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The Good and Bad of Pornography

Pornography is a popular adult movie genre that generates $90 billion annually in global revenues. Many people enjoy watching adult movies, regardless of their lifestyle and relationship status. Some watch pornography by themselves, while others use it to spice things up in the bedroom. Although adult movies can bring novelty to your sex life, it's important to watch them responsibly and find fair trade sources.

Mainstream pornography is problematic in many ways and can negatively influence viewers' intimate relationships and self-esteem. Since there is such a high demand for pornographic content, many content providers have few qualms about how they earn their money. However, some people are rejecting mainstream pornography in favour of ethical erotica.

Pornography's scandalous reputation is not unearned. While sexual content isn't inherently bad, the demonization of the sex industry has led to it not being considered a legitimate business, causing a dire lack of regulation in filming and recruiting practices. This leaves porn workers, especially women, unprotected and lets a lot of harm slip under the radar.

The more conservative among us argue that we can best protect the people involved by eradicating pornography altogether. However, according to recent statistics, 28,258 users are online watching adult movies every second. Since it's impossible to eliminate the human need for sex, it is equally impossible to eradicate the industry created to satisfy it—ethical or unethical. It is much more productive to acknowledge the inevitability of online sexual content because that opens up the conversation about changing the industry and improving the lives of those affected by it.

But what exactly do we need to change?

Expectations and representation

It's important to understand that the sex portrayed in most pornography is a performance. Actors and actresses aim to stimulate viewers with exaggerated body language, moans, and positions that can be uncomfortable to maintain but allow for the best camera view throughout the act. The filming of a single scene will often require performing it multiple times, all in front of a camera crew, and with the director making adjustments and giving instructions.

It doesn't mean that sex performers can't enjoy their work, but it is exactly that—work. The experience isn't happening on their terms. On the contrary, porn movie sex follows a set of rules that are meant to appeal to a wide audience. This includes depicting pleasure and presenting a wide range of sexual 'ideals' in one. A hot package typically comes in the form of attractive, immaculately shaven bodies, select primary and secondary sexual characteristics that are well above average (in size and appearance), over-the-top vocalisations of pleasure, and incredible stamina.


For him, for her

Another issue with mainstream pornography is that it tends to focus on men's pleasure while neglecting women's needs. In real life, women don't get aroused in a heartbeat, and it might take at least 20 minutes for a woman to climax. Yet in mainstream adult films, the action will happen from the man's point of view, with the culmination being him ejaculating.


95% of porn focuses on vaginal intercourse and fellatio when in real life, only 21% to 30% of women reach orgasm from intercourse without additional stimulation. The majority of women need clitoral stimulation and prolonged foreplay to prepare for intercourse and fully enjoy sex.

Even though pornography disproportionately focuses on male pleasure, men who watch mainstream pornography may suffer from low self-esteem and a negative body image when they compare themselves to the exaggerated good looks of a movie star. Men in adult films are explicitly chosen for their physical appearance. In most cases, they use pharmaceutical aids (such as Sildefanil, more commonly known as Viagra) to keep up an erection for long hours of filming, and they take plenty of breaks off screen.

Although most adults are aware that what they see on a screen is an act, we need to be honest that many young people first learn about sex from pornography—especially if they don't have other examples. A developing mind can easily be misled and encouraged to adopt unhealthy views about consensual sex and gender roles.

Straight, white sex

Mainstream pornography lacks body, race, and gender identity diversity. The default pairing in porn is that of two straight, white, traditionally attractive, able-bodied individuals. Only a minority of people fit this profile, and those who don't, are represented to a much lesser extent, usually as a 'special' category for fetishes and kinks, but not as part of the 'normal' selection.

Taking pornography at face value leaves us with very narrow ideas of what a body should look like. This encourages unrealistic expectations of what to expect from our partners and what to expect from ourselves—if you don't look like a movie magic porn star, there must be something wrong... Negative body image is linked to low self-esteem and can also affect a person's libido, keeping us from enjoying real intimacy and sex.

These insecurities can run deep. Some women turn to vaginoplasty (a type of plastic surgery), and some men seek penis-enlargement with the intent of altering their genitalia to match what they see onscreen. While each person is free to alter their body as they choose, augmentation based on feelings of inadequacy is not healthy.


It is not uncommon for porn actors and actresses to undergo plastic surgery and other procedures to look the way they do. On top of that, movie sets have flattering lighting, and the videos are edited to conceal any flaws.

It is not unhealthy for couples to watch pornography together to spice up their sex lives, but there is a danger that watching porn can become one-sided and obsessive, leading to relationship problems. According to a survey in 2002, 56% of divorces involved heightened pornography use by one of the partners. Researchers and relationship therapists agree that if one partner disproportionately watches porn, the couple is more likely than average to divorce.

Someone who has developed a problematic relationship with pornography may suffer from intimacy issues and be unable to become aroused without visual stimuli. This is usually accompanied by feelings of shame, which can further exacerbate the problem.

Porn addiction

A study conducted in 2019 suggests that pornography addiction occurs in 3–6% of adult movie viewers. It should be made clear that 'addiction' refers to excessive behaviour, e.g., a person struggling to get aroused without pornography doesn't necessarily suffer from porn addiction.

Porn addiction manifests as obsessive consumption of pornography. Once addicted, a person cannot control his or her behaviour—they tend to replace real sex with pornography or lose interest in sex completely. They prioritize porn over their partners, friends, and daily activities; they become distracted and suffer from lack of focus. The line between the immoderate use of pornography and addiction is thin. All of us need to be conscious of our behavioural tendencies and seek help at the first signs of a problem.

Treating behavioural addiction usually involves psychotherapy, often in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. This entails first acknowledging the problem and identifying the associated thought patterns, then reshaping how we approach these thought patterns so we can go about our lives more comfortably again.


Despite all the horror tales, there is no evidence that enjoying pornography responsibly has any adverse effects. Incorporating porn into one's sex life is a perfectly acceptable way to spice things up in the bedroom, provided it's been discussed beforehand, and everyone involved is happy with the idea.

Ok, say you and your partner have talked about it and have decided to incorporate some porn into your sex life. But what about the content itself?

Ethical pornography

Ethical or fair-trade pornography promotes consensual and diverse sexual experiences and emphasizes the consent and boundaries for actors and crew alike. Usually, ethical porn is produced by independent creators and artists, as the mainstream market is still a bit tetchy about the concept of real people having real sex.

The creators of fair-trade pornography shift the focus to women's needs and desires and seek to dismantle outdated mainstream pornography stereotypes. This is long overdue. Ethical pornography also expands the range of adult movie content, making room for genuinely inclusive depictions of pleasure, gender identity, age, race, body types, and more! It aims to show realistic sex where the actors involved have the freedom to enjoy themselves. There is a vast difference between watching artificially manufactured scenarios and an unabashed exploration of sexuality where everyone is treated fairly.

These are some of the important first steps we need to take to transform the porn industry from the exploitative, abusive mess that it is to a legitimate source of work—not something that is reserved for the vulnerable and desperate who have little choice in the matter.

Exploitation and human trafficking

Typically, consumers of pornography give little thought to how the content they're viewing was made. On larger porn hosting sites, there is usually no indication of whether the participants were willing or treated fairly.

Sex requires a certain amount of vulnerability, and where there is vulnerability, there is the potential for exploitation. For example, much of the content found online shows the unhealthy sexualization of women and gender-based aggression. Scenarios like these can be filmed consensually, but that is not usually the case.

There is an alarming number of reports from performers who have been abused, coerced, or otherwise taken advantage of by those who have power over them, such as directors and co-stars. Even those who willingly enter the industry can suffer. Abuse can mean being forced to participate in uncomfortable scenarios or commit acts they haven't agreed to, or it can mean being physically and sexually abused.


Sex trafficking is the largest growing criminal business in the world. Men, women, and children alike are abducted and forced to participate in pornography that is later sold for profit. The average age of those who suffer this fate is 12–14.

It may seem counterintuitive—but the way to stop abuse is by decriminalising sex work. Ensuring safety and fairness for those who work in porn will mean that those who would exploit these people can no longer operate under the veil of illegitimacy: if they break the law, they face the consequences—but there has to be a law to break for that to happen.

A healthy relationship (& pornography)

Whether you watch it alone or with a partner, it's essential to understand where pornographic content comes from. Sex work is like any other job in that workers should be able to do their work without fear for their safety. Make sure that the pornography you watch comes from an ethical source! Responsibly-made porn can be a helpful tool for those discovering their sexuality or wishing to explore a sexual fantasy in a safe way. This is possible without supporting the exploitation of sex workers.

If you're watching porn while being in a relationship, it is infinitely better to be open about it. Secrecy breeds mistrust. Having solo pleasure sessions is important regardless of whether you're single or in a relationship, but you want to make sure you aren't transgressing any of your partner's boundaries and then hiding that you've done so.

If you want to introduce pornography into your relationship, you should discuss this extensively beforehand. Perhaps your partner agrees to watch pornography only when the two of you are together, perhaps they are fine with watching it separately as long as both of you are open about it—it's important to find common ground and compromise as necessary.

As long as everyone's happy and it's clear where the boundaries lie, you can try using porn to give your sex life a boost:

  • Spice things up—we mentioned before that monotony in a relationship can kill the sexual spark. Novelties, such as pornography, can be a way to reawaken it. Ethical porn can be an educational tool for both partners—you can discover new positions and techniques and try to replicate them in the bedroom.
  • Share your fantasies—talking about your deepest desires can be intimidating. It may be easier to introduce a sexual fantasy via pornography. If you have trouble opening up, find a movie where actors are doing something similar, and watch it together with a partner.
  • Get to know your body—masturbation can be a part of your self-care routine. This is a safe and healthy way to learn more about your body and your sexuality. Pornography can be a guide for discovering ways to feel pleasure. When you know your body, it's also easier to enjoy partnered sex.


If you want to replicate things you see in porn, remember to keep it light! Some practices are harder than they look, so situations that end in laughter are to be expected. Equally importantly, if you're trying something new, be sure to do your research beforehand. For example,  anal sex or BDSM can lead to injury if you don't know what you're doing.

Discover what feels right to you, and don't be afraid to discuss any source of discomfort, no matter how small. If you think you and your partner might enjoy some spicy erotica, bring it up and try it out for a bit. Safe and consensual pleasure is a powerful bond in a healthy relationship.

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