By Emma Jane
There is a deafening silence when it comes to discussing the disconnection between how people enjoy sex and how it’s depicted on screen. (Supplied)
Had the “other” sex talk with your kids yet?
Having endured the delightful excruciation of taking my daughter to primary school sex-ed classes (her enthused answer to “can anyone name a part of the female reproductive system?” was “the inner thigh”), she’s now in high school and I’ve realised there is another sex talk we need to have.
Namely: the feminist sex talk in which I explain that the sex scenes she may have started seeing on screen are almost totally geared to men’s pleasure.
“So what?” sceptics might be wondering. “Lots of things are depicted in an unrealistic way on telly and everyone copes just fine. Also, what does this have to do with sex-ed for kids? Isn’t that, like, super creepy?”
It’s true that most stupidly unrealistic screen tropes are contextualised as stupidly unrealistic in everyday discussion. As such, most of us have enough fire sense to know we’re not actually capable of outrunning a fiery explosion that is chasing us down a hallway.
Fans of abstinence-only approaches might think it’s possible to shield tweens and teens from porn and R-rated film and television fare until they come of age. But this, too, is unrealistic.
Like it or not, 93 per cent of boys and 62 per cent of girls see online pornography before they are 18.
Despite a promising movement to develop what’s known as porn literacy, there is deafening silence when it comes to discussing the disconnect between how people actually enjoy sex and how it is represented on screen.
NSFW — Not Satisfying For Women
In films and TV shows, the standard sex script is usually straight off an IKEA instruction manual: insert tab A into slot B.
In porn, it’s even worse. While there have been increases in the production of gynocentric porn, feminist porn, and ethical porn, the bulk of sex depicted in pornography remain NSFW — Not Satisfying For Women.
For example, a 2017 analysis of PornHub’s 50 most viewed videos revealed that only 18 per cent of women were shown reaching orgasm, compared to 78 per cent of men.
Other fact: While most real-life ladies don’t give a tinker’s cuss about penile dimensions, this has had zero impact on the prevalence of the “bigger is better” porn trope.
Other unhelpful takeaways from mainstream porn include the implications that:
- Ladies love nothing more than leaping into creepy vans and engaging with all penises on board.
- Lesbian sex is first and foremost a spectator sport for people with penises.
- No professional activity results in a higher amount of sex than delivering a pizza while having a penis.
- If you have a penis, you can’t go wrong with the pneumatic jackhammering technique.
The missing link in sex ed
While the standard, anti-porn line is that pornography is dangerous because it is contributing to the sexualisation of culture, my view is that culture is already sexualised (because its constituent human parts are sexual beings) and that porn is dangerous because it is contributing to making straight men awful in bed.
A friend recently complained that her partner insisted on performing a certain porn trope and then berated her for “not enjoying properly” when she said it didn’t float her boat.
Another mate who had invested much time and patience explaining that she was not into her partner’s Energiser Bunny stylings was gobsmacked when he diagnosed the problem as her “typically” anaemic lady libido.
Anecdotal accounts of #epicdudesexfails are backed up the stats. More than one in five Australian women find the sex in their relationship unpleasurable or only moderately pleasurable.
Meanwhile, around 95 per cent of heterosexual men usually or always orgasm during sex compared to only 65 per cent of heterosexual women.
Yes, concerned parents, the orgasm gap is real.
Yet the subject of pleasure is still conspicuously absent from most sex-ed curricula where the focus is almost exclusively on the mechanics of making new humans and not becoming a petri dish for disease.
These are important parts of a well-rounded sex-ed curriculum but sideline the real reason most peeps have sex in the first place.
It would be as weird as teaching cooking classes focussed solely on the clinical anatomy of digestion (mmm… peristalsis) with no mention of the fact that food can also be pretty damn yummy.
In addition to ignoring the needs and desires of queer and trans kids, the reproduction and risk-based model of sex-ed curricula also overlooks the fact that the skillset required for negotiating pleasure is the same as that required for negotiating sexual health and consent: i.e. the confidence to speak frankly and with a sense of non-toxic entitlement about what we are and are not up for.
I’m calling this a win
Anyway, my daughter and I had the “other” sex talk over breakfast the other day and it went weirdly well.
I took the opportunity to explain that people don’t just have sex to make more people but because it can be enjoyable.
That everyone likes different stuff and that lots of this stuff isn’t depicted in the media.
That if she starts making out with people who’ve only ever seen sex on screen, they might not be too crash-hot at it.
That if she wants to enjoy herself she’ll need to get good at speaking up about what she wants.
And that her comment about the inner thighs was really cute.
My daughter made it clear that hearing her parent talk about sex rivalled having to eat raw tomato in the cruel-and-unusual-please-god-never-again stakes.
She did, however, manage to refrain from plugging her ears and chanting “la-la-la-la-la” until the inner thigh reminder.
Your mileage may differ, but I’m calling this a win.
Emma Jane is a freelance writer and a senior lecturer in the School of the Arts & Media at UNSW.