Roger Barnett thinks we’re doing a disservice to young men by offering them porn as their only real form of sexual education.
I wish someone had sat down with me when I was in my early teens and had a frank chat about pornography and sex. In the absence of genuine information about sex, pornography became a de-facto educational tool, and I assumed what it portrayed was accurate. Needless to say, like many teens, this set me up to get about a hundred things wrong in bed in the future
I’m not anti-porn. Indeed, if we’re talking about sex between consenting adults, I’m decidedly liberal. But porn has its dangers and needs to be framed in some kind of context and coupled with real information. Otherwise, like me, our youth are in for an unpleasant series of surprises when they attempt to copy what they see in porn with their own partners; the real world is far more complicated – and interesting! – than much of what’s on our screens.
Before I divulge my sometimes embarrassingly earned lessons, I need to tackle a pervasive myth: That porn is fundamentally disrespectful towards women, and to enjoy porn is to be a misogynist. I used to assume this was true, and trying to reconcile my love of women with my enjoyment of porn was a challenge. Eventually I was relieved to discover that despite the presence of porn in my life, I didn’t hate women or want to treat my female partners badly. If the misogyny myth wasn’t true for me, then maybe it simply wasn’t true
The alleged link between porn and a hatred of women has never been demonstrated by research. Personally, I believe that if one already hates women (or men), one will find porn that expresses that hatred in a sexualised way. However, if in life you approach people with respect, then you will find that nasty porn is just not to your liking. We live in liberal times, and you have access to an incredible array of stimulus; keep searching until you find something ethical.
So here is what I wish someone had told me:
1. No two people are the same, and no two people like the same things in bed. Further, what a person likes will change depending on who they’re with, and even at different times with the same partner. In mainstream porn, certain themes emerge, and it’s easy to assume that those recurrent patterns can be transposed onto all partners. It is better to start sex from a perspective of curiosity and a willingness to experiment (and watch the feedback), rather than with an arsenal of moves up your sleeve that might have worked for somebody else.
2. The sex and sexual techniques that are portrayed in pornography are selected based on what will look dynamic on screen, rather than what is enjoyable or what the actors themselves might actually like. This means that big, dramatic, and often hard-core sex scenes take up most of the time in porn, and the less grandiose and subtler things get left out simply because they’re not as cinematic. There’s a place for big, fast, athletic sex, but there’s also a place for slow, intimate acts done with the right attitude. As with all sex, the best way to navigate is to simply run some experiments, and ask for feedback.
3. A lot of heterosexual porn is somewhat stereotyped in terms of gender roles; he will generally be the pursuer, the active one, the one on top, while she will be pursued, more passive, and often be on the bottom. Sticking rigidly to these roles doesn’t work for most people. You’re short-changing yourself if you never switch things around and play with the dynamics, even if only for five minutes here and there, to see what you like.
4. All bodies are beautiful. Pornography (and the fashion and advertising industries, generally), cater almost exclusively to people of a certain shape, and we are led to believe that only these people are sexy. The truth is that what a person is like in bed depends on their relationship to you, and their relationship to their own body. The way they look gives you no information about either of these things – although the way they look at you will give you some hints!
5. Pubic hair is beautiful. Some people get rid of it, others don’t; both have their advantages. Learn to have fun either way, and love your own body either way. Being comfortable in your own body, however it looks, is perhaps the greatest gift you can offer to yourself and those you choose to share your body with.
6. Saying “no” is as much a part of sex as saying “yes”. It’s easy to assume, from watching porn, that a good lover will already know a hundred and one tricks to get any partner off. In reality, sex is a constant and creative series of experiments, some of which work, many of which don’t. There are no standards that work with all people, every time. Asking your partner to do something differently is a sure path to improving sex for the both of you, especially if it’s phrased as a positive request – “can you please try it more like this…?” – rather than simply “that’s not working for me”. Also, it should go without saying that if you don’t want something, you are always and unquestionably entitled to say a nice, clear “no” – both men and women suffer pressure to skip this important step.
7. Something that almost never comes across in pornography is the love – or at least the sense of intimacy – that exists between most partners. It doesn’t make for easy screenplay, and most porn actors don’t have such feelings for one another. However, in your life, these are the things that will change sex from being a basic physical act, to a deeply moving and gratifying spiritual experience that brings you closer to your self and your partner (if you want it to).
(This point shouldn’t be read as a vote against casual sex with a relative stranger, if that’s what you’re into).
8. In the context of a relationship, sex starts hours, days, weeks before penetration – if penetration happens at all. When creating pornography, directors aren’t aiming to put together hours of tantalising dialogue and witty flirting, or even the unlimited varieties of foreplay that most folks enjoy; they’re pitching to an audience that they believe just wants to see explicit sex and lots of it, and so this is what is often produced. However, in real life, putting that much focus on just the hard-core parts of sex makes for some of the least enjoyable sex you could hope for. The way you and your partners treat each other throughout the day, and the way sex begins, makes a big difference to your enjoyment of sex.
9. The more you watch one particular kind of porn, or one particular body type, the more your brain will wire itself to associate that type of activity or person with sex. This has implications for your love life; be careful you don’t accidentally program yourself for a narrow band of enjoyment, as you might overlook a whole variety of other pleasures.
10. Porn works pretty well if you just want some relief. But again, you’re inadvertently programming yourself for quick, shallow orgasms if this is the extent of how you use it. Why not go the other way? – Set aside a couple of hours, rack up a suite of your favorite porn, and see how long you can hold out for. Soon you’ll be having orgasms you didn’t know were possible, and it will radically improve your love life, not detract from it.
Good sex is both your right and it’s within your reach – treat it like any other skill that might benefit from some focus now and then. Pornography is not always useful as an educational resource, but nor is it pure evil. Let your own feedback and the feedback from your partner be your ultimate guide, and enjoy!