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Porn Has Lied to You About Sex

Young people who consume porn often expect their partners to act out what they’ve seen, even if it’s painful, degrading, or dangerous.

One of the common defenses of porn is that porn is just watching people have sex—and what could be more natural and normal than that?

While sex is natural and normal, porn is something entirely different. Make no mistake, porn is a product. Pornographers have a lot to gain by driving traffic to their sites, so they dress up their product to grab your attention.

That “dressing up” is exactly what makes porn so unnatural.

Consider how professional porn performers have a whole team of people to make every detail look perfect, from directing and filming to lighting and makeup, maybe even a plastic surgeon or two to thank. With some careful editing, a typical porn video that took hours or days to shoot can appear to have happened all at once, without a break.

Related: 10 Things Porn Gets Completely Wrong About Real Sex

Film the right bodies from the right angles at the right moments, edit out all the mistakes, Photoshop away any imperfections, add a catchy soundtrack, and you have something most definitely not like real sex—you end up with something that is definitely more fake than real.

This is especially concerning, considering that porn can shape the way people think about sex.

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Learning about sex from porn

Despite how unrealistic pornography is, research indicates that many young people 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 

Studies also show 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 

Related: The Porn Industry Doesn’t Just Sell Sex, It Sells Violent Abuse Of Women

And a number of other studies also show that the sexual scripts in pornography can socialize consumers toward 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  cheating,Rasmussen, K. (2016). A historical and empirical review of pornography and romantic relationships: Implications for family researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141Copy  and risky sexual behaviors.Koletić G. (2017). Longitudinal associations between the use of sexually explicit material and adolescents' attitudes and behaviors: A narrative review of studies. Journal of adolescence, 57, 119–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.006Copy Wright, P. J., & Bae, S. (2016). Pornography and male socialization. In Y. J. Wong & S. R. Wester (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology®. APA handbook of men and masculinities (p. 551–568). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14594-025Copy 

Leading relationship experts, Doctors John and Julie Gottman of the world-renowned Gottman Institute have expressed serious concerns about the effects of pornography on sexual relationships. They explain,

Pornography may be just such a supernormal stimulus. With pornography use, much more of a normal stimulus may eventually be needed to achieve the response a supernormal stimulus evokes. In contrast, ordinary levels of the stimulus are no longer interesting. This may be how normal sex becomes much less interesting for porn users. The data supports this conclusion. In fact, use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.”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: Being Anti-Porn And Pro-Sex Is Not Only Possible, It’s Necessary

These concerns about realistic expectations are particularly important when it comes to children and teens who are still forming their understandings of sex and relationships.

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The toxic messages porn teaches

With so many young people viewing pornography so early in their lives, many end up internalizing toxic or harmful messages about sex.Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M., (2016) Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research. Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441Copy 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. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908Copy 

That’s scary for a lot of reasons. Young people who consume porn often expect their partners to act out what they’ve seen, even if it’s painful, degrading, or dangerous.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. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.960908Copy 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 

And as people adopt the unrealistic standards of porn, they often end up feeling bad about themselves and dissatisfied with their partners.Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The effects of sexually explicit material use on romantic relationship dynamics. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078Copy Morgan, E. M. (2011). Associations between Young Adults’ Use of Sexually Explicit Materials and Their Sexual Preferences, Behaviors, and Satisfaction. Journal of Sex Research, 48(6), 520-530. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.543960Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

Learning about sex from porn also means absorbing a lot of dangerous ideas about sexuality and women.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 

Research estimates that as few as 1 in 3 porn videos (35.0%) and as many as 9 in 10 videos (88.2%) portrays violence or physical aggression, and that women are the targets of aggression approximately 97% of the time.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 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. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801210382866Copy 

And while many people turn to amateur porn, which claims to be more natural and “ethical,” research suggests that amateur porn usually teaches the same toxic attitudes and reproduces the same false stereotypes as professionally produced porn—in fact, it’s often worse!Klaassen, M. J., & Peter, J. (2015). Gender (In)equality in Internet Pornography: A Content Analysis of Popular Pornographic Internet Videos. Journal of sex research, 52(7), 721–735. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.976781Copy 

Related: 4 Ways Porn Warps The Way Women View Themselves

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Porn has lied to you about sex

The research is clear—porn is not a harmless pastime, especially when it’s hurting a romantic partner. But the research is also clear that shame is not an effective way to motivate someone to change.Brown, B. (2012). Understanding and combating shame. Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Avery.Copy 

The kind of “intimacy” porn offers is nothing more than empty sexual stimulation, while real intimacy offers so much more. Real connection is a world of satisfaction and excitement that doesn’t disappear when the screen goes off. It’s the breathtaking risk of being vulnerable with another human being.

Related: Study Shows How Porn Can Complicate Women’s Relationship With Sex

It’s inviting them not just into your bed, but into your heart and life. Real intimacy is about what we give, not just what we get. It’s other-centered, not self-centered.

You can choose to recognize porn for the deception it is. You can reject porn’s toxic messages and choose real life, real relationships, and real love.

This is a selected excerpt from one of our Get The Facts articles. Click here to read the full article, “How Porn Can Harm Consumers’ Sex Lives.”