We tend to naturally believe that everything we see or read online is a model of reality. Whether watching the most recent movie or reading your favorite romance novel, it is important to remember that these are highly orchestrated productions, often created to demonstrate an image of “perfection.” Pornographic content is no exception to this fabricated idealism.

Pornography is defined by Merriam Webster as, “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” When discussing pornographic content, it is important to normalize its existence and consumption to avoid perpetuating associated shame. According to Dr. Doug Braun Harvey’s 6 Principles of Sexual Health, it is encouraged to utilize language of “sexual imagery” to describe erotic or sexual content. There is often negative perception associated with “pornography,” while sexual imagery describes the content without strings attached. For the purpose of this blog, the terminology of pornography will be utilized to exemplify the difference between “sexual imagery” and “pornography” as it exists in modern society.

Although the ideals portrayed in pornography can have deeply damaging impacts on our intimate relationships, they are rarely discussed in mainstream dialogues. Having conversations about realistic and healthy sexuality is critical to healthy intimate relationships. The following are common myths perpetuated by pornography, with explanations of why they are not an accurate representation of reality.

Myths about Pornography

Myth 1: Sex is always “perfect” without awkward or playful moments

Play is an important component of sex. It is extremely normal to have awkward, playful, and goofy moments with sexual partners—in fact, it is healthy!

Myth 2: Your partner exists for the sole purpose of providing sexual pleasure

While sex is often an important component of a relationship, it is not the only component of a relational identity. A partner’s identity can include a variety of components, including but not limited to sexuality, emotionality, and social support.

Myth 3: Consuming sexual imagery is inherently wrong

The consumption of “pornography” is often shamed and stigmatized within our society. However, it can be a healthy tool for sexuality. Every individual and relationship can have unique boundaries as needed for consuming sexual imagery, but there is no “one size fits all.”

Myth 4: Vulva owners are objects and their identities are inherently sexual

Most hetero-normative “pornography” portrays vulva owners as sexual objects and prioritizes pleasure for penis owner partners. While there are of course exceptions, this narrative can be damaging to one’s sense of self and identity within a relationship. Always remember that you bring much more to the table than just your sexuality.

Myth 5: Sex needs to end in orgasm

Sex is unique within every relationship, but “pornography” tends to repeat the same ending for everyone—orgasm and ejaculation. While this can of course happen, it is not required. Allowing yourself to feel pleasure without the pressure of orgasms is liberating for many folks.

Myth 6: Consent is implied and/or nonverbal

Consent is often depicted as implied or nonverbal in pornographic scenes. It is critical to remember that consent should always be explicitly discussed within sexual relationships, despite what is perpetuated in “pornography”.

Myth 7: Only certain body types (or body hygiene styles) are sexy

It is common to see depictions of stereotypically “perfect” bodies in “pornography”. Whether referring to penis size, general body types, or pubic hair, there is no such thing as the “perfect body.” It can be important to embrace natural beauty and unlearn the beauty standards defined by pornographic content and society to maintain healthy sexuality.

Myth 8: Sex is transactional and/or devoid of intimacy

When watching “pornography”, sex is almost always portrayed as a physical transaction. In other words, sex becomes a business deal. Although transactional sex exists, this is not an accurate depiction of all sexual behavior and often normalizes a lack of sexual intimacy. Within a relationship, healthy levels of sexual intimacy can help to increase long-term relationship satisfaction and overall sexuality.

Quick Tips to Combat the Potential Negative Impacts of Pornography
1) If you are going to consume sexual imagery try to focus on ethical websites and productions. For example, research and identify content created by women for women, prioritize content provided directly from the creators, and/or avoid content depicting negative stereotypes.

2) Validate your sexual identity and confidence (either yourself or with your partner). For example, take time to identify specific things you find attractive about yourself and your partner.

3) Engage in frequent conversations with your partner about your sexual preferences. This way, you can both be transparent about your preferences, thoughts, and feelings related to your sexual relationship.

4) Facilitate large-scale dialogues regarding objectification and the impact of sexual imagery on relationships as you are comfortable.

Additional Resources

  1. The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography by Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz
  2. Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction by Gary Wilson
  3. Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure by David J. Ley, PhD
  4. “How Porn Affects Our Brains” So Curious! podcast episode
  5. “Researchers Explore Pornography’s Effect on Long-Term Relationships” by Shankar Vedantam of National Public Radio (NPR)