Body image: is porn hitting men harder than women?

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In this porn series, which explores porn culture from the perspectives of 150 young people in Britain, we talk grunts and groans and hairy crevices, as we turn our gaze to how porn’s affecting how we feel about our bodies, and consider whether men might actually be getting hit a little harder when it comes to confidence in the face of hunky, horny, porn star bodies.

I am female and have never experience any form of pressure created from porn.

Now, I realise my reactions are just my own and flawed, of course, by countless biases, but on trawling though the survey responses, I was surprised that some women rejected the idea that porn causes them any body image anxiety, whereas, for me, an unexpectedly high number of men voiced worry.

I’ve always been pretty comfortable with my body. However, as an averagely endowed man, I would be lying if I said that porn didn’t make one wish for a baseball-bat-sized shlong every once in a while.

Perhaps this gap in gender reactions is because, alongside sports athletes and male models, porn is a rare instance of men being confronted with unreasonable ideals of their gender’s physicality, where women are bombarded with that every single day across mainstream media. Porn is one rare space where men are equally forced to scrutinize.

Men

This male anxiety (and this was from men across the spectrum of sexuality) centred on two main points: penises and cumming. There’s no commentary to make here: these are people’s subjective experiences (and as a woman without a wang I’m not able to identify), so we’ll just rattle on through.

First, to cumming:

“I’ve felt pressure to last a lot longer before ejaculation than I can manage.”

“As a male you feel you have to be able to go as long as the men do during porn and feel inadequate when you can’t, this making sex intimidating.”

Some reassurance from a female respondent:

“I have wondered if men feel a need to last longer because of expectations that that makes it better for women – not necessarily true in my opinion!”

Now, to willies:

“It feels like if your penis isn’t a certain size then you are inadequate.”

“My partner feels inadequate because of the (overly well-endowed) image of men in porn, which does not fit with his self-image, which presents a problem or two occasionally.”

“My penis is curved which makes certain sexual positions difficult and has reduced the size. Porn and the lack of sexual education left me feeling like a freak when in fact it is a common problem.”

Laughing? Don’t.

“This in turn has led to serious problems with intimacy and also mental issues such as depression and anxiety disorder amongst other things.”

Porny penises are causing problems, as with any pop portrayal of the human body which suggests we’re all uniform shapes and sizes. We’re just flipping not, and why we yearn for and accept popular representations which suggest we are, at the detriment of many people’s happiness, remains a mystery.

Women

Porn makes hairlessness the ideal and fetishises pubes as a niche area of interest (the ‘muff’ category). Why isn’t it vice versa?”

Anger at the idiocy of the porn-born trend for hairlessness was rightly rife in the survey feedback, and it was the prime focus among the many female respondents who do find porn to be impacting on body image.

“Every time I sleep with somebody new I’m thinking ‘oh god, what does he expect in the pube department?’ Occasionally I’ve been with men who told me they’d prefer it ‘all off’. It makes me angry that porn has created this look that means I have to haul my ass to a beautician and pay a lot of money to have a stranger stare at my cooch and painfully rip all my lovely hair off it.”

“I feel concern surrounding what is going to be most ‘acceptable’ regarding shaving/waxing, even though I know those expectations are completely unfair and ridiculous.”

There is an expectation for women to be very well ‘groomed’ in all body areas due to some porn, and I think that is something that has affected me as I get waxed and I shave because in society today, women with body hair is considered abnormal.”

Indeed, it was perhaps a shame that it was only women calling hairlessness out for the unnatural, unequal and expensive trend it is, with not a single male respondent writing in about how weird it is that real world women now turn up to sex in the guise of prepubescent girls.

Women brought up noises as another key area where they feel pressured to act up to porn-driven expectations, and also noted that anxiety over unrealistic cumming wasn’t just one for the lads.

I feel like there is a certain expectation placed upon women to be something they may or may not be in bed. They are expected to look a certain way, with a certain body and like the same things. They WILL come after this certain time, they WILL enjoy giving head.”

“I feel porn is just a lie! No women comes like that, and no women in porn is enjoying it. I hate the lack of pubic hair and I hate the onus on anal sex.”

“Am I making the right noises? I don’t feel like screaming rhythmically the entire time like women in porn do, but I feel like it’s expected.”

“Before I’d had any decent sex that actually felt good, I just imitated the kind of sex noises I thought would be sexy – inspired by porn I guess.”

“As a woman, I feel pressures to shave my public hair, to lose weight, and to make more noise during sex.”

It’s impossible to gauge how much something’s impacting on how people feel, so of course, in answer to the conundrum of which gender’s being hit harder by body expectations invented and propagated by porn, there’s no way of telling – though it’s probably fair to say that porn offers men a rare glimpse of the objectification that lucky, lucky women are treated to across all of mainstream culture.

But the idea of a battle of the sexes is a thoroughly limited one: when it comes to the impact of porn on individuals’ health and happiness, we’re all in this together. One big porny society. While several respondents were keen to point out that they experience no pressures on their body image as a result of porn and its culture, noting the idea covered in the introductory post that porn is entirely just fantasy, a majority did use the porn survey space to open up about their deep discomfort which has stemmed directly from porn. While it’s not affecting everyone in terms of what we feel about and do with our bodies, it’s certainly affecting some.

Next time, we’ll consider how porn’s redefining intimacy, between couples, in dating, and in one night stands, and explore shifting expectations of how couples, in all their guises, act together, both in and out of the sack.

Explore the whole series here.

@lucehouse



Image Credit: Como_un_pez_en_el_agua via Compfight

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