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What I Learned From A Year Without Porn

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To me, masturbation is and has always been exploration, empowerment and entertainment. The first time I masturbated, I was 10 years old. During a sleepover, my sister and cousin and I had watched the French softcore erotic film Emmanuelle on German television. Like most people, I started masturbating with porn I found by coincidence. I started secretly seeking out erotic films on TV, and soon, the internet allowed for access any time of day. Once I got my own laptop in college and all my content became seemingly private, porn became a regular part of masturbation for me. 

Yes, I always knew that mainstream porn is misogynistic and that was a concern, but (because I was old enough to know how) I was able to avoid that type of content online. I never questioned if I should be watching porn; other questions were more interesting. For instance, although I did occasionally fantasize about real people while masturbating, I did not think about my boyfriends until about three years ago. I wondered why my fantasies were 90% about women. Was my 20-year-long exploration of my interest in women triggered by the lesbian porn I had watched in my tweens? Figuring out whether there is a difference between sexual fantasy and sexual orientation was very confusing for many years — I wouldn’t be surprised if the teens watching porn online today feel similarly. I knew somehow that porn could disconnect me from myself; I wanted to keep it in check like a vice, similar to eating sweets or drinking wine. But there were times I overdid watching porn. The tipping point came during holiday break 2016 when my old friend Lilian visited. She told me she had never watched porn and wasn't interested in it. First, I was shocked and impressed that she solely relied on her own, I guess, fantasies? Then I was shocked by my surprised reaction. So I decided to go one year without porn to see what that’s all about. And truly, it is about so much more than I thought. Here are the key takeaways from my porn hiatus.

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1. My fetishes are mine.

What I thought turned me on while watching porn no longer turned me on when I relied solely on my own imagination. Instead of watching porn, I started to think more about my partner at the time and other real people, connecting with actual experiences. I also gradually forgot many pornographic scenarios; it was like my fantasies took over my memory while masturbating. Masturbation became more personal, as opposed to an experience designed by an algorithm to entice “arousal addiction,” meaning we have to continuously search out new kinds of porn to get the same arousal effect. Porn is built around “arousal addiction,” which is why many of us find ourselves looking at stuff we’d not seek out IRL. Only this year I concluded that, at least for now, I am not gay. I still wonder, however, how much of that exploration I owe to porn.

2. Masturbation can involve all the senses.

Sometimes, the body wants to masturbate, but the mind is too tired to create scenarios or images. Other times, the mind wants to masturbate, but the body lacks energy. Other times, emotions are too fucking dense to penetrate when, for instance, feelings are piled up and unresolved internally and they need to be resolved and dealt with before the lightness of masturbation joy. I used to use porn to help overcome these obstacles — and come. But after I stopped using porn I began to feel more nuanced physical, hormonal, mental, and emotional triggers for arousal during masturbation. I might be reminded of a real-life scenario, or I might simply realize that I feel really good in my own body, or notice the way sheets feel on my skin, or enjoy the smell of spring in the air. As I let all my senses take a more active part in masturbation, I discovered endless amounts of stimuli. Exploring these new stimuli further through thoughts and touch, I found myself worshipping not only my body, but also the fact that life was awesome in that moment. My orgasms were no longer a localized physical sensation (what I felt while my eyes, ears and probably one hand were fixed on a computer or phone); I could now feel them throughout my entire body. I already had expansive, rich physical orgasms before I stopped watching porn —  what changed after I stopped watching porn was that I feel connected with the emotional and even spiritual roots of my sexual lust. Spiritual in a sense that I can now sense the energy shift in my body and feel sparkles of life expanding throughout my body. Seriously, who needs Netflix?

3. My relationship radar changed.

After I stopped watching porn, I realized that I can gauge how I feel about someone I’m dating because I either want to think about them while masturbating, or I don’t. When I don’t, that means there could be an obstacle between us and I need to look into that. One time, I realized that I was over someone because I was able to simply think of the physical connection we had without feeling sad about the breakup. Another time, I went through a breakup and I didn’t want to masturbate at all because I’d automatically think of that person and I was afraid of the pain I’d feel. After all, I only had my imagination, and it’s hard to tell the mind, “don’t think of him,” because that’s exactly what the mind will do. One day, I let myself wander into that memory and when I came, I started crying like an obsessed demon. It was the most cathartic moment in my personal masturbation history. Afterwards, I was peaceful and soothed, hugged by a sense of wonder and gratitude. A considerable amount of pain that was attached to that sexual connection had evaporated, and it was a big step forward in getting over the breakup.

4. Sex with my partner became more intimate.

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Without porn references automatically popping up in my mind during sex, I was now busy doing the thing I thought of trying out with my partner earlier, right here and now. Knowing what I really like and being in touch with that as a practice makes saying “yes” to what I really want, and saying “no” to what or when I don’t want, simply natural. I have more and better eye contact, and I communicate non-verbally and verbally in my own way, using my own words. When I watched porn regularly, I remember imitating sounds and poses, but they were not top of mind any longer, and faded. Without porn, I had fewer expectations on myself and on my partner when it comes to "sexual performance" (we really need to stop calling it that) as well as body image. Sex became less predictable, and more explorative and playful, even spiritual in one instance; overall, more connected and intimate. Of course, it doesn’t only depend on me. Rumi says, “What you seek is seeking you.” I seem to attract men who also don’t indulge in porn much and I think that makes it easier for us to explore each other through our sexual desires.


Throughout my year without porn, I discovered that masturbation is a channel for some deep psycho-spiritual stuff that I am eager to make space for because it makes me feel very alive. I now understand that masturbation is more than a treat: It’s an intimate connection with myself, it’s healing, it’s state-changing, it’s a tool we as women (and I’d presume also men and nonbinary people) are born with. I honor it more. I can feel why I masturbate: Is it because I want to feel good, or is it because I don’t want to feel or do something? Compulsive masturbation, like three times or more a day, exists with or without porn. However, without the “drug” of porn, I am more likely to recognize when masturbation becomes avoidance coping (meaning I’m using masturbation as a way to avoid dealing with something else), and not self-care. And I am much less likely to fall into that pattern. In fact, it only happened once the entire year, and I realized right away that I was running away from a difficult situation with my then-boyfriend.

This year, I sought out several conversations about masturbation with my 30-something female friends because of the experiment, and I was happy to hear that many of them did not watch porn. They found it boring — and were surprised I had been a regular watcher, being a yogi and all. Well, the practice of self-awareness is an ongoing journey, and everyone reaches their next stage when ready. Now, I know how powerful masturbation can be when I am here, fully connected to my senses and my desires.

Mindful masturbation is more empowering, explorative and entertaining than Saturday afternoon me-time with Pornhub. It is the act of self-love that brings together appreciation for myself, a connection with my intimate desires, needs and fears, and gratitude for life. It can be pleasing, soothing and deeply healing on an emotional level. I used to see it as progressive to talk openly about porn as a natural part of life, but after 365 days without it, it seems to me that porn is taking us a step backwards when it comes to, obviously, equality. But most importantly, it inhibits self-discovery, an intimate connection with our pleasures and pains, and it consequently shapes our intimate relationships with others. The only comparison that I can think of is that watching porn to masturbate is like eating fast food. When you cook your own meals, your senses are stimulated by colors and smells, and after a while, you start experimenting with ingredients and spices that suit and expand your palate.

Try mindful masturbation and do a porn detox for a few months to let your own fantasies unfold and to awaken your senses to serve only you. Maybe you can ask your partner if they want to join in on the experiment, or share your plan and see if they naturally want to follow your lead. I wouldn’t be surprised if after a few months, you —alone or in a partnership — feel the desire to redecorate your bedroom in a way that reflects and serves your burgeoning sensuality, like I did.

top photo via Pexels/Burst

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Galla Barrett is a cultural researcher and strategist with a keen interest in all things that shape our relationships, with Self and others, things and brands.  Catch her Tuesday's through Thursdays on the live stream of sparks & honey's Cultural Briefings or in class at the Brooklyn Yoga School. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @agathamagma.

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