Forest’s mom always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ I say, ‘Sex is like ice cream. There’s something for everyone.
It’s no secret that the details of sex are still taboo in mainstream discourse. They are censored, euphemised and scandalised – all to the detriment of tolerance, and the benefit of ignorance … as well as the porn industry. Not talking about sex silences positive sexual discussion, creating a gaping hole in our knowledge and understanding of the topic. And we all know how good the porn industry is at filling holes.
The obvious dissonance between what we are taught about sex in school and actual sexual encounters is, perhaps, one of the largest reasons why people turn to porn to fill gaps in knowledge. My high school sex education consisted of labelling anatomical diagrams of reproductive systems, brief reminders to use condoms (without ever showing us one or how they worked), lectures about the side effects of the pill (apparently there aren’t any other forms of contraception) and viewing graphic images showing the worst-case scenarios of sexually transmitted infections. In fact, the only time I saw what a real vagina looked like was when a baby’s head was coming out of it in a very painful home birth. It’s not hard to see that these scare tactics served to clearly point us to the message: ‘Don’t have sex, it’s not worth it.’ I’m sure some kids had it much better than I did, but I don’t doubt some had it much worse.
So with the crudest understanding of genitals, condoms, the pill, STIs and childbirth, I was supposed to enter my independent adult life not knowing what vaginas look like – I mean, was mine normal? How would I know if something was wrong with it? Or how sex actually worked, let alone sex not between one man with a penis and one woman with a vagina? How much should it hurt? How would I know when I’m ready? What kinds of circumstances should I have sex in? What should I feel before, during and after? Porn has answers to all of these questions but the answers porn gives are saturated with perfectly beautiful, large penii and deliciously smooth, tight vaginas. It answers with women enjoying painful sex; people having sex with strangers at the drop of a hat (or fix of a tap); and overtly flirtatious preludes followed by 30 – 40 minutes of intense, loud sex featuring a broad repertoire of positions that conclude with a cum shot. This is a wildly inaccurate representation of relationships and sex, and, honestly, I can identify how every single one of these things had shaped my perceptions of bodies, sex and relationships – these have not, overall, been healthy effects.
Seeing as 80 per cent of Australians over 18 have watched porn, and the Australian school curriculum does not provide comprehensive sexual education, it’s a fair assumption that a significant number of young Australians have had a similar experience learning sexuality from porn. This is increasingly likely considering we now have access to the internet’s infinite content younger and younger.
While we avoid talking about sex in schools and in the community, we leave a gaping hole in our sexual education that porn fills with a skewed reality. The only way to fix this is to offer broad and comprehensive information about the realities of sex, including sexual pleasure for people of all genders and sexualities.
Pornography in the age of the Internet is also very good at providing a diverse range of scenarios. Although the sprawling nature of the porn industry allows for really creative and unique sexual experiences that can be a lot of fun to watch, it also means that more extreme and, often, violent or illegal depictions of sex are easily accessible. These are subsequently informing, as well as encouraging, certain ideas about sex in the people who watch this content. On the other side of the screen, a number of ethical issues pervade the industry in the production of porn.
The free content on porn websites rarely verifies their means of production – meaning you don’t know whether the scene was legal in terms of consent, age, fair pay and working conditions. So, if you want to watch porn but don’t want to have a guilty conscience, you’re going to have to pay for it. In the same way that you pay musicians and producers for their music through Spotify, or film and TV creators for their talent through Netflix, you should be paying those in the porn industry for their work.
Check out the Feminist Porn Awards (and don’t be put off by the name) for videos and companies showing diversity, real sex and real pleasure – all created in fair working conditions. Or if you’re interested in some freaky stuff that probably shouldn’t be done between humans, you can always read about it, guilt free – Literotica is great for that.
In the words of Annie Sprinkle, a feminist pornstar, ‘the answer to bad porn isn’t no porn … it’s to try and make better porn!’ She’s right – the porn industry and consumers can do a lot in terms of maximising the reach and accessibility of ethical porn. But this doesn’t solve the problem of the lack of sexual education driving young people to answer questions about their sexuality via pornography in the first place. For a more holistic solution to the negative impacts of porn, implementing comprehensive sexual education in our schools remains vitally important.