversations with challenges regarding whether one can actually be “addicted” to Internet pornography.

Fine. Let’s leave aside the question of whether the stuff rewires your brain and simply say it’s no good for your head. Let’s leave science out of the matter and turn this one over to writers. Susan Sontag’s big-picture essay on “The Pornographic Imagination” is worth a go for its approach to the philosophy of the bedroom. Dan Savage usefully addresses the deadening pressure of “death-grip masturbation.” Martin Amis has approached the subject in his non-fiction, in the intriguingly bad novel Yellow Dog, and in a recent Slate interview, where he supposed that the ambient presence of Cum Bucket! 8 in one’s real-world sex life changes “the style of the whole operation.”

So, Fap Free, I’m glad you’ve found an online community supportive of your effort to take things into your own hands by not taking your thing into your hands. It is heartening to see the Internet doing something pro-dignity for a change.

But what happens when your hiatus from “fapping”—the moist onomatopoeia of which term is shattering in an unhappy context, by the way—comes to end? Have you got a plan for masturbating moderately? May I suggest a visit to the blog True Beat Generation? Now sadly defunct, the site presented a tribute to the innocence and intensity of old-school titillation that is nothing less than poignant. Today’s adolescent has daily access to a lecherous library suggesting the collaboration of a deranged Borges and a demented Robert Coover. Yesterday’s, who had scarcely more than his mother’s Victoria’s Secret catalog, will feel his heart swell with pride at this blog’s mock-epic mission statement: “Our children and our children’s children will never know the heroic teenage struggle to touch ourselves that we endured, nor the heroic sacrifices we made to procure the critical materials we so badly needed to fire up our adolescent imaginations.”

There you will find homages to Richard Avedon’s Nastassja Kinski poster and the Feb. 9, 1987, edition of Sports Illustrated, tributes to the videographies of Grace Jones and Olivia Newton-John, and a pensée on the “the chick from Weird Science”…. And here is an idea: You’ve heard of the Slow Movement? Slow Food, Slow Art, Slow Fashion? The objective is to “find real renewal” by renewing old traditions and rejecting the oft-demeaning pace of postmodern life. Is one of you fellas willing to launch a Slow Raunch project promoting the embrace of analog excitements and of porn somewhat less deadening than Ms. Grey’s Face Invaders 4? I’m not even kidding. If someone steps up and puts his name on such an endeavor, I’ll mail him a Helmut Newton coffee-table book and a two-disc set of Duran Duran videos—“Girls on Film” for men on the online-porn wagon.