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Looking, Lusting and Learning: A Straightforward Look at Pornography

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Pornography is one of those complicated, weird issues in life. A lot of people are really uncomfortable with the idea of anyone, and especially teenagers, reading, looking at, or watching pornography of any kind. When you're a teenager, this can make it very difficult to even have a basic conversation with the grownups in your life about pornography. It's hard even to know where to go to ask questions about it. This is pretty understandable: we're taught not to talk about sexual things in public, and pornography is definitely sexual.

A lot of us also grow up with the idea that pornography, or any directly arousing material, is somehow bad and wrong and that we shouldn't even want to look at it. The culture that we live in isn't very positive about sex or sexuality. People are taught to think of sex, and porn, as always being 'dirty' and 'icky,' or maybe 'sinful' or just 'ugly.'

Sex and porn can be many things, but most of all, they are sexual, and that makes them difficult to talk about. Sexuality is one of those things that we all have to deal with. Because it's such a primal part of who we are, it tends to make us feel very vulnerable if we have to talk about it. We don't want people to laugh at what we find arousing, and we don't want to be punished for having desires and wants that the people around us might not like us to have. As a result, most people don't talk much about what kind of sexual things they like, and they don't talk much about pornography or any other sort of sexual material, either. It's too personal, and it's too controversial, for many people's comfort!

This means that most people have a lot of questions about sexual issues like pornography that they can't get good, thoughtful, answers to. We here at Scarleteen don't have all the answers (heck, we don't even have all the questions!), but we can help make it a little less weird and freaky to talk about sex and porn by trying to bring some of the big questions out into the open. We think that knowing a bit more about what porn is, what it does, what it's for, why people like it, what it's good for, what it's not good for, what kinds of problems it can create, and what good it can do for you can help you form better, more thoughtful opinions about what role pornography has, or might have, in your sexuality and your life. Read on, and learn something about looking and lusting!


Is porn ethical? Does it hurt the people who make it? Does it hurt us as a people and culture? It depends on who is making it, who is involved, what it is, and what sort of effects we're talking about. Can it? Yes. Has it? Yes. While since the advent of HIV and AIDS, many large porn companies have instituted safer sex practices including regular testing and condom use, plenty have not, and porn actors willing to go without safer sex practices still will often get more work and be paid better than those who insist on those protections. In addition, some pornography environments can encourage or allow addictive behaviours, misogynistic behaviour, coercion, mistreatment or abuse of its actors and actresses. Of course, such can also be the case with many kinds of work or corporations.

Some studies have also shown some porn use to pose barriers to deeper intimacy within real-life sexual relationships, and some people do use porn as a weapon with partners. Some people also feel that pornography, and a "pornified" culture, poses some very real problems to society, women's equality and sound sexual ethos. A lot of pornography does show and voice violence, usually towards women, and some negative, unrealistic, unbalanced and unsound sexual practices and dynamics.

It is possible, with mindful and thoughtful browsing or shopping, to choose or make erotic media which clearly or most likely has been produced ethically, fairly and safely, and as with any other sort of media, it's always sound to think about where you put your money and time, if it's really in line with your ethics and the world you want to live in and enable. - HC


What is pornography, anyway? The word 'pornography' comes from two Greek words. Porne, the word for 'prostitute,' and graphein, or 'to write,' are combined to make a word that refers to anything that is primarily used to, or intended to, sexually arouse or excite sexual desire in people. This means that, strictly speaking, anything from a romance novel to a triple-X-rated movie could be considered 'pornography' depending on whether or not someone thinks those things are sexually exciting.

This leaves a lot of room for interpretation! A lot of how people define 'pornography' has depended, historically, on what sorts of things people felt were especially sexual in nature. Many of the textbooks that are used in public school Sex Education classes in 1999 would've been considered 'pornographic' or 'obscene' twenty or thirty years ago.

Definitions of what is 'pornography' and what is 'obscene' tend to change with the times, and they also can be different depending on what community you live in and what your community's standards for sexual behavior are like. A lingerie catalog that showed models wearing only bras and panties might be 'pornography' in one place and to one group of people, and be no big deal in another place with a different type of people who had a different set of common ethical, religious, and moral ideals.

Sometimes people like to make a distinction between 'pornography' and 'erotica,' saying that pornography is graphic and explicit and somehow 'worse' than 'erotica,' which would be less explicit and graphic by comparison, and thus more acceptable. This isn't necessarily true. In some cases, what it boils down to is that people will call it 'erotica' if it's a kind of sexually-stimulating material they enjoy and accept, but if it's not something they personally enjoy or accept, they call it 'pornography' and argue that it is indecent and wrong.

On a really general level, the more explicitly sexual and graphic something is, and the more it seems to be intended to get a sexual response from the people who see or read it, the more likely that it will be considered 'pornography.' While pictures of naked people may or may not be considered pornographic, it's a pretty good bet that pictures of naked people (or even clothed people) engaged in sexual activities that involve the breasts, butt, or genitals will be considered 'pornography.' So are most pictures and images of people's bodies that are presented in a specifically sexual context, like a magazine that is presented as a pornographic or sexual magazine, where the pictures might also have texts that underscore how arousing they are supposed to be.

Where stories and other written things are concerned, the more detailed the descriptions of sexual activity are, the more likely it is to be considered 'pornography.' Context is also important here. If there is, for instance, a detailed sex scene in the middle of a novel that otherwise doesn't have a lot of sexual things happening in it, it probably won't be considered pornography. But take that same sex scene out of the novel and put it in a book that is full of nothing but other sex scenes, and people are more likely to call it pornography.

The style in which things are done also has something to do with it. Things that seem more artistic are less likely to be considered 'pornography.' Written things that refer to sex using medical terms and phrases (such as 'vagina,' 'penis,' 'breast,' instead of 'pussy,' 'dick,' or 'boob') are also less likely to be considered 'pornography.'

This can all be very confusing. It's also controversial, and people have spent many human lifetimes fighting over what things are 'pornography' and what things are not. You know how they say 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?' The same thing is often true of pornography! The only common ground that really seems to exist is that something that is called 'pornography' is considered primarily sexual in nature, and it is considered to exist primarily for the purpose of arousing sexual desire in the people who experience it.

What is pornography for? As the very vague definition implies, pornography is for arousing sexual desire in people. This can be any kind of sexual desire that people can feel from tender, intimate, and emotional to raw, urgent, and heartless, and anywhere in between.

Sometimes people may have different reactions to the same piece of pornography depending on their mood. That's pretty normal, because there are so many different ways to feel and be sexual. If your hormones are raging one day, you might react really strongly to a piece of pornography, and then the next day, when your hormones were a little lower-key, you might not react to that particular piece of pornography at all. Your moods can change, and so can the kinds of pornography that appeal to you.

People use pornography in different ways. Some people like to use pornography when they are masturbating, to help them fantasize as they touch themselves and give themselves sexual pleasure. Some people like to use pornography all by itself just to get aroused. Later they might masturbate or have sex with a partner, or they may just enjoy feeling aroused without feeling the need to do anything about it. Some people like to use pornography along with their partners, as a part of sex that they share together. Some people like all of these ways of using pornography, and choose the one they want at any given time based on their mood and what seems appealing to them at the time.

Sometimes, pornography can be a substitute for having a partner with whom you can be sexual. Most people go through periods in their lives when they do not have a sexual partner ' that's totally normal. But very few people really like feeling sexually frustrated, so often when people don't have anyone in their lives with whom they can be sexual in person, they opt to use pornography to help arouse them and engage themselves sexually. Some people choose to use pornography for their sexual arousal instead of having partners, too, and for some people, that's the most comfortable way to be sexual.

What are some of the problems that people can have with using pornography? The biggest problem that people often have with using pornography is that they sometimes start to expect their own actual sex lives to be just like the pornography they use and enjoy. This is really pretty ridiculous and unreasonable! Pornography is idealistic, not realistic. Porn tends to show what people fantasize about, not what actually does happen in most people's sex lives.

Pornography is fiction: it's made up, not real. Even when you have pornography that shows real flesh and blood people having sex with each other, they're still 'putting on a show' for the camera. Also, pornography (no matter what kind it is) is always edited so that we see all of the good parts and very few, if any, of the bad parts.

This means that in pornography, you don't encounter the kinds of normal, everyday differences, difficulties, and weirdnesses that you do in real life. In pornography, people are never in bad moods, or stressed out about school or work, or afraid that they might get pregnant or get an STD. People in pornography are also always in the mood for sex and people in real life simply aren't always in the mood for sex. Even porn stars aren't always in the mood for sex just because they are always shown having sex in porn movies or magazine pictures. They're real people, too, just like you and me. What you see in porn movies, in magazines, and what you read in stories is NOT real life.

Bodies in pornography are also generally not too realistic compared to what you find in real life. In most mainstream pornography, the people shown or described are young (under 30), conventionally attractive, and have very standardized bodies. For instance, women in pornography are almost always shown or described as having big, but unrealistically firm, breasts (a lot of women who are porn actresses or models have breast implants for this reason), and men in porn are usually shown/described as having really big penises. Obviously, not everybody has big breasts or a big penis! It's okay to not look like, or be built like, the people you see (or whose descriptions you read) in pornography. It's also perfectly okay not to use the exact sexual positions you find in pornography many of them are not too comfortable or practical. Again, pornography is not real life!!

Sexual response is another thing that isn't presented very realistically in pornography. People in real life can respond in a lot of different ways to being sexual or to having sex. In pornography, reactions are usually exaggerated a lot. In movies particularly, a lot of porn actors and actresses fake their climaxes so that it will seem like they are having tons of orgasms (and yes, they can fake male orgasms too, not just women's orgasms!). In pornography, women in particular are also often shown as having orgasms from things that don't give most women orgasms in real life it's a safe bet that women won't normally have an orgasm just from having someone touch their breasts, for instance, or within seconds of starting to have intercourse. There's a reason it's called 'acting'!

When people start comparing themselves or their sex lives to what they see or read about in pornography, they can often start to feel inadequate or maybe even abnormal. Sometimes people try to compare their partners' bodies, sexual desire, or sexual responses to what they've seen or read about in porn. Both are really unfair and useless. Pornography isn't what real sex or real people are 'supposed to be like,' it's an idealized version of someone's sexual fantasies. It's fine to use pornography if you want to, but remember that porn is not real life and you and your partner(s) don't have to 'measure up' to it!


Want to know how other Scarleteen users feel about pornography, and voice your own opinion? Check out or ongoing poll or porn here.

What kinds of people like pornography? It depends on what you consider 'pornography' to be, certainly, but almost everyone sometimes enjoys feeling sexually stimulated by something they read, watch, or look at. Your Aunt Gladys might love the thrilling sensations she gets from reading romance novels. You might really like watching movies with your favorite sexy superstars and imagining yourself getting to be in all the sexy romantic scenes with them. There are other options, too a lot of people like more stereotypical kinds of pornography like explicit magazines or videos. Some people like all of these things, and more besides. It's really a very wide-open question. The important thing to bear in mind is that a lot of people like a lot of different kinds of sexually stimulating, arousing kinds of music, art, pictures, movies, stories, et cetera. It's not unusual or weird if you do, too.

Is it really okay to like pornography? No one can decide for you if it is okay for you to like pornography or not. Whether or not you like pornography and whether or not you decide to make pornography part of your sexual life is a decision that only you can really make. Some people are not comfortable with certain types of pornography. Some people are not comfortable with any type of pornography. Some people are comfortable with all types of pornography. Some people like pornography but choose not to use it for various reasons. Other people have different preferences, opinions, and ideas, and people's thoughts on these issues can change at different points in their lives.

You are ultimately the only person who can say if pornography is okay for you, what ways it might be okay for you, and what kinds are okay for you. Thinking about the issues in this article, and thinking seriously about what pornography means to you and what sorts of concerns it may bring up for you, is the best way to know!

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. The information contained herein is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.