How Real Is the Sex You See in Pornography?

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Pornography is called many things. Some call it art, others call it evil. Some call it liberating, others call it shameful. There's one thing that everyone can (or should) agree on when we are talking about video pornography is that porn is recorded and to some extent staged. And like other kinds of recorded and staged film, porn bares about as much similarity to our real sex lives as a Hollywood movie does to our daily life.

Which is to say, not much. 

In other words, porn may be many things, but it's not real life. 

Still, 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 good sex ed. 

Here are just a few of the ways that mainstream pornography does not represent most people’s sexual experiences. 

Porn Isn’t Made for the Actors

While sex should be all about what gives the people who are engaging in it sexual 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 a 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, makeup, 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.