Opposites Distract: What Happens When Your Partner and You Can’t Agree on the Choice of Porn?

Love and Sex

Opposites Distract: What Happens When Your Partner and You Can’t Agree on the Choice of Porn?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

I

t’s a truth universally acknowledged that try as she might, a young woman can never quite forget her first pyaar. And her first porn film. Or, if we’re being brutally honest, porn clip. Because I’m yet to meet a woman who sat through more than a few seconds of the awkward negotiation of elbows and limbs that makes up the vast quantity of mediocre free porn available on the world wide web, before turning beet red and changing channels abruptly or closing the window hastily. The first time you watch porn is a lot like the first time you have sex — it’s underwhelming and over so quickly, you wonder what the fuss was all about, anyway.

I still vividly remember my first tryst with audio-visual erotica. I was 13, and still guffawing at humour that basically boiled down to someone uttering Homo Erectus in science class or Ms Irani mispronouncing the name of the Pennine mountain ranges in geography. And I was averaging about one Mills & Boon a week, which obviously meant I was the leading authority on all things sexual in my class of 28 girls.

But nothing could have prepared me for the 440 volts ka jhatka that my system received the night I first stumbled upon actual, motion picture porn. The year was 2000, and I had just finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. My heart was in a million pieces after Cedric Diggory’s sorrowful death. Unable to sleep, I sneaked out of bed and tiptoed to the TV room. And there it was, on channel number 32, in all its scandalous glory. An abnormally well-built naked man with a chef’s hat and a questionably proportioned young woman in a torn waitress’ uniform doing things that would definitely be a health code violation in any commercial kitchen. My eyes became the size of saucers as I saw the woman, with her rippling blond hair and breasts that pointed resolutely north, offering up an orifice that I had so far believed was only meant to eject stuff, not erm, admit into the body a male organ as big as a baby’s arm. If I am very quiet and concentrate hard, I can still hear the clack-thwack-clack of his coin purse against her curple. Shudder.

I must have seen the “blue film” (that’s what we called it back then) for less than a minute, but I felt a thousand years old as I clambered back in bed. Nothing seemed to look right. I had seen several penises by then — India has no dearth of dirty old men flashing their equipment at terrified young girls — but never one that looked like a baby cobra standing at attention.

The shock waned, eventually, as is wont. In the two decades between then and now, I’ve seen dozens of different porn films of varying lengths and types. There’s been a lot of sex too, of course. Some good and some spectacular, but most of it the mediocre kind. But in my heart of hearts, I’m still someone who wants her escape erotica to look like the M&B version from her teenage years. Gentle, loving, slow and sensuous, punctuated with long, lingering pauses filled with anticipation. Where the hero patiently waits, in case the heroine is unsure about taking things to the next step. Porn that looks like enthusiastic, consensual sex between two (or more) people; not a violent exchange of body fluids between bodies that look like plastic. Affirmative consent is so, so hot.

My partner, unfortunately, belongs to the other end of the porno spectrum. He likes his porn to be brutal; the more depraved it is, the better he enjoys it. Ironically, he got to be that way because he’s a big believer in monogamy — sex without emotion holds no appeal for him. Which is why he’s spent many years of his life as voluntarily celibate. He’d rather watch porn to relieve sexual tension than hook up with a stranger. And while I’m overjoyed with his disinterest in casual sex as a partner, the flip side is that he’s spent over two decades burrowing deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole that is internet porn. If you can imagine it, it exists.

He’s watched everything — from animal porn (although he assures me that was idle curiosity, not actual sexual interest) to double penetrations. From threesomes to gang bangs and orgies. From bondage to masochism. From porn organised on the basis of the female star’s age/race/nationality/colour of hair/size of individual parts of her anatomy to that which is categorised according to the level of violence in the acts being performed on the women starring in it. From webcams to virtual reality, and everything in between. And all of it have one thing in common: absolute devotion to helping men achieve orgasm. To the point where women are treated less like people and more like props meant to facilitate male pleasure. Every time he describes the things he’s seen, I feel the need to lie down. We couldn’t have been more different if we’d tried.

My partner, unfortunately, belongs to the other end of the porno spectrum. He likes his porn to be brutal; the more depraved it is, the better he enjoys it.

There’s enough research out there making compelling cases for both — how watching porn together can positively impact a relationship, as well as how it can destroy a couple. Regardless of what the research says, like most modern couples in long-term relationships, we’ve watched porn together. When the sex starts becoming a little too routine, when we’re separated by continents, and sometimes just because we’re lazy, and it’s easier than foreplay.

Except, it’s really not, when you’re sulking at opposite ends of the continuum.

Far be it from me to judge anyone’s search history on PornHub, but it’s impossible to feign nonchalance when you’re watching porn that makes your sexual plumbing collapse on itself and put out the “permanently closed for business” sign. Especially when you know that your partner’s fantasies involve you and him enacting what you’re seeing on screen. It’s incredibly difficult to not flinch when your feeble heart is watching a woman on her haunches, with a leash around her neck. And then there is that niggling doubt — how does a self-proclaimed feminist who otherwise shows every indication of respecting women enjoy their sexual debasement? I know it’s supposed to be a harmless fantasy, but to me it seems a lot like legitimising cultural violence.

Our attempts to watch porn together have led to many hilarious moments — like the time we tried to mimic them, but ended up on the floor with a bump on his head and bruise on my butt because I kept starting and squirming at the goings on onscreen. Or the time we ended up having to replace a laptop ruined by a lubrication misadventure.

And we’ve had some sullen fights. His prurient porn makes me feel faint, while my natural, sex-positive selections bore him to death. “It’s just plain sex, what we already do,” he’s complained on more than one occasion. Thankfully, his biology betrays him; mine doesn’t.

Most of the times we watch something he’s picked out, I go to bed wearing a nightgown that would make a Victorian grandmother proud. It’s not a power-play — I find the idea of withholding sex as some kind of “punishment” abhorrent and unhealthy — but there’s little that can be done if I’m dry as a desert and even the sight of his boner won’t do nothing to change that. But when we watch something I’ve picked out, even if he finds it boring, vanilla and yawn-worthy, his schlong will spring to action within seconds of realising I’m hot, bothered, and desperate for some action.

Over time, we’ve made some compromises to accommodate each other’s preferences. I’ll watch his borderline misogynist selections, and he’s grudgingly come to accept that the script of our hypothetical adult film will always read less like “choke me, daddy” and more “Ask me for my consent baby, ask me for my consent really hard.”

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