I think I was 21 when I first noticed that sexual interactions all seemed to follow a pattern; it was definitely my early 20s because I wrote about it in my Livejournal. I remember remarking, “It’s weird that it just always seems to go: kissing, french kissing, groping, oral sex, full sex.” I hadn’t even been getting busy for that long and I was already bored.
My interest got piqued recently when talking to a French friend about this; she said there was no way anyone in France would have oral sex with someone on the first sexual encounter…it was far too intimate. Curious, I started an unofficial poll to see what other cultural differences there might be in sexual styles. Do people from Spain save their kisses for the second date? What do Scots think about blow jobs? What I found was a little bit surprising: There were no differences.
Everybody reported roughly the same pattern, the one I’d identified above. Given, my poll was far from comprehensive, and I didn’t double dip in countries, so maybe the people I was talking to were not particularly good samples. But still, it seemed strange that, no matter what their country of origin, people seemed to follow roughly the same semi-linear path to the bedroom. I started asking my friends why they thought that was and got the same answer back every time: porn.
Mainstream pornography is pretty predictable, even the amateur videos that are now available for free on most of the major YouTube-style sites that stream video globally day and night. It does tend to follow this pattern, which is not just heteronormative (meaning it assumes that sex isn’t sex unless there’s a penis in a vagina and that that is the end goal of sexual experience) but often pretty misogynist. Most mainstream porn has oral sex performed by the lady on the man, but less often the other way around…and a lot of my female respondents said that they expected to give blow jobs but not necessarily to have their lady parts investigated.
Most mainstream porn casts women as adventurous, voracious sexual predators, eager to try everything (especially maybe a little bi action with that hot blonde waitress), and men as willing and able to deliver erections on demand, as the showpiece of every sexual experience. It’s no secret that mainstream porn can have a negative impact on the way we view sexuality, and ourselves as sexual beings. But for some reason, I had never considered the global impact on sexual interaction styles.
This homogenizing of sexual behaviour is a flat-out denial of what makes sex interesting: the playfulness and spontaneity that comes from having no idea what might happen next. It also denies that some cultures really are more comfortable with some activities than others. Seeing what looks like a natural progression, and getting the impression that “everybody’s doing it” from mainstream porn, might lead some people into sexual patterns they really aren’t comfortable with.
Cindy Gallop, the feminist sex educator who started the Make Love Not Porn project, pointed out in an infamous TED talk that people under 30 these days are getting the bulk of their actual sexual education from watching pornography. In the face of abstinence-only education (or nothing at all), this homogenized porn is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection and provides just about the only guideline for sex that anyone has. Afraid to ask questions, encouraged not to, or otherwise living in a restrictive environment, people learn from mainstream porn not just what excites them, but how to interact when the lights go off. And because of this, we’re seeing a slow but steady decline in sexual creativity.
It seems ridiculous to lament the genericizing of sexual experience when there are so many other cultural phenomena being lost. But, speaking as someone who wants to be pleasantly surprised when the lights go down, I’d like to see more variety in the bedroom and less mainstream porn on the laptops.