I began watching porn regularly when I was in sixth grade. From the videos I watched, I internalized a representation of what sex is “supposed to be like.” I held this prototype throughout my adolescence and into my early 20’s.
It wasn’t just me, though. My friends and I all learned from the same type of porn video, where the common portrayal of sex is an aggressive male and a submissive female who is typically catering to the man’s demands. From early adolescence and onward, these depictions were what I emulated when I was with women.
Furthermore, the same can be said for my friends and acquaintances, as a countless number of individuals I’ve associated with over the years have been extremely vocal about their sexual experiences consisting of dominance over women. Suffice to say that all my life, I’ve been heavily immersed in the “porn culture” when it comes to sex, and in that culture, I never gave any of my acts, or my friends acts, a second thought.
That all changed, however, when I was sexually assaulted by another male. Sparing too many details, I was sexually assaulted years after my first sexual encounter with a woman. After the incident, I learned firsthand what being subordinated sexually and feeling obligated to act in a certain way to please another individual felt like. The feelings — embarrassment, resentment, self-deprecation, confusion (the list goes on) — are all still extremely salient in my mind.
While I’ve introspected a good deal about my experience, it admittedly took me a while to realize that exponentially more people can relate to the feelings I felt than I initially thought. It wasn’t until I heard Cindy Gallop’s TED Talk, “Make Love, Not Porn” and looked into her work further that I drew parallels from my experience to the feelings of submissiveness that so many women feel in their sexual endeavors.
I asked myself, “Why is it an okay (even encouraged) practice among my friends (and previously, myself) to subordinate women, and subsequently brag about the activity without giving any thought into whether or not it was even a pleasurable experience for her? How many women feel like this in some capacity following sex? How uncomfortable might she be to say something about how she feels?”
I feel sick when I think about someone feeling helpless both during and after a sexual encounter. I feel even worse about an individuals’ lack of desire to talk about it, for fear that talking about feelings associated with sex is a taboo topic.
To be clear, I don’t blame porn for what happened to me, and I don’t think porn caused me to be a victim of sexual assault. I watch porn frequently and am a fan. I don’t blame the industry for my experiences.
That said, I do believe that we need to introduce representations of sex as a mutually beneficial agent for intimacy on the same grand scale that porn is currently represented in our society. We need to be exposed much more frequently to real, consensual sex, and also have much more frequent, open conversations about real sex in order to prevent individuals from feeling or continuing to feel the feelings I mentioned above.
Young people, as well as adults, should not rely on porn as their primary practical source of information when it comes to sex. If this continues to be the case, we’ll continue to adopt a corresponding appraisal of sex which, for the most part, is a one-sided dynamic whereby men are in charge and women are submissive.
On the contrary, I’m a huge believer in the notion that, if we were to try and make representations of sex as a mutually beneficial agent for deeper connection as prevalent as porn is in our society, then we can shift our sexual norms from a representation of dominance and hyper-masculinity, to one of open dialogue and mutual benefit. In doing so, not only can horrible experiences like mine theoretically (and hopefully) be reduced, but relationships everywhere can be strengthened.