This is a tough one to write, because I think it's always hard for people to talk about "what they do on the Web" behind closed doors and out of sight. At least, no one I know -- even close friends who seem open about just about everything -- don't talk about their Web surfing much, and never about sex sites. [Some people do talk quite regularly about their various adventures on the web and on porn sites. Depends on the individual and often on how "out" they are -- Bill.]
I'm a 45-year-old gay male and most likely have watched no more and no less gay porn over the years than the average gay male (if there is such a thing), going way back to VHS tapes. But I've seen the variety of sex acts portrayed in gay porn expand wildly over that time, and especially in the last few years on the Internet. Some of what I see if highly disturbing to me and seems to cause a great deal of guilt and even depression because I feel, on some level, that it's really wrong for anyone to be filming these things, making money from it, and enjoying the watching of it.
Let me say at the outset that I don't make value judgments about ordinary people doing what they want to sexually in the privacy of their bedrooms, with consent, or even in clubs as long as no one is forced to do anything they didn't sign up for. Specifically, bondage and S&M aren't something that bother me if people are doing it because they enjoy it and they're genuinely making a choice that that is what gives them pleasure.[I agree.]
But I see larger and larger numbers of movies, and clips of movies, available online that truly involve brutal presentations of sexual-related acts in which guys clearly are in pain or extreme discomfort. The envelope is being pushed more and more each year and I think everyone knows it. These kinds of videos are mostly online -- I haven't seen many in stores. (Of course, I realize there are many straight videos like these and that this is not a gay phenomenon.)
Anyone browsing through free gay porn sites, I think, would not need explanation of what these videos entail, but they often portray quite young guys (who often look much younger) being tied up and subjected to various violent treatment and abuse (if that's the correct word) that, in the non-porn-production world, would be classified as assault, battery, torture, even rape. [Definitely sounds pretty creepy.]
I'm writing not merely to express dismay over what's increasingly being hawked for money by the porn industry, but to admit that I've developed a fascination and attraction to some of this stuff -- and it really bothers me and makes me feel pretty awful about myself. [Is it really this porn that makes you feel awful, or something deeper, some negative feelings you have about yourself that this porn brings out?]
It seems to me that people can get pleasure out of other people who are also getting pleasure, or seeing other people in pain. Our minds are complicated, and it doesn't take viewings of "Star Wars" episodes to realize that everyone has very good sides and very dark sides, and definite temptations to give in to the latter. I remember in high school English class our teacher asked us to give our personal definition of evil, and the best I could come up with was feeling pleasure at the pain of another. Now, folks in S&M probably would strongly disagree that they are anything close to evil, but that doesn't change the fact that watching these things is clearly both enticing to me but repellent, and I come away from them every time feeling sorry that I did watch.
If I were giving advice like you, I'd probably say, "You can't do anything about changing the porn industry or what happens to these actors. There are complicated reasons why people enjoy S&M, or bondage, and complicated reasons why these young actors get involved in porn. The only thing you can do is control your own actions and avoid videos that make you feel bad about your choices."
I think that would be good advice, [Yes!] and I'm trying now to make some pragmatic choices that would put that into effect. I actually set up a porn filter on my laptop that screens out sex sites, because I was spending way too much time on such things. Also, I found a porn addiction message board on the Web and registered, though frankly I don't know if I will be posting on it.
I guess my big worry is that I'll eventually just chuck the porn filter and go back to my old ways -- "binging" on sites that seem wrong to me, then feeling guilty and horrible, but perhaps not guilty enough to stop. And then wondering what all this says about my own values and ethics. I mean, in all other spheres of my life I think of myself as moral and kind and helpful to people. (I did used to talk about this with my therapist, who is now actually my ex-therapist, but he seemed somewhat clueless about it all. Not very familiar with these kinds of Web sites and clips, he thought that no one really feels pain in them and that all the actors are just faking. But surely the pain is often very real -- I mean, it's what the audience demands and the studios provide, right?) [I don't have all the answers to that, but you have to remember that you are not the one inflicting pain on these people.]
I know there's no simple answer to all this, but I wanted to know your general thoughts on the subject, how you view the Internet and how it can change people, and if you have any advice.
Thanks for your time, Bill
You raise a large number of issues. I did a post on this a few years back called Brutal Gay Porn but I have some other thoughts today. I confess I have not watched any of these brutal gay porn movies, and probably wouldn't want to. Are the actors actually in pain, or just pretending? I guess it's the difference between hard core and soft core, where in the former the participants are actually having sex, and in the latter they're just play-acting. Since people can be quite realistically and graphically dismembered and murdered in horror films, I imagine it's relatively easy to fake some S&M material, as well as pain and torture, in a porn film. [While I have no moral objections as such to either pornography or prostitution, I do know that, sadly, some people selling their bodies either on the street or having sex in front of a camera are desperate and perhaps being exploited as well.]
But I have to say that torture and rape are not part of any S&M community that I know. Now you're getting more into CSI and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit than Star Wars -- I mean this isn't "kink," it's sick and criminal behavior. At the same time, if perfectly normal people can enjoy graphic violence in horror and action films, it's also possible that it's not abnormal to enjoy it in porn movies, although most people would not find it very sexy. You're watching [hopefully] phony recreations of aberrant acts, not participating in them.
The deeper issue is what does enjoying degradation -- either your own or someone else's -- say about a person's sense of self-worth. All I can tell you is that members of the S&M/kink/fetish community have special needs and interests and look at things quite differently from the rest of us. When it comes to gay men, does self-hatred, which leads to hatred of other gay men or hatred of gay activity, have something to do with the obsession with hurting and degrading other men (or being "victim" of same)? You're right that gay members of the S&M community would probably object most strongly. Still most of the members of that community I've met are less interested in giving or enjoying another's pain than they are in role-playing -- the whole bondage and discipline and master/slave bit. [Undoubtedly many find that distasteful -- who would want to be a slave -- but in most cases it's mostly for extra titillation and never goes too far.]
If you think you're spending too much time watching these movies and especially if they make you feel bad about yourself, substitute something that won't create those negative feelings. It could be some deep-rooted internalized homophobia, shame or guilt over being gay, that might make you enjoy stuff in which men are brutalized and degraded. Only a gay or gay-friendly therapist can help you get to the root of it, and it's something you might consider if you find you can't stop watching the stuff and it only makes you feel worse and worse.
Lastly, as for how the Internet can change people, well, it can certainly provide lots of fodder for fetishes -- healthy and less so -- of all kinds, and mini-communities of people who are into all sorts of shit [literally, some times]. In some cases this can help people feel less strange and alone, but sometimes it only makes a bad situation worse by feeding the fetish until it overtakes everything else. Again, a therapist can help in the latter cases.