Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This is Your Brain on Romanticism: Porn Stars Talk About Porn Sex vs Real Sex

Otto von Bismark (1815-1898)  First Prussian, then German Chancellor, (1862-1890)
Not noted for his contributions to erotica, he was a hard-headed political realist.

“Laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made.”  Otto von Bismarck

For those of you who are a little light on your 19th century European history, Otto von Bismarck is the father of modern Germany.  He brilliantly isolated first Austria in 1866 and then France in 1870-71 and Prussia defeated them in short, efficient wars, unifying Germany around a nucleus of Prussia and the Rhineland.  Before then, the country we know today as Germany was made up of dozens of little states that were ethnically German, but had been ruled independently for hundreds of years.  Bismarck’s plans were nearly undone when Frederick Victor Albert von Preussen of House Hohenzollern was made Kaiser of the newly unified German state.  Kaiser Wilhelm II’s intense military romanticism plunged Germany into a campaign of overreach that eventually required two world wars to quell.  Despite those cataclysms, almost 150 years later, the Germany Bismarck created is still the economic and political nucleus of a partially unified Europe.

Henry Kissinger (1923 - ) American Secretary of State during the Nixon Administration.
Also not known for his erotica, Kissinger was a controversial proponent of Bismark's realpolitik.

Bismarck is the father of the diplomatic school realpolitik, which holds that a country should act only in its direct interests.  The most famous modern American advocate of this position is Henry Kissinger.  Realpolitik is continually controversial because of its ruthless emphasis on self-interest, and its continual conflicts with the romantic ideals of Western liberalism which hold that a country has an obligation to spread its values into the larger world community.  How controversial?  In 1973 Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of the Vietnam War.  Two members of the awards committee walked out in protest.   The debate between realpolitik and romanticism remains as lively today as when Bismarck unified Germany.

But that’s not important now.  Let’s talk about something more salacious.  How about porn stars speaking about porn?  But first, a word from our sponsors…

To my knowledge, neither Kissinger nor Bismarck ever wrote anything about porn, but those of us in sex education and therapy have talked ourselves blue in the face about the ways in which porn sex differs from ‘real’ sex.  Yes, I am perfectly aware that real sex is more various than we imagine it to be, and that there is endless variety in porn.  And yet there are stubborn principles of porn economics and viewer preferences that make the processes by which porn is constructed, marketed, sold and consumed that are anything but romantic.

Porn is not inherently addictive, although one can use it 'too much',  or in violation of one's own standards, and in self-destructive ways. It is rather uncommon for most people to have explicit discussions about whether the use of porn or sex toys constitutes a relationship violation. If you pay for it, you might spend too much, and if you only use free porn, you may be exploiting artists and professionals.  But mostly, porn is harmless to users, and just fine for getting off, as long as you do not mistake it for sexual education or cinéma vérité. 

But that’s enough of the same old story from me.  Let’s hear what some brave porn stars have to say…

The take away here is only part of the story:  actresses in porn are not typically feeling anything like our fantasies about great sex, they’re usually having thoughts about work.  But there are a host of other ideas in porn that create unrealistic ideas about sex.  Because this is a blog about alternative sexualities, I will address a few of these here, giving BDSM examples.  For those who want a more generic treatment should read Michael Castleman’s excellent article: The Real Problem with Pornography:  It's Bad for Sex

1).  Good BDSM begins with a solid negotiation in which limits, preferences and ground rules are discussed in detail.  Sometimes that negotiation is itself fairly erotic, but often the need to give up cherished fantasies, or to make compromises, or differences in how things are fantasized about beforehand and experienced in the heat of play mean that some losses and disappointments need to be tolerated.   Most guys get off on porn in 7 minutes, which is often a lot shorter than most negotiations between seasoned partners.  So any hot porn clip that elides this part of the process is already very different from most good BDSM sex.

2).  Closely related to the first point, a great deal of BDSM is about anticipation and influencing partners' mental states.  Seven minutes is enough time for a headlong rush to orgasm, but that is only one small dimension of play that real partners are likely to find satisfying. 

3).  Much real BDSM play is a great deal less about sex than porn sex is.   Porn tropes that show people getting off do not look the same way that many people who are getting off in BDSM look.  Some activity, like reaching ecstatic states such as subspace, may not involve wild displays of satisfaction, but dreamy inner experience that is hard to recognize if you do not know the submissive well.  Most porn looks like it was designed by Captain Obvious.  In real life, good sex often looks more nuanced.

Captain Obvious is fictional character.
While he is not know for designing erotica, his spirit is often evoked in the porn aesthetic.
4).  Porn often tries to elide context, and thrives on the fantasy that passion is so hot that space, relationship, location, and/or the presence of others doesn’t matter.  You or potential partners may not find safety or eroticism in such tropes, even though you can get very excited and satisfied in the context which is right for you.  Or porn goes to the opposite extreme and provides ideal fantasy space.  Good BDSM sex can be had even if you do not have a built-in St. Andrew's cross that rotates at home.  And I have never seen a porn clip in which the needs of children intrude.  Actually, that’s because it would be illegal to make them.  Your home life may vary.

A dungeon B&B catering to kinky visitors.
Nice, but hopefully not indispensable to good sex.
Doesn't look like this St Andrew's cross rotates, either!
5).  Porn idealizes sex for the typical genre viewer.  So models are likely to be thinner and attractive, younger, or at least, archetypal for their genre than ordinary partners are likely to be.  In porn designed for heterosexual submissive crossdressers, fabulously attractive Domina’s are the rule.  In BDSM social groups or on-line, real life potential partners may be uncommon.  By paying money, porn producers can secure the talent they need to make any number of porn clips.  The frequency and availability of their material speaks to consumer preferences, not the demographics of what real kinky people prefer to do.

6).  Sex is often a transaction.  In most porn, sex is often a free-flowing expression of impulses.  In the real world, pizza delivery boys who stop for a half-hour sex session during deliveries lose their jobs.  In porn, there are never negative consequences.  If a porn star makes a mistake with the single-tail and panics or injures his sub, the scene is re-shot after the cleanup is over.  In real life, the handling of these mistakes makes or breaks relationships.

Castleman’s observation that porn is fantasy, not good sex education, unites all the porn stars’ comments, and all of mine.  That’s as true for kink as it is for any other porn genre.  I’ll let Bob Dylan have the last word, even if it’s a little harsh for folks who seek solace in autoeroticism when social stigma makes the price of seeking a relationship too high:
“You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all did tricks for you.
You never understood that it ain’t no good,
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.”  Like A Rolling Stone – B. Dylan

Perhaps you can think of other important differences between sex as depicted in typical porn, and good sex with a partner.  Feel free to leave them in the Comments Section.
Also welcome: sites that offer porn that avoids these tropes, and provide relatively realistic depictions of BDSM play.

© Russell J Stambaugh, April 2016, Ann Arbor MI, All rights reserved