Answered: Everything You Wanted to Know About Porn But Were Too Afraid to Ask

Updated 03/28/19

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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. However, there's one thing that everyone can (or should) agree on when it comes to pornography: it's recorded and—to some extent—staged. Like other kinds of movies, porn bares about as much similarity to our real sex lives as a romantic comedy 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. That doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it if it's something you enjoy (no judgment here), but it is something to be aware of before you press play. 

It's easy to confuse what plays out in adult films with what is expected to happen in real life—or what we imagine happening in the lives of others. For starters, some people's earliest exposure to sex is through pornography. Add this to the fact that not all adults feel comfortable talking honestly and openly about sex, and it's easy to see how quickly porn becomes an alternative form of sex education.

Of course, there's an important difference between sex education and good sex education—and 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. Consider your questions about porn, answered.

It's Not Made for the Actors

While, in an ideal world, sex is all about pleasure for the people involved, porn is the opposite. When actors 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 editor's jobs easier. Porn almost never documents two (or more) people actually having pleasurable sex. Instead, it’s one person’s idea of what will titillate millions of other people.

It's Created 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 with you. This isn't exactly portrayed in porn, especially since the vast majority of mainstream pornography is made by a small group of people. Sex can be an incredibly complicated form of human communication and interaction, while pornography oftentimes isn’t.

It Perpetuates Unrealistic Expectations

While it can be hard not to, there's no reason to compare your body to what you see in porn. The actors you see on camera are often chosen specifically for their physical attributes. For instance, the average penis size among male porn stars is not exactly representative of the general population and the prominence of plastic surgery among actors in this field creates additional unrealistic expectations.

It's All Smoke and Mirrors

Along with 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 appear much larger, smoother, and overall aesthetically pleasing than what you see in real life. Lighting, camera angles, makeup, and even pubic hair design changes the appearance and perceived size of the actors' body parts.

It's 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 necessarily represent what’s most popular or even what's 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.

It's Meant to Be Dramatic

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 viewer. They are also based on the pornographer’s need to “prove” to the viewer that actual sex is taking place, which can lead to some unrealistic scenarios.

It's Highly Edited

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 often determined by the editing and not the actual sex that took place.

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