Accurate, inclusive and comprehensive sex education can be hard (no pun intended) to find. This means that unfortunately, online pornography is often the easiest and most obvious place to go for information about sex.

There’s nothing wrong with watching pornography, and there’s no reason to feel guilty or embarrassed if you do! But it’s important to remember that porn is fantasy. It is NOT an accurate or healthy guide to sex.

Here are some things to keep in mind about porn—whether you watch it, hear people talk about it, or are just confused and curious about sex in general.

1. Porn is often sexist…

It’s common for porn to show men disrespecting and abusing women—who often seem to enjoy it. While men are rarely shown being physically assaulted in the same way that women are, men are routinely shown being badgered and pressured into sex.

Let’s be clear: it is never ok to touch anyone without their explicit, enthusiastic consent. Sex is not a magical event in which the normal rules of behavior are suspended, even though porn can make it seem that way. One in five women and one in 71 men are raped during their lifetime, and in 8 out of 10 cases, the victim knows the person who assaulted them. This kind of trauma causes tremendous and lasting pain to people of all genders.

Porn can also perpetuate gender stereotypes that women are passive and men are aggressive, and that men always want sex. It also often emphasizes the guy’s pleasure over the woman’s. For example, the “finale” is usually when a man has an orgasm, not when a woman does.

2. …and racist.

People of color are often shown in stereotypical roles, such as the aggressive black man or submissive Asian girl. It’s important to understand how these stereotypes appear in porn, and the subconscious (meaning you don’t even realize you have them) assumptions they might create. In addition, racial and ethnic minorities are often only included in specific categories, like “ebony” or “Asian.” This reinforces the idea that people who aren’t white are “others,” or not normal.

3. Porn ignores safety.

Porn actors rarely use condoms, even though they’re necessary to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. What you don’t see onscreen is that porn actors in the United States get tested for STIs every 14 days. In addition, porn actors don’t discuss birth control or STIs on camera. But communicating with your partner about these things is a necessary (and very normal and common) part of sex.

4. Porn creates impossible standards.

Porn expands the impossible beauty standards of general media into even more private areas of people’s lives. Women in porn are usually thin and often have large breasts—but also have hairless vulvas and can bend their legs behind their head. Guys have perfect six-pack abs and broad shoulders—plus eight-inch penises and the ability to have sex for hours. These are impossible standards, and it’s unhealthy to try to live up to them. DYK the average length of penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex is just over seven minutes? And you definitely don’t need to look perfect to enjoy every one of them!

5. Porn actors don’t need to talk about sex.

In porn, actors seem to know exactly what (ahem) buttons to push to make their partners have an orgasm (or come/cum). In reality, people aren’t mind readers. You need to talk to each other about what you like or want to experiment with. Getting comfortable communicating about sex can take time, but it’s SO important. When you’re with someone, this might look like: “Keep doing that,” “A little to the left,” “It feels good when you…,” “Could you…?” “If you’d be up for it, could we…?” It might be easier to have these conversations in a non-sexy setting, when you’re just hanging out and there’s no pressure.

6. Porn erases the awkward parts of sex.

The porn industry makes its money selling fantasies, which means they erase all the awkward and un-sexy bits. Porn shows women who are always up for sex right then and there, when in reality many vagina-havers need foreplay (or non-penetrative sex) to produce enough lubrication (or get wet enough) to comfortably have PIV sex. Porn doesn’t show reaching for the lube, tying and throwing out the condom, getting up to use the bathroom after, and 20 million other details deemed not hot enough to include. In other words, it doesn’t show real life.

7. Porn doesn’t show the variety of ways people experience pleasure.

While porn exists for almost every desire out there, “mainstream” porn often portrays a very tiny portion of human sexuality (and humans themselves). This spreads common misconceptions about how people experience pleasure. This may make you think that there are only a few “normal” ways to have or act during sex. But that’s so not true! Sex is as diverse as people themselves.

Porn also upholds the myth that most women come easily from PIV sex. In reality, only 25 percent of people with vaginas regularly orgasm from PIV sex. So don’t feel bad if you or your partner need a little something extra (like stimulating the clitoris with fingers, a mouth or a vibrator) to get over the edge.

Keep in mind: Like any activity that produces instant gratification, porn can be addicting. If you find yourself saying no to other activities to watch porn, or often have a feeling that you absolutely have to watch porn right now, consider asking for help. Porn addiction can mess with your ability to form real relationships, so there’s no better time to begin dealing with it than now!

It’s normal to be confused by or have complicated feelings about sex. If you have questions, talk to a trusted adult such as a parent, doctor or teacher. If you live in the NYC area, drop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for a completely free and confidential appointment with a health care provider.

 

A version of this post was originally published on teenhealthcare.org in November, 2016.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.