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The Millennial Men Who Don’t Enjoy Porn

‘When I watch porn, I feel detached from myself. I just know I can do better.’

The first time Greg Anderson watched online porn at the age of 12, he felt nothing. While the naked blonde writhing atop her male colleague piqued his interest, he remembers it was because the imagery was novel, not because it turned him on. Actually, it did the opposite — it made him squint and look at the screen sideways, skeptically, like he was watching a comic bomb on stage. “It immediately felt fake and overacted,” he says. “I was used to getting that feeling from watching cartoons, so that’s the feeling I began to connect porn with. I was just never really into it.”

Years later, Anderson says his friends and partners are often surprised to learn he doesn’t like porn. “You’re a guy, aren’t you?” one of his male friends scoffed in disbelief when Anderson told him.

Anderson is pretty sure he’s a guy, but according to dominant gender norms and sex experts alike, he’s also liar. As famed sex columnist Dan Savage put it, “All men look at porn. The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates.” A questionably journalistic Total Sorority Move writer even went so far as to suggest that any man would gladly give himself “hives and anaphylactic shock” just to “watch two girls get it on during a shockingly realistic looking gym class.”

Thing is, a lot of men feel like Anderson does about porn. According to a 2016 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, roughly 1 in 10 men don’t watch it at all (Russell Brand being one of them). However, since research and media tends to focus on the consumption of porn and its effects on viewers, very little information exists to describe the people who aren’t watching it.

So who are these porn-ambivalent men, and what the hell do they have against Accidental Anal Vol. IV?

Garrett Alan is a 22-year-old cello player from L.A. He doesn’t like porn because it makes him feel like he’s wasting his creativity. “After I come, I just sit there like, ‘What am I doing right now?’” he tells me. “I get this feeling of hyper self-awareness, and I start to feel guilty and dirty.” Part of that is because of a religious upbringing that taught him a browser full of YouPorn was a one-way ticket to hell, but it’s also because he knows he has a healthier, more satisfying tool at his disposal — his imagination. “The porn I create in my mind is so much better than online porn,” he says. “Using my imagination and memories as inspiration creates a much more fulfilling emotional and spiritual experience. Because of that, it makes my orgasm stronger.”

“Anything can happen when I invent my own fantasies, and I really enjoy pushing myself to come up with new scenarios,” he continues. “It makes me feel more involved in my own pleasure and more connected to my body. When I watch porn, I just feel detached from myself. I just know I can do better.”

Interestingly, several studies have demonstrated reductions in neural connectivity and gray matter volume in the brains of male porn viewers that control memory recall, learning and reward, so it makes sense that it might make some men feel like they’re wasting their creative abilities.

Other men have problems with the porn actors themselves. Thirty-three-year-old career waiter Xavier (a pseudonym) is into straight porn, but he can’t stand the sight of another man’s penis or the constant close-ups of dude-balls. “It just takes me out of it,” he says. “I’ve got nothing against the male figure, but I don’t want to see it when I’m trying to get off, especially because the guys in porn are usually so creepy. Why are they always wearing sunglasses inside? Why would I want to see the penis of a guy who has a belly-button tattoo and wears polarized aviators indoors?”

Naturally then, he also feels bad for the women who have sex with these bespectacled men. Though he admits they might not be as nauseated by porn actors as he is, he finds himself projecting his own anxieties onto them instead of enjoying the result of their hard work. Are they doing this out of desperation? he asks himself. Is it really consensual? Are they dissociating mentally to get it over with like I would?

“I know it’s irrational, but I end up feeling bad for everyone involved,” he laughs. “I’m sure there’s better porn out there, but I feel like it’s easier to use my imagination than it is to sort through hundreds of videos to find one where the attraction looks genuine and there’s a minimal amount of male butt in my face.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Andy, 29, a barista whose short and slender physique doesn’t have a ton in common with the beefy, ab-addled Magic Mike lookalikes who dominate the man-on-man channels he watches. “Porn actors make me feel insecure,” he says. “I look nothing like them, in body or dick. I’m not sure if it’s body dysmorphia or just garden-variety low confidence, but when I compare their bodies to mine, I just lose interest.”

This is quite common — while porn gets a justifiably bad rap for promoting unfair body standards for women, it makes plenty of men feel inadequate about their bodies, too. In fact, the more porn a man watches, the more dissatisfied he’s likely to be with his figure, an effect that can contribute to low confidence and poor mental health, especially for those whose bodies don’t fit the norm.

Not all guys see porn as a model of how sex or bodies should be, though. Some, like Anderson, dislike it because it feels false, like it’s trying to convince them sex is something it’s not. “Almost none of the scenarios, positions or lines of inane dialogue you see in porn actually happen in real life, so it’s always felt like a caricature of sex to me,” he explains.

To him, even the amateur stuff, where no cliché pizza guys or plumbers are involved and the couples seem to actually like each other, doesn’t feel totally right — thanks to less-than-ideal iPhone cinematography, it’s difficult to really see the action or to understand the particulars that led to this point. “It reduces the full sensory experience of sex to close-up shots of body parts fucking each other,” he explains. “That’s cool and can be nice to see sometimes, but it ignores the fuller picture of what makes sex good. What about the kissing, the eye contact, the grabbing, the smells and the context that makes those things hot?”

Of course, there are millions of videos that depict much more diverse kinds of sex, but for some men, watching a lot of stereotypical porn first can have negative consequences that steer them away from any kind of porn later. “It started fucking with me and depersonalizing sex,” a redditor named PanchDog shared on an /r/askmen thread dedicated to men who dislike porn. “I really did start objectifying women, and it was evident in the sex I was having. Made me just wanna cum as fast as possible. Just jam it in there and pound away.”

Along those lines, porn often depicts advanced positions and maneuvers that take consent, practice and communication to get right, but when you see actors pulling them off without a hitch, it seems like you could, too.

Bowen (also not his real name), a 34-year-old journalist from Denver, found that out the hard way. When he was naive enough to try the “moves” he’d seen in porn, his partners didn’t react at all how the actresses in the videos did. For example, when he tried to remove his penis from his college girlfriend’s vagina and ram it into her anus like he’d seen in a video, she didn’t bite her lip and say, “Fuck me, Daddy,” like the girl on the screen had. Instead, she screamed and bled lightly for 24 hours. He was horrified and felt awful. The last thing he wanted to do was learn so-called “skills” that injured or displeased his partners, so he gave up porn instead.

“I was looking at it like it was some sort of skill-sharing repository, but I became disillusioned once I realized there wasn’t much to be learned from it,” he says. “It’s not as entertaining when you know a lot of the stuff they’re doing is just for show.” Plus, he says, it almost never showed the one thing he really wanted help learning about — consent. As a straight, cis man in the shadow of the #MeToo movement, Bowen was interested in seeing consent modeled in a hot way he could use in his own interactions, but he never looked hard enough to find the right video (clearly he never came across this miracle of filmmaking).

A lot of guys on the /r/askmen thread about porn-hating men complained about that, actually. “[Porn] is a form of propaganda that informs a person’s idea of sex/consent, etc.,” writes one. “[It’s] a bad place to learn those things.” Another chimes in: “I completely agree. I think that porn being so many people’s first exposure to sex sets a lot of people up for the wrong expectations and the wrong attitudes.”

As someone who’s pro-porn myself, I want to take these men by the cum-free hands and gently whisper to them that porn is undergoing a revolution — that a new generation of talented filmmakers like Erika Lust and Vex Ashley are making hot, consent-based porn using actors with chemistry who represent all bodies and desires in an ethical, aesthetically pleasing way. So, I try with Anderson, curious as to whether he’d be interested in watching porn that gets the details right and uses diverse cinematography and genuine storytelling to build the kind of authentic tension and connection that mirrors real-life sex.

He responds back that he’d be open to seeing new-and-improved variations of the porn he grew up on, but he doubts it will turn him on. At the end of the day, he says he’s just more interested in people than pixels. He’s also had it with people trying to convince him otherwise. “People like different things, and what I like just happens to be real people who I can talk to and interact with,” he explains. “I completely respect why other people like porn, and I’m glad people are making better versions of it, but it just doesn’t impress me and I’m fine with that.”