I remember first discovering pornography. I was probably nine or ten and late night television promised fuzzy, barely distinguishable nudity, but I knew I’d stumbled upon something big. It stirred new, thrilling feelings of pre-teen curiosity within me and my growing fascination with all things sex slowly evolved into experimentation in adulthood as I explored those late night exchanges. I can only imagine how ridiculous I must’ve sounded for years while moaning my way through fake orgasms because that’s what I’d learned from porn.
Now, years later, after multiple relationships, partners, and opportunities to explore what I want in bed, I enjoy watching pornography, particularly that which portrays a more holistic view of the realities of sexual exchange. I was given a sex-talk when I was young, but never a “pleasure” talk. There’s a very big difference between what sex is, and what it means to genuinely enjoy sex. Unfortunately, even though sexuality is hardwired into us and exploring it is natural, guilt and shame about expressing ourselves have been projected by society and it remains somewhat taboo. We’re not taught about these things openly, even if we are privy to sex education in school, so our main form of education about technique, orgasm, and variety defaults to porn.
The problem with this is that most pornography recites a narrative that normalizes the subservience of women, the complete neglect of authentic female pleasure or real orgasm, and violence. For example, sites like PunishTube which propagate humiliation and degradation depict women in a dehumanizing light. For some, rough sex, humiliation or rape fantasies are enjoyable, and people expressing themselves in a healthy way is fantastic, although the real-life execution of some of these acts beg for an appropriate, sensitive, and informative conversation that include topics such as consent and trust, neither of which porn offers or encourages, leaving viewers with a vague idea of what they’re sex life is “supposed to” look like. Not all mainstream porn sites are as aggressive, although many sites share the very formulaic outline of male focused pleasure and power.
It oftentimes lacks depth and fails to depict what intimacy and sensuality actually look like. One could argue that, “we all know porn isn’t real” but, do we? If I think back to my high school years and into my later college relationships, the prevalence of men who were completely unaware of how to navigate a female body or who were convinced that every girl wants her face to be ejaculated on is overwhelming. (That shit stings if it gets in your eyes and takes forever to get off, stahhhhp it). Moreover, the amount of women who have yet to explore their own bodies and truly open to sexual experiences without being performative is just as substantial.
Being selfish and self-serving in bed or verbally and physically aggressive – something that is overwhelmingly present in mainstream pornography, is typically not a great combination for the ideal sexual encounter. Most pornography is also from a hetero-normative standpoint, teaching men and women alike that certain behaviors are normal and acceptable, while others are not, specifically in the way it fails to create an equal, accurate, and respectful representation of and for the LGBTQ community.
Culturally, we have a million and one hangups about expressing our sexuality, let alone doing it in an empowered way on our own terms. Women’s bodies specifically, have been used and sexualized to sell every product under the sun, yet when we want to take back our sovereignty, issues arise. So sex, especially for women, remains hidden, dormant, and repressed, which only means one thing…that we’re going to look for it somewhere else. Unfortunately, if the main outlet is mainstream porn, what kind of example is that setting for a healthy expression of self, body image, and exploration of sexuality?
Luckily, there are several emerging directors that have begun to explore and provide “feminist pornography” which affords a new means of consuming and understanding sex. One of them, Erika Lust, a Swedish adult film director, gives a fantastic TEDtalk about the importance of reimagining the world of adult films and her vision of erotica.
I think it’s time that we began challenging the limitations that have been placed on us regarding passion and erotic expression. My hope would be that we can reframe the parameters of a repressive sexual agreement we’ve passively subscribed to over the years. Sex is a fundamental part of our experience and it evolves as we do. Finding new and innovative ways to offer education and entertainment about it are going to help us develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, our desires, and liberate us from the rigid confines of inflexible definitions of sexuality.
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