How I Learned to Stop Worrying (and Love the Porn)

In honor of today’s discussion about smut (join us today at The Ethical Society from 11:00 to 1:00!), I’m going to reprint an essay I wrote back in December of 2010.


by Johnny Murdoc

When I moved in with my partner, I did something unthinkable: I stopped masturbating. Though we’d been sexually active before we moved in together, I still masturbated occasionally, and, at 21, I needed to orgasm more than once a week. Still, I felt bad when I did it—almost like it was a betrayal of our relationship, and I promised myself that I’d stop when we moved in together.

The Zen of Whacking Off

And I did—almost.

That first year, I masturbated exactly five times. I remember the number specifically because it felt like such a huge deal. If jerking off in the early months of our relationship was a betrayal, doing it while we lived together felt like treason. As a cost-saving measure, we’d passed on getting an Internet connection, so my access to pornography had greatly decreased. I had one book of erotic stories and a CD of porn films that I’d held onto, but guilt kept me from enjoying either of them. The few times I did masturbate, it was only because I felt like I’d explode otherwise.

Eventually, I began to realize that I was restraining myself from an activity that I’d been enjoying for years. I put all that frustration on myself because I was afraid to talk to my partner about something that impacted our sex life—and doing so made things worse, not better.

When we’re young, masturbation is how we explore our own sexuality. Jerking off is how we learn to get ourselves off—physically and mentally—and develop the habits that become the foundation of arousal later in life. We maintain the practice throughout adulthood, but many feel the need to curb self-gratification upon entering a long-term, meaningful relationship. In The Guide to Getting it On (now in its 11th printing from Goofy Foot Press), however, Paul Joannides writes, “Contrary to what you might think, (masturbation) will sometimes play an important role in relationships even when the sex between you and your partner is totally satisfying.”

During the early days of a relationship, it’s easy forget why you ever needed to touch yourself, but masturbation isn’t a replacement for sex—it’s a different kind of sex. There’s no reason to lose that connection because you have a sexual partner. Masturbation can be relaxing, fun and an efficient stress reliever.

It can also take the edge off when one partner is in the mood and the other is not. It’s important to discuss comfort zones with your partner. For some, masturbation may be something that is only acceptable when one partner is home alone, while others may have no problem knowing that their partner is jerking off upstairs while they catch up with their Netflix queue downstairs.

Jerking off shouldn’t be reserved just for alone time, though. Most people have a well-developed set of sensitivities and sexual triggers. Watching your partner pull those triggers for him/herself can provide a valuable framework for how you should proceed. Watching your partner masturbate can be a great way to learn about how they like to be touched. Seeing what kind of pressure they apply, the speed of their gestures, how they breathe, and what and where they touch is not only a body map of their erogenous zones, but a how-to manual as well. Added bonus: It’s sexy as hell.

Porn Again

Like jerking off, porn had been an early casualty of our moving in together, but one night, before Evan and I were due at a friend’s party, we started watching Bruce LaBruce’s agit-porn film Raspberry Reich. We hadn’t sought the film out because it was pornographic, but it does feature several scenes of un-simulated sex—both straight and gay. We spent a good portion of the movie dry humping on the couch, and although we made a very serious attempt to watch the entire thing, the minute the credits started to roll, we were undressing one another.

We were late to the party.

Shortly thereafter, we made the leap to watching porn films, both together and alone. It’s not that we were sexually unfulfilled. We didn’t need that movie, or any of the ones that came after it, to reignite our sex life. For us, porn wasn’t a substitution—it was value added.

It excites me to know that my partner is turned on. Seeing the way his breath changes; the way his muscles tense ramps up my own arousal like a perpetual feedback loop. Watching porn with him gives me the chance to learn what moves and sounds and ideas cause his toes to flex; things I might not have thought of on my own; things he may not have thought to tell me, but are clear by the way his body reacts to the video stimulus.

Porn can also be a great outlet for testing new waters. If you’re interested in a kink, but unsure how your partner will respond to it, you can share a video that exhibits the kink in a way that is safely constrained to the actors on screen, without the pressure of directly asking your partner to partake in it. As sex educator Tristan Taormino says: “The thing about erotica and porn that can be really good is that it gives singles or couples a window into different worlds. Often, I think it can actually help you communicate with your partner. I’ve heard from people that they just don’t know how to say something, but if they see it in a movie they could say, ‘Honey, I want to do that.’ ”

Sharing porn with your partner doesn’t have to be limited to renting dirty movies. Porn comes in many forms. Those who are uncomfortable with movies may have more luck with erotic comics or short-story collections. If your partner is turned on by sexy talk, imagine curling up in bed and reading a dirty story while he masturbates (or while you make him refrain from touching himself until your hands are free as well.) Violet Blue’s The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn (an excellent book for men as well) provides a ton of information on finding porn to suit your personal tastes, and also offers provocative suggestions for games couples can play while enjoying erotica a deux.

Deus XXX Machina

When I’m alone, porn allows me to exercise my erotic imagination and step out of my own personal experience in a way that is safe and clearly within boundaries that my partner and I have set for one another. We’ve made a choice to remain monogamous, so we sometimes use porn is as a sort of pressure release valve. It’s a given that we’re not going to share all of the same sexual interests, or be able to fulfill all of each others’ sexual needs. Porn fills the gaps between his interests and mine. It allows us to experiment with our attraction to people outside of our own relationship, without engaging with them directly in a way that violates our boundaries, as we’ve made the distinction that engaging with others live, either through chat or webcam, is off-limits.

Like every other aspect of sex in American culture, porn is shrouded in misinformation, kneejerk morality, and misguided emotions. Surveys and news stories about how porn destroys relationships are rampant, but nearly all fail to mention that what really dooms the relationships in question is lack of communication. Porn is just like every other tool in our sexual arsenal: With proper communication, consideration and consent, it can play an enjoyable and informative roll in a couple’s sex life.

I lost out on a lot of great orgasms the first year my partner and I lived together because I believed I was supposed to stop masturbating. I made that choice because I was following someone else’s rules—instead of building our relationship in terms of what worked for us. I can safely say that our sex life is better now because I duck into the office when he’s not home to jerk off. When I do, I may just download a film for the two of us to watch when he gets back—or print out a dirty story to read him at bedtime.

Posted in Johnny Murdoc, masturbation, porn, sex education, sex positive, sex positive media.