Anti-porn feminists have always made me feel a bit weird. Part guilt, part scorn, part superiority of the so-called "sexually-liberated woman". I occasionally watch porn, have done for many years now (which, looking back, really can't have been a good thing for my psychological development) and I haven't really seen a problem with it. It's something I used to bring up with boys - it sort of marked me as their equal, even their superior. It was a way of saying "hey, if you're going to try and intimidate me by making crass jokes about your penis, I'm going to do the same about my orgasms." For women, owning your sexuality can feel incredibly empowering. It's the conversational red lipstick. But our sexuality has been misrepresented, packed in perverse shiny plastic. We are told that our sexuality is contingent upon us being adventurous and modern, upon us knowing what that weird thing you saw on pornhub is. Let me say this, let me remind myself: there is nothing adventurous or modern about porn. Porn is sugarfree sex, without the nutrition but with the exploitation. You are a woman. The history of your sexuality is lustrous and sensual. It is birth and death and blood and joy and suffering and isolation and female companionship. You do not need to watch 5 minute clips of women being creampied to be the sexual equal of a man.

Even very mild porn, where it's all about missionary and a little oral, is more damaging than is obvious. The words used, the situation, the technique of seduction can all normalise really gross and abusive behaviours. I've often watched clips and felt like something deeply wrong was going on, even though the actress consented and her character seemed to be enjoying herself. It isn't so much to do with what they're doing, but where they're doing it, or who they are. Tropes like the guy who drops off a package (yeah, pun intended) for a lonely idle housewife, like the professor and student, the hidden camera. These are all situations which, in real life, would be traumatising. And while teenagers are unlikely to re-enact these scenarios (or maybe they do, who knows what kids are doing these days), watching this stuff repeatedly does blur the lines between what is sex and what is rape. Though this is true for all genders, the most mainstream porn is where you're least likely to find women on the dominant end. I wonder, do young men generally feel the same discomfort as I do when they watch these scenarios? Or is it only because my gender is the subject of abuse? 

If porn misrepresents sex, it does even less for female sexuality. Go onto any straight porn site* and skip to the end of a few videos. See how many of them end with a man ejaculating. See how many of them end with a man ejaculating on a woman's body - her face and breasts are obvious targets. Then see how many end with a woman having a realistic orgasm. Not fake squeals during PiV sex, but an actual orgasm after receiving some actual attention. Not only does porn teach boys that this is what sex is, but it teaches girls that they should put up with it. Porn teaches woman that their orgasm is an optional add-on, a luxury (you might even find it on the fetish section). Porn teaches men that their orgasm is the point of the game. I would go as far as to say that porn isn't just misrepresenting sex, but destroying it. In porn, there is a formula - a formula which revolves around male sexuality and not only sidelines female sexuality, but pretends it doesn't exist. Women in porn are glorified fleshlights**; too many young women are finding their sex lives reduced to same utilitarian process.

I regret that it took me so long to reach this conclusion. I regret searching for porn I could tolerate and not pausing to examine why the other stuff made me squirm. It took finding a porn site that romanticised taxi rape to make me realise that there was something very, very fucked up going on. It took so long to realise that the (fairly vanilla) porn I've been watching, with only a few slurs and occasional violence, is not harmless. I have defended the industry with that famous line - "people are smart enough to know the difference". But really, are we? I've met boys who don't know that girls have pubic hair. I've met boys, too many boys, who think that woman secretly enjoy rape. Boys who think it's ok to force themselves in without foreplay, who think that "no, don't do that" mid-sex is just normal dirty talk. And I'm not laying all the blame on porn, but really, where else do we learn about sex? We certainly don't get taught about it in school - yeah, maybe if you're in a good school you might learn how to put on a condom in year 10. But where do you learn about how to actually have sex? You watch, you memorise, you internalise. I never realised how harmful this process actually is. 

* I'm particularly talking about straight porn in this paragraph. There are problems with queer porn too, though arguably less, which I'll talk about another time. When I say about women in porn, I'm not just referring to cis women, either.
** just to make this clear: I mean the characters, NOT the actresses. I have nothing but support for women who choose to work in the porn industry; blaming them would be like blaming Amazon workers for corporate tax avoidance.