Life

What I Learned from Giving Up Porn for a Month

I hadn't used the sole power of my mind to orgasm in almost a decade, which was worrying. So I stopped watching porn to see how my imagination would handle the challenge.

by Pierluigi Smith, Illustrations: George Heaven
20 March 2015, 12:25pm

Illustrations by George Heaven

I remember the moment I figured it might be time to quit watching porn. Half of my Facebook friends were sharing this story, which links out to a bunch of tests that tell you whether the amount of wanking-at-a-screen you're doing is healthy or not. The lead image is an empty black leather couch in the middle of a room, facing a dark shiny desk. Sound familiar? If not, good for you. It did for me.

That image is the first shot of many a porno. Generally, these videos tend to involve a woman walking in and sitting on the sofa, a seedy guy with a ponytail and big hands pretending to cast her for some photo shoot, her undressing and the two of them eventually fucking over the desk. The article warned that if you immediately associated that black couch with porn you might have a problem.

I knew I had a problem.

Thing is, my problem wasn't that I was watching porn every day; it's that even if I wanted to I couldn't use my own brain to summon up fantasies. The internet was always right there, the Sirens of PornHub singing their sweet song 24/7, lulling me in with their ballads of anal beads, BDSM and bukkake. So why bother doing all the work myself?

At New Year's Eve, talking about resolutions, my friend Matteo said, "You know what? I'm going to stop watching porn for a while. I need to detox." He then told me that Milan – the city we both live in – has one of the highest per capita rates of porn consumption in Europe. The thought that I was contributing to this number – to this faceless army of fervent masturbators – was a uniquely depressing one.

"I'm going to stop, too," I said, with all the right intentions. Then I watched some porn. However, when February rolled around I decided to start my mission in earnest.

I'd been watching porn on a very regular basis, clicking on RedTube or YouPorn or Tube8 most nights before going to sleep, or sometimes during the day if I was bored and felt like giving my wrist a bit of a workout. With that in mind, I assumed it would be hard to just cut myself off cold turkey, but for the first few days it was actually surprisingly easy. The closest thing I can equate it to is quitting smoking; not lighting up becomes a point of honour, a personal challenge, a battle you need to win in order to continue thinking of yourself as a decent human being.

This feeling – for the first couple of days, at least – was more pleasurable than the craving I'd decided to forego. I masturbated as I'd always done, and the novelty of using my mind again was exciting. I fantasised about ex-girlfriends and lovers and the things I'd always wanted to do but had been too shy to suggest. None of this was completely new, of course, but I'd never done it in such a systematic way. Now, every time I wanted to jerk off, I had to create a video of my own: concentrate, add details, flesh it out, give it a chronological order.

Feeling slightly self-righteous, I started to believe that the no-porn month laying ahead of me wasn't going to be so hard after all.

Turns out this confidence was premature.

The first – and most troubling – problem was my imagination. My fantasies quickly became repetitive: same scenes, same places, same people, same bodies, same sex. I was unable to stretch my inventiveness any further than it had already been stretched. Each time I tried to expand on what I had, I fell back on what I already knew, like an old married couple going through the motions: lights off, missionary, leg cramp, a glass of water, silence.

Ten days into the experiment I stopped masturbating. However, I did still feel the need to orgasm. I'd enforced blue balls on myself because I didn't want to undergo the process to achieve the end result. I soon realised – and this might seem quite bleak and obvious, but until you've experienced it firsthand it's hard to empathise with the concept – that using your imagination can be a bit of a chore. A chore I wasn't used to any more.

I realise how lazy this sounds: a man who literally cannot be fucked to summon up a mental image of a naked woman. But the main problem I found within that was synthesising a sense of desire. I've been masturbating for roughly 15 years, and in this time porn has become a sad surrogate for lust – thousands of videos, most of them blurring into one image of a dick mechanically entering and exiting a vagina, helping me create what was missing. Dejected, I recognised the fact that I had rarely used my mind to orgasm in nearly a decade and a half.

Jesus, the state of that fucking sentence.

Thankfully, this second phase slowly came to an end. The next step was a welcome return of natural desire: for the first time it was about my body, not my head. It was something I hadn't experienced before, or at least couldn't remember experiencing.

Before I quit watching porn, the pattern was as follows:

1) I felt like having a wank.
2) I went on a porn site.
3) I found a video.
4) I jerked off.

None of the process felt organic, which is probably because it wasn't. The porn was just one step in a tedious, familiar plan, helping me to achieve something I'd already mapped out in my mind. Now, it had gone back to some thought or image randomly awaking a sexual desire, me fantasising about something and then masturbating. Much better.

I also noticed that, for the first time, I wasn't thinking about anything in particular. Not the French couple, not the threesome in an Ikea-furnished bungalow, not the college orgy – rather about physical sensations and actually being able to appreciate them. It was more similar to sex than any of the many, many times I'd previously jerked off.

I shared my thoughts with a friend. She told me – and it was the most obvious thing in the world to her – that when she masturbated it was rarely to a defined set of images. That it was more about creating a sensation. She also underlined something I'd never noticed before, despite having watched thousands of porn videos throughout my life.

"In 80 percent of porn there are no hands involved," she said.

"What do you mean no hands?"

"I mean no hands. Exactly that."

The need to show penetration and to focus on the woman means that all the acts we associate with good sex – hands, grabbing, hugging, pulling – are eliminated in favour of getting the best angles. Sex without what makes sex great.

After that little lesson, I noticed a substantial improvement in my orgasms. Before I stopped watching porn, as I came there would be a moment when the sensation peaked, before quickly disappearing and leaving little trace. But not any more. Coming lasted for much longer. As it happened, the sensation lingered throughout my body. I felt much more involved.

If, before, I clicked on a video, skipped through it, found a scene I liked, came and quickly closed the computer to hide my embarrassment, I was now taking my time. That sinister post-masturbatory depression was gone.

A little over a month has passed, and I've decided to continue with the no-porn jerking off policy. I don't know how long I'll last, because you can basically keep anything up for a month without it becoming too much of an issue. It's in the post-honeymoon stage that it starts to become a little more difficult, when the novelty of the challenge wears off and the power of a well-established pattern starts playing on your mind.

I reckon I'll be able to keep on going for a long while yet, but I'm also realistic about how easy it would be to slip back into it. I guess it's like smoking a cigarette after you've quit: the first couple of drags taste awful, but give it a couple more and you'll be hooked once again.

georgeheaven

More stories about porn:

In Defence of the UK's Four Wanking Judges

A Short History of Female Ejaculation

So, Are You a Pervert?