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What is porn? How would you define it?

‘Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity intended to stimulate sexual excitement’.

Porn: What science says

It’s no secret there’s porn on the internet. You might have seen it yourself – by accident or on purpose. Whether you’ve seen it or not, what do you think about it?

If you look at porn, or have friends that do, it’s worth knowing a bit about it.

Studies looking at the impact of porn on thousands of young people and adults have found that:

  • Watching porn often makes real-world sex less enjoyable.
  • Porn often makes people feel less happy in their relationships.
  • Porn can lead people to think about sex a lot more. This can make it harder for them to enjoy their friendships and other interests.
  • Porn can lead to people viewing others, especially women, as ‘sex objects’. This means we only see other people as things to have sex with, not as people with intelligence and feelings. This means we respect them less. Everyone gets less out of life and relationships if this happens.
  • Over time, porn can shape the types of things you get turned on by. There’s some pretty weird porn out there so if you train your brain to be turned on by the things you see; you could have trouble enjoying real sex.

So, porn presents fantasies but can have a big impact on our real lives. It can affect our relationships, sex lives, and our abilities to feel good about ourselves.

How does this happen?

The sex you see in porn is very different from what makes good real sex. That means that if you’re going to look at porn, you need to know it’s not like real sex. And, to find out about porn sex you need to start with real sex.

Good sex

Despite what people do in porn, good sex isn’t about the positions you can pull or how long you can last. In real sex, people need to feel a whole lot more than just sexual arousal. They should feel good about themselves and comfortable with the person they are with.

Sex is usually better and more pleasurable if the two people respect each other and are able to communicate well to be sure that they both want the same things.

Sex is also most satisfying when it’s with someone you find attractive in lots of ways – who they are as well as what they look like.

Most importantly, in good sex both people want to be having sex and are happy with whatever sex acts they are doing.

Porn fantasies v reality

Porn is not just pictures or videos of sex – it is a particular type of sex. Most of the time this simply isn’t the same as real sex:

Fantasy bodies, fantasy sex - Real breasts and real penises are usually smaller than those in porn. Most women don’t shave off their pubic hair. Most men don’t have penises that can stay erect for long periods. And most people take some time to be aroused and don’t want sex the whole time. Expecting any of these things in real life usually just makes people feel pressured and insecure.

Fake sex - Though porn actors are having ‘real’ sex, porn doesn’t focus on them as real people with real characters and feelings. It only focuses on the ‘body’ bit of sex, not the ‘feelings’ bit. For most people, the most intense sexual experiences come from ‘chemistry’ with someone else. That’s about who that someone is as much as what they look like.

Faking it - Porn actors are usually paid to do what they do in front of the camera. That means they agree to do things which often aren’t what most people would agree to do in their day-to-day sex lives. Putting pressure on someone to do things seen in porn is never ok and will usually lead to them feeling uncomfortable, under-confident, and less sexually satisfied.

Aggressive sex – Porn often shows men being aggressive and in control and women happily being dominated. The majority of porn shows aggressive behaviour directed at females and is almost always about male pleasure. Porn is made to sexually arouse its viewers, and from the industry perspective, it doesn’t matter how unrealistic, rough or degrading it is, as long as it sells.

Porn sex is not safe sex - Often porn shows multiple partners having unprotected sex. Condoms are very rarely discussed or used.

This film from Australia describes porn in an interesting way.



Free and full consent is crucial

If you watch porn, you might get the impression that everyone wants to have sex all the time. But they don’t. Working out if you and your partner both want to have sex, and what you both want to do, can be difficult – but it is really important. Some people feel pressured to do what their partner has seen in porn. But doing anything sexual with a partner without their free agreement is never okay. And remember, a ‘yes’ to one thing is not yes to everything. Make sure they want the same things as you or give it a miss.

Worried about your porn use?

If you want to stop watching porn but are finding it difficult, there are some things you can do to help yourself.

Talk about it: - is there an adult in your life or even a friend you could talk to about your worries? A conversation can help sort out the way forward and make the problem feel more manageable.

Think about your future relationships: - Think about whether porn fits or doesn’t fit with your hopes for future romances and sexual life.

Make porn less accessible: - This might involve starting new interests like a new sport, going out more, and keeping your mobile or laptop out of your room at night.

What does the law say?

Sexual images or films showing under 18s are considered child pornography in the law. Anyone making, viewing, owning or sharing child pornography can be prosecuted and end up on the Sex Offenders Register. This includes young people.

Sex can be so much better than what you see in porn. It can be fantastic, it can be awful and it can be everything in between.

Gay and lesbian porn

The problems that exist with heterosexual porn also exist in gay and lesbian porn. Unfortunately, it communicates many of the same messages – about bodies, sexual health, pleasure, performance and consent as heterosexual porn and often it also communicates the same messages about gender, power and aggression.

Porn showing women having sex with women is most commonly made for male heterosexual consumers. This porn often misleadingly suggests that lesbians have sex with women for men.