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Why Do People Watch Porn When They’re Not Masturbating?

It sure ain’t for the acting

As far as we can tell, porn only has one purpose: To get people off. It’s in no way the equivalent of watching, say, Stranger Things, where a riveting plotline and thrilling twists and turns compel you to watch it in any spare moment you have — on the bus, in a boring work meeting, etc. No matter how strange your favorite porn may be or what things they’re inserting into where, it’s still just porn: You masturbate, and then you’re done with it (until next time).

And yet as common sense as this belief may be, people are caught watching porn without masturbating all the time, be it on the bus, in a boring work meeting, or even, y’know, in a session of Ukrainian Parliament.

So why, in the name of all that’s SFW, would anyone watch pornography outside the context of jerking off?

The most obvious reason is porn addiction. And while there’s some debate as to whether or not such an addiction exists, sexologist Michelle Hope believes, “It’s common for people to have some level of porn addiction and not realize it.” This may cause said people to find themselves turning to porn even when they’re in a place where they can’t pull their pants down.

Psychologist Lori Beth Bisbey, while firmly in the “porn addiction isn’t a real addiction” camp, agrees: “For some, [porn] is a compulsion, something that they do to lower their anxiety levels.”

Of course, some of this depends on what your definition of porn is: According to Hope, for those “addicted” to porn, they might not actually consider what they’re watching to be porn per se. “The more porn you expose yourself to, the more racy the porn becomes,” she explains. “So, they might see something explicit on screen, yet they may not be aroused because it isn’t at the level of salaciousness that they find arousing.”

Their brain, in other words, has normalized this exposure to much more graphic material, making the softer (but still hardcore) porn they’re watching in public, in turn, not graphic — at least, not to them.

While it’s easy to scoff at the notion that somebody didn’t realize what they were watching counts as porn, think of the average Hardee’s commercial:

Just a few decades ago, something like the above would almost certainly have been categorized as porn — it’s just that our standards have changed as we’ve been exposed to so much more. Likewise, for people constantly immersing themselves in harder and harder pornography, a simple, straightforward sex scene may not even register as inappropriate anymore.

Then there are some people who just don’t masturbate — ever. According to Bisbey, who is also a sex and intimacy coach, “There are lots of reasons that people don’t masturbate. Some are completely uncomfortable touching themselves, while others cannot get past prohibitions from Church or childhood.” So, for some, it’s possible they have drawn their own personal morality line: They can look at porn, but actually masturbating to it is off limits. (These people, presumably, aren’t the ones watching it in public.)

At the other end of the scale, some people may be watching porn without touching themselves simply because they’re getting ready to touch themselves in a few minutes. Bisbey says that, since some people orgasm really quickly, “They choose to wait until after watching so they can prolong the pleasurable experience.” In these cases, it may be more arousing to delay that gratifaction and experience it later. Coupled with this, if it’s in public, the watcher may be enjoying the thrill of almost getting caught, which may turn them on more when they touch themselves later.

Basically that means that if you walk in on your boss watching porn at 11 a.m., it’s a safe bet he plans on cranking one out in the bathroom shortly. You, meanwhile, should be planning on a visit to HR.