This piece originally appeared on the Blowfish Blog.
Porn is not sex education.
I’ll say it again: Porn is not sex education.
I’m saying this to everyone who’s reading this. But I’m especially saying it to parents: Porn is not sex education. So you need to make sure your kids are getting actual sex education. Because if you don’t, then all they really need to know about sex they’ll learn from porn — and they’re going to get it completely wrong.
This came up because of a piece I heard on the NPR radio show, “This American Life.” The program was on the topic of “talking to kids,” and it had a whole segment on talking to kids and teenagers about sex. The entire segment was excellent… but the part that jumped out at me was the teenagers saying that they didn’t have good information about sex. Specifically, they didn’t have good information about the actual mechanics of sex, what goes where and how.
And so they looked at porn.
And I didn’t know whether to vomit, throw things, or cry.
It wasn’t just the appalling state of sex education in our country that made me want to cry. Although that was a big part of it. The sex education these kids are getting from their schools is pathetic and insulting, and they know it.
No, what was really making me want to throw bricks through windows was that these teenagers were getting their sex education from porn… and I know, in great and vivid detail from the many years I’ve been watching porn, exactly how lousy that education will be.
Here is a very short list of things that people will get grotesquely wrong if they get their sex education from porn.
What women’s genitals look like. This is a biggie. If you’re looking at porn video to satisfy your curiosity about what a pussy looks like — well, standards of female beauty in porn are almost as rigid with pussies as they are with basic body types, and female genital cosmetic surgery in the porn industry is getting increasingly and depressingly common.
What male genitals look like. Another biggie — literally. Every time I read a letter to a sex advice columnist from a guy complaining that his dick is pathetically small — not like the guys in the porn videos — I want to scream and bite people. Male porn actors are specifically selected for their large genitalia. They are not a statistically representative sampling. Statistically speaking, they represent the far, far end of the bell curve.
The realities of female sexual response. This may be the worst offender of the bunch. There’s already enough ignorance about what gives women sexual pleasure and what gets us off, without “porn as sex ed” adding to the mix. Look, I have no doubt that there are some women out there who don’t need foreplay, get very aroused by giving blowjobs, have intense multiple orgasms from intercourse alone, and couldn’t care less if you touched their clit. But if that’s how you’re trying to get a woman off, you’re really not playing the percentages. Trust me on this.
The realities of male sexual response. If you’re getting your sex education from porn, you’re going to think that it’s normal for men to get rock-hard immediately, at will, and to stay rock-hard throughout the encounter until they come. You won’t necessarily know that (a) male porn actors are specifically selected for their ability to get wood and keep it; and (b) the omnipresence of wood in porn videos is due in large part to the miracle of video editing (and more recently to the miracle of Viagra).
To round it all off, we have the actual mechanics; the “What happens during sex?” stuff that the teenagers in the NPR story were desperately looking for. The sex in porn videos is choreographed to give a clear, unobstructed view of the penetration. It’s choreographed to look good — not to feel good. I shudder to think of a generation coming into their sexual prime thinking that reverse cowgirl and that stupid position where the woman sticks her leg up on the wall are the gold standard of the sexual nuts and bolts.
And all of that is just the tip of the sexual misinformation iceberg.
So I want to say a few things to parents:
1. Sex education in our country is in an appalling state. It has huge holes in it at best, and dispenses gross misinformation at worst.
2. If you think your kids aren’t seeing porn, think again. Even before the Internet, kids and teenagers were looking at porn. (How many of us swiped our dad’s Playboys for a peek? I sure did.) And with the Internet, the horse is definitely out of the barn
So do something. If you’re not comfortable talking frankly with your kids about sex yourself — and I have more sympathy for that position than you might imagine, I sure didn’t want to talk with my parents about sex — you need to make sure they have a way to get the information they want and need. Get them books. Point them at the Scarleteen or San Francisco Sex Information websites. Send them to the sex education programs offered by the Unitarians. Make sure there’s an adult in their life they can talk about sex with. Or suck it up, get over your discomfort, and talk to them yourself.
But for the love of all that is beautiful in this world, do not let them grow up thinking that they can get accurate, useful sex information from porn. They can — once they’re adults, of course — use porn to get entertainment, inspiration, arousal, even some interesting new ideas. But the sex information they’ll get from porn will be, if possible, even more useless and misleading than the sex information they’re getting from their schools.