Porn vs. Reality

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Trigger warning: Graphic discussions of sex.

I’m not opposed to the idea of porn. I’m all for sex positivity, and theoretically, porn is an outlet for sexual expression and an aid to masturbation- yay for sexual freedom!  However, I do have a lot of issues with the incarnations of mainstream porn and it’s effect on our collective consciousness.

Here’s why.

Unrealistic bodies.

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Porn does not reflect diversity of genital appearance. Women in porn generally have a symmetrical  vulva/labia with no pubic hair and balloon-like breasts with perfectly rounded areolas.

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Real vaginas have a dizzying amount of variation in terms of colour, pubic hair, the shape of the vulva and labia and the size of the clitoris. Also pubic hair is a real thing. I wish we’d see some more of it in advertising, media and porn, rather than it being this unspoken, ‘unhygienic’ nuisance women had to contend with (also, for the record, notoriously sexist American Apparel using the 70’s style bush to be ‘edgy’ doesn’t count).

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and are often asymmetrical in terms of size and appearance of areolas. And none of this is shameful or abnormal. But the unrealistic ideals about bodies perpetuated through porn lead to women feeling as though their bodies are abnormal- sometimes turning to solutions like breast implants, labiaplasty and waxing/shaving. Of course, I’m not suggesting there’s anything inherently wrong with women who want to have these procedures (if it makes them happy and they’re consenting adults, then who am I to enforce my opinions on them?) but I do feel like the pressure to conform to this hairless, voluptuous ideal can place pressure on vulnerable targets and be destructive to the enjoyment of sex (which is kind of what it’s all about right?). For instance, I had a friend who insisted she couldn’t possibly ‘lose her virginity’ (I believe virginity is socially constructed, but that’s a totally different blogpost) until she lost twenty pounds and got a Brazilian wax, which at the time, made perfect sense to me. I mean, how could you possibly have a naked body that wasn’t toned and Victoria Secret catalogue worthy? Surely ordinary people didn’t have sex? I just could not wrap my head around the idea that someone middle aged or overweight could have sex. Which in hindsight I realize is absolutely ludicrous, but at the time, I hadn’t seen any narratives to the contrary. Sex seemed the privilege of the beautiful.

Porn also distorts our view of male bodies. It often portrays men with penis sizes of 7- 10 inches. For context, the average penis size in Australia is 5-6 inches. This can lead to misconceptions about virility/sexual ability being correlated with penis size. It’s so warped how in our hetero-normative view of masculinity, big penis=masculine. Men are made to feel inadequate or emasculated by something they have absolutely no control over. They also face similar issues about hair removal as smooth dolphin-like bodies are portrayed as desirable.

Expectations of sex

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s fantastic new film ‘Don Jon‘ explores this effect of porn. The title character Don is a porn addict. He is unable to ‘lose himself’ in actual sex the same way he immerses himself in the world of porn. He feels constantly unfulfilled because of the inflated expectations that his porn watching has imposed on his sex life.

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Unfortunately, for a generation of people, porn is their definitive sex-ed lesson and their first encounter with sex before the real thing. Navigating the murky world of sex is intimidating, and porn is often relied upon as a source of information.  The problem is that porn is not an accurate reflection of sex, yet is also changes the sexual landscape it seeks to portray.

Men in porn are able to have sexual marathons. This is not realistic- porn is shot over consecutive time periods and the prevalence of Viagra creates this illusion of impossibly long lasting sex. This affects how men view their ‘sexual performance.’ Even the use of the word ‘performance’ is destructive and creates this climate of anxiety about climax and ‘being good in bed’.

There’s also an increased normalization of non mainstream sexual practices, which creates uncertainty about what’s expected from a sexual partner. I have to tread carefully here, because I strongly believe in everyone’s right to enjoy whatever they want in the bedroom. As long as it’s consensual, doesn’t involve children or animals, who am I to dictate what adults do in their spare time? However, I do think that porn’s normalization of a lot of non mainstream sexual practices leads to confusion about what’s on the menu with a sexual partner, and can create untoward pressure on one or more parties to explore something they aren’t comfortable with. Oral sex is the perfect example- I know a lot of women who find it extremely unappealing, but because of the ‘normalization’ of it by porn, it’s an obligation they feel they cannot escape. Porn shouldn’t dictate sexual ‘normality.’ No-one should have to engage in anything they are uncomfortable with.

Destructive Racial/Gendered Stereotypes and Fetishization.

Browse any of the high traffic sites and you’ll see almost interchangeable videos with degrading titles which make any woman who appears to enjoy sex labelled a ‘whore’ or ‘slut’. Why must we play into this virgin/whore dichotomy? It’s so reductive.

The portrayal of race in porn is also destructive. The ethnicity of the participants are almost always highlighted if they deviate from Caucasian and interracial pairings are emphasized as a bizarre fetish. It’s perpetuating the phenomenon of white being the ‘norm’ and anything that deviates from that as the ‘other.’ Porn sometimes promotes extremely demeaning stereotypes about the correlation between race and sexual behaviours, for instance, black women often are portrayed as being wild and sex crazed. Black men usually have the appearance and size of their penises treated as a fetish. On the other hand, Indian and Asian women are portrayed with a different angle: they are characterized as inherently pure and submissive, and having them in a porn video is an exotic treat- a detraction from their usually chastity.

I strongly believe we need to create healthier sexual narratives for the mainstream, rather than perpetuating skewed sexual dynamics, misconceptions and stereotypes. I’m not suggesting all porn is of this variety, I have made broad generalizations, and the porn industry and it’s effects is a vast, complex topic, of which I have only explored a facet. If you’d like to contribute to the discussion, I’d love to hear your thoughts/opinions in the comment section below!

Till next time.