Porn Anxiety and Kink-Blocking

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe, like most single men in their 20s, I am a huge fan of online pornography. But it has been making me feel more shameful than usual lately, so I’m considering a porn detox.

I think the increased shame comes from two things I saw on the internet recently. The first was a TED talk that says porn fucks up your brain, making it more difficult to get aroused with a real-life partner. The second was a movie called Hot Girls Wanted. It follows a few young girls entering the porn industry, and makes it look really awful and exploitative.

So, do you think porn affects real-life sex in a negative way? If not, is there some sort of fair-trade/conflict-free alternative that I can watch and not feel bad about?

Ah bless you, young man who is genuinely concerned with the portrayal and exploitation of women in pornography and longs to be an ethical consumer. Continue on this thoughtful, feminist and self-aware track my dear, and you won’t be single for long.

Anxiety surrounding the use of pornography is at an all-time high, thanks to constant public dialogue that associates pornography with violence, rape, trafficking, misogyny and exploitation – and questions the effect that all this porn is having on young men. Just the young men.

Because, while we apparently care about how young women are affected by the ripple effects of pornography-consuming men, we’re still too terrified of female sexuality to acknowledge that women watch and enjoy pornography too, and ask how that consumption is affecting their experience of sex. But I digress.

Pornography, like any product or pastime, can be harmful when used excessively, unhealthily, and without self- awareness. Masturbation without pornography can also affect a man’s ability to orgasm with a partner, because he can become so used to his own technique (usually involving a fist-shaped death-grip) that another person’s body just can’t get them there anymore.

I give excessive masturbators and excessive porn-watchers the same advice: if something’s affecting you negatively, step away, re-evaluate and make some common-sense decisions, much like you would were you a runner whose 40-cigarette-a-day habit was affecting you.

And yes, there is exploitation in the world of pornography, as there is exploitation in literally every industry under the sun, because pornography is not special. Pornography is like any other product: you can consume it ethically, and in a way that’s good for both you and the workers involved, and all it takes is some self-awareness and research. Like most ethically produced products, you may have to spend a bit more cash – but it’s worth it.

Firstly, despite the constant mantras of the anti-pornography crowd, not all pornography is exploitative; much of it is produced with willing, consenting, empowered, of-age actors with contracts, health checks and choice. (I’d argue that ALL pornography is produced that way, because otherwise it’s not porn, it’s just filmed abuse.)

In places where porn-production is legal, like California and New Hampshire, film companies are strictly regulated, even if you don’t get to see the administration and health checks on-screen. But the new growth industry of feminist porn is creating a helpful transparency around their mission and work practices.

Feminist porn sites and films post mission statements that explicitly state the performers’ rights and the practices of the production company, as well as interviews with their performers so that you as a consumer can see that the performers are consenting, are of age and are being paid.

Importantly, you also get to see the gap between their performance and them as people. Psychologically, this can help you to separate the fantasy of pornography from real life, keeping you aware that in pornography, as in your own sex life, there are real people involved, who do not exist solely for your gratification.

You can also research performers you like. Many porn actors have social media sites and post interviews so that you can be assured that they’re both consenting and being properly represented – and you can find recommendations tailored to your taste, like a sexy Netflix.

In feminist and ethical porn, there’s also a much richer form of diversity, one that doesn’t include having tentacle porn beside rosebudding videos. In ethically produced porn, and particularly in feminist porn, there’s often a focus on representing different races, gender identities and types of bodies – and different forms of sexual expression.

Feminist porn knows that watching skinny, white, just-legal women getting relentlessly pounded isn’t the only thing that’s sexy. There’s a focus on the erotic, not just the sexual, which is more like our sex lives anyway. This type of pornography thus allows you to keep real sex in mind.

As a consumer, you can act on your concerns regarding exploitation in the adult film industry in a very simple way: pay up. Paying for ethical pornography helps ethical production companies stay in business. It can also help you learn about your own desires: if you’re paying, you’re less likely to click on videos that you’re not really interested in but the industry is pushing on you.

In terms of actual recommendations, a great person to start with is Tristan Taormino, an adult-film performer, director and educator who wrote The Feminist Porn Book, which is excellent. She worked with the respected production company Vivid and also produced a series called Tristan Taormino’s Chemistry, which showed how performers chose their partners, chose how they had sex, and engaged in interviews on their work and what they enjoyed.

Pink & White Productions are an indie outlet that include performer’s rights on their site. The Good Vibrations sex store’s website often promotes curated collections of ethical porn, and you can check out previous winners of the Feminist Porn Awards for recommendations.

But above all, just use your common sense: don’t use pornography excessively or obsessively; remain aware that it is a carefully directed fantasy that’s meant to be a fun supplement to, not replacement for, a healthy sex life; and take responsibility for your consumption of it as well as your general well-being.

Also: have fun. And keep up that feminist, thoughtful self-awareness, because that’s what gets our rocks off.


Dear Roe, I’m in a loving vanilla relationship, but I have powerful kink urges. Nothing too extreme, but I would like to explore them with my partner. However, she’s deeply reluctant to even try anything because of negative experiences in her past. I don’t want to explore it with anybody else because it would be cheating . . . but what else can I do?

Your question is vague on details, such as whether your specific kinks are the exact same as those she had negative experiences with. It’s also unclear whether her negative experiences were specifically related to the acts and her lack of enjoyment of them, or were instead related to the disrespectful/hurtful actions of her partner during sex – kinky or otherwise.

A reluctance to engage in kinky acts can often be based on a partner’s negative feelings towards the actions or perceived sentiments behind them. For example, if your predilections involve BDSM play, degradation play, or any form of physical force, that can feel uncomfortable for some people.

They can associate these consensual, controlled and playful forms of sexual expression with actual violence or disrespect. And, of course, those associations can be a turn-off. It could also be that some acts physically don’t feel good to her. (No boys, despite what porn has tried to convince you of, spanking or slapping women in the face doesn’t automatically send all of us into convulsions of pleasure.)

In these instances, dialogue, as ever, is key. Explain to your partner why your kinks turn you on. Is it the physical sensation of certain acts? Is it the taboo nature of something that’s often portrayed as “deviant”? Is it the safety of seemingly surrendering control or dominating someone, all while knowing that your boundaries will of course be respected and both of you have the power to deescalate or stop the action at any time?

Emphasise the element of play, of mutual control and consent, and never, ever underestimate the power of pressing how much something turns you on. Often, even if a certain kink isn’t your partner’s cup of tea, seeing how much it turns you on can make it exciting and pleasurable for them anyway.

If your partner’s objection is based on physical sensation, see if you can find ways to alter or work up to an activity. If pain isn’t her thing and it’s yours, can you touch each other softly and play-act heightened reactions so the atmosphere is similar. Or can you build up the force slowly over time?

If it’s an act she has experienced pain or discomfort from before, such as forceful, throat-banging oral sex or anal sex, take some real time (not just one sex session, but many) to see if toys, lube, or allowing her to control the pace and thrust or simultaneously masturbate makes the act more pleasurable.

If her reluctance is based in the perceived sentiment behind the acts, such as degradation play or dominant/submissive roles, you’ll have to take a two-pronged approach. You’ll have to explain to her your appreciation of the concepts and acts, and work out if there are specific dialogues or acts that she could find appealing.

You’ll also have to make sure her fears aren’t being encouraged in any way in your relationship. Degradation play or BDSM play can feel less like play and more like hugely threatening, disrespectful acts if your relationship isn’t based on equality and respect.

If there’s even a whiff of judgement, disrespect, actual degradation or unwelcome dominance in your relationship, something you see as fun could suddenly be a very visceral embodiment of already hurtful dynamics.

Finally, if your kink has anything to do with a threesome, voyeurism or anything involving other people, you’ll have to ascertain whether her reluctance is based on insecurity, jealousy, or merely the very reasonable distrust of and sexual disconnect from strangers who are not in your relationship.

If it is, see if there is any situation she would be comfortable with. Getting to know a potential third before having a threesome? Heading to fetish clubs to watch how people interact and learning how to communicate and set boundaries with other potential sex partners?

The other, trickier reality is that maybe it’s not the acts themselves that are her issue, but that in her mind they’re associated with a partner who hurt her, and so they’re emotionally triggering. This emotional pain is very real, and like all trauma must be respected. However, also like all past trauma, if it’s affecting your relationship, it’s worth seeing whether some form of therapy might help her process this hurt instead of bringing it into your relationship.

For while your partner has had negative experiences, having your sexual needs and desires completely rejected, left unexpressed and viewed as a potential source of trauma will be a negative experience for you, and this must also be recognised. Never being able to fulfill your sexual desires is not a viable option for a healthy relationship, and so compromises must be made.

You seem genuinely dedicated to ensuring your partner’s emotional needs are respected, but is she dedicated to ensuring that your sexual needs are respected? Is she willing to slowly work towards finding a middle ground where you’re both comfortable? Or even allow you to open up the relationship slightly so you’re allowed to express yourself sexually with someone else?

I’m not going to give you permission to cheat. Apart from cheating generally being an assholish act, cheating because of sexual acts with which she already has negative associations would be even more hurtful to her.

But I am giving you permission to seek out sexual fulfillment, happiness, and a loving partnership that strives to satisfy your needs as well as your partner’s. If you don’t see that happening with this woman, you may have to ask yourself whether it’s the right relationship for you.


Do you have a question for Roe? You can submit it anonymously at: dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

Author:

Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Reader responses

Log in to write a response.

Understand your city

We do in-depth, shoe-leather reporting about the issues that shape Dublin. We're not funded by advertisers. We're funded by readers like you.

We use first-party cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles.