Women Who Stray

Notes on the history and current practice of female infidelity

Blaming Porn for Bad Sex

Is porn really responsible for teaching men bad sexual behaviors?
This post is a response to Sex, Porn, and the Challenge of Intimacy by Mark Banschick, M.D.

When a couple has unsatisfying sex, who's to blame?
You can’t turn around these days without hearing claims that porn is teaching men to behave like oafs in bed. Aside from the hyperbolic claims that porn turns men into rapists or pedophiles, there is a genuine social outcry that young men are getting into bed and expecting “porn sex.” There are articles, Ted talks, websites and more, all complaining that men are learning bad behaviors from porn. When I talk about sexuality and research on porn, I often hear complaints like this recent letter from a listener:

 From a woman, on the 'front lines,' porn is most definitely damaging to men of all ages. I'm 30 years old, and every time I sleep with a man it seems they are trying harder and more painful acts with me, and this is all as a result of porn. Guys are definitely more sexist than they were since I was 20, and I have no doubt that this is due to being inundated with these hardcore, degrading images. They also make the men enjoy sex less, less likely to please, and more displeased with me (and I am attractive by any standard).

Sincerely, L.

On behalf of men everywhere, I think that guys who behave this way in bed with a woman are idiots. A man who acts like this has never been taught to be a gentleman, and is an insensitive lout who need serious help understanding relationships, sexuality, communication and how to have a reciprocal experience in bed.

However, I’m skeptical of the degree to which porn is a scapegoat. It's a distraction, and a simplistic answer to blame porn alone for these problems. Women have been complaining about young men in similar ways, for millennia, chastising them for being too eager, too rough, too clumsy, sexually ignorant and for not paying enough attention to foreplay, or to the woman’s sexual needs.

Men are most virile and most attractive between the ages of 35 and 55. Under 35 a man has too much to learn, and I don't have time to teach him - Hedy Lamarr

Despite the fact that most gay men are consumers of porn, I’ve not heard or seen this complaint expressed by gay men about their male partners’ behavior. This suggests to me that the real complaint here is an age-old issue of sexual communication and reciprocity between men and women.

Marie Stopes, sexuality pioneer
In 1918, Marie Stopes wrote the fascinating sex education manual, Married Love. In it, she discusses the common unsatisfying sexual experiences of women who don’t understand their own sexuality, as they marry men who are equally ignorant of female desire and pleasure. She even suggests that women need to anticipate, and be prepared to deal with, the fact that some men may come to marriage carrying misconceptions they learned from prostitutes. 

Why do so many women fake orgasm? Because so many men fake foreplay. – Anonymous

Today these problems are blamed on porn. I agree that men, and young people in general, desperately need real, modern, practical education about sexuality and relationships.

A “saucy” 98 year-old woman recently gave wonderful advice on how she had managed to have an exciting, satisfying sexual life. Answer? She demanded it, and fought for it. “Pauline says the secret to a happy marriage is a give-and-take during sex - but if the desire is gone, she advises divorce. 'First of all, a man mustn’t be selfish,' she explained. 'He’s had his orgasm, he’s got to make sure she’s had hers, too. That whole wham, bam, thank you, ma’am—that’s no good.” 

It takes two to tango, doesn’t it? If a woman is going to bed with men who behave in disrespectful, insensitive ways, she might be with the wrong men. A guy who can listen, empathize with a woman, be respectful and treat her with dignity over dinner and a date, will probably behave the same way in bed. If he gets excited and carried away because of poor sexual education or lack of experience, these same skills will help him to listen and understand when the woman talks about her needs and desires. When I suggested this to L, I got a fascinating response:

I am a forward thinking, progressive woman who is in touch with her sexuality. I feel like I am taking a step backward if I have to be a gatekeeper of sex, which is what you are implying. But yeah, I guess I can try to go all 1950's and get a guy to wine and dine me. Might be the only solution at this point.

There’s a fantasy here too. L seems to think that in today’s modern world of feminism, a woman’s needs should be automatically met in bed, and that she shouldn’t have to be a “gatekeeper” of who she has sex with. I’m sorry, but a woman has to be just as personally responsible as she wants men to be.

In Marie Stopes’ manual, she recommended that education, personal understanding and insight are critical for both man and woman to have mutually satisfying sex and relationship. The critical component she describes is “mutuality,” the same give-and-take that Pauline describes above. “This is something woman too often forgets…And by her very docility to his perpetual demands she destroys for him the elation, the palpitating thrills and surprises, of the chase…To render a woman ready before uniting with her is not only the merest act of humanity to save her pain, but is of value from the man's point of view, for…the man gains an immense increase of sensation from the mutuality thus attained.”

Cindy Gallop, of makelovenotporn, dedicated to sexual mutuality
 

Former porn star Jenna Jameson says “When it comes to being a good lover, a guy has to ask a girl what she wants and be willing to give it to her.” I will add that the woman also has to be willing to answer the question.

BOTH people in bed are responsible for themselves, and for communicating with their partner. This is one of the key points missing in most porn. Most porn conveys a fantasy, that earth-shattering sex can occur without communication, undue effort, and without a whole lot of thoughtfulness or insight (romance literature and romantic movies typically present the same fantasy, in less-graphic ways).

In contrast, Kink.com (VERY NSFW) is a popular BDSM site which includes video prologues and epilogues to their videos. In these before and after clips, the actors and actresses first describe what they are looking for in their sexual experiences, and then talk about what felt good during the on-screen encounter. This process is, in fact, an exceptionally good model for healthy, mutually-satisfying sex.

Good sexual relationships (in fact, all relationships) require negotiation, mutual communication, honesty and respect. These are things that are missing in fantasy-based entertainment, whether it’s pornography or romance novels, where mutuality happens through the magic of fiction. In real life, mutuality takes work, self-understanding and compromise. There are as many women out there who are not able to express their sexuality, as there are men who behave foolishly and insensitively in bed. Some men don’t want to act like a porn star in bed, and some women do. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

 If your partner does something you don’t like, or doesn’t do something you do like, and you never tell them, your unhappiness is your responsibility. If you keep going to bed with people who don’t listen to you, it begs the question of whether you really want someone to listen, or feel like you deserve to be heard. Let’s stop blaming porn for being the fantasy that it is, and instead encourage people to take personal responsibility for the health of their relationships.

 

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Insatiable Wives, Women Who Stray and The Men Who Love Them, available from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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