Why Do We Still Feel the Need to Clear Our Porn History?

We all do it. Maybe not all the time but I can’t lie; whenever I watch porn on my laptop or phone, I’m careful to delete all porn from my browser history.

But why?

Speaking for myself, I can give a few reasons, but I think the biggest is a fear of being found out. It’s weird, because surely we’re past that as a society, right? We all know that porn exists and we know that we’ve all consumed it. It’s become a lot more of a normalised topic.

And even more to the point, I talk about sex with the people in my life all the time, and those conversations include porn. But even still, the fear of a close friend or my boyfriend randomly opening up my phone and finding a porn video I’d watched earlier that week, makes me feel uncomfy inside.

“A lot of people can struggle with internalised stigma about the types of scenarios and sex they enjoy watching in porn, and it can be helpful to spend time reflecting on where those feelings come from and finding ways to approach your desires and curiosities with more empathy,” certified sex coach Georgia Grace tells POPSUGAR Australia.

“As a culture, we’re also still in the early stages of learning how to have conversations about porn and desire, so it can be a disconnect between how we feel internally, and having the words and phrases to convey that to others.”

This definitely rings true for me. I’ve never learnt how to communicate and share openly about the things I liked to watch in porn, because it’s always felt forbidden, like this dirty secret that would be too exposing to share.

“The fear of being judged for what turns you on or interests you can be a really powerful blocker of conversations — whether with partners, friends, or professionals we speak to.

“We still fear that someone else will ‘yuck our yum’, and judge the things that we’re curious about seeing.”

I think that there’s also an element of not wanting to explain your desires to people. For example, I identify as bisexual, but I very rarely enjoy watching hetero sex in porn. I much prefer lesbian porn, queer porn or same-sex porn because for me, it feels more realistic.

Although I don’t feel any shame necessarily attached to my desires and what turns me on, I don’t want to have to explain it to anyone either, because I don’t want my sexuality to be questioned.

Many people see porn as a direct reflection of what we actually like in the bedroom, but that isn’t always the case. But then, would it matter if it was?

“The type of porn we enjoy, and who we are as people / friends / partners — are totally different things,” says Lucy Wark, founder of sexual wellness company Normal Co.

“While some porn might reflect our actual preferences, and that’s great, it can also just be about entertainment and fantasy. And even if something isn’t for you, as long as everyone involved is consenting, properly remunerated, safe and having a good time, then there’s no need to yuck anyone’s yum!

“Our desires and preferences are diverse, which is part of the beauty of sexuality.”

Even still, I still have such complicated feelings surrounding porn, and I know I’m not alone. My friends and I often ask ourselves if we’re watching too much, or what frequently watching porn means? Or whether really liking certain elements of porn makes us gross, or sex-obsessed?

Just when I think that I’m on a path towards greater sex-positivity, thoughts like this pop into my head and I’m forced to recognise that there is some built-in shame around consuming porn. Deep down, it feels naughty.

“Most people are familiar with experiencing sexual shame, particularly when it comes to fantasies or in this case, their porn search history,” Georgia says.

“Sexual shame can come from social, cultural, political and/or religious upbringings or teachings of sex, most people will remember being taught something along the lines of  ‘don’t have sex, it’s bad’. And the same goes for porn.”

“When my clients speak about the first time they saw porn, so many will say they stumbled upon it, a friend or sibling showed it to them, or they found something pretty hardcore when they googled ‘sex’. This can be confronting, especially when you’re young and don’t know what to make of it. Others share stories of being told off or shamed by parents, teachers and/or peers — and as a result feeling a sense of shame for viewing something ‘wrong’.

“This is why it is so important to receive thorough, sex-positive, shame-free sex education that addresses porn. And for adults who are curious about porn or already do watch it, it’s important to learn how to access or consume porn in a way that is  ethical, consensual, safe, healthy and mindful.”

I remember the first time I ever watched porn. I clicked on a random video and saw a woman giving a man a rough blow-job. Watching, I felt sick to my stomach, but I wasn’t able to peel my eyes away, thinking — am I going to have to do that someday?

Thinking back, I was too young and not ready to be exposed to that type of sexuality. I think that this experience set the scene for me when it comes to porn; although I’ve found ethical porn sites I like, porn ultimately still feels forbidden and ‘wrong’, at its core. I really have to search before I find a porn video that feels authentic and that I can get lost in.

“It’s important that we talk about the benefits of porn!” says Georgia.

“When consumed mindfully, ethically and consensually by adults, there are some amazing benefits. It can support you in exploring your eroticism on your own or with another, allow you to build and/or downregulate arousal, learn something new (whilst remaining aware that these are actors on a set), view diversity in bodies, sexual experiences, gender and or sexuality and perhaps the most obvious reason people watch porn: it’s fun.”

As I’ve gotten older and had more sexual experiences, I’ve come to really enjoy watching certain types of porn. For me, it’s a fun and explorative accelerator I can use to create a mood and a space just for myself.

But porn isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

“Viewing porn should be consensual for everyone involved,” says Georgia. “If you’re not into it — there’s no need to make yourself like it. If you’ve identified that you’re curious and want to explore porn, but fear, shame or uncertainty is getting in the way, there are a few things you can do.”

Here are three tips from certified sex coach Georgia Grace on how you can make your relationship with porn more positive:

  1. Explore in a Non-Sexual Context: Start with some solo inquiry. Consider this your research phase to get a sense of what excites you and how your body responds to the stimulus. This will also give you an opportunity to find ethical porn makers/sites. Many couples have also found it to be really useful and exciting to explore together. 
  2. Zoom Out: If you experience shame, judgement or anything that doesn’t feel so sexy, pause and zoom out for a moment. Can you identify the root of this experience, or what has informed this response? Is there a belief or idea that may be useful to unpack, and is there a new approach or thought that may feel more attuned to how you want to view sex. It may be worth reflecting or journaling on this. 
  3. Talk About It With Someone You Trust: As Brene Brown says ‘shame derives its power from the unspeakable’. If you’re feeling shameful about sex or eroticism it may be useful to speak with a professional, trusted friend or a partner.

It’s helpful to remember that if you struggle with the idea of consuming porn, you’re not alone. We’ve been taught to think of it as something that is ‘wrong’, ‘forbidden’ and ‘private’, so it’s really no surprise that we struggle to share it openly and shamelessly in ways like leaving our search history untouched.

“Historically, we’ve seen cultural attitudes which associate sex (and especially masturbation) with shame become even more intense when it comes to porn,” says Georgia. “And compared to other places where we find things we like to watch today, like Netflix and YouTube, a lot of the platforms where we find porn can reinforce the perception of porn as something dirty or illicit.

“There are also legitimate criticisms of mainstream porn, whether it’s around the content itself (showing misleading, misogynistic or unsafe sex), or being produced in ways which aren’t ethical (like ensuring performers are all of age and consenting without duress, onset conditions or fair pay).

“But porn can be an incredible resource for learning and pleasure too! It can be a great way to explore curiosities and safely test out fantasies, as well as sharing them with a partner and starting a conversation about what you’d like to try together.

“It’s also an amazing way to build arousal and stimulation, whether you’re having partnered or solo sex. 

“Basically, it’s all about leaving shame at the door, understanding what you’re consuming, what its purpose is, and how you want to relate it to your IRL sex life.”

You can find a list of all the best ethical porn sites for women here.