Why You Shouldn’t Learn About Sex From Porn

One of the most common complaints people have about porn is that it offers an unrealistic model of sex. Penises are always big and hard, vaginas are always ready for deep, thrusting penetration, there’s no lube, warm-up for anal sex, romance, connection, or conversation about likes, dislikes, STIs, and other real-life factors.

In response, the porn industry generally says, “So what? That’s not our job.” After all, if you’re learning how to do anything from TV or movies, you’re going to get it wrong. All media (other than the how-to type stuff that you’ll see on a few stations) offer a conveniently packaged and formulaic idea of how things work.

For example, a typical episode of Law & Order starts with a crime scene. The first half hour (minus commercials), involves the police devoting all of their time to this one case, as if they don’t have any other investigations to juggle. The run all over town, finding parking when they need it, discovering clues or suspects within moments of walking through the door, and turn everything over to the DA in a nice, neat bundle. There’s never any paperwork, computer searches turn up all the information they need in moments, and inter-office politics doesn’t seem to exist.

The lawyers have time to drive all over, tracking down information or people. Complex ethical quandaries are resolved by either a two-minute conversation or a pithy wisecrack. The mind-numbingly slow process of court magically disappears and everything happens smoothly.

Do I need to spell this out any further? Blaming porn for creating an unrealistic fantasy without recognizing that EVERY movie and TV show does the same is ridiculous. Now, we could certainly critique the fantasies that different genres create, talk about whose ideals are being presented, and explore what purposes they serve. We could even discuss what steps we can take to show people the realities that the fantasies gloss over, like sitting in on a court proceeding or having a member of the police describe an actual day on the job.

That sort of thing goes a long way towards breaking through the fantasy. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the TV show anymore. It just means that you have a willing suspension of disbelief, rather than believing that what you’re seeing is an accurate reflection of how things work.

In the real world, sex is messy, complex, and comes with challenges and pleasures that don’t make for a very good movie. Bish has a great post that describes some of the many ways that what you see in porn is not what you can expect in real life. (via Our Porn, Ourselves) It’s written for young people who may have run across some porn and makes it very clear that the author is not encouraging any kids to go find porn. Rather, since many of them will accidentally or deliberately see it, they need something to put it into context:

So lots of young people learn about sex and relationships from porn. The problem with this is that they can learn good and bad things. The legal age for watching porn is over 18, I think this is a good thing. I think that you need to be old enough to understand some of the things going on.

It’s also a good resource for adults who are trying to figure out how to talk with their kids about porn. The language is very simple, accurate, and non-blaming or shaming. It also doesn’t blame or judge young people for seeing or looking for porn, which is really important. If you start attacking them, they’re going to stop listening to you.

When people single porn out for providing inaccurate fantasies that cause harm, they usually forget or ignore that what they’re talking about is a pattern that is separate from porn. Rather than being something that only exists in this one context, it’s a narrative tool that porn uses just as every other genre or fiction uses. It happens in novels, TV shows, movies, and plays. We need is better sex education and information so that there’s something to balance the fantasy. I’m really glad that here’s a place to start.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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