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  • Writer's pictureJudith Jackson-Pomeroy

How Men Have Sex

In order to reach their audience about (the problem) with how sex gets defined for young, straight men, masculinities scholars, like John Stoltenberg, Michael Kimmel, and others, have settled on a down-to-earth, colloquial approach:

Men define sex as a dick in a pussy

Not only do they capture the attention of their audience with this language, but they contribute to 1. our understanding about how and why sex has become defined so narrowly for men, and 2. The consequences of being attached to such a rigid (pun intended) definition of sex.

Bear with me while I break it down.

The How and Why

The straight porn industry has shaped men’s idea of what sex is, according to Stoltenberg. That industry is a business, of course, and in order to survive they need paying customers. In a culture that pushes the lie that men are more interested in sex than women because of their hormones, men are their market. I know we could get into the argument here about hormones, but let’s put that argument on hold for another day. Meanwhile, since both men and women believe (the lie) that hormones ‘made me do it,’ men are the porn industries natural audience. Cue the men.

The straight porn industry defines sex for men as “penetration.” Stoltenberg uses much fresher, provocative terms than this to describe it, like ‘dick in a pussy,’ ‘blowjobs,’ etc., but his point is the porn industry is responsible for defining 1. what sex is for men, and 2. shaping their sexual desires and expectations. In other words, men’s sexual desires are not authentic, or their own (actual) desires, but coopted and realized, courtesy of the porn industry.

The Consequences of Being Rigid

Stoltenberg’s big concern with this coopting of men’s sexual desire by the porn industry knows no bounds. Let me break it down for you, guys. Here are just a few of the consequences:

  • The Porn Industry is Ruining Your Sex Life: In interviewing young men about their sex lives, Stoltenberg finds that most report being disappointed in their sex lives because the experience doesn’t fit the images and videos they’ve viewed in porn. In other words, they enjoy porn more than actual sex. Deb Tolman, the gender scholar, points to the ‘performance’ emphasis in porn as the reason men might feel disappointed with actual sex (with real women). Women in porn, after all, are performing rather than experiencing sex. That is, the scene is manufactured to a high degree, from hair and makeup, to lingerie, and facial expression and body position precisely posed. Actual sex doesn't look anything like that because real women are not likely to ‘perform’ the part perfectly, and so men are inevitably disappointed in the experience, and thus might prefer porn to actual sex.

  • Sexual violence: Since the porn industry presents women as performers for men’s pleasure, then it’s not such a leap to see how control and desire might become conflated. Stoltenberg’s further concern is that this conflating of control with desire is a contributor to sexual aggression against women. In other words, he believes the porn industry contributes to a culture that promotes sexual aggression (towards women) as ‘hot.’

  • Authentic Sex: When sex gets defined by an industry, shaping men’s desires and expectations about what pleasure is, the sexual experience becomes inauthentic. It's not your desire, it's theirs.

Stoltenberg implores men to consider how the porn industry is ruining their sex lives and encourages them to think about what they might be missing out on. He especially emphasizes that, if men learn to connect with their sexual partner(s) as people who are having an experience and not performing for someone else’s pleasure, sex will get a whole lot better.

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