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Porn: what am I seeing??

By Leslie Massicotte, Teens Climb High Specialist


Pornography, or sexually explicit images and videos, is everywhere. Lots of us have seen it, intentionally or not(1), and unfortunately that means that a lot of what we know about sex and sexuality is from mainstream porn.



And while we’re all about flicking the bean or choking the chicken if you’re into that (these are euphemisms for masturbation, or touching your genitals for pleasure), it’s important to know what you’re looking at when you see porn.


We’ve compiled a short list of some considerations:


1. Porn stars are actors, and porn is for entertainment, not for education.


What this means is that actors work really hard to make their bodies and each scene look “perfect,” when in reality, it’s a lot of strategic lighting and stopping and starting to get each shot right. Expecting real life sex to be like porn sex will set you up for disappointment and frustration because in reality, sex is awkward, messy, and imperfect and so are bodies. Porn also leaves out the crucial part that should always happen beforehand: an open, honest talk between partners about boundaries, protection, and expectations.


2. Porn gender roles don’t have to be real life gender roles.


In lots of porn, men are portrayed as the initiators of any sexual behavior, they are expected to aggressively pursue women, and they almost always have an orgasm (or climax of sexual excitement often resulting in ejaculation or semen leaving the penis) at the end of a scene. In contrast, women are viewed as the submissive receivers whose pleasure only happens through vaginal orgasms. In porn, bodies also must conform to the stereotypical “hot” woman (thin, big breasts, long hair, big butt) or “hot” man (really muscular, nice abs, chiseled face).


But in reality, anyone can initiate sex and it doesn’t make women “bad” or “slutty” to want sex in their own right. Guys shouldn’t relentlessly pursue women because that perpetuates rape culture, or the idea that it’s ok to pursue a woman and get her to sleep with you even if she’s really not that into it. Also, orgasms can look different for everyone; sex doesn’t need to end when the person with a penis ejaculates, and the majority of folks with vulvas actually have a better chance of orgasm by stimulating the clitoris rather than the vagina. (Confused about anatomy? Check out this video!) And of course, we don’t all have supermodel bodies AND THAT’S OK.


3. Consent is sexy.


Consent, or gaining someone’s permission to do something like give them a hug or touch them sexually, is super important in….well, like all contexts but especially in sexual ones, and porn doesn’t show this. Asking for consent would be one person approaching the other person and saying, “Is it ok if I kiss you?” And the answer being, “Heck yes!” But it wouldn’t stop there. It would continue: “Is it okay if I touch you there?”, “Would you like it if we have sex?”, “Is this ok?” And then waiting for the other person to give an affirmative “YES!” for each step. Having someone ask your permission is sexy: it means they care about you and respect your choices. Porn doesn’t show this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a super important part of sex and sexual behavior.


4. What about protection?


Porn also doesn’t show condoms or contraceptives, which are very important if you don’t want a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or to get/get someone pregnant. Condoms are the only form of protection that works to prevent both STIs and pregnancy. (Not sure how to use condoms? Check it out here.) Other contraceptive options can prevent pregnancy for folks with a uterus--there are tons of options out there. An important step in deciding to have sex with someone is discussing protection and then deciding to use one or more forms of protection if you don’t want STIs or pregnancy. Porn also doesn’t show this, despite how necessary this conversation is to real life sex.


5. And last but not least, mainstream porn is pretty square.


Mainstream porn on the whole is designed to be for a primarily straight male audience. That means that if you identify as a woman or if you’re queer or gay or trans or black or Native American, you might not be able to find mainstream porn that is affirming and empowering for you. More ethical porn does exist but it often costs money (in order to support the work of the actors and producers).


Just remember, what you see in mainstream porn is not necessarily reflective of reality. If you’re exposed to porn, either on purpose or by accident, remember to think about what you’re seeing, stay true to what’s important to you, and take care of your sexual health!



Footnote:

(1) According to a study published in the The Journal of Sex Research, 40% of teens are intentionally or unintentionally exposed to sexually explicit content and up to 70% of adolescents have been unintentionally exposed.



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