Dr. Marty Klein’s view on porn. The famous sex therapist who offers a fresh and often enlightening perspective on all things sexual.
What Porn Leaves Out
Many people complain about what porn shows viewers. While some of these complaints are accurate (guys instantly erect; women enjoying cum on their faces), they’re often inaccurate (most porn does NOT portray violence; porn DOES offer a wide range of men’s and women’s bodies).
What rarely gets discussed is what porn leaves out.
Today’s internet porn is primarily a visual medium (as compared with, say, the ancient Greek poems of Sappho or the 18th-century novels of the Marquis de Sade). That means it leaves out anything that isn’t visually compelling. And as it happens, a lot of what makes sex satisfying in real life is boring to watch on film.
This isn’t a criticism. Internet porn doesn’t pretend to show real life, only a fictionalized version of it—like the worlds of Sherlock Holmes or Seinfeld’s gang.
And one way porn portrays its fictionalized world is by omitting exactly what makes real sex what it is. So what does porn NOT include?
* Kissing and hugging
The penis and vulva may be the center of attention during sex, but it’s kissing and hugging that get us to sex, that keep us connected during sex, and that transition us from sex back down to earth. Passionate kissing can be very exciting and intimate, while skin-to-skin contact is one of the most common reasons people have sex in the first place.
* Talking and laughing
Assuming that people can agree on a common vocabulary (Penis? Dick? Conan the Barbarian?), talking during sex provides information, reassurance, self-expression, and a sense of the others’ presence. People who can’t ask questions during sex limit the pleasure, variety, and meaningfulness of their experience.
Laughing? Sex is way too important to be treated grimly. If you’ve ever watched a dog watch you having sex, you know just how ridiculous we look. And when things don’t go as planned, laughing together is sometimes the only reasonable response—and the thing that gives us permission to resume sex.
* Handling the unexpected; going slowly; afterwards
Sex is too complex for everything to go smoothly every time. Products and toys may be hard to open or use. Leg cramps or sore backs may intrude without warning. Bodies may provide unwanted and poorly-timed smells or fluids. Porn shows none of these—because none of these are sexy on film. In real life? People cooperating to get beyond these minor obstacles can be sexy indeed.
Sex in real life ebbs and flows, whereas in porn if scenes languish, they lose viewers. Going slowly can bond lovers, can increase arousal, and can equalize desire. On film, that’s boring. And after sex? That’s usually the slowest time of all. It may involve satisfied looks and hand-holding—hardly what a masturbating audience craves.
* Birth control
Intercourse without using birth control? Without discussing birth control? It happens way too often in the real world. It happens almost 100% of the time in porn. Most heterosexual porn consumers think condoms are un-sexy, and discussing pills, diaphragms, IUDs, and implants—well, if talking sexy isn’t sexy enough to include in a porn film, talking about birth control surely isn’t.
* Off-screen preparation
This is the biggest category of all. Before the cameras roll, professionals prepare. If a scene will involve anal sex, preparation may include an enema. Vaginas and rectums are often packed with lubricant. The guys may use an erection drug.
Actors and actresses will discuss what they’re about to portray, especially if the sex is fast-paced or complicated. How far back can you bend your legs without discomfort? Do you prefer your nipples pulled, squeezed, or twisted? Do you want your scrotum involved or left alone? And by the way, are you left-handed or right-handed?
Unlike consumers who want novelty in their sex, professionals want predictability. And remember, any depictions of rough sex are totally consensual. No actress is ambushed on set and suddenly spanked, whipped, or forced to gag on a penis—it’s all worked out ahead of time. It may look uncomfortable, even shocking, but it’s…acting!
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To increase Porn Literacy in both adults and young people, we have to talk about the constructed, edited nature of what they watch. Porn isn’t a peek inside someone’s bedroom—it’s a visual representation of someone’s imagination. A cross between culture, psychology, and art, that imagination produces products for consumers—appealing to what it believes we want, and leaving out the rest. To understand it, it helps to know what’s missing.
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