How Watching Porn Helped Me Discover My Sexuality

Watching Porn Helped Me Discover My Sexuality

Businesswoman Reclining On Bed Using Smartphone
Hinterhaus Productions/Getty

Years ago, I developed a secret crush on a female friend. I was married to a man at the time and was operating under the assumption that I was heterosexual, so the crush on my friend was incredibly unsettling. I needed to convince myself it was an aberration; a glitch.

I made up excuses for why this crush had appeared: My friend was very intelligent, and my feelings were simply exaggerated admiration. My friend had helped me through a tough time and I was experiencing transference, that thing when a patient falls in love with their therapist. My friend was a vessel in which to deposit my irrational, impossible-to-fulfill desires because I wasn’t content unless I was inventing problems for myself. Or I was simply having an early mid-life crisis.

Notice how none of these early excuses for how I felt about my friend had anything to do with my sexuality.

Later, when I was working on a sex scene in my novel that was inspired by my secret gay crush (because I needed to hit all the queer clichés while being in complete denial of my queerness), I realized my only experience with lesbian sex was the pathetic glob of fumbling, terrified fantasies in my head. So I decided to look it up. My first innocent query was on YouTube. YouTube, of all places, because my pining gay ass forgot YouTube doesn’t allow sex on its platform. The first time I attempted this search, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my daughter’s pre-kindergarten at the local Baptist church and using the key words — I kid you not, wait for it — “girls kissing.” Bless my heart.

At some point, still desperate to ensure the scenes I was writing for my book felt authentic, I googled “movies with realistic lesbian sex scenes.” One of the top results was for the movie “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” I found a clip of the super-intense sex scene from that movie and watched the whole thing.

Parts of my brain felt like they were exploding. New nerve endings appeared in my nether regions. I immediately knew I was no longer watching only for the purpose of writing realistic sex scenes. I still wasn’t ready to admit I was gay though.

It finally occurred to my dumb baby-queer ass to search actual porn. I floundered through stupid keywords (“girl-on-girl,” “women fucking”) that led me to lesbian porn made for men that made me want to flatten penises with shovels. Eventually though, I found videos of women having intimate sex in a way that didn’t seem so performative, so airbrushed and spray-tanned, so fake-orgasmy. I saw eye contact, nipples pinched up in arousal, chests and necks and cheeks reddened with rushing blood. And the feelings it gave me … it’s hard to describe. Not just “I want that.” It was also that I felt stupid and embarrassed for not having known before that this was something that was an option. I was confused, ashamed, terrified, and sick with longing. I still wasn’t ready to admit I was gay though.

So I “tested” myself — with porn. In an effort to observe my own reactions, I watched various combinations of genders and styles. Heterosexual sex targeted at men. Heterosexual sex targeted at women. Gay sex of various iterations. Lesbian sex targeted at men. Lesbian sex targeted at women. Any one of these, with toys added. Which combinations triggered arousal?

The cisgender heterosexual sex, quite frankly, disgusted me. No wonder I’d never watched porn before. When I thought of porn, I assumed it was all heterosexual porn targeted at cis-het men and their eager, overzealous penises. So much pounding. So many poor, shrieking women with pigtails. So many frantic, gaggy blowjobs. *Insert barf emoji*

But the vagina-vagina sex drew me back every time, and not just in a “Yep, that’s a turn-on” kind of way. It was more like, “That’s not fair, I didn’t know!” I was furious — with myself for being a clueless dolt, and with all the heteronormative bullshit that had contributed to a lifetime of assumptions of what and who and how I was “supposed” to be.

It’s really hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced an awakening like this how much of a full-body slam it is. It was way bigger than just wanting to fuck someone with a vagina the way I saw in those videos. It was an identity thing, profound and unburiable. I went to Pride parades and wanted to cry the whole time because I knew I was part of that community but couldn’t tell anyone. I was invisible and alone.

Two years ago, I started dating my partner and once again discovered a “new” option I hadn’t previously considered. My partner is nonbinary. Does falling in love with and being extremely sexually attracted to a nonbinary person mean I’m pansexual? I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care. I have never felt so at home in all the ways. My partner’s name is Amber so I call myself an “Ambersexual.”

With Amber, I learned the difference between the excitement of being desired and actual, pure desire. The first is an ego thing — you’re the target of someone else’s desire. The desire is flowing toward you. With true desire, your desire begins inside you and flows outward, to the other person. I’d never felt that before. I never felt the urge to stroke any part of a man’s body. I had felt a craving to want to be desirable enough to be touched, but not a desire to touch. One boyfriend in college had The Perfect Body™, and being with him felt like an upgrade of my worthiness. But did I ever want to touch his penis? No. No I did not. Not ever.

I would have eventually figured out my sexuality without porn — the crushes on unavailable friends were going to keep coming. But porn hurried the process and clarified things for me in a way that didn’t require me to engage in sexual acts with other people. I recognize porn is problematic in many ways; it creates unrealistic expectations for people and can even lead to sexual dysfunction. The industry can be extremely exploitative and in some cases contributes to sex trafficking. But, for me, it was a tool I used to chip away at the walls that were hiding who I really am, and I’m grateful for that.