There's a lot of talk on this forum about porn and unwanted sexual feelings. I've never thought of myself as being addicted to porn, or my sexual feelings as being anything other than 'natural'; but I thought I should reconsider this.
Like most men, I imagine, I get stimulated visually. I vividly remember the first time this happened, when I was aged about seven. I shared a bedroom with my brother, and he had a magazine with an article about circus trapeze artists. The pictures of these scantily clad young women in leotards swinging around on the ends of ropes, their legs wrapped around wooden bars, and a look of exultation on their faces, excited me in a way I recognised as being sexual without having a clue what it meant.
My next memory is of being eight or nine at boarding school and deliberately heading to the toilet late at night because I knew the matron who slept on the premises would be having her bath and I could ogle her as I sidled past, marvelling at how much hair she had between her legs and under her armpits.
From about the age of twelve, I started seeing girls differently, and that's stayed with me to this day. I've always assumed that being visually attracted to women is as natural as being attracted to the smell of fresh bread, or the touch of velvet, or the sound of waves on the shore.
How far is it reasonable to take this? When I was a teenager with no girlfriend I remember fantasying about sex, including sex with people I knew; but I have no recollection of carrying those fantasies around with me into real life. In other words, when I was actually with real, live girls, I wasn't actively imagining having sex with them. That came afterwards, when I was alone.
I saw my first porn film around then, in the local cinema, which was full of older, seedy looking blokes in raincoats. I was turned on by it but mostly remember being astounded that real people actually had the chance to do this. Occasionally, I bought magazines, or rifled through my dad's Playboy stash; but most of my masturbatory fantasies were bland. I mostly relied on looking at myself in a mirror, or being on the flat roof outside our house in the pouring rain (strange to recall!) getting off with nature.
I was looking for love, more than sex. Whenever I saw a girl, I did an involuntary fantasy 'shoot', where I pictured her as a future wife, in the form of a companion rather than a sex object. So, when I met my wife, sex was the last thing on my mind. My body knew differently, though. I invited her to stay (we met on a tropical island, where I was living and she was on holiday) at my rented house and agonised as we walked towards it after an evening out. I didn't know how to explain that I would prefer it if we slept in separate beds. I wanted this because I felt wholly unready for sexualising our love; but the journey back along the beach in the moonlight was about as far removed from romantic pleasure as I could imagine. I was plagued with a rock solid erection that I could neither control nor conceal beneath my cotton shorts. I spent all my time walking half turned away from her, in real pain.
Although we eventually made love that night (my spare bed turned out to be damp) we started on opposite sides of the same bed!
After marriage, my interest in porn and other women was muted for many years; but occasionally, when I saw a sexy film or read some purple prose in a novel, I found myself getting turned on. Generally, though, my masturbation fantasies relied very much on me imagining having sex with my wife, or of her in a different guise doing things that she might otherwise not do. I did, however, fantasise prior to masturbation about other people, though never anyone I knew, personally. The main reason I masturbated was to avoid having to go through the rigmarole of 'making love', or simply to give my wife a break.
Part of my disinterest in porn was it's relative inaccessibility. Occasionally, I'd buy a magazine off the top shelf, but then throw it away shortly afterwards. I had no real 'stash' to fall back on, except maybe the odd book.
There are three events I remember from that era as being especially arousing in a way that no amount of pictures in magazines or scenes in films could come anywhere near. One was on a town beach in Portugal. A little old lady and her daughter arrived. The lady was dressed in black with only her face showing. The girl was dressed modestly. She took her clothes off to swim, and for some reason the fact that she wore a pair of ordinary knickers and no bra and had pale skin made her seem a million times sexier than all the bronzed Nordic blondes flouncing around. I was entranced.
Another time, in Spain, we were driving our camper van on a track near the sea and got lost. I spotted another camper van in the distance and walked towards it. A female figure got out of the van as I approached and to my surprise I realised she had no clothes on. I remember the difficulty of having a conversation while pretending not to be noticing she was naked while at the same time marvelling at her.
A couple of years later, this time in France, again on the beach, I was sitting on a rock, idly scanning the horizon, when I caught a glimpse of a flash of golden skin. The nearby cafe had an attached shower unit that swimmers sometimes used and its door had swung open while a girl was washing inside. She didn't know she was being watched and I couldn't stop watching her.
Then came the internet. Initially, getting to be able to see lots of pictures of naked ladies was exciting. That soon paled in the shadow of movie clips. I thought they were going to get better and better, the more I looked around, but in reality, they got worse. In fact, the more explicit they became, the less arousing they seemed. I particularly disliked the way so many of them seemed to end, with the guy withdrawing his penis from the girl's mouth or vagina and splurting sperm all over her face and breasts. This seemed to me a colossal turn off.
I've never been tempted to pay any money for porn on-line although I've often wondered what could possibly be available that isn't available free.
It was around then I began to wonder what it was, visually, that really turned me on. Athletic sex it turned out, I found as dull as athletics itself. What I liked, I realised, was ordinariness, and the sense that I was seeing glimpses of something private. I discovered there were internet sites where people with seemingly no interest in money were putting up sexually explicit videos of themselves. I've looked at maybe a couple of dozen of these; a few of them have been distinctly alluring and I think I'm beginning to understand why.
For me, visual stimulation is important. Whether it's the influence of porn or simply that I'm thinking about sex more these days or the fact that my wife and I have some differences of opinion about what's appropriate and what isn't in bed, I find I wonder a lot about what other people do. So, I might be in the supermarket check out and find myself looking at someone pretty (who could be any age, as I often see prettiness in older women) and speculating how her sex life might be. This seems no more prurient to me than playing a guessing game as to what her profession is. But then I could add to this by speculating how she might have sex with me. I've also noticed I'm doing this with people on the television, newsreaders or presenters; and now I've started catching myself, in museums and suchlike, looking at old black and white photos of long dead people, wondering whether they masturbated, or were into oral sex, or whatever; and imagining me having sex with them.
I've begun to find this disturbing. Not disturbing in itself, so much, but disturbing because I wonder if it is 'normal'. The trouble is, there are loads of areas in my life where I find myself getting excited - breathless, on occasion - while looking at something that is unattainable, but that I quite fancy, and enjoy imagining having, without any prospect of it becoming mine. This seems like a form of pornography to me. House porn is a big one, with estate agents windows and on-line representation laying out elaborate photos of properties that can leave me slavering. It's not even that they're necessarily unaffordable. They might simply be somewhere I'm not, but could readily imagine being. Certainly, over the past ten years, I've looked at a lot more 'house porn' than any other form, including sexual porn. Car porn, gadget porn, clothes porn - it's all there. Maybe the second biggest, though, for most people, is sports porn, where the unattainable aspect is the excellence we can't achieve for ourselves.
So, is seeing someone on the street and imagining making love to them any more reprehensible than imagining living in a different house or scoring a triumphant goal or driving a better car?
I thought of all this again today. I was working with a group of casual labourers planting leeks. This involves lots of bending over, which invariably reveals naked backs and tops of bums. I was chatting to a West Indian woman who was bent over facing away from me. She had a really pleasing lower back that ended in a pair of pink pants that showed above her jeans. Not far from her was a large bloke who's own back and crack were similarly exposed. They were less pleasing, at least to me. In fact, I was as repulsed by one as I was transfixed by the other.
The answer to my repulsion was simple. I didn't actually avoid looking at the bloke, but I certainly didn't drink him in. It wasn't as simple to deal with my fixation, though. To have not drunk in her attractiveness would have made little more sense than to have not drunk in the other pleasurable sights around me. However, it was a question of how far to take this. For me, admiring her secretly, without telling her I was admiring her, and certainly without trying to do any more than admire visually, was okay. To have told her her back was beautiful, or to have reached out and tried touching it, would have been wholly inappropriate. To have fantasised about doing those two things, and then imagined that they led to doing something more overtly sexual, also seemed inappropriate, given that her husband was around; but perhaps, on another occasion, it would have been okay. To have gone home and masturbated to such fantasies wouldn't have occurred to me.
Curiously, far worse fantasies than wishing to make love to someone pass through my head regularly. The number of times I've imagined decapitating, disembowelling or otherwise incapacitating complete strangers who have got in my way - slow drivers, people standing in line in front of me, creepy officials - scares me. I assume others do this, too, though. At least I hope so. Clearly, I'm not about to turn fantasy into action; but for leaving a pleasant taste in the mouth, it is certainly much more agreeable to imagine undressing with someone and sharing some pleasant moments together than dealing out death and destruction.
I don't want to pretend pornography isn't a problem; but I think it would be a shame if we lumped in with it all visual appreciation of sexual attractiveness, along with whatever arousal this causes.