What Can Men Learn From Porn?

The adult entertainment industry – commonly referred to as the porn industry – has been demonized by many, and blamed for nearly every imaginable social ill, yet its product, which is viewed and enjoyed by both men and women, has not been shown to actually cause the troubles it is accused of creating. In fact, research has found no evidence that porn harms or cajoles viewers. That left me thinking about what good might come of it. Is there anything that intelligent, thoughtful people can learn by watching porn? I believe the answer is yes. Today I want to address the top 5 lessons that porn can teach men. At another time, I’ll address this topic on behalf of adult entertainment’s lessons for women.

Lesson Number One: Porn Can Help Men Expand and Diversity Their Perceptions about Female Desirability

Now, that might surprise you, since you’re probably used to hearing critics of adult entertainment suggest that porn brainwashes men to be attracted only to drop-dead gorgeous women with exaggeratedly feminine shapes, nonexistent body hair, fake breasts, and often surgically enhanced genitals. If men want only these women, the thinking goes, then they won’t be turned on by ordinary gals who, in the words of writer Naomi Wolf, wind up seeming like – quote – “bad porn.” Well, we have only to turn on the TV to see that if any medium has the power to sway our minds about beauty, porn is the least of the culprits. At its worst, it has always reflected mainstream standards of female desirability. You have only to look at porn from the 60’s or 70’s to see how true that is. Men’s AND women’s perceptions of beauty have been contorted and distorted by Hollywood standards, by Madison Avenue, the music industry, and the fashion industry since long before porn became accessible.

For the past half century, billboards, auto and beer ads, TV commercials, mainstream films – and now the most popular reality TV shows and music videos – have been conceptualizing and selling the ideal pouting vixen, and providing fodder for male fantasy and their own private money shots. To the extent that some porn perpetuates those images, it is building upon mainstream archetypes, not creating them. Even a cursory review of porn adult materials on the internet shows that the industry manages to do a better job of representing women visually than the mainstream media. If you look at what men are really watching – and I don’t mean the big budget films with glamorous stars – but if you cover the gamut, and especially if you look at the vast range of amateur video sites, chat sites, and live streaming videos, you see an array of sexy, lusty, erotically honest and expressive women of every imaginable size, shape, age and race. Exposure to these sexual images is like exposure to a virtual cornucopia of feminine beauty. In fact, the wealth and variety of desirable women and men alike may be greater in the adult entertainment world than most other media. Sure, you can remain in a narrow world that fetishizes one glamorous type, one brand of icon – but you don’t have to. When you expand your visual feast, you discover an abundance of beauty and sensuality in both adult entertainment and in real life.

Lesson Number Two: Porn Teaches How to Fantasize

Porn is not real life. Porn is fantasy. Sometimes the most extreme, the most outrageous, the most unrealistic fantasy, true. In fact, porn is to fantasy what science fiction is to ordinary life. The entertainment you see about mutant zombies running rampant on space stations, or alien pod people replacing your family or vampire teens, or squads of military adventurers who can dial up instantaneous travel to distant galaxies – well, they’re fantasies, too. If you spend enough time steeped in them, you get pretty good at conjuring up your own fantastical plotlines. Same in porn. If your own sexual imagination seems a little dim, porn can turn the lights on. Just remember that you can no more do whatever your fertile mind conceives without getting a clear go-ahead from your partner, than you can transport to another star system without the right dialing parameters.

Lesson Number Three: Porn Demonstrates That Taboos Can and Should Be Broken

Some of the most exciting sexual fantasies and erotic entertainments involve breaking taboos. Sometimes the taboos are cultural – like interracial sex, or same-sex sex, or group sex. Sometimes they’re admonishments that came out of all our upbringing, like being told “don’t touch… it’s dirty!” Or “be nice!” Or “don’t make a mess!”

Don’t make a mess? In adult videos, every possible form of body fluid is utilized in ways that have a much greater yuck factor than a wow factor, and making a mess is applauded. Be nice? Some adult entertainment includes aggressive, even violent non-consenting behavior – quite the opposite of nice. But the message is not that it’s ok to slap people around during sex or that it’s ok not to wear a condom or ejaculate and spit wherever you please – it’s not that specific. If you think it is, or that because you saw a bukkake video, your girlfriend is likely to want to partake, then you probably think that your neighbors are pod people, too. No, most viewers know that porn is one place where the middle finger can flipped at every possible taboo. Porn teaches us that taboos do need to be examined. Boundaries need to be expanded. Sexuality – which is about unleashing inhibitions – is also about questioning cultural values and rules. The shame and the rigidity that our culture layers onto all forms of sexual expression needs to be deconstructed, including the indictment of simple desire that goes hand in hand with what passes for sex education. And if porn taken as a whole is the fantasy of dispensing with all taboos, maybe that’s because the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of valorizing taboo. Instead, we need to closely examine the purpose of any taboo that affects our lives and our sexual pleasure. Porn asks – and sometimes demands – that as responsible viewers we do that. We can learn important lessons with every question we ask about common taboos – either those that we thoughtlessly rebel against, without questioning their meaning and consequences, or those that we automatically accept and take for granted.

Lesson Number Four – Porn Motivates Real Sex Education

If porn is merely fantasy, then genuine sex education is the bridge between the imagined and the real. Porn may affirm your appetite for the kind of sex you’ve been hesitant to try or maybe even discuss with your partner, and in so doing can inspire you to learn more about your erotic interests. Since you know that with porn you’re viewing a fantasy, it follows that you know that porn is unburdened by the real-life necessities of such elements as lubrication, consensual negotiation, safe transitions between sex acts, aftercare, and so much more. Knowing this, you can take the next step. You take the appetites that porn affirms to the bookstore or the educational video display. There, you not only feel further affirmed, but you can learn how to approach and responsibly enact the sex of your dreams.

Lesson Number Five: Porn Celebrates Erotic Pleasure

Adult material shows human beings in lusty, shameless enjoyment of their bodies and each other. From the most highly produced, Hollywood-quality erotic film, to real couples frolicking in front of their webcam picking up every moan and every twitter, a huge community of people are demonstrating that sex is pleasure, sex is fun, and above all, sex is nothing to be ashamed of.

To be fair, it’s also true that much of professional adult entertainment is directed to optimize camera angles and coverage, to best confer its fantasy through a visual medium within a short span of time. It’s filmmaking – meaning sometimes the sex seems performed and emotionally vacant. And sometimes, the camera does pick up unmistakable flickers of real feeling, real connection between partners. The difference can be owing to both casting and directing – in other words, filmmaking quality. In a bad film, the “acting” is laughable – and you might not even be turned on by it, but you’ll learn the difference between quality and junk-porn, too. As a consumer, you get to treat adult entertainment like any other product – selectively. But even more importantly, if you’ve grown up ashamed of your desires, if you have difficulty releasing control during sex, adult materials constantly affirm that you are OK. Porn invites you to celebrate your sexuality. It says don’t fear it, hide it or deny it. It’s even OK to be silly or crass – like a bad movie. Nobody’s perfect, least of all porn directors! Yet, celebration of the body erotic reigns. Perhaps this is what makes porn truly subversive. And maybe this is why some people would like you to believe that it’s very dangerous.