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10 Differences Between Healthy Sex and the Sex in Porn

Porn isn’t produced with accurate information about sex in mind, it’s created to entertain and manifest fantasies—no matter how violent or violating.

By September 7, 2022No Comments

Have you ever watched a movie and found yourself thinking something along the lines of, “That is not what happens in real life.”

When people watch movies or TV shows, even though they know what they’re seeing is fake, there is still somewhat of an expectation that reality is at least partially reflected in the media. Human brains want realism and logic to be able to fit into the content they consume, despite the fact that things like movies are intended to entertain, not educate.

Hollywood rarely ever cares about informing viewers more than getting money from them.

Think about the way that romantic comedies might provide unrealistic expectations for a first relationship, or a spy movie allows people to think that there’s always a gadget or a trick available for a secret agent, no matter the situation.

Related: Being Anti-Porn and Pro-Sex is Not Only Possible, It’s Necessary

When a movie is about something someone knows a lot about and has direct experience in, they are obviously going to notice the flaws portrayed. However, when a movie is about something that they don’t have experience in, or know very little about, they tend to overlook any possible errors or mischaracteristics.

After all, how would they know the difference?

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Absorbing this information, even if there is a general understanding that it isn’t reality, can pave the way to forming unrealistic expectations. This can be true for movies, shows, photoshopped images on social media, or any other visual element of entertainment.

Humans have had their expectations and understandings shaped by the world around them since the dawn of time—however, movies aren’t the only media shaping expectations of viewers.

Related: Why Choosing Not to Watch Porn is Sex-Positive

Pornography can also heavily shape consumers’ expectations, particularly of sex, even though porn is produced in order to entertain, not educate. This is made worse when you consider that the majority of kids are exposed to pornography is by the time they’re 13 years old and that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex, according to a 2020 study.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCopy 

Similarly, survey results also show one in four 18 to 24-year-olds (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7Copy 

So how are these misconceptions shaping the way people behave with each other?

Porn shapes our culture’s sex expectations

We have entered into a world where young people who don’t have any personal experience with sex are learning everything they know from pornography—and as you can imagine, porn is unfortunately an effective teacher for toxic ideals.

Related: 10 Things Porn Gets Completely Wrong About Real Sex

It isn’t produced with accurate education in mind, it’s created to entertain and manifest fantasies—no matter how violent or violating.

The sex often portrayed in mainstream porn today is often not safe, healthy, and sometimes, it isn’t even consensual.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the main differences between healthy sex and the sex shown in porn.

1. Porn Sex: Sex is using someone.
Healthy Sex: Sex is caring for someone.

Porn sends the message that people are objects; tools to be used to gratify a desire, no matter the cost. Healthy, consensual sex is about individuals seeing each other’s humanity and being selfless.

Research consistently shows that porn can play a big role in teaching viewers to consume people as products for their own personal sexual satisfaction, which can ultimately have unhealthy consequences for individuals, relationships, and for the cultures in which we live.Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.Copy Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? Media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198Copy 

Related: What Porn Never Taught Me About Having Sex for Real

2. Porn Sex: Partners have sex “at” each other.
Healthy Sex: Sex is sharing a moment with a partner.

“There’s a certain way of experiencing sexual arousal that is the opposite of closeness,” said Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with porn addicts for the last 30 years. “At best, it can be managed somewhat by some people, but most of the time it creates a barrier that poisons relationships.”Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.Copy 

Leading relationship experts, Doctors John and Julie Gottman of the world-renowned Gottman Institute explain, “When watching pornography, the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control… the relationship goal of intimate connection is confounded and ultimately lost.”Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (April 5, 2016). An open letter on porn. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/Copy 

Related: 10 Negative Effects of Porn on Your Brain, Body, Relationships, and Society

When sex is healthy, it can be an act of togetherness. Porn displays sex as simply an act being done to a person, degrading them and creating a selfish sense of independence between the persons involved.

Healthy sex is more bonding, intimate, and keeps the other person’s desire in mind.

3. Porn Sex: Sex is separate from emotion and love.
Healthy Sex: Sex is an expression of intimacy.

Porn compartmentalizes sex and affection. Often, little that is portrayed in the mainstream porn world can even be described as an act of love, and might better be described as an act of domination and hate.

Just as harmful as the things porn shows is what it doesn’t show. Pornography doesn’t give an accurate picture of what healthy sex is like; it cuts out important things like consent, communication, foreplay, and other ways partners are responsive to each other’s needs and preferences.

Healthy sex can be an expression of love and feeling between equal individuals, building upon intimacy in a relationship.

4. Porn Sex: Sex can be hurtful.
Healthy Sex: Sex is nurturing.

Porn sells the idea that sometimes sex can and should be used as a weapon, or as punishment. This is dangerous and unhealthy.

For example, a recent Australian study found that 70% of young people reported frequently seeing men as dominant, 34% frequently see women being called names or slurs, and 11% reported frequently seeing violence or aggression toward a woman that was nonconsensual. Another 13% of young people reported seeing aggressive nonconsensual sex “occasionally” when they watch porn, so together the study found that 1 in 4 young people have had repeated exposure to depictions of violent, nonconsensual sex within the last year of their lives.Davis, A. C., Carrotte, E. R., Hellard, M. E., & Lim, M. (2018). What Behaviors Do Young Heterosexual Australians See in Pornography? A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 310–319. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1417350Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

In reality, healthy sex should be a controlled act of care, not something that harms them.

5. Porn Sex: Sex is emotionally distant.
Healthy Sex: Sex is emotionally close.

It’s no wonder that the degrading, objectifying sex of pornography is emotionally distant.

While the amount of violence shown in porn is troubling, what is perhaps even more disturbing is the portrayed reactions to that violence. One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or appeared to respond with pleasure.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866Copy 

Related: 5 Essential Sex-Positive Traits that You Won’t Find in Porn

In other words, porn is sending the message that sexual violence is just a part of sexual pleasure.

Healthy sex includes emotional investment and recognizing the emotional needs, desires, and preferences between partners—always asking consent first.

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6. Porn Sex: Sex can happen anytime with anyone.
Healthy Sex: Sex requires certain conditions.

Pornography would have you believe that anyone can suddenly start having sex with another person at any minute (and enjoy it). It downgrades communication, consent, and emotions, among numerous other factors that are all at play when sex might be able to occur.

When it comes to the consequences of sexual acts portrayed in pornography, there are often two extremes. Most porn falls into the first extreme, which ignores any potential negative consequences of violent behavior, a lack of consent, or not using sexual protection and contraceptives

Related: Porn-Inspired Sex is Warping Teens’ First Sexual Encounters

However, at the other extreme are videos where the pain of those portrayed in videos is glamorized, even if people on screen are shown becoming upset. These videos eroticize and glorify sexual violence, and consequences such as skin tearing, bruising, prolapsed anuses, sexually transmitted infections, or unplanned pregnancies are portrayed as trophies or evidence of the violence and domination inflicted upon the performers.

7. Porn Sex: Sex can be degrading.
Healthy Sex: Sex is always respectful.

Research suggests that increased pornography consumption is associated with the enjoyment of degrading, uncommon, or aggressive sexual behaviors.Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860Copy  Another study indicated that teens often report trying to copy porn in their own sexual encounters, and that the pressure to imitate porn was often an aspect of unhealthy relationships.Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). 'Without Porn… I Wouldn't Know Half the Things I Know Now': A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of sex research, 52(7), 736–746. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908Copy 

Related: What You Won’t See on Porn Sites: Where to Go For the Best Sex Tips

The very base of healthy sex is mutual respect. A lack of respect results in hurt feelings at best, and violence and abuse at worst, but porn would have you believe that degrading people doesn’t matter as long as you’re pleasured—or even that the people being degraded enjoy it or deserve it.

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8. Porn Sex: Sex lacks healthy communication.
Healthy Sex: Sex requires healthy communication.

Meaningful communication is nearly absent from pornography, and when it’s present, you could hardly call it healthy (i.e. name calling, verbal abuse). Porn makes talking seem like a mood killer, but communicating likes, dislikes, or other thoughts during sex promotes healthier, safer, and all-around better sex and better connection with your partner.

Often, performers list out “do’s and don’ts” before filming starts, but the consumer doesn’t see that side of the production—only the edited and finished product.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Choosing to Not Watch Porn is Sex-Positive

9. Porn Sex: Sex has no limits, anything goes.
Healthy Sex: Sex has set boundaries.

In pornography, anything you want to do is okay to do. No matter how unacceptable—be it sexist, racist, abusive, illegal, misogynist, etc. The rule seems to be, if it provides pleasure to someone, then it is acceptable.

Wccording to a UK survey of over 22,000 adult women, 16% reported having been forced or coerced to perform sex acts the other person had seen in porn.Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCopy 

Of course, not all porn features physical violence, but it’s important to recognize that even non-violent porn has been shown to be associated with negative effects like increased sexual aggression.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201Copy 

Related: 10 Things Porn Gets Completely Wrong About Real Sex

In fact, research indicates that porn consumers are more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.Copy Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598Copy  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097Copy  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552Copy Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538Copy  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8Copy Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198Copy  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2Copy  and more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201Copy Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4Copy Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111Copy Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy 

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10. Porn Sex: Sex compromises your values.
Healthy Sex: Sex reflects your values.

Porn sex doesn’t often center on safety and consent, but healthy sex ideally does.

Even by the lowest estimate, more than 1 in every 3 porn videos depicts sexual violence or aggression.Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. (2020). A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(8), 3041–3053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0Copy  In fact, according to a study that analyzed porn titles alone, 1 out of every 8 titles suggested to first-time users on porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, azab035. doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035Copy 

Related: Why Choosing Not to Watch Porn is Sex-Positive

During healthy sex, people don’t have to check their values at the door—rather, people get to see those values exemplified and feel safe and comfortable doing so.

Anti-porn is pro-sex

Hopefully, by now it’s obvious that being anti-porn goes with being pro-sex. Pornography is simply incompatible with healthy sex in what it portrays and what research shows it results in between partners.

Healthy sex is a mutual, respectful act between two consenting adults who can hold onto their emotions and intimacy without feeling compromised or exploited.

Related: 50 Good Reasons to Stop Watching Porn Forever

Don’t buy the lies pornography sellsjoin the fight today to help raise awareness of how pornography doesn’t promote a healthy understanding of  real sex.

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