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How Real Is the Sex You See in Pornography?

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Updated February 14, 2012

Despite the fact that porn films have about as much to do with real world sex as Hollywood films have to do with daily life, many of us confuse what we see in adult films with what we expect to happen in our own sex lives, or what we imagine happening in the lives of others. This makes some sense. For starters, many people's earliest exposure to sexual material is through pornography. Add to this the fact that as adults most of us don’t get the chance to talk honestly and openly about sex with a diverse group of people, and you can see how easily porn becomes a kind of sex education.

Of course there's an important difference between sex education and good sex education and with very few exceptions porn rarely fits the criteria of the latter. People may watch adult films, get ideas from them, and mimic those ideas in real life, but that isn’t the same thing as good sex education and it's debatable how much one sees in pornography represents common sexual practices.

Here are just a few of the significant ways that mainstream pornography does not represent most people’s sexual experiences. These differences are not meant to suggest that mainstream pornography is good or bad, right or wrong. Most sex therapists and educators agree that watching adult films can be a very healthy part of adult sexual expression.

Porn Isn’t Made for the Actors:

While sex should be all about what gives the people who are engaging in it pleasure, porn is the opposite. When people have sex on camera for money they’re doing a job, and what they do isn’t designed to turn them on, it’s designed to turn on the viewer, to somehow be cost effective, and to make the director and editors jobs easier. Porn is almost never a document of two (or more) people having pleasurable sex, it’s one person’s idea of what will titillate millions of other people.

Most Porn is Made in a Vacuum:

Real life sexual experiences happen in a social context. Whether it’s your first or thirty-first time, every time you have sex you bring your past experiences and your values to bed with you. Porn has none of this. The vast majority of mainstream pornography is made by a small, insulated, and surprisingly sexually unsophisticated group of people in southern California. Sexual behavior can be an incredibly complicated form of human communication and interaction. Pornography isn’t.

Porn Bodies, Hollywood Bodies:

You should never compare your body to what you see in porn. For starters, porn actors are chosen in part for their physical attributes. The average penis size among male porn stars is not representative of anything in the general population. As well, because many female actors still make the majority of their money by stripping, plastic surgery remains ubiquitous in the adult entertainment industry.

The Pornographer's Smoke and Mirrors:

In addition to the plastic surgery and bodies that can only be maintained by working out seven days a week, adult filmmakers use other tricks to make porn stars bodies appear much larger, smoother, and “prettier” than what you see in real life. Lighting, camera angles, make up, and even pubic hair design changes the appearance (and apparent size) of porn star body parts.

Sex Positions for the Camera:

The sexual positions you see in porn are chosen for a few reasons including visual variety and what will allow the camera greatest access to all the hidden parts. Sex positions in porn don’t represent what’s most popular in the bedrooms of America, or even what is innovative in terms of offering more sexual stimulation. In fact some sexual positions you see in porn are clearly uncomfortable for one or both of the performers.

Porn is Meant to Shock and Excite:

The kinds of sexual behaviors you see in porn are not based on any idea of what people actually do in their bedrooms, they are based on what will excite and often shock the porn viewer. They are also based on the pornographer’s need to “prove” to the viewer that actual sex is taking place. Thus external ejaculation is a required element of visual pornography, even though this is not necessarily a common part of the sexual repertoire.

Porn editors have their work cut out for them.

Most porn scenes are not shot continuously from the first ring of the doorbell (enter the pizza delivery boy) to the last silly line "Next time I’ll remember to order extra sausage!"). There are constant breaks and interruptions during the shooting of a single scene, and they may even shoot some elements out of order. The end result is that what you see, the order you see it in, and how long it all takes, is often determined by the editing and not the actual sex that took place.

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