An Educational Guide to Porn

An Educational Guide to Porn

Porn does teach some stuff about sex: some of this is not bad, some of it really is.

They are acting
Porn Norms
A lot of it is by men for men
Stereotypes in porn
Porn talk
Consent in porn
Porn bodies
Condoms are rare and magical
Porn careers
Dressing up for sex
Group sex
Bisexuality
You might not like it
Porn mass debate

I don’t think people go to porn to learn about how to have sex – just like they wouldn’t learn how to drive by playing GTA. But the problem is that many of us have had pretty bad sex and relationships education so there’s a gap between fantasy and reality. Also many young people haven’t had sex so they don’t have much real life experience to compare it to. So we learn about having sex from the sex we see, in: films, TV shows (like Game of Thrones), and porn.

So this post is an educational guide to porn but also might help you to think about some of the sex scenes that you might see elsewhere too. Hopefully you’ll learn something, maybe you can watch sex on screen more critically, or at least LOL at the pizza guy.

They are acting

You might not think that porn actors are very good actors, but you would be wrong. Yes the bits at the beginning of a scene where they cover the storyline might not exactly be Romeo and Juliet, but the sex is acting. Even though they are actually having sex in porn scenes, they are acting. It’s kind of like wrestling on the telly, it’s all made up even though it’s real. Wrestlers have to have fights that look great, tell the story and are safe. It’s the porn performer’s job to make the sex look good (and not to get in the way of the camera), to create chemistry, and to make it look like extremely enjoyable sex.

An Educational Guide to Porn It's Acting

Also there is a lot more moaning and groaning in porn than in real life – again like wrestling. Some of the noises and screaming might sound like they are saying it’s hurting, but they are acting that they are having a really big orgasm. Everything has to sound bigger and look bigger than real life. Also, remember that everything is edited to make it all look super epic and amazing.

They are called porn performers for a reason. What they do to make sex look enjoyable takes work and talent and they do this even if they aren’t feeling it for the other person, or have other things on their mind, or would rather just not be at work. Like all work, innit? They also have to be pretty fit and athletic: sexing in positions that just wouldn’t be that comfortable in real life, but look great on camera.

Porn norms

Some things are so common in porn that you might think it’s ‘normal’ and that’s what everyone does in real life. For example cumming (ejaculating) on someone is very popular in porn, but not everyone likes it really. Just as in films and TV shows the sex that they show is usually the same and in the same order: kissing; clothes off; ‘foreplay‘; and entry sex 👉👌. This website is all about how this script for sex can make it harder to have more consensual and enjoyable sex.

Learn more about how to enjoy sex more

There is of course a lot of porn that shows different kinds of sex acts – rule 34 of the internet is that if you can think of it, there has been a porn made of it (eg, Game of Thrones) – but most of the porn from the big porn companies follows this same basic script. This is true for women performing with other women, and men performing with other men.

A lot of it is by men for men

Although there is a lot of porn that is made by people who aren’t men (women and non-binary directors are increasingly popular) a lot still is. Probably the vast majority of it. So this means that the scenes are made with men in mind. This is true for ‘straight’ porn and also ‘gay’ porn (which a lot of women are actually very interested in watching).

This means that the ‘gaze’ of the camera lens often imagines that it’s a bloke looking, so you might see things like woman looking into the camera so he can imagine he’s having sex with her.

Most of the focus might be on the woman’s body and face (with most of the focus being on the man’s lower body and crotch area). In porn made for women they usually don’t look at the camera, studies suggest that women watching find this a lot hotter.

Even in amateur porn (where it’s real couples having sex with each other and filming it), it’s usually the guy holding or directing the camera and the scenes end when the guy cums

The way people watch and engage with porn is very complicated though. So just because something is filmed in a particular way doesn’t mean that that’s how the viewer is going to see it. This means that even though most porn is made for men, a lot of women really like it. According to the Porn Hub report, 27% of visitors to their website were women in 2018 in the UK.

However there is porn out there which is not just aimed at men. Some porn is made by women for women but there’s also a lot of porn for a diverse range of genders and sexualities.

Stereotypes in porn

Just like with every other form of media, porn uses stereotypes about people to tell stories. Sometimes these stereotypes are silly fun (see below about pizza delivery), sometimes they are harmful and sexist or racist, sometimes they subvert these stereotypes. It’s complicated.

An Educational Guide to Porn Stereotypes

So this means that often in porn (because most porn is made by men, financed by men, made for men) men are shown as active, dominant, and wanting their needs to be met: women are shown as passive, submissive, and eager to meet the needs of anyone that shows up. If you weren’t watching porn critically then you might think that all men and women were meant to behave in that way all the time, but they’re not obviously.

To learn more about how to navigate gender stereotypes read What’s Your Gender?

Some of the story lines of porn can be negative about women, for example where women are ‘tricked’ into having sex. In reality these women are porn performers who are paid, but the story can be negative and unpleasant. Also the language of porn can be negative about women and usually describes acts which are done to women rather than with them: eg ‘Watch ________ get pounded.’ Things like spanking and hair pulling seem to happen to women without talking about whether they want that.

There’s some stuff in porn that people find so offensive that they just can’t enjoy it. Other people can watch it and enjoy it critically. Other people like to shop around and find porn that is more in tune with their values.

Porn talk

Porn is really good at showing lots of people having what looks like very pleasurable sex. However it’s really bad at teaching how to actually have really pleasurable sex. In order to have really great sex the most important thing is to work out what it is you want (and don’t want) and to try and find a way to communicate this to someone else.

Porn is all about the sex and not about the talk but having really good sex is all about the talk.

The only talking that happens in porn is in the script, people calling each other names and people telling each other that they are enjoying it. So it’s like “you like that don’t you?” rather than “does this feel good?” or “oh wow that feels good.”

In porn all the communication happens off camera and so the sex they have looks really easy. All kinds of sex needs trust, patience and communication to be enjoyable.

How to talk about what kind of sex you might want

Typically the performers and the director will have conversations about what they want to happen and not happen in the scene before it starts. Sometimes this is done using contracts, sometimes it’s a checklist, sometimes there’s a conversation before the day of the shoot, sometimes a conversation before the shoot, and sometimes there’s conversations during the shoot. If they’re really good, they would do all of these. It’s rare that any of this is shown in porn, but most performers are consenting to what’s happening.

However, this is not always the case. There have been lots of allegations of non-consensual practice on set over the last few years and porn has been having their #MeToo for quite some time. Lots of performers have reported that various non-consensual things happened to them at work. Things like: sex going beyond the boundaries of what was agreed; having to work with people that they didn’t agree to work with; the environment not being safe or private; being put at physical risk; being put in emotionally distressing or triggering situations. (If you want to read more about this stuff, Tracy Clark-Flory has been all over this at Jezebel and has been doing a brilliant job, thank you Tracy.)

Navigating consent can be hard at the best of times, because of power dynamics. But to do all of this when there is an employer/employee relationship plus sex must be really difficult. If you’ve had a job you will probably have had an employer ask you to do things that you don’t really want to do or are beyond the boundaries that you have already agreed to – that’s also bad. Employers can take advantage of people if they really need the job, or if they are new to a job. Sadly, this can also happen in the porn industry.

Although the porn performers can get paid quite well per scene, it’s not a lot of money if they think that they won’t get any more scenes in the future. So there is a lot at stake for performers, particularly those who are new to the industry, or young. Speaking up about not being treated well is very hard for those people and isn’t something that a lot of performers feel like they can do, if they want to continue getting work.

If you want to do something about this, pay attention to what porn performers are saying and support them on social media. You could also ask porn companies what their guidelines are on how they treat performers. If you are old enough to pay for porn, you could also pay for what you regard as ethical porn.

PS if you are a porn company, rather than setting up your own sex and relationships websites for young people, here’s how you can support this one.

Porn bodies

There are a diverse range of bodies in porn. Older, bigger (BBW), hairy (eg Bears), different races, trans and non-binary performers although there aren’t many performers with physical disabilities. However many performers look similar – particularly those that are in the main studios.

An Educational Guide to Porn How pornstars have to look

Comparing ourselves to other people is often not a great idea but it’s good to bear in mind that porn stars are meant to look like this. If they don’t, then they don’t get to be porn stars.

One of the difficult things with seeing people having sex is that they often look like this (especially in TV and Hollywood films) so it can be easy to think that only people who meet the ‘beauty standard’ are sexy and so get to have sex. There is a lot of porn that doesn’t just feature these kinds of bodies, but if you want to feel better about your body it’s usually best not to compare yourself to anyone.

Read How to Feel Better About Your Body if you would like a lot more great advice about this.

Condoms are rare and magical

Condoms are not often used in porn. Remember porn actors have very regular check-ups for HIV and other STIs, (usually once a month, sometimes less). They are very aware of the risks they take and some studios insist on using condoms and getting check-ups. Do you think they should use condoms in porn?

Porn careers

Pizza delivery guys really don’t get to have sex when they are delivering pizza. Same with gardeners, milk delivery people, pool cleaners, cable installers, plumbers, secretaries, lecturers, IT people and window cleaners. I haven’t read any research into which jobs are the most likely to result in having sex during the work day – but I think this is more to do with fantasy than real life. #justsayin

An Educational Guide to Porn Careers

As for careers in porn it is possible for some people to work in porn for a long time. Some of the most famous porn stars have been in the business for a decade or more. However, mostly people just work in porn for a year or two and then do something else. This is particularly true for women in porn who might get into it when they are young. Women performers are are paid more than men performers per scene, but men can work more and have longer careers if they are reliable and can look good, get a hard on, and ejaculate when needed to.

Mostly when people have worked in porn they then go on to work in different careers afterwards. For some this is more difficult because some ‘so-called’ fans try to find out what they did when they stopped working in porn and, because of the stigma of working in porn, they have found it tricky to get and keep jobs.

Dressing up for sex

Women don’t always dress up like this to have sex. They also don’t always wear make-up or comb their hair. Many people (not just women) like to get dressed up, to look and smell nice before they have sex – but not all the time.

An Educational Guide to Porn Dressing Up

There’s a difference between looking sexy and actually feeling it. Sometimes they are the same, but often they’re not. So if someone is dressed in a sexy way it doesn’t mean they want to have sex.

Group sex

In porn, group sex is very popular, but usually people usually only like having sex with one person at a time. Some people do like group sex, but it doesn’t happen as much as it does in porn. It’s also very difficult to arrange because there are more people which makes it more complicated in making sure everyone feels happy and safe.

An educational guide to porn group sex

Group sex can be harder work for the performers because there are more people involved. It also means that more work needs to go into consent, safety and comfort.

Read more about group sex in porn in the A – Z of Porn G

Bisexuality

In mainstream porn, women are expected to get it on with men AND women. But two men can only touch each other in gay porn. Why? Because most porn is made by straight men for straight men and they maybe think that the world would end if a straight guy saw a bisexual guy. Lots of women like watching gay porn specifically to watch two hot guys going at it.

Read more about bisexuality in porn in the A – Z of Porn B

You might not like it

If you pay any attention to the news you would think that all young people are into porn. It’s just not true (the majority of under 16s are not looking at porn). Many many people of all ages are not really interested in sex and there are loads and loads of people who love having sex but hate porn.

Even people that like porn don’t like everything they see. That’s cool. There is a huge amount of different kinds of sex on show in porn for different people with different tastes. What’s hot for one person might not be for another.

Porn mass debate

Many people think that porn is harmful. Some former pornstars have left the industry and campaign against it saying that it exploits women and hurts people watching it.

But many people think that porn is good. Women get paid more than men. Porn can show men and women positively too and can help people to explore their sexuality. Check this link about women who are Pro-Porn Our Porn Our Selves

A lot of people think that there is good porn or bad porn. Or ethical and unethical use of porn.

What do you think?
Read is it legal is it right?

There’s a discussion game in my workbook (which is available for free here) to help you chat with your mates/partners/cat about porn

If you’re a practitioner (sex educator, teacher, etc) then you might like to buy my Planet Porn teaching pack. Also here’s a blog post with the evidence about porn and young people.

© Justin Hancock, 2019


Comments (15)

  • Avatar

    Honor Gitsham

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    Hi!

    I’ve recently been in contact with Cindy Gallop about improving Sex and Relationship Education at my school and she directed me to this site; which I think is fantastic!

    One of the most ‘young people’ friendly sites I’ve come across. I also listened to yours and Cindy Gallop’s discussion: ‘Sex: Let’s Talk’ and thought that the comparison of porn and action films was another great way to make the subject more accessible to young people.

    I don’t think porn is necessarily a ‘bad thing’, however this is after I have spent a long time thinking about the topic and developed what I value and why, which not many young people (I feel) have had the chance to question as they are not often exposed to the idea of challenging the concept. This is why I want to improve this at my school. Therefore, without this opportunity to challenge pornography and what is suggests about sex, particularly for those who are being introduced to the concept of sex and relationships for the first time, I do think that porn can confuse individuals and potentially put them in difficult situations…It can be hard to vocalise what you feel comfortable doing when many of your peers are using porn as a means to satisfy each other. This does not make the idea of porn a ‘bad thing’, however without wonderful sites like this and makelovenotporn as well as the promotion of open and honest conversations about sex, porn can be a ‘bad thing’ in isolation because it doesn’t consider what helps to make a relationship healthy; such as the importance of consent etc.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Honor Gitsham

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      Sorry to mistake you for Al Vernacchio on the discussion about ‘Sex: Lets Talk’! (Getting overwhelmed with all the great stuff going on with Sex and Relationship Ed. XD) Still love your website and my view on porn still stands 🙂

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Jack Jones

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    Why isn’t OK for kids to watch porn, but it’s OK for them to watch nearly any other genre? Tom and Jerry is full of violence. Are kids confused? Do cowboy and indian films make kids genocidal? Do crime dramas make kids criminals?

    It’s not that there is no porn for youngsters, is that there is also no educational sex films, “realistic” porn, or explicit documentaries. And yet there are informative programmes on nearly every other subject.

    The problem seems to be that the world confuses porn with any kind of sex, in the same way that it confuses nudity with sex. As a youngster once myself, I tried very hard to find explicit sex education; I had no idea what a woman’s genitals looked like, and was told that there were obscene: what a great message to teach youngsters.

    Our hospitals are full of people with drink and tobacco related issues (they kill at least 100,000 people a year). I’ve never heard of anyone admitted to a hospital for watching porn.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    mary ann

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    Thank you for this info. I hope it becomes an important learning tool for all youths. I wish it was around when my husband and I were younger. Can you give me some advice? You see, I used to LOVE sex and porn. I grew in the day of video porn (and the early stages of internet porn) where it SEEMED mostly plainer and more for woman as well as men. There were actors, producers – it was considered a little “cheesier” but in my opinion it was so much less gross. It’s either that or what I have discovered my husband was into. I don’t go searching or snooping but he blazes a trail of his porn all over my apartment even though I have argued with him to at least keep it out of my face. If it was the porn I was used to then fine. But I find his preferences (which seems to be common among most guys I have discovered) to be unequal to woman as your site would put it and even a bit horrifying to me. It’s always at least 6 huge men on one tiny girl where she looks like she is in serious pain. Many times the girls complain on camera that the men’s huge genitals are hurting them to which the men scoff and talk in a very disrespectful way. He has videos of girls being pushed off beds and couches as they land heavily on the floor. There are ones where many of the men will hit her hard on the face with their genitals and sometimes even their hands while she screams. There is one where a group of guys are pushing a woman out of the house naked and there is also one where at the end the camera man says to the girl “thanks, see you one the internet” and she freaks out in fear over finding out she was taped. I understand some of it is acting but he only watches the really raw and amateurish looking stuff that appears to be the woman’s reality. It at least looks like she shows up expecting to have sex on camera with a level of respect but then the men push the limits of what her body can handle way too far. On the covers of the DVD’s he leaves lying around, the images of the woman are not sexy – they look contorted, ugly and is if they are fear or pain. The titles are insulting – not just sexist but often times racist too. I understand this is not the case with all porn but it seems so common and I don’t understand how men can find these images appealing unless they just hate woman. My husband and I don’t even have sex anymore because he insists on having porn on while we do it. He claims he doesn’t watch the rough stuff anymore, it just appears (and is saved to my desktop?) by accident as he looks for normal porn. That he wants to watch normal porn only and with me. But I feel so upset over the stuff I have seen in the past I refuse to watch even plain porn now (although our ideas of it are still very different). Not only that but on the nights I have tried to watch ‘normal’ porn with him, he has to sift through dozens of clips to find just one where the things I mentioned above don’t happen. And even when he thinks it’s a porn I would be willing to watch, it always takes a dark turn somewhere along the way. It’s gotten to the point where I refuse to watch any at all and now I am extra sensitive to other things such as seeing rape scenes on TV or a Girls Gone Wild commercial or even if a male comedian tells a mean joke about woman. Now I feel like a basket case when it comes to men and their feeling towards woman – like all men hate woman and want to see them degraded and harmed. I want to get rid of these negative feelings I have towards porn and men. I want to let go of the baggage and have a normal relationship with a new man one day. Is there a way to reverse the effects of this?

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Auline

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    This is awesome, but I think you should include the removal of body hairs for women as well (waxing large (most) areas of their bodies)

    Reply

    • Avatar

      bishtraining

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      Thanks! Yes you’re right. I also haven’t mentioned the back sack and crack wax…..!

      Reply

  • Avatar

    bishtraining

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    When I said dominant I should have used the word pervasive, not that the narrative is of dominance. Most porn is made by men for men. I’m not pro or anti porn.

    As for your comments about young people, I’ve worked with teens around sex and sexual health for 10 years, face to face. I reckon I’ve worked with around 2000 individual young men in a confidential one to one setting. Whilst I don’t get everything right, I think I’m pretty qualified. I didn’t get this shit from one book.

    Goodbye.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    ramswrsw

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    I admire your site and your purpose. But may I, as a registered sex therapist (in Canada), remark on some of your messages?
    I fully agree that porn is not a good way to get a sex education. Like action movies, romance movies, war movies, porn is entertainment, not a ‘how too.’ However, that does not mean that people cannot learn things from porn, just as sometimes a movie meant as entertainment can contain some valuable insights.
    U.S. sex therapist Marty Klein (http://www.sexed.org/) has remarked on the many truths that porn tells, including that anyone can be sexy, that there are a wide variety of ways to be sexual, and that women can exert sexual power, as well as men.
    This leads to another point: I regret that in some instances you fall into easy generalizations about porn. You focus on what is sometimes dubiously referred to as “mainstream porn.” Whether or not a mainstream exists is becoming increasingly problematic. There is a very large and growing number of websites devoted to gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual porn. Many gay men and lesbian women have cited the importance of their exposure to this material to normalize their sexual desires and help them own their sexual identity.
    Among the many very helpful messages you give, there are some that may be unhelpful to some readers/viewers: that porn “Only shows people with young, hot bodies.” That is not at all correct, and there are a large and increasing number of sites, DVDs, mags devoted to “real people/amateurs,” “Big beautiful women (BBW),” short people, hairy people, elderly people, and more.
    You’ve also stated that porn “Says nothing at all about disability.” Again, that is not correct, and there are many sites and other media that portray people with disabilities as sexually active. For many people with disabilities, porn is an important resource in the development and practice of their sexuality.
    My own preference would be to discuss the exceptions to the statements I’ve cited here, while noting that in many instances, “hot young bodies” are over-represented, while people with disabilities, the elderly, and others are under-represented. I think most young people are intelligent enough to understand that difference, and its importance.
    None of this is meant to nit-pick, nor to detract from the fine job you have done at discussing an important subject for young people. However, I think there are dangers in misinforming, or under-informing young people about the full picture on any topic. It can damage the credibility of your statements, and of you as a reliable source when some find the exceptions I’ve mentioned. More importantly, it can lead those who do not fit the stereotypes of “mainstream porn” to give up seeking reflections of themselves, and of their sexualities in sexual media. For some young people, that loss might have severe, or possibly tragic consequences.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      bishtraining

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      I appreciate your comments. Please note that this is a site for beginners, for teens over 14 who are trying to get their head around this stuff for the first time. I fully understand that porn is more diverse and nuanced than many people give credit for, some of my other posts about porn may represent this. However I think you seem to agree with me that there is a dominant mainstream narrative in most porn: it’s made for men, by men and it’s about how much pleasure the penis gets. Not all porn, most porn.

      You may be interested in my Planet Porn resource pack download, which hopefully enables parents and sex educators to have more discussion and in depth analysis than I can offer in a single post.

      http://bishtraining.com/index.php/planet-porn

      Reply

      • Avatar

        ramswrsw

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        Well, no actually. I don’t agree that there is a “dominant mainstream narrative in most porn: it’s made for men, by men and it’s about how much pleasure the penis gets.”
        I think that there are narratives that are interpreted (or constructed) as “dominant” by individuals and groups for a variety of purposes. In my experience, I have not yet encountered a case where diversity being reduced to (perceived) uniformity has been a good thing. In fact, every anti-oppressive movement of which I am aware does the opposite: highlights and celebrates diversity thereby expanding the awareness of its existence.
        I am not one who believes that it is helpful to simplify for young people. Young people live in a complex and diverse world. Pretending otherwise does them a disservice and fosters a dependency on “simple answers.”
        One of my favourite authors, Spider Robinson, has written, “No adult, however smart…, is ever going to outwit even one 12-year-old forever, much less all of them. Hell, they couldn’t even outwit 18-year-olds back in the ’60s. Stoned ones. ”
        I add that not to be witty, but to illustrate the point that if you are old enough to post this blog, you are de facto LESS net-savvy than your audience. They will KNOW that you are simply leaving out anything you don’t construe as “mainstream,” and your very worthy messages will be undermined thereby.
        I believe it would help, not hinder, the strength of your message to acknowledge that while a diversity does indeed exist in sexually explicit media, when that very large segment of commercial porn that depicts sex as being for men, by men and about how much pleasure the penis gets, is treated as the norm, problems arise. Then you have a solid, not specious, foundation for discussion of realities, values, and the endless diversity of sexual experiences that get missed when that type of porn is accepted as the mainstream.
        I wish you well in this worthy project.

        Reply

  • Avatar

    manoj

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    enjoy u r sex life

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Bill

    |

    Hey All,

    Excellent site, very informative and exciting.
    A further thought on Porn is that stimulation comes (in mines view) from the mind. I have had better orgasms from just closing my eyes and enjoying the feeling or fantasizing than watching porn,which distracts your attention away from the full body pleasure being either alone or with a partner can give.

    I will read more…..

    T.

    PS Found you via Belle. What a woman!

    Reply

    • Avatar

      bishtraining

      |

      That is also very kind, thank you.

      I take it you aren’t ‘T’ as in Toothbrush?

      Bish

      Reply

      • Avatar

        Bill (T)

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        No, ‘T’ as is Thanks.

        Have you ever done a cross-comparative study of Sex Education in different countries, or do you know anyone that has?

        Whose Toothbrush?

        Reply

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