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So I went backwards. The rambling beginning was excusable, getting back into the swing of things, but the guiltfeast was anything but. I was just starting to hold strong to the knowledge that I have a right to feel the way I do, and that I need not apologise for it or seek to protect anyone who might take away something negative. That is for them to raise with me.

The dangerous thing was that while writing it I think I thought I was just trying those feelings on again to remember how it was, but in fact that guilt was just leaking back into my psyche and stalling any progress I’d already made. Driving it back even. I made some good points, but I destroyed any honesty by being too weak to stand by my own feelings.

To be honest, I’m putting my balls on the block here. Writing a journal is one thing, but publishing it online for all and any to see is always going to raise issues in me about judgement, prejudice, not being understood and being defensive about how I feel. And yet it’s good, it’s the only way, and whoever reads it can take what they want. This is mine.

I’d briefly attempted to draw a parallel between videogames and porn last time. I’m sure plenty of my former colleagues would scream Judas at this, but I’m talking specifics, I’m talking how these things are consumed. I’m talking about me. Masternutcase Jack Thompson once called videogames “mental masturbation” and it’s the only thing I would ever agree with him on. So obviously the link is, ah, hard to shake off.

Again, anyone can reject this, but that doesn’t matter – I’m talking about me. I used videogames in much the same way as I used porn. It got me what I wanted without effort. I had all the control. Without getting too specific, for me both videogames and porn numb urges, they’re cheap and easy methods of satiating desires which have in the past caused me inner conflict and confusion. They’re Gaviscon for passion.

Videogames are easy to talk about – I desired to create my own lore, my own epic soaring thrilling fictions, my own worlds. But this brought out in me a fervent escapism so that I could be entirely consumed by a game, senseless and actively resisting any return to my real life. Now I know I’m not unique in this, but I know that the injury this did to me was to sap any creative passion I had, any desire to write something of my own.

Porn, well, that’s less easy to write about. I’m… sad to say (not ashamed, not anymore) that I’ve had a longer relationship with porn than I would ever have wished, and that I do honestly believe it debilitated me and, in league with my repressive/retentive nature, perhaps left certain areas of my sexuality and psyche damaged in ways I am still healing. Even writing this very post is a recovery.

Crucially, this is not because porn is bad. Some porn I find distasteful, some actually disgusting, but that’s just how I feel. Some porn is beautiful (if we use porn as a catch-all term) really capturing something incredibly powerful and meaningful in our lives in a respectful and, of course, highly erotically charged way. And some of it is grubby, adolescent, hilarious or decidedly boring. But porn is not bad.

My damage came from the way I used porn, what I invested into it. How I let it reflect upon me and influence my perceptions of the world around me. Porn is like drinking or gambling. Many responsible adults can enjoy it in moderation as a fun little thrill, something exciting, without their lives being significantly affected by it. I can’t. I don’t gamble for the same reason.

Over recent years, I’ve developed an understanding of myself which has actually left mainstream porn disrobed of any allure and instead seem to me as honestly erotic as watching cardboard tubes go at it. Porn like this leads to a suffocating feeling of hollowness, as if my soul has been sucked into a vacuum, all human feeling and nature lost. It’s as memorable as musak and less arousing than machinery.

I don’t believe that this is because I’ve become ‘dulled’ or ‘desensitised’ to porn. In fact it’s entirely the opposite. Watching this flesh circus, these male-aggrandised harem fantasies leaves me mournful for how fundamentally they lack the very thing I desire from sexual contact – real human feeling and connection.

Mainstream porn – basically, porn created for the majority of men with no discernible ‘fetish’ – is fundamentally about power, not sex. It’s about dominance, about men physically and literally controlling women in sexual conquest, a pursuit of male sexual gratification. Strong willed (read: equal power) female porn stars seem far less popular, and instead the rise is in spectacularly objectified girls as male ego-currency.

I’ve no qualified opinion on how this mirrors the rise of powerful women, the rise of normalised (lower case) feminism, the rise of impotent, directionless anger in young men. And before I finish I must return to talking about what I really know about: myself. But if any porn is potentially bad in wider consumption by boys and men, I’d have to choose mainstream porn, where gender roles aren’t reinforced, they simply do not exist, and girls (not women) are without faces or purposes beyond masturbatory aids.

To return to my link, videogames and porn, I realised that if I ever want to be a writer of any strength I must leave games behind. They’re too much of a draw, too easy to waste time and mental energy on, too accessible. Mainstream porn, as I’ve already said, is more like anesthetic to me now. But I think I need to accept that any sort of porn, for me, is a drain on my spirit, my natural sexuality, and that it is all dead to me.

As I said, my first encounter with pornography was in a strange place. The very nature of it, hidden away and secretive, is important. I remember the image, the surroundings, though it is difficult to recall the feelings. But only if I imagine those feelings are separated from me by time, or as if it happened to someone else. I can feel those things now, probably stronger than I was feeling them then.

We had found something, my friends and I. Later I discovered that almost all the boys we knew were aware of the magazine. I was too young to know what it might be for, but I had no difficulty in recognising what it was – it was a secret, and not just the magazine, the nakedness was a secret. The magazine was a window into a secret world.

I returned maybe once or twice, as did others, but I don’t believe I ever saw the magazine again – someone had taken it and eventually that boyhood legend was found by a mother and confiscated. I was aware that what I had seen was something I should certainly not tell my parents about. I was also aware that I wanted, really wanted, to see it again.

This is how my relationship with porn began – it already had a hold on a part of me, and crucially at this stage a part of me that I had utterly no comprehension of, only a primal awareness that something was exciting, that what I was seeing was… special. Powerful, even. That it was beautiful, desirable. Do 8 year olds really know lust?

One grimly amusing memory of mine is being 14 or 15 – at this point obviously painfully aware of exactly what I was lusting after all those years before – and really, really wanting to be able to buy pornographic magazines. Modems were hardly better than fax machines and the internet’s excruciatingly slow display of photos meant porn online didn’t exist even as a concept in my head at this point.

But magazines, ah, there was what I lusted for. Girls were baffling. I saw only creatures of intense and blinding power, such towering control over my pitiful lot, and had spent the last three years yearning desperately after a girl in my class without hardly ever talking to her. Crucially I hadn’t lusted after her, and had very few sexual feelings for her. But I wanted to buy porn, and consciously I don’t remember appreciating any connection between this real girl (and the others around her) and those exciting pages.

The grimly amusing part is that, trapped in this impotent adolescent heat, I dismally looked forward to being 18 and old enough to buy the magazines, but with a serious and heartfelt sadness because I knew in my teenage wisdom that after those four years (a lifetime in that situation) I would obviously have no desire to buy porn anyway.

It’s clear as a bell to me that from the moment I saw that jodphur-clad model in a faded Playboy, two interwoven elements of my psyche – sexuality and sensuality or love – split apart as my premature lust bloomed but my emotional passion stalled. I’d say many boys found themselves at 15 lusting for paper women but falling for real girls, but I feel that split, that imbalance, had never been checked. My love was underdeveloped, over-young. My desire over-charged and not fully understood.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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