Like many men, Cameron Murphey got his first glimpse of pornography in his early adolescence. But instead of excitement, the violent nature of the graphic sex he saw left him feeling uneasy.
Once, upon seeing a woman being gagged during a sexual act on the Internet, Mr. Murphey felt particularly alarmed.
"I don't even remember why I even clicked on it," says the 22-year-old Washington State resident. "I just really sort of asked myself, 'What am I really doing right now?'"
After entering university and joining a men-against-violence group on campus, Mr. Murphey became critical of pornography - and he discovered wasn't alone.
Small as their numbers might be now, hot-blooded, heterosexual men of all ages are becoming more vocal about swearing off pornography. Rather than opposing it on religious or conservative grounds, the new wave of men against porn is concerned about how the pervasiveness and extreme forms of pornography are affecting not only women, but their own attitudes and sex lives as well.
"I've had men tell me they can't have an orgasm without thinking about pornographic images," and they're troubled by that fact, says Robert Jensen, a professor in the school of journalism at the University of Texas and author of the 2007 book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. And as mainstream pornography has become increasingly violent and overtly racist, he says, "men are more and more reporting that they feel conflicted about their porn use."
They're also beginning to mobilize. According to anti-porn activist Gail Dines, men are more open to attending anti-pornography lectures, usually a women-only stronghold. On social media sites like Facebook, men are joining groups titled "Guys Against Porn," which has more than 800 male and female members, and "Being Anti-Porn doesn't make you a wanker," which has more than 1,000. In Britain, a new website called the AntiPorn Men Project launched earlier this fall, providing a forum for men to discuss anti-porn issues.
Antipornmen.org has 10 regular male contributors of various backgrounds, aged between 16 and 45, who post thoughtful articles about topics like how pornography influences violence against women and how it can be addictive. Its Facebook page has more than 460 fans.
Project co-ordinator Matt McCormack Evans, 22, says the project's main goal is simply to "raise awareness about the harms" of pornography.
"That's really what we're about - just giving a voice and a presence to men who are uncomfortable with pornography," he says.
Meanwhile in the October edition of GQ magazine, writer Will Welch revealed he went seven years without watching porn, and after briefly checking out what he had missed, decided to give it up again.
"[I] we're honest, it makes us feel an intense emotion that's mostly supposed to be reserved for children: shame," Mr. Welch wrote. While he acknowledged initially being turned on by the images he saw, "I finally admitted that every time I dial up a batch of this stuff, there's an undignified and depressing moment when it hits me that I'm a grown ... man who just spent half an hour of quality alone time on a Web site ... watching other people have sex. And I immediately clear my browser history."
"Pornography has become so cruel and brutal that a lot of them are concerned about the fact that they get aroused by it...." says Dr. Dines, professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston, and author of the recent book Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked Our Sexuality. "They don't like who they become when they watch pornography," she says, noting that the pornography that's readily accessible online today "is not your father's Playboy."
A generation ago, it was easy to pass off the type of images seen in Playboy as "fun," she says, but these days, when women are shown grimacing and in pain, "it's much harder to pass it off as 'she likes it and she wants it.'"
Easy access over the Internet has turned many men (often starting at younger ages) eventually into habitual users. But some express dissatisfaction with real-life sex, calling it banal and boring in comparison, Dr. Dines says. "What pornography is, it hands you a generic, plasticized, commodified sexuality. It's a sexuality made in factory conditions," she says. "It's not yours." She says men need to quit watching pornography altogether to "cleanse" themselves of the powerful images they've seen and to reawaken their own authentic sexual imagination and fantasies.
During the 1970s, as legal restrictions eased in the U.S., pornography producers began topping each other with extreme imagery to stay competitive, Dr. Jensen says. Whereas depictions of anal sex were once relatively rare, far more extreme scenarios aren't unusual in mainstream pornography today. At this point, the last taboos are child porn and more overt "fists, guns and knives"-type violence, he says.
"There are things that are routinely done in the pornography industry today that 20 years ago, when I first started studying this, I could not have imagined," Dr. Jensen says.
Dr. Jensen notes he wasn't immune to using pornography himself. But since studying the industry critically, he says, he has felt no need for mediated sexual material.
"I think I could make a compelling argument that there's something about the nature of sexuality that doesn't lend itself to the explicit depictions on the screen," he says.