DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a problem that I think is unfortunately pretty normal, but I’m not entirely sure how to find resources to counter it that don’t simultaneously demonize it. I have a really hard time not looking at porn when I’m alone.
I know your stance on porn addiction, and I’m inclined to agree with it. I don’t mean that looking at porn, in and of itself, is the problem. I’m a healthy, red blooded dude, I’m not asexual, porn is going to happen. And this isn’t yet to the point where I think most folks would say it’s affecting my life, because it hasn’t yet started affecting my job. I’ve never looked at porn at the office or in a public place. From what I’ve read, that’s one of the main markers of addiction.
Thing is, I would argue that it is affecting my life, and has been for almost as long as I’ve had access to it- it’s just that I’m either so good at hiding it that nobody realizes, or people have noticed something is wrong but haven’t said anything out of propriety. I’m consistently late for things, my sleep schedule isn’t regular, and I haven’t been on a date in years. I’ve also never had penetrative sex, because I haven’t been able to get it up when with a woman.
It’s hard to know where to start with all of this, because it’s been a part of my life for so long I can barely imagine what things were like without it. I was touching myself I think as young as eight without really knowing what I was doing, and I was looking at porn in the days of dialup before my parents cottoned on to what the internet meant for me. I’ve had a very strong libido my whole life, and I found porn before I figured out how to talk to girls. It was just always so much easier.
I’m not saying I’ve been a complete martyr to this- I’ve assembled some accomplishments I’m proud of, in spite of it. I have a good job, and I’ve had some mild creative success nationally that I won’t go into specifics about (for obvious reasons.) I’ve led an active lifestyle and participated in a few sport events that have kept me healthy. I’m very fortunate, and I’m making an okay life for myself.
But this shadow hangs over everything, and it feels like it’s holding me back. There have been times when I haven’t had access to porn for brief periods, and I felt like I transformed into this better version of myself. For a few weeks in college my laptop stopped being able to access the internet, leaving me no access to fresh whacking material. Suddenly, when masturbation became this thing that just had to be accomplished to clear my head, instead of a pastime involving the inspection and collation of entire corners of the internet, I was twice as productive, and much more likely to go out and speak to people. I felt more engaged, and my schoolwork improved dramatically. I was still beating off, but it became something to finish, not to extend.
Fast forward to now. I’m living on my own. I don’t have roommates or family to keep me away from the internet, or to provide the social pressure to at least appear like I’m not addicted (or your word of choice) in my own home. I’m on my computer all the time- I have work I do at home that requires a screen and internet access. Porn is right there, just a click away.
Gradually, as I’ve lived on my own, it’s started to get worse. Now, for the first time, I’ve paid for porn, instead of just looking at clips or snapshots. Not that paying people for their work is a bad thing! It’s the way I’m doing it that bothers me. I’m dropping upwards of two hundred dollars in an evening without thinking about it or considering how it affects my finances. It’s only been a few times over the last year, and so far it hasn’t been anything other than a cautionary tale in the light of day, but it is a dangerous precedent and I’m worried about losing control over it.
Over the years I’ve tried a lot of the things that I’ve seen suggested- I’ve used blocking programs to make myself think twice. I’ve deleted all my bookmarks and reset my browser history. I’ve sworn off masturbation altogether. I’ve tried just rubbing one out without porn. I’ve attempted all of these more than once over decades, and none of them last more than two weeks at the outside, usually less than three days. The other standard suggestions- eating healthy, exercising, finding hobbies- are all things I already do. I live on salad, avocado, and light fish, I exercise for 45 minutes to an hour every day of the week, I have a hobby that takes up most of my free time that doesn’t go to porn. The standard stuff is not working for me.
It’s not that I lack willpower. The other stuff I’ve done shows me that I can make myself do a lot of things. It’s keeping myself from doing something that’s proving the challenge. At this point, I don’t think I can do this on my own. I need help.
I just don’t know where to look. How do you ask for recommendations for sex therapists dealing with this sort of thing? I can’t go out and ask my friends or family what’s worked for them- none of them know this is something I’m dealing with. I’ve been in therapy before but it was for completely different stuff, and the organization that was providing it was faith based. There’s google, but I don’t know what resources to trust or how to judge them, and I’m worried they’re just going to give me more of the same advice I’ve already found for myself, or it’s going to be some black and white, moralistic, porn-is-evil stuff. I don’t think porn is evil, I don’t think beating off is evil, I don’t think my urges are anything unnatural or wrong. I just want to be able to exercise some self control once in a while. Have some power to determine how I use my free time. Maybe dial it back a bit so I can start actually seeing, and getting turned on by, a real woman, with real sex.
Whaddaya think, doc? Got anything for me?
Thanks a ton,
DEAR WHACKADOODLE: Here’s the thing about porn and porn-addiction, Whackadoodle: it’s almost never about the porn. Any behavior can be compulsive, from masturbation to video games to exercise. However, when a behavior becomes a compulsion, it’s usually a form of self-medicating.
So dealing with your issue really requires a two-pronged approach.
The first step is to address the symptoms – namely how often you’re watching porn and cranking one (or two or three) out. And as you’ve said: quitting porn is easy, you’ve done it a dozen times now! However, the issue isn’t one of having enough willpower – or at least not willpower alone. Willpower is like a muscle; you can only use it so much before it becomes exhausted and won’t do what you want. If you’re spending all day trying to resist watching Lexi Belle getting spanked like the naughty thing she is, you’re going to wear your willpower out before you know it and be cruising PornHub before your belt hits the floor. There’s a secret to maxing out your willpower efficiently. Fortunately, you know that secret already…
You have to make it less convenient to watch porn.
Our brains are lazy. We will almost instinctively pick whatever requires less energy to get the reward we want. The more steps we have between us and our goal, the less likely we are to choose it. Part of how we can force ourselves to eat better, for example, is to make it more inconvenient – not impossible, just annoying – to eat junk food. If it takes four steps to grab a bag of chips – go to the kitchen, go to the cabinet, dig to the back of the cabinet, open the chips – and only two to grab a banana, you’re much more likely to get the banana. Far less willpower needed and thus you’re better able to resist the urge for fried goodness.
The same principle applies to porn. The times it was easiest for you to not watch porn was because it was too damn inconvenient to do so. You had to wait for privacy, you had to rush in case someone came home, etc. Now that you have all the freedom and privacy in the world, the world is your sticky oyster. If you want to resist the siren call of RedTube, you have to reintroduce those inconveniences that add annoying steps between you and the five-finger shuffle. This may mean getting rid of the wifi in your place and leaving the router in the middle of the living room… where you’ve taken down your curtains. Now if you want to yank your crank, you’re going to have to do it in full view of the neighbors. Hell, if it’s bad enough, you may want to consider cutting off your Internet access entirely. Yeah, odds are that you, like most of the world, have a phone capable of being a wifi hotspot but if you have to use your phone’s data plan for everything? You’re going to think twice about whether you want to spend those precious gigabits on Brazzers when it may also mean not being able to run Spotify.
Similarly, adding speed-bumps to getting to your various porn sites will slow things down – having to enter your password every time your computer goes to the screensaver, another complicated password to get to certain sites via browser extensions – and make it easier to say “You know what? No.”
Similarly, you will also want to put some steps between your credit card and paying a camgirl. Removing your card’s details from your browser, keeping your wallet in separate room from your computer and having to get up and get it if you want to enter your details will also make it more inconvenient. You may even want to get a pre-paid card with a hard limit to keep you from overspending.
Remember: you don’t need to make it impossible, you just have to make it more annoying. Those extra steps aren’t to stop you, it’s to simply give you the opportunity to exercise your willpower more efficiently.
But all that by itself isn’t going to keep you from reaching for the mouse and some lube in the long run. You need to address the issue at the source. You’ve been using porn as a substitute for intimacy. Remember what I said about our brains being lazy? How we pick the path of least resistance to our goal? That’s what you’re doing with your junk. Why spend time getting to know people and form a connection and risk rejection when you can just click a button and there’s Bonnie Rotten, waiting to do whatever it is you want? Small wonder you have erectile dysfunction issues with women in the flesh. Now that you’re with an actual person, you’re risking judgement and vulnerability and that can be scary. Larkin Love never judges you or questions your ability to please her the way a woman may in person.
This is why the answer isn’t just giving up porn or masturbating or what-have-you. All that’s going to do is give you a temporary respite from a habit that you’ll go right back to. You’re going to have to do is start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and pushing through that awkwardness towards vulnerability with others. That means while you’re on your enforced delayed reaction to porn, you need to be out of your apartment. You’re going to have to be out in the world, talking to women and working on those social skills. Your goal isn’t going to be to get laid – that’ll come in time – it’s to become comfortable with intimacy. You don’t need to aim for getting your peen hard with a woman, you just have to be at ease with her. Get used to being willing to open up and just be and not fear her judgement. If sex becomes a possibility… take your penis off the table as it were. Your junk may go limp, but your hands and tongue don’t so spend your time getting really good at foreplay. Trust me: women will forgive a floppy salami for a dude who’s a master of oral.
And don’t forget: going to a professional is always a good idea – a therapist, that is. The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists can help you find a sex-positive professional in your area who can help you work on your compulsion issue and get to the core of why you can’t quit porn.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I would like to get the opinion of a reasonable and mature adult male on a topic that often seems to be sensationalized: female body hair. I am a heterosexual female, and have been considering letting my body hair grow. I wouldn’t really consider myself any kind of extremist. I am liberal and a feminist, but I don’t walk around wearing flower crowns and Jesus sandals without a bra on while spray painting vaginas on all the empty brick walls of the headquarters of the patriarchy.
Honestly, I am, first and foremost, pretty goddamn busy. I’m in my last years of medical school, studying for board exams and working long hours on core rotations, so I already skip shaving pretty often just because I’m tired. But when I finally catch up on it, and spend upwards of 10-15 extra minutes in the shower, I find myself thinking about what a blatant double-standard it is (not that those are rare or this one is any more important that the others, but this one just applies to me at the moment and so it is the one I’ve chosen to allot my outrage toward).
Men shave their faces, yes. But when men decide to not shave their faces, they are not regarded as “gross” or “unclean” or “making a statement” and are not gawked at by passers by. Face shaving is not the analog to the body shaving that women do though, because men have exactly the same hair in exactly the same places as the hair that women shave off, and are allowed to keep it while still being seen as normal, hygienic, and not controversial (pubic hair is maybe a bit more of a gray area for both sexes, so for the sake of keeping this on topic, I would like to focus on legs and pits).
So, I would like to stop shaving my legs and underarms. The goal being to save time and to normalize female body hair. I am not trying to make some extreme feminist statement. I will continue to shower often and wear make up. I will not burn my bras or write a misandrist manifesto.
But I would be lying if I said I was not afraid of feeling less feminine or less sexy. Objectively, I would place myself in the category of “conventionally attractive,” and I am often complimented on my looks. But I have long been aware of the fact that I am more reliant on the approval of men to maintain my self confidence than I would like to admit. That is likely another reason for my consideration: to prove to myself that I don’t need to conform to the preferences of men to feel confident.
So Dr. NerdLove, what do you think? Is this a reasonable choice, or am I just inviting criticism and insult for not sticking with the status quo? Do you think I’ll really save time, or end up wasting time elsewhere having to explain to everyone why I made this ~oh so controversial~ choice?
DEAR WOULD-BE-WOOLY-WILMA: Fun fact, WbWW: body hair is as much about fashion as it is about anything else. In Imperial Rome, women would have themselves plucked bare all over. In other cultures, hair is just something people have (or don’t) and that’s that. In the US, being less hirsute is currently the fashion across genders. It didn’t used to be, mind you; Pre-World War I, women weren’t concerned with their legs and pits until Gillette decided they needed to sell more razors. One massive marketing campaign later and voila: being hairless is a part of being coded as female or feminine and we treat it as if it’s always been thus.
And while you may not be meaning to, not shaving is making a statement about gender roles and femininity. This doesn’t make it good or bad, it’s just something that’s going to be true. People are going to have opinions, possibly very strong ones about it. Some people will think it’s no big deal. Others will be repulsed because we’ve been acculturated to see body hair on women as disgusting. Still others will behave as though you’re not shaving at them because men have been taught to see women’s aesthetics as something done for them. Assholes are going to ass and that’s going to a factor if you decide to stop shaving.
But there are also going to be people who’ll be fine with it or think it’s awesome. They may be in different communities than you currently hang out in, but they are out there and it could well be worth your time to seek them out.
(Of course, most people won’t even notice unless you tell them. If you don’t want your body hair to be a matter of public knowledge, it’s easy enough to keep it on the down-low to folks who don’t get to have an opinion on the matter.)
What you don’t need to think about is what I think. My opinion on this means sweet-f
k-all. You do you, WbWW. If you feel like taking some time off your grooming routine, go for it and see how you feel. If you love it, great! If not, that’s cool too.
Worst case scenario? It’s hair; you can shave it off again if you don’t like it.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)