Each movie was essentially the same, starring a well-endowed man and a desperately horny woman screwing on the kitchen table or red-sheeted bed or at the beach. (See this weeks letters to the editor for more information on the dangers of beach sex). Halfway through my third film, I started to get uneasy; there was something troublingly familiar about the films. The positions, expressions, sexual demands and power exchanges all of it had a ring of familiarity for me. Each sexual scenario was like flipping through a nostalgic photo album. And then it dawned on me: I had slept with one of the porn stars.
Not really. More seriously, I realized that people use pornography as a blue print or study guide for sex. I figured out that I had been intimate with people whose sexual expectations came directly from porn.
Personal anecdote: my ex-boyfriend Jeremy was alleged to be a great lover. One night, after a few months of necking, we took off our clothes, and he was shocked to find that my pubic hair wasnt shaved! When I asked him why this was surprising, he muttered, I just thought they were all like that. Like what? Like they are in porn. So much for being a great lover.
Then I got to thinking about the power of adult entertainment. Pornography sells us a fantasy of what were supposed to consider sexy. Each film featured thin, tan, white people. Need I mention that all the movies featured exclusively heterosexual relations? All depicted overly aggressive men and empty-eyed women. The sex was male-centered, suggesting that the penis is the powerhouse and end-all of sexual pleasure. Anyone who has a penis or has spent any time around one knows theres more to sex than genitals, but the suggestion still has a serious impact.
One male friend said, Porn is a fantasy. We know those things dont really happen. I question that. Many people believe pornography has no effect on real life. This is wrong in two ways. First, the adult industry is one of the most cruel and dangerous in the world. Porn stars frequently report being abused, underpaid or raped while making entertainment. In addition, the American adult industry grosses 12 billion dollars per year, more than all the combined revenues of all forms of entertainment in the United States. Secondly, the behaviors and gender stereotypes shown in porn have an impact on sexual relationships.
If porn is playing the role of sex educator, what kind of sex are we having? Pornography depicts unequal power relations between genders. Each film I watched showed women coerced into sex, thus emphasizing the power of men and the emotional malleability of women. The womans sexual ability was remarkable, but her interest in her partner was irrelevant. I wont even go into the hilariously unrealistic amounts of semen squirting on her face.
Many opponents of porn focus on its detrimental portrayals of women, but porn screws men (figuratively) too. The male porn archetype is hypersexual and overly aggressive. The porn industry would have us believe that to be a real man, one has to be aggressive, demanding and perpetually hard. Gentlemen, take it from the womens movement: theres something to be said for being able to say no.
Im not against pornography. In fact, I enjoy some of it. But I am against people applying pornographic standards to real relationships.
Pornography can arouse and inspire; thats great. Just remember: porn is a media product like any other, and the industry is selling you a sexual ideal. Pornographic ideals are bad for women AND men. Feel and desire for yourself. Create your own porn.
To let our sex columnist borrow your copy of Deep Throat, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. She is available for advice, questions and comments.