One Woman’s Defense of Porn

If everyone is watching it, why don't we talk about it more?
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If everyone is watching it, why don't we talk about it more?
Photo: Sebastian Orlich / Getty Images

Photo: Sebastian Orlich / Getty Images

The first time I talked about watching porn amongst a group of friends, I was certain that all of us were purely faking the nonchalance with which we were discussing how long was too long for a blowjob scene, if girl on girl was the least violent, and our own sexual proclivities therein. For women who’d never openly discussed the dirtier details of our sex lives before, admitting to watching porn felt performative, the last rite in fully adopting the Sex and the City cult of adulthood that we felt we needed to do, no matter how forced. Yet somewhere in the last few years, even as porn has become more ubiquitous, it still remains hard to talk about. While my friends and I are more candid than ever about our sex lives, when it comes to our porn preferences, mum has long been the word, which is a damn shame because porn is fucking fantastic. 

Porn feels like something everyone has an opinion on these days. Porn is bad for your brain; porn is great for your brain; porn is bad for women; porn is great for women. But one thing is for sure: the majority of us are watching it, especially women. 61% of women watch porn regularly – yet somehow conversations around porn and women still seem to lag in general discourse.

While criticisms of porn aren’t without merit, for a lot of women, myself included, porn is an excellent gateway drug to being able to really talk about sex. I grew up in a semi-conservative community so even if my girl friends had a sex life at all, no one was talking about it. To this day I’m still half-convinced none of them were watching porn. And just as much as none of us were talking about watching porn, we weren’t talking about hooking up either – not in any measurable way that would have made my hookups better. 

Enter free internet porn. When I was in college, sites like RedTube were just starting to take off, which made it easier than ever to click around without worrying about ending up with a virus on your computer. It also made it easier than ever to figure out what to try in bed without having to actually form those words to friends. While I’m not advocating for porn-level theatrics in bed (even I knew back then to take the majority of porn with a grain of salt), without porn, I would have never learned better blowjob techniques, or how to rotate positions during without breaking something. I wouldn’t have learned about all the various fetishes out there if it hadn’t been for the neatly categorized areas on sites like YouPorn, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to establish boundaries as quickly if it weren’t for the ubiquity of material out there that had red flag written all over them. For better or worse, porn was a primer for me in a time when I really needed one – my late teens – and when knowledgeable resources about sex were few and far between.

Since my early 20s, porn has also made my relationships significantly better. While I usually end up watching porn as a solo act, it’s found its way into the bedroom on occasion; usually after someone suggests watching something together, though it’s oft discarded quickly in the process of foreplay. When I’ve been too nervous to initiate certain sex moves on my own, bringing them up in the context of a porno I watched with my partner makes it significantly easier to plant the idea that you want to be pressed up against a wall without having to tell someone the seemingly spontaneous sex move you wish they’d start incorporating. It’s never been a focal point of a relationship, but because porn has always been in and around, I’ve never looked at it as an affront either. If I’m watching porn, I assume my partner is watching porn, and it has nothing to do with something lacking in the relationship. Porn has opened up lines of communication over the years in relationships as well, and built trust that you wouldn’t expect when your search results yield more gang bangs than you know what to do with.

More than anything, porn has been immeasurably helpful in building sexual self confidence. While most porn acting is overdone, for a large swath of genres, women get to be ferocious, sexy badasses in bed, and that’s pretty great. As someone with a perennially guilty complex and a fear of losing even a tiny bit of face, I’d rather stay silent in bed than say something incorrectly that might humanize me to anything less than an absolute deity of sexual perfection. And given that it’s hard to get a window into how friends do things (unless your friends are into showing off, in which case, your friends seem fun), porn has been an excellent vantage point for Sex Goddess refresher lessons. 

Ultimately my porn tastes have evolved; I find myself gravitating towards feminist porn because it tends to be significantly sexier without a majority of some of the ickier themes of traditional porn. In some relationships, porn comes up often, in others, the sex is so good, porn stays a one-off activity when I find the time on my own. Regardless of how it sprinkles into each relationship, one thing is for sure: porn is now starting a lot more conversations than for me than it was ending in the past.  

And that's something worth talking about.