Swat Ed is The Phoenix’s biweekly sex education Q & A. We accept all questions and they are kept completely anonymous. If you’re looking for medical advice or a diagnosis for that weird thing on your genitals, get in touch with a medical professional! For everything else, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s subject matter is pornography and the effects it has on hookup culture and sexual interactions.
Hi P. I’ve been arguing with my boyfriend for a little while about this and I’m not sure that I have a reason to even be upset with him. He told me that he watches a lot of porn a few weeks ago. I told him that it didn’t matter to me in the moment, but the more I thought about the more it got under my skin. I really don’t like a lot of what’s in porn, but I’m finding it hard to say exactly why it bothers me. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal. How do I deal with it?
Let’s start by laying out the general concept of pornography and the way it affects our sex lives and our concepts of sexuality. For most people growing up in the Internet age, pornography is where we learn our sexual scripts. The phrase “sexual script” refers to sex acts and the emotions, relationships and dynamics that go along with them. Essentially, it describes the patterns of our sexual lives. We rely so heavily on porn to create these scripts because we don’t really learn about pleasure from schools or our parents. There are a lot of misconceptions and generalizations that we absorb from porn, consciously and unconsciously. A few of those misconceptions, summarized:
Porn is designed for an audience of straight, frequently white men. This means that patriarchal and discriminatory ideas are rampant. This statement should not be interpreted as a judgment upon people who watch porn. Rather, it helps us identify one of the origins of misogynist sexual behavior: if people grow up from the age of twelve or thirteen viewing porn as their only source of sex education, of course they’ll have skewed ideas of normal sexual behavior.
Porn is addictive. While porn can certainly be an addiction to some people, this statement is most broadly relevant because exposure to porn, like exposure to drugs and alcohol, tends to require a larger and larger “dose” to induce the same effect over time. In porn, this means that people grow bored of “vanilla” sex acts and gravitate to ever more intense or “hardcore” material. When you consider that kids are exposed to porn at a very early age and become sexually active four to ten years later, at that point, their concept of “normal” sex can become extremely skewed in favor of fetishized, niche, or degrading acts.
Porn is designed to be visual. The best way to illustrate that is the concept of the “cumshot”, which is a sex act that came to be simply because it makes the act of ejaculation visible to the camera. The positions shown in porn usually maximize genital visibility to the camera and require acrobatics most people don’t need. The normalization of these positions contribute to the pleasure gap in heterosexual couples.
Porn is not sex. Above all, porn is an acted fantasy not consistent with real people or real experiences. It shouldn’t be treated as a how-to or a standard to hold partners against.
Hookup culture is prevalent throughout our world, in and beyond Swarthmore. While everyone’s experiences will be different, it’s worth taking a moment to lay out the benefits and pitfalls associated with hookup culture.
These basic concepts should give you a bit of a better idea of how to verbalize your feelings to your partner. What they don’t address, however, is how to go from here. To start, your sense of discomfort with your partner viewing porn is valid and I understand why you feel so bothered by it. To begin, do you notice porn-like behavior from him? If that’s the case, it’s a separate issue from him only viewing it himself. If he is only viewing it himself, as frustrated as you might be, it’s his prerogative to do so in private. You can request that he not mention it and not do it in front of you. If you explain why you don’t like it, he doesn’t want to change his behavior, and it still bothers you, then you’ll need to evaluate whether it’s bothering you more than you want to keep the relationship. In scenarios like this, there’s three outcomes: you talk and he changes his behavior (something he’s not obligated to do), the behavior doesn’t change and you accept it, and the behavior doesn’t change and you don’t accept it. It’s up to you which option you would like to pick. Make sure to at least give it time before you make a decision, weigh your options, and don’t make a decision while upset.