From three provinces away, I talk with my friend Sebastien about the time he first discovered porn.
“Tell me about how you learned about sex. What was your relationship with it as you were growing up?” I begin.
In the years that I’ve been friends with Sebastien, I’ve known him as someone extremely liberal and comfortably open about his sexuality. I always assumed that this stems from a childhood of open communication about sex. That’s why his reply starts out much more complicated than I anticipate.
“Umm, hmm. [Long pause.] That’s a difficult question, because when I first hear the question I think about, ‘Tell me when you first learned about sex in the way that adults understand sex,’ you know what I mean? And it’s all a blurry, weird flinging around of random bits of information up until then.”
He gives me a series of fractured memories—small but noteworthy moments that contributed to his adolescent understanding of sex.
Once, when he was ten years old, another boy his age decided to pass on some wisdom.
“[He was] a really edgy guy who was my age, but kind of older than me in a way,” Sebastien describes him.
The two boys were biking together when Sebastien’s friend told him, “There’s two kinds of sex, okay? You gotta know: there’s vaginal sex, and there’s angel sex.”
More memories: Sebastien recalls seeing music videos as a young kid, watching as the dancers moved their hips, and, unable to understand his body’s responses, wondering, “What is happening to me?”
But Sebastien first encountered raw, uncensored sexuality when he was eleven years old. That was the year he discovered porn.
“How did you discover it?” I ask.
“I don’t even remember honestly, I actually don’t. I just remember discovering it,” he muses. “The thing is, you’re eleven, so you just find this one website, and it’s like you’re in the desert and this is an oasis of weird feelings.” He pauses, then adds, “It was really niche too.”
“What niche?” I press.
He considers whether or not to tell me for a moment. “Well, okay, fuck it. I don’t care,” he laughs. He describes a very specific genre of porn that depicted women engaged in masturbatory sessions of anal play using everyday household objects like bananas or golf balls. As an eleven-year-old boy, Sebastien had no clue that there were other pornographic websites. He felt like he had hit a strange jackpot, one that blessed him with the gift of free sexual stimulation, but also cursed him with a myriad of secret shames.
“I remember, as a person that declared himself an atheist at five years old, feeling so guilty that I was going, ‘Please, Jesus, I don’t even know if you’re real, but hear me.’ And I had no religious upbringing, I don’t know what that was…Something felt so wrong about what was happening that I didn’t even need to have a religious upbringing, I was just like, ‘Jesus can save me.'”
Fortunately, Sebastien grew out of this shame quickly, but he and I go back and forth for a while, debating what factors might have led to the intense sense of shame that he experienced. He has had other conversations with friends who had similar, non-religious upbringings, and all report experiencing feelings of shame when they started masturbating or watching porn. We theorize that this shame must stem from a lack of information. Even for a child like Sebastien, who had never even heard the word “porn” before he encountered pornography, the sheer absence of knowledge he had about the subject and about his physiological response to it was enough to inform him that he had stumbled across something taboo.
I ask Sebastien if he still seeks out this particular brand of porn.
“You mean, is that my thing now?” He jokes. He informs me that his tastes have broadened since then. He still likes anal sex, but not when it is limited to golf balls or bananas.
Thanks for all your honesty Sebastien! As always, it was a treat talking to you!
Image by Ayman Nasar via Pexels