Porn screwed me. As an 18-year-old virgin, I thought I was prepared for what having sex was going to be like. I had watched video after video of people doing it online, so I figured I knew everything about it. Now after actually having awkward, fun and emotional sexual encounters I know that I was mistaken.
Since the first issue of Playboy was published in 1953, pornography has gone from pictures of naked people in magazines to full on sex videos readily available for any 13 year old with a cellphone. As more people get Internet access at younger ages, pornography has become more than just entertainment. It has become education.
As sex education in schools continues to be restricted by society’s fear of offending anybody, much of what actually should be taught is being left out. Consequently, young adults are turning to pornography to try and “gain experience.”
Dr. Patricia Hasbach, a professional counselor and clinical psychotherapist, thinks that the kind of sex education that many kids are exposed to is very narrow and wishes people didn’t have such a hard time talking about sex. “As a society, we are very uncomfortable with embracing our sexuality and it comes through, often times, in ways that are pretty perverted,” Hasbach said. “We identify sex as being something bad or something negative versus something that is a very rich, wonderful part of our lives that we need to understand and cherish.”
For many young adults, pornography is their first exposure to sex and puts an idea of what men and women’s roles are supposed to be. The guy is always ready to go when he wants to be and the girl is always willing to take whatever is coming. It can teach men that they need to always be able to perform and don’t have to ask permission to do what they want. It also can cause girls to not speak up for themselves because they don’t think that their partner would want them to.
Wendy Maltz is a local sex therapist and author of The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. She has witnessed many clients, both male and female, struggle with issues after being exposed to the kinky stimulation of erotica. “A lot of mainstream pornography has high amounts of aggression and violence. It can give skewed information about sexual functioning and even the look and size of sexual genitals,” Maltz said. “Porn is geared toward what looks good on camera as opposed to anything that has to do with tuning into a partner’s feelings or being responsive as a lover.”
In porn videos, there is rarely any consent shown. Partners often slap, choke and whip each other without knowing if the other partner is up for it. Obviously, the actors and producers have an agreement, but how is an adolescent who has never had a sexual encounter in his or her life supposed to understand that. Usually the guy (or guys) just start doing whatever he wants and the girl (or girls) will go along with it. There is never any sign that either of them is uncomfortable or nervous because that would be too realistic. If you never hear the word ‘no’ in porn, why should a college freshman who has never gathered the nerve to ask anyone about sex think differently?
Much of mainstream porn is all about the fantasy side of sex where everything looks huge, clean-cut and perfect. These actors have not only been professionally trained in sex acts, but have also been nipping, tucking and enhancing whatever they could since they first entered the industry. Sex in pornography shows no emotional connection between partners, it seems to be purely about achieving an orgasm. It doesn’t show the giggling and bashfulness that often comes with getting close to your partner.
Marina Rosenthal, a doctoral psychology student, has taught multiple human sexuality courses here at the University of Oregon. “Each term my students and I discuss what factors must be present in order for good sex to be possible and the only thing that everyone can agree upon are that communication and consent are crucial,” Rosenthal said. “You need to be clear and upfront with your partner about what to expect and what that looks like to individual couples is going to vary tremendously.”
When both partners are trying to be perfect, without asking any questions, the sex can end up being far from perfect. Young adults thinking they have to perform perfectly during sex can cause confidence issues personally and in the partnership.