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The Absurd Myths Porn Teaches Us About Sex

Young people who have learned about sex from watching porn have a treasure trove of sadly mistaken beliefs and misconceptions about sexuality.

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Lynette agrees. “I talked to a guy who said that he thought he was average, he didn’t know, maybe he was on the small side. Really played it up,” she said. “Finally he admitted that he was eight inches. I burst out laughing. Ashamed, he looked at me and asked ‘is that that small?’”

These myths about sexuality might seem humorous, but they hide a tragic truth. A generation of teenagers grew up under Bush’s record-breaking funding for abstinence-only sex education.

Although Obama has eliminated funding for abstinence-only and funded evidence-based comprehensive sex education, the damage has already been done. And both Santorum and Romney, the frontrunners for the GOP nomination, favor abstinence-only sex education—despite the evidence that it delays loss of virginity only eight months. According to research at the Guttmacher Institute, the rates of pregnancy and STIs among teenagers who received abstinence-only sex education are far greater than the rates among those who didn’t.

Even so-called comprehensive sex education is deeply limited. Often, it focuses on STIs and condoms to the exclusion of any other topic. Even basic ideas like queerness or consent are usually neglected. In my comprehensive sex education, we labeled a diagram of the vulva that didn’t have the clitoris on it—no wonder some people think that women are supposed to get off on friction with their vagina! In such a limited sex education, you can forget about having someone’s misapprehensions about penis size or the prevalence of the female orgasm corrected.

Admittedly, even in the absence of good sex education, only a small percentage of people who use porn use it to figure out how sex “really works.” Most of the teens who use porn use it for the same reason anyone else does—arousal, masturbation and orgasms. Nevertheless, the lessons that mainstream porn teaches when no one knows that they’re learning from it may be just as disheartening.

Susie Bright, in The Pride of Miss Kitty MacKinnon, famously compared many people who criticize the problematic aspects of mainstream porn to people who taste several glasses of salt water and insist only one of them is salty. However, that glass of saltwater is still salty, and porn still has many racist, sexist and queerphobic elements. Even worse, in the absence of truly comprehensive sex education, many people may believe that real sex is somehow supposed to reflect those elements.

“Porn gives us the wonderful ‘she-male’ and ‘chicks with dicks’ names… I’d consider it a misconception because people think those are legitimate things to call us,” trans activist Ami Angelwings says. “Asian trans women porn gave a former boyfriend of mine the idea that trans women were prettier and passed better than white ones which led him to remark ‘Asian guys make the best women’ (and yes that’s when I broke up with him).”

“The majority of guys who fetishize Japanese women are clearly getting it from anime porn,” Pervocracy said, “and will be very disappointed if their Japanese woman turns out not to be childlike, whimperingly submissive, or cartoonishly cutesy.”

“I think the porn that plays into the submissive Asian girls thing is more the Asian porn produced in the US… these often exotify Asian women,” Angelwings said.

She added, “I know more than a few people who have intuited through the differences in expression in women in Japanese porn (vs. US porn) that Japanese men get off on rape.”

Some people object to the idea that a private fantasy in the boundaries of one’s own mind is something other people ought to be concerned with. However, a person’s private sex life is much different than treating trans women as “chicks with dicks” or Japanese women as childish and submissive in media distributed around the globe. A fantasy is one thing; perpetrating degrading and inaccurate stereotypes is quite another. Whatever their flaws, most schools at least try to convey the idea that you shouldn’t stereotype people based on their race or gender identity, a distinct plus over porn.

 
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