Porn sells exaggerated versions of reality that research shows are harmful to individuals, relationships, and society. But what’s just as harmful is what porn doesn’t show: healthy, committed relationships, and what real outcomes would look like if the disturbing storylines depicted as fantasy were acted out in real life.
Porn sets unrealistic expectations for what should be sexually desired and accepted. This can lead consumers to crave sexual scenarios that are either unattainable or would result in very different consequences from the outcomes porn portrays.
This is especially concerning when considering what research shows about porn consumption being an escalating behavior, and that over time, some consumers may want to act out in real life what they’ve been consuming as fantasy.
The real outcomes of porn scenarios
Let’s compare just a few porn scenarios to what their outcomes could really look like. Keep in mind, these are all common porn themes and storylines found on mainstream sites with a simple Google search.
Porn scenario: Woman says no to sex after a date, then eventually says yes with coercion and acts like she enjoys it.
Real scenario: Woman says no to sex. The guy coerces her into sex, violating her consent, and she presses sexual assault charges.
Porn scenario: Stepdad forces his stepdaughter to have sex with him in order to be allowed to go out with her friends. This continues for a long time, eventually the stepdaughter likes it.
Real scenario: Stepdad goes to jail for even laying a hand on his stepdaughter and she is traumatized as a result of his actions.
Porn scenario: Father-in-law forces his daughter-in-law to have sex with him.
Real scenario: Father-in-law flirts with his daughter-in-law. She tells her husband and the father-in-law is no longer allowed to family events with the daughter-in-law.
Porn scenario: Sister repeatedly touches her brother. The brother says no at first, but eventually gives in and ends up enjoying it.
Real scenario: A sister touches her brother, and the brother tells an adult what’s going on. The sister suffers legal consequences. Both the brother and sister suffer from mental and emotional problems.
Porn scenario: Boss has sex with an employee at work, then invites the employee to have sex with his wife. They all say they’re having a great time.
Real scenario: Boss has an affair with a coworker. Their spouses find out and each divorce them, and they both get fired from their jobs.
Porn scenario: Teen boy is seduced by his best friend’s mom.
Real scenario: Woman goes to jail for abusing an underage boy.
Porn scenario: School boys force their teacher into having group sex in the classroom.
Real scenario: School boys attack and rape their teacher. They’re expelled and are tried as adults for rape.
Porn scenario: Husband is caught cheating with his wife’s sister. The wife gets turned on and joins in.
Real scenario: Husband is caught having an affair. He loses his wife and kids. The wife’s sister’s relationship with her family is destroyed.
Porn scenario: Flight attendant watches passengers have sex on a plane, then joins them for a threesome.
Real scenario: Passengers and a flight attendant are caught having sex on a plane. They’re escorted from the plane by police, and face charges of indecent exposure and interfering with the flight crew. The flight attendant loses his/her job.
Can you see how pornographers paint a picture that harmfully deceives consumers and normalizes otherwise unacceptable actions?
Porn scenario: Man spits on his partner during sex. She loves it.
Real scenario: Man spits on his partner during sex, she is repulsed and horrified. He is embarrassed because he really thought she’d enjoy it.
Yeah, this happened. And it happens in bedrooms around the world where partners don’t realize how much porn fantasies influence real-life desires.
How “fantasy” affects reality
Many of these scenarios likely wouldn’t, or definitely shouldn’t, happen in real life. Some may actually happen to real people, as deeply sad and disturbing as that is. The argument here isn’t if these things could or do only happen in porn. The core of the issue is that porn teaches the acceptance of these themes—not only that these scenarios are okay, but that they’re a fantasy, pleasurable, sexy, arousing, and there are no consequences to actions.
Think about it: millions of people, including young kids and teens, consume porn every day, and many see it as a form of sex education. If mainstream porn continually teaches them that people who say no to sex at first will eventually give in, it’s ok for a boss to take advantage of their employee, saying “no” to sex means “convince me,” and members of the same family have sex all the time or take advantage of each other, what kind of impact could that have on their minds, attitudes, sexual templates, sexual ethics, and behaviors?
And what could those warped ideas about sex mean for our society as a whole, considering the hundreds of millions of porn consumers in the world? Of course, not every porn consumer will want to try or imitate everything they see in porn—though porn’s casual portrayal of many of these behaviors and scenarios do make them seem more safe, acceptable, or desirable when they very well may not be.
Why the porn industry shouldn’t get a free pass
The porn industry argues that it’s acceptable to sell these ideas because they’re “not real”—the “performers” aren’t really underage, or really related, or really being abused. But do you see the contradiction here?
How can we know for sure that what’s in porn isn’t the real-life documentation of someone’s abuse? Men, women, boys, and girls are sex trafficked every day, and their rape and abuse is often sold or distributed via porn sites. Sure, consenting porn performers act out “nonconsensual” scenarios, but true nonconsensual porn is not uncommon.
The harsh reality is that not everyone in porn is of legal age, and not all porn is consensual. In fact, more than you might think isn’t. And it can be difficult to tell the difference because videos of real abuse are mingled throughout mainstream porn sites and consumed by unknowing customers every single day.
Can we really ever know for sure, and is it even worth the risk?
What can we do?
It’s clear the porn industry has little concern for how their content affects the lives of consumers or those exploited in its production as long as the clicks and views keep rolling in. It’s also clear that no amount of justification can hide the fact that what porn sells as “fantasy” is anything but. We’re not buying the lies, and we won’t sit back and allow the most extreme content imaginable be consumed by those who have no idea how exploitation is tied to porn production.
So how can we fight back? We can refuse to click. We can stop the demand for content that hijacks the minds and hearts of consumers, exploits the abuse of real people, and hurts our world.
We can see through porn’s lies and be advocates for real love.