There’s an epidemic afoot in the land these days that has gone unreported and rarely discussed but I see it so much that I’ve given it a name: PIPA, for porn-influenced performance anxiety. Starting with the advent of home video in the early 1980s and amping up in the last 15 years when the internets have become an essential part of everyday life, access to stills and films of sexual activity has become so easy and ubiquitous that pornography has shifted from an entertainment medium to an educational model. Mostly without even thinking about it, people who watch porn – whether casually, obsessively, or somewhere in between – have started to internalize its formulaic choreography as if it were the rule book on How to Have Sex, not unlike the way fashion magazines with their freakishly skinny, digitally airbrushed models brainwash young women into thinking that’s what they’re supposed to look like. As a result, a lot of guys have started to put enormous pressure on themselves and/or their partners to Perform Like a Porn Star, with the result that sex is not nearly as much fun as it’s supposed to be.
Let’s think about some of the myths perpetuated by gay male porn:
- everybody is good-looking, white, buff, and healthy;
- everybody has a big dick that always gets hard and always shoots;
- everybody loves to suck cock is good at it;
- everybody loves anal sex, bottoms love to get fucked and open their asses easily;
- everybody is able to move into sex easily on a moment’s notice;
- nobody ever has difficult getting and maintaining an erection;
- nobody ever has difficult staying hard while putting on a condom and achieving penetration;
- nobody ever says “Ow, ow, take it out, it hurts”;
- nobody ever has conversations about HIV status or negotiating likes and dislikes;
- nobody ever has difficulty ejaculating.
Meanwhile, many of the things that are most enjoyable about sexual intimacy you never see in porn, because they’re not especially photogenic:
- taking your time and getting to know each other;
- making out at length, keeping your clothes on for a while, at least your underwear;
- holding, cuddling, and spooning;
- frotting (rubbing bodies or dicks together without penetration);
- napping afterwards or making tea;
- laughing together;
- lying on the couch together after a stressful weekend with the family….
It’s funny to break down the differences between porn sex and real-life sex, but plenty of guys fall into the trance of not knowing the difference between the two. If you can’t Perform Like a Porn Star in every way, there’s something wrong with you. If your partner can’t Perform Like a Porn Star, either he’s not attracted to you or there’s something wrong with him. If the rigidly enforced chain of events that typifies a porn encounter – meet, lock eyes, strokey-strokey, sucky-sucky, fucky-fucky, shoot-shoot, the end – doesn’t feel so good when you try to reproduce it in your own life, there’s something wrong with you. If what you like doesn’t match what you see in porn, there’s something wrong with you….
When all roads lead to that recurring refrain, maybe it’s time to consider where you’re getting these ideas about what constitutes acceptable/pleasurable sexual behavior. What you like to watch in porn may be different from what feels good when you’re having sex with a partner. How do you know? How do you keep from confusing the two? Talk to your friends. Talk to your playmates. Talk to your partner. Talk to your therapist. You can always talk to me. Let me know what you think.