Pornography certainly has a hold on our population. I recall when Playboy was considered pornographic, and when ordinary people were found to be readers, it was said that they “read it for the articles, not the pictures.” Of course, there was some truth to that, because Hugh Hefner, in his wisdom, crafted a very well-written and informative magazine that just so happened to be marketed mostly for its pictures of the Playmates. Remember the days when full nudity was taboo?
Along came Penthouse, Hustler and others and their full-frontal nudity – even including men in the pictorials. Penthouse had a letters section called The Forum which later became its own publication. I recall reading the Forum and being amazed at the letters (were they real?) describing sexual acts with amputees, threesomes with two men and one woman, etc. Of course, because these letters were off the beaten path, they were that much more alluring.
It was Forum, in fact, along with the male/female nudity of these magazines in general, that first piqued my interest in other men. I was not a “hard-core” reader of this soft-core pornography, but I definitely admit to having subscribed to Playboy for several years and also having read Penthouse regularly (these were the big two for a while), and then gravitating to occasional forays into Hustler and High Society, among others, later on.
Not long after the expansion of this soft-core market showcasing women’s bodies came Playgirl, which became a mainstream purveyor of naked men’s bodies. It was nowhere near the quality magazine that Playboy was, and in fact the nudity was rather puerile in nature. Nowhere did you find an erection, and most of the men posed with only a hint of a penis in the photo. Though it was common to see full genitalia in the “men’s” magazines, this “woman’s” magazine seemed to pretend that the male member did not exist.
I gravitated to Playgirl as a partial fulfillment of my fantasy life, viewing the pictures of these naked men with a bit of excitement, even despite the relative modesty of the pictorials. The magazine was available in conventional retail outlets, and was treated as the women’s equivalent of Playboy – just as the publishers intended, no doubt.
After a while, most of the men’s magazines routinely published pictorials featuring both men and women. Of course, the main thrust was to entice heterosexual men, so the majority of the content was explicit showcasing of the female form. When both sexes were pictured, however, it was typically in scenes that suggested specific sexual acts, such as fellatio or cunnilingus. The act of procreation – sexual intercourse itself – was seen to be a taboo, apparently; as nobody printed such pictures.
Frankly, with the preponderance of so many “men’s” magazines on the shelves, it was pretty easy to become inured to the photo spreads of all the lovely ladies. In my case, I became more interested in the male-female pairings that gave me an opportunity to view the naked men. Mind you, purchasing these “men’s” magazines allowed me to surreptitiously enjoy the sight of naked men without the embarrassment of having to plop down a copy of Playgirl on the counter for purchase. The store clerks had no clue, after all.
Not really recognizing my sexuality at that time (I was in denial, confused, accustomed to heterosexuality), I married. For a while (perhaps a couple of years or so), I lived my life as a heterosexual husband, and figured that I’d put my days of “experimentation” behind me. The homosexuality that I thought I had left behind, however, returned and I found ways to read gay porn without alerting anyone. My wife was a Playgirl reader also, though she had no notion that I was interested in it. Of course, on the occasions when she was not at home, I regularly perused her copy of the magazine. Eventually, our sex life became non-existent. Now, I didn’t realize it had anything to do with homosexuality, but chalked it up to her increasing size and our increasing inability to get along with each other.
Lacking a sex life, I turned more and more to pornography, both on telephone and in magazines. This was the age long before the internet, so it was print media that ruled the porn market. After a few more years of non-sexual and not-so-pleasant argumentative episodes, my wife and I split. I did begin dating other women, figuring that was my life situation, after all (never admitting to being gay, but denying it to myself).
In my newly single life, of course, I had great freedom, and I ordered up subscriptions to two mail-order catalogs (International Male and Undergear) which sold underwear that was alluringly portrayed in the catalogs by a variety of young, good looking models. Naturally, my masturbatory fantasies were sated with these photos, and I began to tell myself things like, “If I ever did get together with a man in a sexual context, it would have to be someone who looked like him.” In that way, I was able to continue to deny my desires and my innermost feelings; all the while enjoying the fruits of my fantasies.
Dating had always been enjoyable for me. I love the company of women, and I certainly don’t think that women are unattractive. One of those who I dated, however, triggered something in me that became lasting. We only dated for about six months, but a few months in, she asked me, “Are you sure you’re not gay?” Naturally, I answered “no,” but even so, I was still enjoying my homosexual fantasies when home alone. She and I stopped dating at about the same time I decided to join the computer age. My first desktop took me to places I had known about but never experienced – chat rooms.
At first, my chat experiences were mundane. I was feeling out the territory to see how this new technology worked, how it would fit into my life and what impact it might have on me. Within a month or so, I had found a couple of chat rooms that openly discussed sexual topics. The Instant Message also became a part of my life, and I found myself chatting privately with other men. These were usually pretty basic discussions, but in a short time they became more sexually explicit and there were discussions about mutual masturbation and other sexual activities that two men could engage in.
My homosexual desires were again coming to the fore, and I decided to relent – to find another man with whom I could investigate these urges. In a short while, I made contact with a man named Steve, and he and I agreed to a meeting at his home. That first meeting was moving slowly at first, and we simply sat on the couch and chatted for a while, until Steve asked if I’d like to step into his bedroom. Since that was the sole purpose for which I was visiting, I agreed that it was the thing to do. Needless to say, he and I settled into his bed and I enjoyed my first sexual contact with another man in about 25 years. I had participated in two quick trysts in my early 20s, but they had not gone well, and I deemed my “experimentation” over at that time.
In the next few years, I met and bedded down with several other men. One of them was a married man named Bill, with whom I came to enjoy what seemed to be a burgeoning relationship. His schedule was flexible enough that he was able to visit with me at various times of day, and I can say with certainty that he and I truly cherished one another’s attention. After knowing Bill for about three years, his wife died. Within a couple of days, he was in my bed, wrapped in my arms, as I tried to comfort him in his pain. Though he’d been married for many years, he told me that he knew he’d moved away from her sexually and I thought, truthfully, that he was, potentially, “the one” for me.
Consoling Bill in his loss, however, didn’t bring him closer to me, as I thought it would. I was baffled and not pleased when he broke off contact with me suddenly. Unfortunately, he had never shared his phone number with me (I didn’t have caller ID), nor his surname. So my desire to reach out to him went unfulfilled. To this day, I have not seen Bill again. For a few fleeting moments, I truly thought that he would end up as my life partner in a gay relationship. The disappointment I felt stayed with me for a long time.
Several years have passed, and the internet still beckons me with its pornography. I am not a regular viewer, and I don’t have a web cam, so not all of the available technology has affected me. There are a few specific gay websites that I am an occasional visitor to, for the purpose of fulfilling my masturbatory fantasies. There is no doubt the hold that pornography has on the world, and I am certainly witness to it. I cannot speak of “straight” porn, as I have no interest in viewing unclothed women. The only sites I visit are exclusively gay, and though never partnered (nor “out” to the world at large), I date men only.
Is pornography conducive to a gay man’s coming out? From my perspective, I have to say that it has had that sort of impact. Were it not so readily available, my masturbatory fantasies might not have been fulfilled, my acceptance of being gay might not have come to fruition. Gay porn’s hold on me has been clear. Even now, between opportunities to engage with another man, when the desire envelops me, it’s to the pornographic sites I gravitate. Although the allure of photographs of other men is nowhere near as enticing as the real thing, it’s obvious that one can anticipate the excitement of a face-to-face coupling.
It’s a brief stop online that entices and temporarily satisfies. The magazine industry as a whole has suffered from decreased readership, in large part due to the ease of access that most of us have to the internet. Many periodicals have ceased print production and now appear online only. Despite the seeming disappearance from newsstands of many of the traditional “skin magazines” we used to buy up, pornography is a powerful economic force in the world on a continuing basis, as well as a major contributing factor (at least in one case) in the coming-out of gay men.
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