“I used to race home to have sex with my wife,” says Perry, a 41-year-old lawyer. “Now I leave work a half-hour early so I can get home before she does and masturbate to porn.” Throughout the course of our conversation, Perry insists that he’s still attracted to his wife of twelve years. Still, he says, she can’t quite measure up to the porn stars he views online. “Not to be mean, but they’re younger, hotter, and wilder in the sack than my wife,” he says. “Me and her, we still ‘do it’ and everything, but instead of every day, it’s maybe once a week. It’s like I’ve got this ‘other woman’ … and the ‘other woman’ is porn.”
Ron, 27, an architecture student, met his girlfriend when they were both undergrads. She goes to school in another city, and Ron says that for the past couple of years, he’s had weekly “dates” with his favorite porn stars, which he looks forward to all day and even showers and shaves for, as though preparing for a live-action rendezvous. “Mondays are for Gia Jordan,” he says. “Tuesdays for Sasha Grey.” Wednesdays he has a reprieve—a Portuguese night class. “I always look forward to Thursdays the most—Kasey Kox,” he says. “Then, on the weekends, I hang out with my girlfriend.” Occasionally, when he returns to his apartment on Sundays, Ron explains, he roams the web looking for candidates to spend time with on Wednesday nights in case he has leftover energy after his language class. “I don’t like to believe that porn is replacing anything I have with my girlfriend,” he says, “but I’ve always loved sex, and I’ve always had a lot of it, so I really had to stop and think about it when she asked me recently why she always has to be the one to initiate things. And she was right; I guess I’ve been fading from her. It’s like all that time with these porn stars was subduing any physical desire for my girlfriend. And, in some weird way, my emotional need for her, too.”
“I used to race home to have sex with my wife. Now I leave work early so I can get home before she does and masturbate.”
Is it possible that porn is causing men to detach from their partners in more profound ways? Though porn research is the subject of much debate and barb-flinging (with religious groups seizing on any study to prove that porn and masturbation are wrong), scientists speculate that a dopamine-oxytocin combo is released in the brain during orgasm, acting as a “biochemical love potion,” as behavioral therapist Andrea Kuszewski calls it. It’s the reason after having sex with someone, you’re probably more inclined to form an emotional attachment. But you don’t have to actually have sex in order to get those neurotransmitters firing. When you watch porn, “you’re bonding with it,” Kuszewski says. “And those chemicals make you want to keep coming back to have that feeling.” Which allows men not only to get off on porn but to potentially develop a neurological attachment to it. They can, in essence, date porn.
And as tripod-in-the-corner porn evolves into a high-def wonderland, our grasp on whether we’re watching sex or actually having sex may, with the help of oxytocin, loosen. Many of the men I interviewed spoke of the charge they get from watching their favorite porn actresses. But they also had a tendency to describe the act of watching porn as though it were a real sex act they had participated in—making their emotional investment in porn all the more concrete. “I love when Kasey [Kox] is fully clothed and smiling at me from her bed, or I’m doing her from behind,” says Ron, the architecture student. “I get one glimpse of Kasey and I’m so turned on. I get dizzy.”
All of which raises an interesting question: How does having sometimes flaccid, sometimes faked, oftentimes dizzied sex impact the partners on the receiving end? Sadie, 29, a real-estate agent in Boston, quotes performance artist Nicole Blackman to make her point: “ ‘There is no glory in trying to make love to men who only know how to fuck—man after man after man after man raised on porn.’ There have been times in the past,” Sadie continues, “when I would be with someone and thinking, Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck kind of stupid porn have you been watching? Did you just smack my kitty? Dumbass!”
“There’s a failure to distinguish between porn reality and reality reality,” says Monika, 27. “One guy kept shouting at me, ‘Ride the cock, ride the cock!’ I was laughing so hard we had to stop.”
As a result of the blending of reality and fantasy, some women have chosen to willingly play along by a new set of rules in order to keep their men interested: They’re intentionally impersonating porn stars. Sadie, the real-estate agent, says, “A lot of guys have come to expect P.S.E. [the “Porn-Star Experience”] as a common thing—snatches waxed bald, access to every hole—and plenty of women are more than happy to provide. A few might enjoy it, but for most it’s harrowing. I think there’s a fear that if they can’t make it happen, their boyfriend will retreat online.”