on porn as sex ed

Now that #MeToo is bringing back sex negativity, we can talk about how we’ve appointed the porn industry as our official sex educators, and how stupid that was. The big New York Times magazine think piece opens as follows:

Drew was 8 years old when he was flipping through TV channels at home and landed on “Girls Gone Wild.” A few years later, he came across HBO’s late-night soft-core pornography. Then in ninth grade, he found online porn sites on his phone. The videos were good for getting off, he said, but also sources for ideas for future sex positions with future girlfriends. From porn, he learned that guys need to be buff and dominant in bed, doing things like flipping girls over on their stomach during sex. Girls moan a lot and are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. One particular porn scene stuck with him: A woman was bored by a man who approached sex gently but became ecstatic with a far more aggressive guy.

This is actually qualitatively different than how I grew up. I remember the Girls Gone Wild infomercials and Red Shoe Diaries or whatever was on HBO/Showtime at 1 in the morning in the 1990s. I was already in high school, though.

Around age 8, I asked my mom where babies come from and got a dry lecture about X and Y chromosomes. I learned from the Jehovah’s Witnesses that sex was something reserved for married couples who loved each other forever. I learned from overhearing my dad complain about work that it was something creeps in the Navy do to their daughters when they’re not beating their sons. I do remember hearing about a girl who’d done something sexually bad to her little brother after seeing her dad’s porn, and the mystery was whether it was left in the VCR or shown to her deliberately (my dad was a social worker for people who don’t already know me).

Modem speeds at home in high school didn’t exceed 56k, and for a while I actually used Napster over a 14.4 modem. There was a shared family computer, no smartphones, and you had to be one step more sophisticated than your family when it came to understanding browser history and the file system. Page loads were sloooow, so loading a single picture took a long time. Video porn wasn’t practicable until going to a university with a T1 connection.

Overall, I had an understanding of sex that I think was humane and not primarily determined by the porn industry. When I had my first “girlfriends” in 5th grade, we didn’t know what to do. I guess there was the Great 1990s Bare Midriff Controversy.

The idea that some degree of brutality was expected of me sexually was disturbing when I encountered it.

It’s not an entirely new thing. This anecdote from Zhou dynasty China was in Peter Lorge’s Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century, after noting the archaic association of archery and spirituality:

The association of archery with warfare and hunting also connected it to manliness and virility. On one occasion, when two men sought the hand of the same woman, it was agreed that the woman would decide. The first man presented himself in fine clothes and made proper ritual presents of jade and silk. The second man chose, instead, to demonstrate his prowess as a warrior by driving up in a chariot, leaping out, firing his bow in either direction, and then leaping back on his chariot and departing. This second demonstration was seen as a sign of true manliness (and won over the woman in question). It was not that the first man was incapable of the same sort of martial display, but he had not thought to use such a demonstration of his battlefield skills in courting a bride–and thus he lost her.

LOL maybe the guy who did things with ritual properness had Asperger’s, too.

But around 10th grade, it began bothering Drew, an honor-roll student who loves baseball and writing rap lyrics and still confides in his mom, that porn influenced how he thought about girls at school. Were their breasts, he wondered, like the ones in porn? Would girls look at him the way women do in porn when they had sex? Would they give him blow jobs and do the other stuff he saw?

Note that sports and rap are ideologically aligned with porn, and still his humanity feels the problem.

Leaning back in his chair, Drew said some girls acted as if they wanted some thug rather than a smart, sensitive guy. But was it true desire? Was it posturing? Was it what girls thought they were supposed to want? Neither Q. nor Drew knew. A couple of seats away, a sophomore who had been quiet until then added that maybe the girls didn’t know either. “I think social media makes girls think they want something,” he said, noting he hadn’t seen porn more than a handful of times and disliked it. “But I think some of the girls are afraid.”

“It gets in your head,” Q. said. “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it.” He’d heard about the importance of consent in sex, but it felt pretty abstract, and it didn’t seem as if it would always be realistic in the heat of the moment. Out of nowhere was he supposed to say: Can I pull your hair? Or could he try something and see how a girl responded? He knew that there were certain things — “big things, like sex toys or anal” — that he would not try without asking.

“I would just do it,” said another boy, in jeans and a sweatshirt. When I asked what he meant, he said anal sex. He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.

“I would never do something that looked uncomfortable,” Drew said, jumping back into the conversation. “I might say, ‘I’ve seen this in porn — do you want to try it?’ ”

Yes, supposedly “everybody knows” that the idea of advertising is to make people confused about what they want and what’s good for them, to the benefit of a third party with the money to advertise.

LOL true confessions of the 1990s:

I don’t remember this confusion about whether women like being assfucked. The whole point was that they don’t, so it’s something to brag about to your friends. Then the curiosity, planted there by porn, poisons the relationship itself. The act of asking nicely to degrade your partner is still degrading.

And this next passage is incredible to me:

Over the year in which I spoke to dozens of older teenagers at Start Strong and around the country, many said that both porn and mainstream media — everything from the TV show “Family Guy” (which references choking and anal sex) to Nicki Minaj’s song “Truffle Butter” (with an apparent allusion to anal sex followed by vaginal sex) to the lyrics in Rihanna’s “S&M” (“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me”) — made anal and rough sex seem almost commonplace. Drew told me he got the sense that girls wanted to be dominated not only from reading a few pages of “Fifty Shades of Grey” but also from watching the movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. “She’s on the table, and she’s getting pounded by him. That’s all I’ve seen growing up.”

These images confound many teenagers about the kinds of sex they want or think they should have. In part, that’s because they aren’t always sure what is fake and what is real in porn. Though some told me that porn was fantasy or exaggerated, others said that porn wasn’t real only insofar as it wasn’t typically two lovers having sex on film. Some of those same teenagers assumed the portrayal of how sex and pleasure worked was largely accurate. That seems to be in keeping with a 2016 survey of 1,001 11-to-16-year-olds in Britain. Of the roughly half who had seen pornography, 53 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls said it was “realistic.” And in the recent Indiana University national survey, only one in six boys and one in four girls believed that women in online porn were not actually experiencing pleasure: As one suburban high school senior boy told me recently, “I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”

5 of 6 boys and 3 in 4 girls can’t tell the women in porn are faking it more often than not? I’m autistic and I can detect boredom, discomfort, disappointment that the oral sex is over in 15 seconds. I’m supposed to believe that normal people are seeing the same thing and not seeing the same thing? Normal people only have these kinds of severe nonverbal communication impairments when they’re being dishonest.

The patriarchy requires an all-fronts propaganda assault on our sense of decency to distort our sex lives in this way.

There’s apparently hope for the youth of today:

Drew had firsthand experience with what he had seen in porn not translating into actual pleasure. The first time he had sex, he thought he was supposed to exert some physical control over his girlfriend. But the whole thing felt awkward, too rough and not all that fun. And things that looked easy in porn, like sex while taking a shower or mutual oral sex, didn’t go so well.

At one point during sex, Drew’s girlfriend at the time, who was a year older and more experienced, asked him to put his hand around her neck during sex. He did it, without squeezing, and though it didn’t exactly bother him, it felt uncomfortable. Drew never asked if she got the idea from porn, but it made him wonder. Had she also picked up other ways of acting? “Like, how do you really know a girl has had a good time?” he said one afternoon, musing aloud while sitting with some friends before Porn Literacy class. “My girlfriend said she had a good time,” he went on. “She was moaning. But that’s the thing: Is it fake moaning?”

Even if you know porn isn’t realistic, it still sets up expectations, one senior told me. In porn, he said, “the clothes are off, and the girl goes down on the guy, he gets hard and he starts having sex with her. It’s all very simple and well lit.” Before he had sex, porn had supplied his images of oral sex, including scenes in which a woman is on her knees as a man stands over her. At one point, he thought that’s how it might go one day when he had sex. But when he talked with his girlfriend, they realized they didn’t want to re-enact that power dynamic.

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