Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Question: I watch a lot of porn that I am not that interested in acting out in reality. Am I just in denial about what I'm aroused to?
After viewing your browser history, are you worried that you unconsciously desire to actually have sex with a nun in clown makeup in the backseat of your mother’s 1983 station wagon? Rest assured, this is a common concern stemming from myths and confusion surrounding sexual fantasies and identity.
Exposing yourself to sexually explicit materials like pornography and erotic literature is an excellent way to explore your sexual interests and preferences. What do you find arousing? What catches your eye? What tingles your genitals? What porn genres do you routinely click on: Threesomes? Public? Monastery?
But before I start addressing your concern directly, I want to first explore the likely cultural origins of your distress. We live in a sexual culture that is very black and white; it’s all or nothing. Either you’re gay or hetero; male or female; an “ass man” or a “boob man;” either you like having peanut butter licked off of you or you don’t.
It’s this categorical, social construction of sexuality that does not recognize the gray area where most of us truly live. And this is where the distress comes from. If you identify as a heterosexual cis man and are currently in a relationship with a femme-presenting, blonde, 21-year-old cis woman, what does it mean for you if you find yourself aroused to a more masculine-presenting, dark-haired, 60-year-old cis woman? Or aroused to the thought of receiving anal sex from a strap-on dildo that is attached to someone named Sadie the Sadist? Or having an anonymous sexual encounter with a pair of Uggs?
It doesn't necessarily have to mean anything.
These arousing thoughts and fantasies are often concerning because it challenges our unnecessarily rigid sexual identity. A hetero man can still identify as hetero if they find a video of a masturbating man arousing. A kinky person can still identify as kinky even though 80% of their masturbatory fantasies are of sexual behaviors approved of by the Catholic Church.
Although some may try, no one has the right to define, gate keep, or police your sexual identity.
So my challenge to you is to accept your arousal pattern for what it is. You can’t dictate what gets you sexually excited, much like you can’t control whether you enjoy chocolate ice cream more than vanilla (or strawberry if you're a weirdo).
And for your initial question, just because you are aroused by a fantasy you encounter in porn, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are destined to act on those fantasies. It is very common for people to become aroused by the thought of anonymous sex, group sex with an entire frat or sorority, or masturbating during a Harry Styles concert. But the reality of that behavior may not fit into one’s behavioral sexual needs, values, or relational boundaries, and therefore can be something enjoyed solely in fantasy.
There are many reasons why a sexually arousing fantasy may not lead to actual behavior. It may be too physically risky to your health (barebacking 100 strangers), illegal and unethical (digging a grave to touch a corpse's scrotum), or simply impractical or unlikely (getting peed on by the entire cast of Season 23 of The Bachelor).
But in fantasy, everything is physically healthy, legal, and practical. The reality may destroy this sexual utopia, so that's why someone may not be inclined to act on their fantasy.
So despite living in a black and white culture, you can live in the gray area comfortably if it is congruent with your sexual arousal and values. You don’t have to label it; just be honest with yourself and know your browser history isn't a precursor to your behavior or necessarily evidence of your sexual identity. So in other words, keep enjoying that nun clown porn without shame.