Have you ever been in a restaurant or club, looked over at a couple or group of people, and thought, “I’d like to have as much fun as they seem to be having?” In fact, have you ever had that feeling at a sporting event, concert, museum, supermarket, clothing store, park, or anywhere else?
We all have.
We see the outer markers of pleasure: laughing, drinking, spending money, looking attractive—and infer what people must be feeling. And we want those feelings of confidence, fun, sexiness, self-acceptance, life-is-good that we imagine they feel.
Others rarely feel as good as we think they do.
In fact, advertising is about creating that poignant experience for us over and over. We watch actors (selected and scripted to look like regular people) using a product, and then feeling better than we do. Or getting more relief from pain or anxiety than we do.
Porn is like that. We look at porn images and think, I’d love to feel that much passion. Or that much desire, pleasure, or satisfaction.
We don’t have a word in English for this slight melancholy: yearning to feel as good as someone else seems to. I thought there might be a (very long) German word for it, but apparently not.
For some people, the more they look at porn, the more they have that feeling. It’s an odd mix—feeling aroused and then a little downbeat. We watch the perfect blowjob, perfectly executed; perfectly lit; perfectly filmed to show us the most exciting details of the penis, the mouth, and the bodies involved. God, if only we could feel as good as the guy getting that cinematic blow job must feel.
Whatever we watch in porn—intercourse, spanking, teasing, fingering, kissing a stocking, whatever—it’s perfect. More importantly, it’s almost always shot from exterior angles that the participants themselves can’t see. In porn, we watch things that we can’t see when we’re having sex ourselves. Thus, we can’t have the experiences we imagine porn actors have.
Many porn consumers think, “If I could feel as good as that man or woman in the video, I’d be having fantastic sex. I’d be satisfied.”
But we can’t. Partly because our actual sex isn’t well-lit, edited, and performed by experts. But partly because we can’t see our own sex from these advantageous cinematic angles. In real-life sex, what we see (and hear) isn’t carefully designed for consumption, but is rather the natural expression of what actually happens during real sex. In real life, no one moans like porn stars, no one ejaculates like porn stars, no one can see their own anus as its fingered or licked, and no one can see their own tongue on a nipple.
You can’t see much of anything during real 69 (simultaneous, mutual oral sex). So even if the actual experience is enjoyable, whatever excitement we get from watching it portrayed on screen is unavailable while we’re doing it. For some people, that limits their enjoyment of actual 69. Now multiply that by practically everything we do sexually. Real sex may be great, but it can’t feel as good as porn looks.
In general, most or all of our sexual activities are far clumsier and less intense than the video image of those activities, whatever they are. When we lose an erection, or can’t open a condom, or spill some lube, or scratch someone with a toenail, it doesn’t get edited out—it’s part of the experience. For some people, such imperfections make carefree sexual pleasure almost impossible.
When activists criticize porn’s content, they usually complain that it’s mostly violent. This is completely wrong, of course; only a tiny fraction of porn consumers want to masturbate watching people pretending to be hurt.
The actual problem with porn’s content isn’t violence, it’s its fictional nature: much of the passion and pleasure that porn consumers see is simply unrealistic. Women having sex with the plumber, babysitters seducing husbands, women or men begging for (lube-free!) anal sex, men getting hard without any touching at all—you could have actual sex 1,000 times, 10,000 times without encountering a single one of these circumstances that are so common in porn.
So the more we compare our actual experience with the feelings portrayed in porn, the more dissatisfied we’ll be.
This disparity can’t be fixed with more masturbation, different videos, a tighter grip, or a new sex toy. In fact, the yearning for sex that will finally satisfy our most profound erotic need can’t be filled at all. We need to imagine sex on a simpler, more human scale, in which no one has to try hard, and no one has to be an erotic hero. Where sex is just an expression of who we are, for better or worse.
I want to feel like George Bailey did,
Kids in the staircase, holding the wife,
Bells will be ringing when angels get their wings
It’s such a beautiful
Oh what a wonderful life
At the end of the 1947 film, George (James Stewart) is indeed holding his lovely, adoring wife Martha (Donna Reed), his young kids clambering over him. He’s the luckiest man in the world. Who doesn’t want to feel like that? On days when we yearn to, it’s difficult to remember that George isn’t real—he’s just our fondest hope for ourselves. He’s an ideal, not an attainable goal.
As we remember that sex doesn’t feel the way that porn looks, it’s good to comfort ourselves about this. Porn is a form of entertainment, not a yardstick with which to measure ourselves—perpetually coming up short, with a chronic ache for erotic redemption.
If you liked this piece, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my article at www.MartyKlein.com/what-is-normal-sex/