If you’ve been on any kind of social media lately, you’ve likely been subjected to some subtle and not-so-subtle porn-shaming campaigns. If you’re concerned about your porn use, I’m here to tell you that MINDFUL PORN USE IS A THING!
In today’s installment of Free Advice I’ll share with you two of the most prominent anti-porn messages we’re being hit with right now, as well as some ways you can more consciously reflect on your porn use and (if you choose) enjoy it in a more meaningful way.
At the time of writing, we are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and many of us have had a significant increase in the amount of time we spend online. You may be questioning your porn use as part of a greater reflection on your screen time, work-life boundaries, or physical activity.
Chances are if you’re thinking deeply about your porn use, you’re probably also being mindful of the choices you make in other areas of your life. The businesses you support, the food you eat, the clothes you wear. Perhaps you even experience some anxiety and pressure over these decisions too. Feel free to share your question here if you do. We are undoubtedly swimming upstream against the dominant culture as conscious consumers; it takes work to make choices that are aligned with our values. But it is possible. Anything we consume with the right intention can be an act of self-love, liberation, and resistance. Porn is no different.
1. PORN PREVENTS CONNECTION
I started with this one as it is being pushed really hard on Instagram lately and when I started a dialogue about it, someone asked me this question:
“Does watching porn mean I’ll never find love?”
What a heartbreaking belief to have. Spoiler: No it doesn’t.
Proponents of the idea that porn prevents “real” connection – or porn is the opposite of a genuine loving or satisfying relationship – often lean on science or spirituality to bolster their narrative. A very quick look at the institutions conducting the research, those funding it, and the personal social media profiles of those involved (like the one I linked to above) will reveal their glaring biases. The science is janky and the scientists aren’t going to be winning any Nobel Prizes! For as long as we have had collective belief systems, we have had our sex lives policed in their name. New-age spirituality and wellness are no exception. The messages may be less dogmatic but it’s still just as insidious. Porn, solo sex, and fantasy separate us from divinity, the collective, and our bodies, from being present. Our experiences aren’t real and by extension, we aren’t real (or lovable) enough.
So we are already suffering isolation. Worried about spending so much time on our screens. Reflecting even more than this guy. If we’re single, seeing the months (now a year) go by without any intimate contact. If we’re in a cohabiting relationship, likely bored AF from being cooped up with our partner 24/7. Even if we were in other relationships or dating, there would have been reduced contact and logistical challenges as well as stress and a detachment from our normal lives. Enter one more thing to beat ourselves up for.
It’s totally OK to enjoy just switching off (and getting off) for a bit. Especially right now.
But what if you do feel genuinely disconnected? Like porn is a mindless escape that leaves you feeling even more lonely, craving but unsatisfied? Does that mean porn is wrong? No. Does that mean you are somehow inherently wrong? Definitely, NO!
I’m going to get a bit philosophical here for a second:
“You cannot be that which you can observe” *
What this basically means is: that if you can notice you’re disconnected, that means not only do you have an awareness of connection but you’re likely yearning for it! And what do we do when we yearn for something but can’t have it? We either block it off entirely or we find substitutes. If you’re longing for connection, love, intimacy, presence and noticing its absence or substituting it, then it’s not separate from you.
There are so many ways that you can cultivate connection and there are ways porn can be a part of that. It doesn’t have to be a disconnected, disembodied, lonely experience. There is no solid peer-reviewed scientific evidence that shows porn prevents connection. And unless you’ve taken chastity vows as part of your spiritual devotion then porn is not a barrier to that either. There are plenty of people with strong religious or spiritual beliefs enjoying porn, making porn, and sharing their wisdom on sexual empowerment.
2. PORN IS DEGRADING
Some of the most apparently degrading porn and sex scenes are often performed with full informed consent from parties who feel genuinely empowered by expressing their fantasies. We just don’t get many opportunities to hear these voices.
Is there an excess of porn that exploits vulnerable people? Yep. Are we bombarded with that trash? No doubt.
The thing to remember however is that just because a sex act may look degrading or we might find it degrading, does not mean that the people engaged in it see it that way. In fact, many people find it empowering to intentionally play with things that our society tells us we should find degrading.
A heavy hitter in the anti-porn campaign is that porn is anti-feminist. Many of these arguments are paradoxically rooted in the misogynistic view that women do not enjoy porn (or sex for that matter). Sex-positive feminists have been clashing with anti-porn feminists since the 90s and there are some interesting discussions on porn’s positive role in demedicalizing female sexuality. If you didn’t know already, the feminist gaze in porn is also a thing! and there are even feminist porn reviews. While there is undoubtedly a lot of objectification and degradation woven into the fabric of our society – and porn can present glaring examples – we can make conscious [porn] choices that are aligned with our values and even challenge us to think about our unconscious biases.
And when it comes to intersectional issues, race, body image, gender identity, sexuality – and just about anything that might be important to us as humans wanting to elevate not degrade – there is porn that represents. I’ll talk about this more in future articles and keep an eye out on my page for more content.
For some people restriction, routine, and discipline with their porn consumption is beneficial. The strict boundaries create freedom (this porn or orgasm denial can even be enjoyed as part of their sexual play). For others that kind of approach can be very damaging. In a similar way to controlling eating habits, some people find a detox helpful. Some find the structure and clarity of a prescribed diet make things easier. For others, however, the scarcity creates an increased need and a disordered response. The denial provokes shame, perfectionism can show up, and bingeing and regret cycles can occur. In my experience from working with a wide variety of clients on their habits there is no shortage of options for diets or detox -whether we are talking about food or sex – but there are very few alternative options. If porn dieting and porn diet culture doesn’t sit well with you, then mindful porn might be just the ticket.
INTRODUCING MINDFUL PORN
The basic premise is the more awareness we bring to anything: the more choice we have in how we engage with it. The important thing to keep in mind with any kind of awareness practice is to avoid judgment. If this is going to be a healing and positive experience then we have to work really hard to be kind to ourselves and let things be just as they are. You might see some mindfulness practices elsewhere focusing on “non-attachment” and removing anything soothing or pleasurable to become more aware. That’s not what we’re doing here.
Bringing Awareness to your porn use
- With love and without judgment give yourself permission to watch porn as an awareness exercise.
- Commit to doing this in the present moment. Mindfulness practices are best done in the here and now, not reflecting on (or regretting) your past use.
- It’s totally OK and expected that you will find yourself aware of times you are not aware. So maybe forgetting to mindfully watch and realizing halfway through or maybe the next day. That’s all part of it. It’s also totally OK if you mindfully choose to not be mindful of an experience! That in itself shows you’re tuned in to your needs and behaviors.
- Keep a porn journal. Some examples of questions I have my clients note in their Mindful Porn Journals are:
Once you have a better picture of your porn use and how you genuinely feel about it, you can then decide if it’s serving you or not. You might find it’s just fine the way it is, or you might be unsure what feelings about it are your own and what feelings are your conditioning. If you do discover you’re looking to become more of a conscious consumer with your porn then here are my top 6 tips I share with my clients.
conscious PORn consumption TIPS
- Do your research. Just like no one wants their pizza going cold as they scroll through Netflix finding something to watch, scrambling for porn when you’re in the mood can be a real buzz kill.
- Match your porn to your mood. Have a selection of porn for different reasons. Maybe you want comfort, learn, to be challenged, to be romanced. Try to express all the parts of yourself. If you’re noticing that you’re always gravitating to one mood, then it’s a hint from your subconscious that some attention needs to go there. Always choosing quickies? Perhaps your attention span needs some tuning (check out my Anyone Can Meditate page) or perhaps your work-life balance is off (check out my Burnout page). Perhaps you don’t feel you deserve to spend the time on yourself (self-love page coming soon) or you’re insecure about your experience or tastes (check out my Sex & Relationships page). This is all really good intel for your self-development.
- Try paying for your porn and choose good quality, ethical porn as much as possible. Think of it as the difference between a Reese’s cup and some artisan local small-batch chocolatier that supports indigenous cacao growers. I can highly recommend Pink Label TV as it has a bit of something for everyone.
- Mix it up. Experiment with watching things that aren’t your usual go-to. You can even use your porn to explore internalized homophobia, racism, ageism, ableism, and fatphobia. You name it. If you’re into podcasts, perhaps you could try audio porn stories to get away from screens. There are also lots of cool erotic art and literature options. A common question that comes up with mindful porn students is “Do I have to watch porn that doesn’t do it for me because it’s the right thing to do?”. No of course not. This is not an exercise in policing desire. Think of it more as an exercise in expanding our definitions of what turns us on and recognizing areas where our desire has been restricted by our conditioning.
- Turn your fantasies into manifestations. Imagine yourself having the experiences you see on screen and challenging your beliefs that you can have them in real life. What is it about the characters that excites you? How can you and a current or future partner(s) enjoy something akin to that experience? That’s not to say that everything you watch needs to be enacted in the real world! Seeings can 100% be enjoyed without doing. But it can also be really beneficial to think about the feelings, the energies, and the flavors going on in your porn and to explore if there is a place in your real life for it.
- Take your time. Not just with your porn but with yourself. If you’ve been cut off from your body, your wants, and needs, stuck eating nothing but Reece’s cups, it’s going to take a minute. It’s also worth noting that we often feel like we don’t have time, or can’t make the time, and yet find ourselves lost in social media or porn for way longer than we would have ever consciously allowed ourselves to (it’s designed that way). When we block out time and create space we give ourselves permission to have deeper experiences. We may not feel anything for a while but just like any creative practice, conscious porn enjoyment benefits from a little structure.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. The more playful, patient, and non-judgmental you can be as you experiment, the better.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on mindful porn use and any questions you might have for Free Advice. You can also email me or reach out on Instagram @jqhypnosis. Porn doesn’t have to be bad for you. I work with singles and those in relationships every day who have a healthy and mindful relationship with porn. Sexual energy is one of the most powerful creative and healing forces there is and shame is by far the biggest threat to our capacity for connection.
- this proverb was shared with me on a retreat and I can’t find the source anywhere to quote it. Sorry!