Until recently, I had no idea I followed so many models, and no recollection of actually hitting the "follow" button. I must do it in some sort of fugue state. It’s gotten to the point where there are more model photos in my feed than couples selfies, food porn, or photos accompanied by a custom wedding hashtag.
And while the number of models I follow is probably above average when compared with other dudes in my age range, I don’t think I skew above by all that much. I follow models with wild abandon because I’m single, meaning I live in a world where nobody gives a damn about the pictures I look at, when I look at them, or how often I choose to do so. It's probably different, however, when you’re in a relationship; when you have a significant other who might get rubbed the wrong way if you’re constantly looking at pictures of other women, especially women who make at least a piece of their living through modeling.
"I know that my wife can look me up on Instagram and within a few minutes know who I’m following, so I keep it pretty low with the models," says Sam W., 28, who admits that this only occurred to him after his wife confronted him for following a not insignificant amount of models.
At first, he didn’t get what she was so upset about, but all it took was for her to flip the script and ask him how he’d feel if she was following a bunch of the sexiest dudes in the world and had the capability to check them out at any time—including when they were, for example, lying next to each other in bed.
"I know that my wife can look me up on Instagram and within a few minutes know who I’m following, so I keep it pretty low with the models."
"At first I tried saying that would be fine, that it wouldn’t bother me, but I admitted that wasn’t really how I felt before she decided to try and prove her point," he says.
After discussing the issue, Sam’s wife made it clear that she didn’t expect him to never look at other women, but that she felt weird about his having so many immediately at his disposal—and he had her go through his profile and take care of the unfollowing.
"I’m pretty sure a few ex-girlfriends didn’t make the cut, either," he says.
Another friend, Bryan H., says his girlfriend is cool with him "following whoever," because she believes in the whole "You can look but you can’t touch" mode of thinking, and that she trusts him. He compares checking out models via Instagram to leafing through a Victoria’s Secret catalog or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, except Instagram is easier to access and a more private way to view images (whipping out a swimsuit issue on the subway is much more conspicuous and transparent than gazing at something on your phone).
"She also knows with little doubt that I’m not ever going to be in a position to touch these women anyway, and that if I was, I wouldn’t, because the guilt I’d feel if I ever cheated on her wouldn’t be worth it," he says.
I reached out to two popular models (who I happen to follow), Amberleigh West and Lena Martinson, who have 116,000 and 95,400 Instagram followers, respectively, to see how they feel about men in relationships regularly scoping them out via smart phone.
"I’m not a jealous human, so I don’t entirely understand people that freak out about their significant others simply liking or following models on social media," Martinson says, adding that "feedback is everything in this world," and that just because someone likes or comments on a photo doesn’t mean there’s an underlying meaning or any hidden intention.
"They’re simply just being entertained," she says. "Women are fun, beautiful, and interesting—I personally follow more lingerie models than I do men!"
West takes issue with the occasions when spoken-for guys take it beyond a simple look and like or comment and try to slide all up in her DMs.
"I don’t think it’s okay for a boyfriend or husband to be sending direct messages asking me out," she says. "This has happened before—I get a message and click on their profile and they have a girlfriend or wife."
"Women are fun, beautiful, and interesting—I personally follow more lingerie models than I do men!"
When that happens, West says she often screenshots the message and sends it to the dude's significant other. She then tells the guy she did so, which she says often gets her blocked.
I’m the same way with porn as I am with Instagram—which is to say neither checked nor balanced when it comes to indulgement. As a single guy who doesn’t have much casual sex and who lives alone, porn is a fairly regular part of my life. I enjoy a good solo beat session from time to time. It keeps me sane and vaguely happy. But I certainly don’t watch as much porn as I used to, mostly because I know it’s likely detrimental to my actually getting out there and making earnest attempts to have relationships with women in real life.
There’s been plenty of research done on how porn consumption can negatively affect relationships and generate unrealistic sexual expectations, but since Instagram is a newer beast, there’s less to go on beyond the tangential and anecdotal.
Sexologist and relationship expert Nikki Goldstein, Ph.D., says there’s a close line between the two forums, but that it has more to do with intent than anything else. "When you tune into pornography, there is more of a conscious decision to choose material that is sexual and more than likely for fantasy and stimulation," she says. "Many of these sexy Instagram accounts are just there in our faces and we are not even aware of their impact. They still might have a certain level of stimulation, but we might not be hunting them down for this, rather just scrolling through and coming across them as we do."
"Many of these sexy Instagram accounts are just there in our faces and we are not even aware of their impact."
Lori Bizzoco, a relationship expert and founder of cupidspulse.com, sees parallels between Instagram consumption and studies that have shown that watching porn frequently and looking at flawless people all the time causes a loss of interest in real-life partners. She also acknowledges that social media is redefining dating rules and "changing the game" when it comes to what is socially acceptable in relationships and what isn’t.
"While a simple tap on an Instagram screen in public seems more acceptable and innocent, there is really no difference if it causes distrust and betrayal in a relationship," Bizzoco says. "Social media engagements cannot be disregarded as harmless. Too much of anything can never be good, and all of the sexual stimuli on the Internet is no exception."
Bizzoco’s advice? Respect your partner above all else—and don’t go overboard, regardless of what you’re looking at and where.