What Your Favorite Porn Says About You

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You are sitting in front of a computer screen surfing porn sites ready to get off. You sift through scenes and images until you connect to one. Suddenly, every element of desire falls perfectly in line. You become intensely excited, your physical and mental energy sharply focused and shutting out other thoughts. Eventually, you climax.

"The Act of Man" by Barbora Mastrlova

“The Act of Man” by Barbora Mastrlova

Most of us do not meticulously analyze what just happened. There might be some curiosity about why a certain porn scene turns us on. Typically, after getting off to it, we feel temporarily satisfied and pull ourselves back together.

What actually is happening in that moment when everything clicks? Why does a particular story or scene cause such arousal? Why, for instance, does forced sex with a woman or a very boyish man attract us more than other images?

Sexual fantasies, whether elaborate romantic themes or sporadic images of muscular arms or big breasts, mean much more than we think. Specific erotic images are connections to deeper inner truths long banished from consciousness.

Porn intensely focuses our mental and physical attention, uncovering specific emotions eroticized much earlier in life. Through our sexual fantasies, we attempt to master feelings of powerlessness, shame, guilt, fear and loneliness that have followed us into adulthood. Encoded in the porn scenes that lead us to orgasm are the psychological antidotes to these feelings. Situating ourselves in humiliating, romantic or risky scenes counteracts painful feelings by turning them into pleasurable ones. Psychologically, this happens outside our awareness, the way blood cells heal a cut finger without our knowing it.

To decode eroticized feelings, look at family dynamics. Childhood conflicts produce strong emotions that never completely disappear. Their impact echoes long into adulthood, woven into our fantasies, even when denied. What arouses us is far from random or meaningless. The porn we choose to watch is dictated by our psychological histories.

So, as you continue to read, consider your answers to these questions as you think about the porn you watch.

What was your scariest experience growing up?
Were you afraid of your parents?
When did you not feel accepted or ignored by a parent, sibling or friend?
When did you feel controlled by your parents?
Could you discuss anger with them or disagree with them?
Were you regularly spanked or disciplined as a child?

The basic question to put to yourself is this one: How is the feeling in your favorite porn video like the feeling you had during a conflict in your childhood?

Suppose our parents, teachers, or clergy used excessive shame or guilt to teach or control us. To deal with our resultant anger, we encode the shame in our fantasies, becoming aroused when thinking of ourselves as naughty or engaging in secret or forbidden sexual acts. We feel excited, for example, when punished or disciplined for supposed misbehavior, by being tied up and forced to have sex. Forced to surrender sexually to a dominant aggressor, we allow ourselves to enjoy the sex while escaping from the guilt that has haunted us through life.

On the other hand, some of us respond to underlying guilt and shame by sexualizing the idea of becoming the aggressor, perhaps delving into themes of incest or other extreme sexual behaviors to attach pleasure to unthinkable acts.

As children our sense of self-worth largely depends on how our parents hold and value us as distinct persons separate from the experiences they underwent. Our self-esteem, sense of competence and ability to cope in the world is shaped by specific family dynamics.

Frequent interactions defined by negativity and disparaging comparisons leave us with deep feelings of inadequacy and, most harmfully, a notion of not being lovable. Whether we accept failure as inevitable or rebel against it and become an overachiever, that lack of self-worth influences all our interactions with the world.

It can also define our sexuality. Eroticizing feelings of inadequacy lead to fantasies with themes involving submission, humiliation, verbal abuse or extreme adoration of a partner. We are aroused by being treated as if we are useless, unworthy or weak. Yet, by inviting our own humiliation, we become in charge of it and through the sexual pleasure we receive weaken the impact of childhood pain.

Some of us on the the other hand, counteract feelings of inadequacy with ideas of grandiosity in which we imagine ourselves as important, powerful or irresistibly sexy. We invent fantasies in which we are admired, adored, paid for sex, recreating ourselves as competent, powerful and attainable.

The most common feelings people eroticize are:

powerlessness and helplessness
detachment and emptiness
rejection and abandonment
anger and aggression
inadequacy, guilt and shame
insecurity, loneliness and vulnerability

Two recent cases from my practice illustrate what I mean. In my patient Laura’s family, any sexual reference was totally frowned upon. When she was a toddler, Laura’s father abandoned her, her sister and mother Edna for another woman. Over the following years, Edna grew increasingly protective of her daughters. Fearing they would suffer her fate, Edna raised her daughters to believe that all men are unfaithful. “Even my father had cheated on my mother,” Edna repeatedly told them.

Edna forbade the girls to attend school dances and demanded extra homework time, watching over them like a hawk. Academic excellence, she insisted, guaranteed independence from a man. Laura obeyed and did very well in school. Her mother was actually pleased Laura was shy and socially awkward with boys.

Yet by high school, when Laura began to have sexual feelings, she often had the same fantasy. Her mother had warned her: “Boys took advantage of me sexually.” That very idea excited Laura. “I would imagine one boy in particular. He was known as a stud. He would force sex on me. I’d resist, but he would eventually overpower me and fuck me,” Laura told me. This theme became the center of her erotic thoughts and behavior. As a young adult, she masturbated to videos featuring such men. Submerged in her moments of pleasure, though, lay Laura’s conflicted past.

As a gay man, Stephen was comfortable with his sexuality. He regularly dated and had sex. When he climaxed, he noted that his thoughts frequently had drifted to a particular porno scene that had fixated him since he was a teen: humiliation scenes. So, Stephen fantasized being on his knees in front of another man, begging for sex. He also imagined the man spitting on him as both a “humiliation and a gift.” Because he felt ashamed of these desires, he never shared them with partners, nor sought them out in sexual encounters. He satisfied them by watching porno.

During his childhood, to relieve her loneliness, Stephen’s mother turned him into her confidant. With his father regularly gone on business, Stephen was often home with only his sister and mother. Stephen did not miss his father because they were ill at ease with each other. Since childhood, Stephen knew his femininity made his father uncomfortable, who tried to change Stephen by forcing him to play sports and “act like a boy.” Despite his mother’s interventions, his father prevailed.

Not surprisingly, Stephen never felt he measured up to his father’s expectations. But rather than surrendering, Stephen grew defiant. In early adolescence he declared his sexuality, making his father even angrier.

Despite fighting his father’s contempt, the years of denigration had seeped into Stephen’s consciousness. Not only had he internalized the shame, he had eroticized it. “I fantasized being humiliated. But I took things one step further. By being humiliated through sex, at least I could feel good too,” Stephen acknowledged.

Porn is a window into the deepest levels of your psyche. From it you can discover your deepest desires, where they come from and what they mean. The next time you find yourself enjoying your favorite porn scene, take a moment to think about the feelings that got you off and the possible history behind it.

This may seem like a heavy task. It might even feel like it will spoil your fun. But understanding the psychological imprinting that shapes your desires will show what conflicts or unmet needs still require resolution. That knowledge can lead you to a more authentic sex life with your current partner or guide you in choosing a partner with whom you are sexually and otherwise compatible.

Here is a list of some more questions to help you establish the link between your favorite porn and the family conflict or unmet need that has shaped your desire.

What is the specific story line in your favorite porn?
How would you describe the characters’ attitudes and feelings in the video?
Which character do you identify with?
How does that character’s behavior excite you?
Is there a specific image, or body part that gets you off?

When in the past did you experience the feelings you’ve identified?
What were the circumstances and the people in that experience?
Was this a one-time conflict or ongoing one?
Did the feelings change over time?

Do you feel afraid of your own anger?

Were there events that lead to dramatic changes in family life?
What were your reactions to the change?
How did family members handle your feelings at the time?
What emotional need do you feel was not satisfied during your childhood?
What is your most basic emotional need now?

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