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AN ONLINE AND PRINT PUBLICATION COMMITTED TO SHARING PERSPECTIVES FROM WOMEN AND NON-BINARY PEOPLE OF COLOUR

Why women like me are banning themselves from wanking to porn

When you’re addicted to perfectly sculpted bodies, HD genitals, and angles devised for your entertainment sometimes the real thing doesn’t match up

Credits: Photography via Canva

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse and porn addiction

In the summer of 2010, I was 16 years old with a decade of masturbation and five years of avid porn-viewing under my belt. Being such a seasoned pleasure procurer, I thought securing my first proper boyfriend would mean this was my time to shine. I had learned about how bare my mons pubis ought to be, the moans I should make, and that doggy was the new missionary. I was ready. But when we actually got to it… I was dry as a bone. 

But, why had my vagina betrayed me? Love was in the air and hormones were everywhere, but between the sheets I was having trouble, shall we say, moistening the runway. I couldn’t get anywhere near as wet as I did when perusing Pornhub and I was very confused. While lube was our best friend it was still masking the root of the problem. 

The fact that I watched porn most days was my biggest shameful secret, I thought I was one of the only girls who did it. So instead of communicating with anyone, like any teen, I turned to the internet. Reddit had a thread named NoFap – a forum for people addicted to masturbation and porn that encourages them to quit – which seemed to mostly be an outlet for stories of erectile dysfunction, failed attempts to quit porn, and lessened libidos IRL. It primarily functions as a supportive space illustrated by NoFap’s official ‘Sober’ October where almost 500k members are encouraged to quit solo porn, masturbation, and orgasm (PMO) and document the journey. 

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However, the fact I didn’t 100% connect with NoFap is hinted to by the name. “Fap” is onomatopoeic, based on the sound a penis makes during masturbation, which is in itself alienating as a cis teenage girl. As well as NoFap being isolating as a space for me, some in the movement take an anti-sex work stance. The rhetoric around sex-work serves to increase shame on the people in the industry rather than supporting and respecting their right to sell sex as a service. Sometimes the strict beliefs within the NoFap ranks can make it a very isolating space for people who feel dysfunction in their own sex life, but also don’t feel the need to demonise porn, sex work and masturbation.

My real-life intimacy was number one for me, so I quit watching porn with immediate effect and haven’t looked back since (well, masturbation is healthy, so I still do that every once in a while).

Research suggests that adolescents who compulsively use porn have lower degrees of social integration, increases in conduct problems, delinquent behaviour, depressive symptoms, and decreased emotional bonding with caregivers. While, for adults, there are over 75 studies linking porn use to poorer sexual and relationship satisfaction, as well as negatively affecting our beliefs and attitudes towards womenFight The New Drug, a website dedicated to researching porn’s effect on the brain, believes our brains are not designed to deal with the level of sexual stimulation that comes from porn.

Before you catastrophise over your own habits, there has been some resistance to the movements zero-tolerance attitude to porn and wanking. In 2016, neuroscientist Nicole Prause told The Guardian: “These online communities have whipped themselves into a frenzy when in the past men wouldn’t have been concerned. Then the next time they go to have sex they are causing themselves more distress.”

That being said, after around three to six months of quitting porn my body did recover from its dry spell, which was a huge relief. But, it turns out I’m not the only woman who has been on this journey. YouTuber Alana Parekh runs a women’s NoFap channel and describes our past issues as “super common”. Alana, 28, quit watching porn and masturbating two years ago, after first discovering it at the age of seven. As a young girl, flicking through the “softcore” adult TV channels in Chicago while her parents slept upstairs, she didn’t know what she was looking at. “I didn’t really get what it was. I thought that I was looking at this crazy adult world. I thought it was something all adults must do and I got the feeling that maybe it was something that I was supposed to do too when I became an adult,” she tells me over the phone. What started as curiosity developed into two to three hours of watching porn every day at its peak. 

After nearly 20 years of porn addiction, Alana set herself a 90-day NoFap challenge. After a relapse or two, she managed to have her first-ever orgasm from sex and said her sensitivity to real-life beauty had increased, “all of a sudden the people around me started to appear more beautiful.” Depression that made her feel like a “zombie” seemingly vanished when she quit. She now helps others to work through their addictions, offering one-on-one Skype support as well as opening up about her experiences on her YouTube channel. “I feel super passionate about helping people overcome it now. Like just seeing how much it’s done for me in my life, I feel like I got my spirit back,” she excitedly says.  

“All of a sudden the people around me started to appear more beautiful”

Alana Parekh

Neither of our Indian parents broached the subjects of porn or sex with us in our teens, so we dangerously saw them as one and the same. We know that the average age that children first watch pornography is around 11 years old according to some sources, while others say it’s as young as eight, but how many children that age have been taught anything about it? 

Watching porn without a critical lens or any education left Alana woefully misinformed: “I just grew up having this idea of what love was supposed to be like. It also affected my body image. I started to really pay attention to what the women looked like and I started to compare my own body to them and just kind of wondered what normal looked like, as a woman.” Mainstream porn shows women as little more than sexual objects via a male gaze: “It made me feel like a lot of my worth was going to be tied to what I could do sexually,” Alana says.  

It’s important to draw a distinction between the fact that wanking is completely normal and healthy, and getting off to porn doesn’t always have to be a problem. Porn plays a positive role in many people’s lives and has been the spark for many women learning to cum by themselves – important given that 39% of women said they always orgasm during masturbation while 6% said they always orgasm during sex with a partner. Niche and fetish porn sites are so valuable for many people exploring their kinks, and there are also sex workers all over the world who feel empowered by their trade. 

Still, some women lean on porn use as an escape from past trauma. Oghosa Ovienrioba, a British Nigerian blogger and YouTuber, was molested as a five-year-old. She reflects on how her porn use was rooted in her abuse that caused her to experience sexuality prematurely. “I was feeling sexual urges at a very young age. Obviously I didn’t speak to anyone about it, so it kind of just festered and that’s when I started watching porn,” she says as we speak on the phone. Oghosa saw porn as an “outlet” for escapism, and describes the “Stockholm Syndrome effect where I felt attached to my abuser and I felt attached to the way that I felt when I was being abused.”

When we speak on the phone, she has just got back from filming a YouTube video for her channel where she speaks about beauty, black feminism and her faith. Despite the fact that she watched around four hours of porn a day from the age of 14 to 20, when she became a born again Christian she quit watching adult films and masturbating altogether. She remembers crying in the bath and “praying to God saying, ‘If you’re real, just please don’t let me go back to this thing’. And I didn’t.” 

“I definitely felt like a fetish,” Oghosa says as we talk about how the representation of black women in porn put her off. She continues, “Porn with black women in it is usually super aggressive, and it’s kind of scary. It is that thing of black women being animals and you can just do what you want with their bodies.” The racial categorisation in porn really serves to cement damaging stereotypes that already exist.

While porn is a reflection of society, with 1,000 visits to PornHub happening every second, its influence on people is undeniable. According to the sites 2019 review, there was an average of 115 million visits per day (equivalent of the populations of Canada, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands all visiting in one day), with racial categories like “Japanese”, “Korean” and “Ebony” topping the list for most searched terms. 

Young women, especially those from religious communities, feel a deep shame about their habits. In the depths of NoFap’s women’s forum, I came across a 21-year-old Muslim woman from Germany who says she “prays five times a day” and is extremely addicted to masturbation. Though she wanted to remain anonymous she reveals she began at the age of 11, saying: “I was a depressed person at that time, I got bullied, so when I masturbated, it was just like releasing everything inside my body. I got the pleasure I needed in that moment, I forgot the pain inside my soul. I wanted to feel this feeling legit the whole time.”

“I got the pleasure I needed in that moment, I forgot the pain inside my soul. I wanted to feel this feeling legit the whole time”

After two years, her tastes moved towards BDSM: “I even learned how to tie up myself and also masturbate while being tied up. I punished myself in a painful way which was a huge pleasure for me.” While reaching out to the anonymous forum for support, she said she felt a huge amount of guilt and shame because her sexual desires were at odds with her faith. The reason she, like me, speaks about these experiences is to try and fight the shame and taboo, as it only serves to silence conversation and learning. 

I empathise with the negative effects frequent porn use can have. But masturbation is a natural thing for men and women to do, so I was curious as to why so many people are quitting both. Oghosa’s journey was very much linked to her religious beliefs. As a Christian, she said she is “weighing it up and seeing what the Bible has to say about masturbation”. 

Conversely, Alana has reasons that aren’t to do with spirituality in the traditional sense. “I think it just comes down to the reason why you’re masturbating. For me, I used to masturbate as a way to escape my problems,” she explains. “Also, there’s said to be a similar dopamine cycle in the brain when you take any hard drug to when you orgasm. So for the two weeks following the orgasm, you’re living in a dopamine deficit,” describes Alana, citing some of the studies she has researched. Lastly, and this is something I can relate to, she says quitting masturbation can make intimacy with a partner more passionate and exciting.   

The UK government attempted to bring a ban on porn for under-18s last July, but it has been delayed. The age-verification system they want to bring in is easily circumvented in minutes because it’s the internet and the UK is a long way from being able to successfully police it. Banning porn shuts down conversations and increases taboo. It pays lip service to the issues young people face by pulling a curtain over it (which is easily lifted by anyone with a VPN), instead of teaching children how to think critically about what they are bound to see.

“Banning something is like putting a bandaid on it. It’s not really addressing the root of why people want to watch it in the first place,” Alana explains. She said our desire to watch porn is not inherent, but that “porn preys on a human need that we all have, which is the desire for connection, love, intimacy and sex”. She continues: “It’s like you’re given the illusion that you’re getting satisfied and then, over time it can really morph your sexuality and your perceptions in a really dark way.” 

There are hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world who are struggling with their sexual habits and are reporting transformational results after quitting porn and masturbation. From talking to those who have done NoFap, it seems that masturbation becomes unhealthy when it is inextricable from porn. I now know plenty of women who learned this the hard way, even though 16-year-old me thought she was alone.

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