The first time I looked at porn was in sixth grade, in my friend Jordan’s unfinished basement on a dusty desktop computer. He typed in the exhilarating URL, Playboy.com, and to this day an image of a brunette with massive breasts posed in such a way she might have been smelling her own armpit remains emblazoned upon my hippocampus.
After shrieking with carefully fabricated delight at the forbidden treasures we’d shared together on screen, I began running around Jordan’s basement like a frenzied chimpanzee, before deciding to fold out the basement couch into a bed, position cushions between us so we couldn’t see one another, and suggest we hump the mattress vigorously to see what would happen. Naturally, Jordan being someone I’d forced to play “Romeo and Juliet” with me for years, I took a peek over the pillow mound and became wildly more entertained by his clenching and unclenching gluteus than I had been by the Playmate of the Month, someone I believe to have been christened Jasmynne Tastee.
The years went by, and as my involuntary celibacy made itself known more exponentially with each passing month, within the dank, Pottery Barn Teen-decorated confines of my bedroom I was having a regular Bacchanal every night. I’d pretend I was trying to gain an artistic understanding of the ‘human figure’ and spend hours drawing pictures of glistening men from Armani and Gucci ad campaigns, their bulges threatening to make them topple over headfirst, and then, when I could wait no longer, I’d enter the world of adult cinema. On the welcome screen for xhamster.com there were icons to click upon: a busty blonde in a nurse uniform, or a beefy bodybuilder in camo cargo shorts, cracking his knuckles. I’d gaze longingly at his veiny neck and, with determined resignation, click on the woman, whom I can only assume was also a waitress at a suburban Los Angeles Applebee’s.
So it went, all through high school: scouring hours of straight porn to find one video where the guy had nice arms and the angle let you see his butt and lats. It wasn’t until senior year that I finally allowed myself to indulge in man-on-man action, but once I had I was ravenous: a connoisseur in all fields: “Punishing His Daughter’s Boyfriend,” “Real Straight Guys Tricked Into Gay Sex With Blindfolds,” “Randy Will Do Anything To Pay His Wedding Expenses... Even Fist Me.”
I recount this pornographic history because it’s remained a prevalent phantom in my life to this day, and, when I’ve asked around, appears to be an omnipresent hypnotist to everyone I know. I’ve watched porn in hotel bathrooms while friends and family relax unknowingly in beds just feet away; witnessed Johnny get punished by the prison warden on my phone while Okja played simultaneously on my computer; seen the Mormon twink get a special baptism from a team of Elders instead of going to my friend’s birthday party. I couldn’t help but wonder: am I addicted?
I decided a detox might be in order, and gave a tearful farewell to my friends Balding Baseball Coach, Roommate’s Older Brother, and Confused Delivery Boy before shutting my laptop and stepping bravely into the real world. It was possible I was losing interest in tangible men in favor of fantastical digital lovers, sure, but I was determined to bring the friskiness off of searching “Weird Uncle” on PornHub and into the boudoir of a living, breathing human.
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A good place to start, I reckoned, was getting my butthole waxed. The choice came in the wake of several men on Grindr critiquing the fact my rear orifice did not, strangely, resemble a tiny, lavender little twinkling raisin, but rather a great forested ravine—a consequence of unreal body hair expectations created by porn, I reasoned. While I certainly wasn’t removing hair for the pleasure of men who’d commanded that I should, I thought it might be a nice improvement in the quality of my life, both sex and poop-wise.
What I hadn’t accounted for was the pain and mortification in getting the front side of my pubic region waxed as well. I hadn’t intended to go Brazilian, but I was in Los Angeles at the time, and, like Carrie getting mugged of all her pubes by that grunting Russian cosmetician, so I, too, found myself powerless to stop 75-year-old Nadia from stripping me bare. Except in my case, the process was not slow and sudden, but excruciatingly painful. Nadia invited me into a small West Hollywood apartment with pink gauze draped all across the ceiling and tentatively commanded I kneel upon a pleather daybed with my forehead pressed toward the floor, muttering under her breath how little she liked to see male genitalia. She barked for me to pull my cheeks apart, then gazed down at my outstretched crack with a sigh, mumbling with unconcealed disappointment: “That’s very...” before beginning a violent hacking at my lower regions with hot wax and sticky paper.
Instead of looking like a well-endowed young porn star with a name like Axel or Brann, however, I looked like the 9-year-old offspring of an alien and a Velociraptor. Still, determined to be liberated, not humiliated, by the pornification of my body, I accepted the invitation of an old flame, Nate, to meet up for a reconciliatory drink after he’d abruptly said he was “uncomfortable ever seeing me again” months before. I wasn’t going to let scripted scenes of all-American boys sleeping with casting agents to get the part fulfill my intimacy quota any longer. I would bring screwed up power dynamics out of my phone screen and into my real experiences or bust!
I was still on my porn hiatus that night, and while it had proven monstrously difficult, I was beginning to feel less cloudy and zombie-like and determined it should continue. I was to meet Nate for drinks after a play I was seeing with friends, and had really wanted to masturbate before meeting up with him so as to prevent finishing too quickly during our inevitable reunion sex. I’d gone straight from work to the theater, and in a moment of desperation, I regrettably found myself squatted in the farthest stall from the door in the men’s room of a respectable Lower East Side center for the dramatic arts, not daring to even breathe too loudly as I stroked myself to the sound of an intercom explaining, “The show will begin in 10 minutes.”
I approached Nate and I’s rendez vous bar later that night with my heart aflutter. Here was a man who’d scorned me and made me feel terrible, about to get on his knees and beg my forgiveness. I stepped into the threshold of the date spot—yuppies huddled over flickering candles, staring at their phones conspiratorially. And there he was, waiting for me, smiling, telling me I looked great, not knowing I’d brought myself to climax in a public restroom for his sake two hours prior. We sat down and talked for about two minutes before, suddenly, and without explanation, he took a long look at me and said, “I don’t really want a drink anymore.”
“Oh... do you want to go somewhere else?” I suggested, caught off guard. He nodded, slunk out of our sticky booth and outside into the humid Manhattan summer night.
“So where do you want to go? Corner Bistro? Benny’s?”
“I’m actually going to go home,” he said, refusing to meet my gaze. I asked if he wanted company, but he shook his head. I was rattled. We hadn’t even been together five minutes. He gave me a light hug, and before I could even comprehend what had occurred he’d strolled away down 9th Avenue.
I stood on the curb for a few moments, my jaw slack with shock. This wouldn’t have happened in porn—instead, Nate would’ve pulled me into the bathroom, or invited some friends to come take turns humping me, or turned out to have been a school principal and made me beg to pass the 12th grade. I stumbled off the brightly lit avenue onto a quiet side street, slumping onto a nearby stoop and hanging my head in my hands, willing some hot West Village man walking up to their apartment to see the distraught, frail little twink with hair like steel wool on their steps and invite it up for a glass of wine and an erotic massage. But that only happens in porn.
I began to think: obviously, we like porn because it’s an escape from the crushing reality of our lonely and disappointing sex lives, but are we also all so drawn to it because it’s the one sexual partner guaranteed not to hurt us and ditch out on a date after chatting for barely two minutes? In the days after that wild evening, in which I broke my public masturbation virginity and broke the record for the shortest date in New York history, I was highly tempted to return to the comforting halls of PornHub. But I still haven’t broken my streak. Maybe I’m afraid once I start watching again I’ll never stop. Maybe I don’t want to go back to that moment right after finishing, when the video of the tattooed doctor and his eager nurse is still playing, and I find myself staring at the ceiling, full of shame and disgust. Or maybe, just maybe, I still have some hope that real fantasy might be out there, waiting for me to put down my screen.
Sex and the Shitty is Associate Editor Hilton Dresden's column on sex, bowels and navigating the exhausting complexities of early adulthood in New York City. Dresden's regular reflections also serve as a shrine and humble servant to the iconic '90s show helmed by Our Lord and Savior Sarah Jessica Parker.