Jesse Bering: The Porn Movies in Our Minds

Jesse Bering, Ph.D., is a frequent contributor to Scientific American, Slate, and Das Magazin (Switzerland). His work has also appeared in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The New Republic, and has been featured on NPR, the BBC, Playboy Radio and more. Bering is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University, Belfast and began his career as a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas. 

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Jesse Bering: The evolutionary argument that we are – or that men are – ejaculating because they’re making room for better quality sperm cells, fresher sperm cells, and getting rid of the old does have a lot of currency, I think.  But it also poses a bit of a problem from an adaptive perspective across species because we do seem to be the most masturbatory species of them all.

We masturbate much more than other animals; that’s not to say that other animals don’t play with themselves or dogs don’t mount people’s legs, but we seem to be unique in the sense of using our manual appendages to actually arrive at orgasm.  So masturbation to completion seems to be the key here in terms of a possible unique aspect of human sexual behavior.

What I argue in the book is that this is – the reason this is unique to human beings is because we have a fairly advanced social cognitive system that allows us to basically play back scenes in our heads, like a dirty movie theater where we’re going through things that we experienced in the course of our daily lives or pornographic images that we saw on the Internet or something like that. . . . I really don’t think there’s anything too outrageous in terms of what you can concoct in your head, for the purposes of masturbation at least.  That is something that maybe -- I don’t know if you should take pride in that, but it is something that does seem to be special to human beings 

Not only are we visualizing these erotic scenes when we’re masturbating but we also use our imagination in this way when we’re actually having sex with other people, especially people that we’re not particularly attracted to or we’re not as aroused by them as we would like to be.  Often times we introduce a whole roster of other players in our heads as we’re having sex with that person just to bring us to orgasm.  Lots of people have sex without the lights on; it’s not that hard to do, really.

But it’s certainly something that most people acknowledge doing at least at some point in their lives, especially the longer you get into a marriage the sort of romantic erotic fatigue inevitably occurs.  We don’t often times share that with the partner in terms of what we’re imagining in our heads as we’re having sex, but chances are they’re probably doing the same thing with us.  So I don’t think that they should – we should really take it too personally.

A lot of people who have paraphilias use this type of mechanism as well to somehow escape the vary limited type of stimulus or arousal – erotic target that attracts them.  If they’re only attracted to horses, for example, well, maybe they can be in a successful marriage if they’re thinking about horses as they’re having sex with their wives.  I’m sure the wife wouldn’t really want to hear that, but from an evolutionary perspective at least can get them to obtain orgasm and to perpetuate their genes. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


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