Sex and Porn: How to Talk About It

sex and porn cucumber

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

There's a big gap in reality between sex and porn, Kia Handley and The Sugar Doctor discuss how to talk about the issue of sexual expectations that arise from online porn.

[Full Transcript Below]

You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

[Original recording on ABC website here]

Kia Handley is: Not a car! Presenter ABC Newcastle. Loves vintage, Eurovision & great stories.

You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  Facebook kiahandleyjourno and on her podcasts: This Retro Life & Let’s Talk-  Rural Mental Health, PLUS even more amazing gems here.

Have You Seen This Ad From NZ on Sex and Porn?

Kia: Have you seen this TV commercial, you probably haven’t seen it on your TV because it was made in New Zealand, but it has been shared EVERYWHERE on line, it’s gone a little bit viral.

Here’s a little bit of it;

[Ad plays]

Sue: Hiya, I’m Sue. This is Derek. We’re here because your son just looked us up on line. You know, to watch us.

Matt’s Mum:  [shouts] Matt! Matt darling! There’s some people here to see you!

So… he watches you online?

Sue: Yeah! You know, on his laptop

Derek: ipad, playstation

Sue: his phone, your phone,

Derek: Smart TV, projector…

Sue: Yeah anyway, we usually perform for adults, but your son’s just a kid. He might not know how relationships actually work. We don’t even talk about consent, do we, no we just get straight to it.

Derek: Yeah. And I’d never act like that in real life.

What's Great About This Sex and Porn Campaign?

Kia: It’s a bit of an education program around online sex and porn; what healthy sexual relationships look like in the flesh, not in that online space.

How big a reality check can relationships be for someone who has learnt a lot about sexual encounters in that porn space?

Well let’s have a chat about this with Relationship Coach from The Sugar Doctor, Tara Whitewood. Good morning!

Tara: Good morning kia

Kia: What do you make of this advertisement in New Zealand first?

Tara: I love it. It’s the best. They’re so funny. There are so many wonderful campaigns that come out of New Zealand. And in this context it’s actually part of a series as well. And it catches your attention. It’s fantastic.

Kia: Because it’s not easy to do in a family friendly public television air time kind of way… but they managed to make it work!

Tara: Exactly. And to make it so humorous means that it is going to be spread. Some of the more serious fear based ads about sex and porn, tend to get passed over. So it’s very clever.

Kia: Yeah what is the point of this? What is the hope of this advertising campaign? What are they hoping to achieve?

Tara: It’s about really opening up the conversation now about the gap between a real sexual encounter, a real life sexual encounter and then in this context, what kids might see in pornography. And how to talk about the gap there with children and their families.

Are Australians Bad at Talking About Sex?

Tara: We’re absolutely terrible at it! And not just for children, I think we’re terrible at it through all age groups.

It’s not something that in Australia we do well as part of sexual education curriculum, in the context of consent and things like that. So, it’s not a conversation that we’re comfortable having. What that generally means is that we don’t have it, leaving people going to things like online porn to find their own education.

Kia: Is that because we’re still a lot behind closed doors about sex and porn? There is a little bit of a stigma around talking about this so openly?

Tara: Absolutely. Across all age groups, I think in the younger generations, like Millenials and Gen-Z it’s a more comfortable conversation, something that they would more regularly do. But I think older generations are still very much caught in the taboo of talking about sex at all.

Kia: Which makes it hard when it’s then say a parent, an older generation, talking to their children, a younger generation, who has a very different sense of the online space as well.

Tara: Exactly right. Maybe the parents aren’t as confident navigating the online space, or maybe they just don’t know what their children are looking at.

How Does that Impact Relationships?

Kia: When we don’t have these conversations, when there is that gap between online and realism in sex and porn, what can that mean for our relationships?

Tara: Primarily there is a big gap in expectations and education. So it’s almost like the gap between watching a Hollywood movie and thinking “oh, that’s what life is” and then living your real life which has huge tracts of boring, messy, annoying, irritating frustrating, whatever… there’s just not that balance between, you know, on screen everything looks effortless and easy and it might be this, but when you actually go and do it in real life it’s not so easy.

So, part of the gap is around expectations of what you think is going to happen. I mean, if you think about it, porn stars are the Olympians of the sex world, yeah, so they’ve been doing it a lot, they’ve been talking about it a lot, they have a deep understanding, they’ve negotiated, so then to take that into a regular life is not always practical.

Kia: And they’re not always trying to be realistic in those videos. That’s not always the point of it.

Tara: No. It’s pure fantasy. It’s pure fantasy. It has a place, I think, and it also needs to have a much broader conversation around sex and porn to put it into context for people. I don’t think that pornography in itself is an issue. It’s a mirror for our attitudes in society, and when we have those broader conversations around what it means, and how real it is, or where the gaps are, then it becomes something that can supplement a normal sex life.

[23/6/20 EDIT: I hate that I used the word ‘normal’ here. I don’t actually believe there is such a thing as a “normal” sex life, and whether porn is a part of it or not has little relevance. Sexuality is different for every individual and it was harmful of me to suggest that ‘normal’ exists.]

When Should We Start Talking About Sex and Porn?

Kia: Fourteen minutes away from ten o’clock, you are on ABC Newcastle with Kia Handley hearing from your regular guest Tara Whitewood and we are talking about realism in sex and porn. Following this ad from New Zealand that is all about starting these conversations about what realism looks like in physical relationships, in sexual relationship.

Alright so, we don’t have a groovy ad doing the rounds on television at the moment, Tara, so how do we start these conversations – very awkward, and teenagers might squirm and try to run as far away as possible.

Tara: Yeah, sure, I mean, ideally you start them when children are very young. So in the Netherlands which is the gold standard for sexual education, they start in schools and child care at three or four years old. Talking about age appropriate topics. They can talk about consent, and anatomy, and biology, and those kids get a chance to practice the interactions that they might have with their peers as well in a real life supervised situation. So I think that’s what really gets missed a lot of the time is the practice over a lifetime of saying “yes, no, please, thank you,” right?

One of the things that delighted me when I was reading the curriculum is that at about the year 3 age, the kids are taught how to be kind to their crush. And I thought oh my gosh, what a delight. Its such an important conversation to have.

Kia: So it can start with as simple as just grabbing another toddlers hand to hold or going in for a hug its learning to ask those questions. That’s what they’re learning at about 3 or 4 years of age?

Tara: Absolutely.

How Do We Start That Conversation?

Tara: And I think what is really important to note, is that where there is a discomfort in talking about sex, as in sexual intercourse, and the specifics of that is uncomfortable for people. But the conversations that need to be had are around gender, and sex, and power, and autonomy, and diversity, and consent, and boundaries, and pleasure. So it’s not just the focus on where people might find it awkward which is the logistics of the bedroom, it’s the broader socio cultural context that needs to be talked about in order to provide that context for sex and porn so that kids and adults can look at it and say “hey, so this has a specific purpose, and it sits within this broader societal context”.

Kia: Yeah. Is there a way to start that conversation within a family?

Tara: Yes. There is a really great book called Beyond Birds & Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality, by Bonnie J Rough and she talks about some of those sex and porn themes that I just mentioned. And she provides a really great framework to have some of those conversations in a family. There’s some really great books around for teens in terms of sexuality, one of my favourites is A Teen Girls Guide to Getting Off by Eva Sless, which you can gift to your teen. But it’s really about allowing it to be awkward and saying “hey, I find this a bit awkward but can we talk about sex and porn” and then the more that you talk about it, the more comfortable you will feel. And that applies as much in a parent/teen or a parent / tween conversations, but also between adults within your intimate relationships.

How Do We Talk to Other Adults?

Kia: That was, you read my mind. That was going to be my next question. Because it’s not always about talking safe sex with a younger generation, sometimes it can be about talking about sex and porn within an adult group as well, or talking in friendships or between partners… Does that get easier? Or… we’re still not so great with that.

Tara: It gets easier with practice. Like anything. Depending on who you are with… so some relationships it might not be as simple, or even as appropriate to have, say with a colleague at work for example, but, in some of those relationships it will become easier.

It depends on your personal level of education, I think, as to the kinds of conversations you would have. So it’s really important for all of us to begin to learn about sex and porn; what are the challenges, and what are the broader themes that run through sexuality, so that we’re not perpetuating some of those stereotypes that do cause harm.

Should Our Education Be Ongoing?

Kia: Is that something that needs constant check in?

Tara: Absolutely. It’s an evolving thing over time, we’re learning “oh hey, this leads to this” and particularly on the back on some of the larger movements, the MeToo movement is a great example, it’s brought consent in particular to the real forefront of global awareness.

So keeping up with some of those themes that are happening around the world and thinking “oh, okay, consent is a theme” and jumping onto Google and google “What is enthusiastic consent?” and keeping up with the latest thinking on some of those topics. Because it does evolve over time. If you think back to the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, over time we really evolve in our understanding of not just what it means, but the impact on society.

Kia: Even from the 2000s. We were watching a movie a couple of weeks ago that was made, not even in the early 2000s, and we were like, wow, the relationships in this are really problematic!

Tara: Sure.

Kia: And a lot has changed since then!

Tara: I mean, in answer to your question “how do we talk about sex and porn as a couple” that’s a really great way to do it. To watch a movie as a couple and say “oh wow, this is outdated isn’t it. What’s problematic about it? What’s different now? And what are we learning?” So in all of your interactions you can notice some of those moments, and use those as educational moments, instead of having to have a huge conversation that you build up where you sit down and it’s awkward and it’s strange…

It’s those little moments when you notice someone around you saying something inappropriate, including colleagues, and you can say “hey, that’s not the current thinking around that, and this is why” and begin to change attitudes. Because I think that the focus on porn as the cause of the attitudes is actually kind of flipped around. It’s actually our attitudes that are being expressed through porn and then spreading education in that way.

What Impact Will the Ad Have?

Kia: I know the New Zealand ad campaign was being targeted at New Zealand, but it will be interesting to see as it’s gone viral around the world, just how many hits they get from abroad, seeking the same information that they are putting out there to their residents.

Tara: Yeah. Absolutely. And they are actively doing the research with those younger generations to see what the attitudes are and what are the impacts and what are the porn consumption habits so that there is some real life research and statistics that will allow us to follow how the education is shifting those attitudes. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what their educational structure is going to be for sex education in New Zealand as a result of this.

Kia: Interesting to have this conversation with you, as always, we’ll catch up next week

Tara: Thanks Kia, see you later

Kia: Relationship Coach with The Sugar Doctor, Tara Whitewood