5 Misconceptions About Sex And The Human Body Spread By Porn

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As I have discussed in past articles, much of what has been said during the recent “war on porn” is inaccurate. There is simply no evidence that consumption of pornography causes brain damage, divorce, or violence against women. However, this is not to say that watching porn is perfectly harmless, because it can give people false impressions about how our bodies are “supposed” to look and how sex is “supposed” to happen. Below, I review five of the biggest misconceptions about human sexuality spread by pornography.

Myth #1: All men have massive penises. The guys who appear in porn videos (regardless of whether they’re gay or straight) tend to have extra large packages, frequently in the range of 8 inches (20.3 cm) or more. In reality, the average erect penis is 5.3 inches (13.5 cm), and the vast majority of men fall in the range of 4.6 and 6.0 inches (11.7 and 15.2 cm, respectively) [1]. In fact, it is estimated that only 2.5% of men have penises that measure 6.9 inches (17.5 cm) or longer [1]! Thus, the genitals that you see in porn are far from average and it would be wise to avoid comparing yourself or your partners to them.

Myth #2: All women go bare down there. Porn videos tend to give viewers the impression that all women are opting for the “full Brazilian” or “Hollywood wax” these days (i.e., complete removal of all hair in the genital region, including the buttocks). However, research has found that most women tend to keep at least some of their pubic hair and that waxing is actually relatively rare (less than 10% of women do it, probably because it is costly and very, very painful) [2]. In the real world, there is a diverse range of pubic hair styles and women’s reasons for removal vary considerably.

Myth #3: Women can reach orgasm in any position. Pornography gives the impression that women always reach orgasm and that they can do it no matter how they have sex. This is far from the case in reality, though. In fact, research finds that most women are unable to achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone and often require other forms of stimulation (e.g., clitoral) in order to climax [3]. There is wide variability across women in terms of what “works” when it comes to orgasm, so don’t conclude that there is something wrong with you if you cannot reach orgasm in the same way porn actresses do.

Myth #4: Everyone loves a dirty talker. In between all of their moaning and groaning, porn performers usually interject dirty (and sometimes downright raunchy) dialogue. Preferences for dirty talk are highly variable outside of the porn world, however. There are some people who do indeed like to hear a little nasty language during sex, but there are others who find any talking at all in bed to be a big turnoff. In this case, it’s probably best to ask your partner if they'd like to have their sex narrated and/or if they enjoy being called certain names rather than make assumptions based upon what you’ve seen in porn.  

Myth #5: Big penises bring women more pleasure. A common theme in heterosexual porn videos is that the woman is “surprised” and delighted at the enormous size of her male companion’s member (“It’s just so… big!”). However, research has found that most women say that a larger penis does not increase their ability to reach orgasm [4]. There are certainly some women for whom a bigger member is preferred and may bring them more erotic pleasure, but this does not appear to be the case for most women.  

I realize that there are a number of other misconceptions about sex spread by porn that I did not cover here (e.g., that sex is only about prolonged genital contact, that “good” sex is simply a matter of moving as fast and hard as you can), but we’ll come back to those another day.

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[1] Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). Does size matter? Men’s and women’s views on penis size across the lifespan. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 7, 129–143.

[2] Herbenick, D., Schick, V., Reece, M., Sanders, S., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Pubic hair removal among women in the United States: Prevalence, methods, and characteristics. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 3322-3330.

[3] Fugl-Meyer, K., Oberg, K., Lundberg, P., & Lewin, B. (2006). On orgasm, sexual techniques, and erotic perceptions in 18- to 74-year-old Swedish women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3, 56-68.

[4] Costa, R. M., Miller, G. F., & Brody, S. (in press). Women who prefer longer penises are more likely to have vaginal orgasms (but not clitoral orgasms): Implications for an evolutionary theory of vaginal orgasm. Journal of Sexual Medicine.

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