Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was fantastically lucky to have had a childhood during which my mother and father never called my penis a "wee wee." Similarly, vaginas were never demeaned as "hoo-hoos," or breasts as "boobies." Sex organs, sex and sexuality were topics of discussion early and intentionally in my house, whether I liked it or not. And looking back, I think that directness served me well. Certainly, it was mortifying on a grand scale to hear from my dad, a bawdy, gregarious guy, that my life began in his testicles. But that humiliation felt worth it when I was the only boy at recess who could effectively call bullshit on the theory that a baby is made when a man pees onto a woman’s crotch.
In the ensuing decades, I’ve remained a voracious pursuer of sexual enlightenment, partially out of curiosity and partially out of my desire to impress a couple of girlfriends who were much more carnally knowledgeable than I. I’m no Lothario by any means, but I’m now smart enough to laugh at the absurdity of lad-mag articles recommending you slather your partner in baby oil in order to be "the best lover she’s ever had." (Maybe if she’s an unpolished end table, fellas.)
It should go without saying that porn movies serve purposes other than instruction, much like a sledgehammer isn’t for setting nails.
I also know not to take lessons on love — and the making of it — from porno. It should go without saying that films called Edward Penishands and Crack Whores of the Tenderloin serve purposes other than instruction, much like a sledgehammer isn’t for setting nails. Yet twice in the past few months I’ve come across arguments to the contrary. Amid the pages of the September issue of Details was the article "How Internet Porn Is Changing Teen Sex," in which writer Eric Spitznagel quoted a young man barely able to drink legally as saying, "Pubic hair is disgusting. Girls should keep their vaginas porn-star trim." Elsewhere, in a recent column on Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams detailed the obnoxious, belittling effect pornography has had on her sex life: "’You like that, baby? You like that?’ he asked, though he didn’t notice I wasn’t answering. And then, somewhere around the 18th time he said it, it hit me — I wasn’t just having bad sex. I was having bad porn sex."
Blame it on the ease with which any plugged-in American can access porn of all types, from amateur to violent to bestial. Across the country, sexually active straight men of all ages are taking bedroom cues from skin flicks, getting wrongheaded ideas about how women’s bodies should look and bad information about what’s sexy. Subsequently, they’re pissing off — and, according to Williams, smacking their erections on — their lovers. That all being said, you might assume women don’t like porn. You’d be wrong. According to a 2007 Nielsen survey, a third of people visiting XXX websites were female, with almost thirteen million women admitting to looking at Internet porn at least once a month. And physiologically, men and women differ little in their response to pornographic images. One 2006 McGill University study found that females shown porn clips reached maximum arousal just one minute after their male counterparts, while both genders began displaying signs of arousal within thirty seconds of exposure. Dick-smacking aside, there’s definitely something women appreciate about porno, so there must be something men looking to please those women can learn from. The question is, what?
"A general agreement among most of my friends is that if we watch porn, we kinda prefer to watch lesbian porn," said a straight female friend of mine from Manhattan, echoing a sentiment I heard a lot when asking women what lessons guys should actually take from their porno. "I guess that stems from the fact that we’d rather watch footage of women actually enjoying themselves, not being sexually exploited by some hairless dude." It’s the stuff panty raids are made of. Turns out that many women are doing exactly what horny teenage boys fantasize they do: dimming the lights, locking the door and turning themselves on with movies of other naked women. "Men should watch lesbian porn to see how the woman on the receiving end is actually enjoying herself," said another friend, "not being ridden like a horse while standing on her head."
When dealing with women in any scenario, but especially ones in which you’re having sex with them, it’s also important to remember that they’re probably smarter than you.
"Men should watch lesbian porn to see how the woman on the receiving end is actually enjoying herself."
While men — simple, goal-oriented, visual creatures that we are — often approach lovemaking the way we might a footrace or a mountain, women often prefer slow sensuality, two words not found on the cover of Weapons of Ass Destruction 3. "It’s a lot about the fantasy for women," notes a third friend of mine from Queens, a graphic designer who says she really likes porn. "I think where men make the mistake is when they try to make those fantasies into realities. I don’t watch porn to learn new tricks — I watch it because it gets me thinking in a sexual way, which in turn fuels my actual sex life."
As lead editor of Gawker Media skin site Fleshbot, Lux Alptraum is perhaps the web’s premiere female porn blogger. To her, trying to take any lessons from porn is a fool’s errand. "Complaining that porn doesn’t educate is like complaining that Top Chef doesn’t teach us all how to make a flawless souffle," she told me by e-mail. "Porn is, by and large, entertainment, and it’s unfair to hold it to a higher standard than we hold other media simply because our culture is so pathetically lacking in solid sex education." Lux recommends using porn not as a sticky end, but as a means to expedite the oldest virtue in the relationship how-to: communication. "Do this: pick out a porn, watch it with your partner, and use it to facilitate a discussion of what each of you likes, doesn’t like, might want to try, et cetera. You’ll learn far more from each other than from the porn."
In other words, for every woman who wants to go slow in the dark, there’s almost certainly one who wants to get down like a jackrabbit on the White House lawn. So maybe the only thing you should take from porn is that ever-prevalent bit of dirty talk that so irritated Mary Elizabeth Williams: "You like that, baby?" Asked earnestly, it could be the sexiest thing she’s heard in years.