Thomas Horton

Thomas Horton
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
April 22
Lead Consultant
Mind Cartel
An unapologetic member of the liberal, left-wing intelligentsia, living in a blue city in a red state. I don't write here as much as I used to, because I have grown very weary of— and disillusioned with— politics, which is what I intended this blog to be about. I'm a poet. You can find my poetry on Facebook at the address below. http://www.facebook.com/thomashortonpoetry

NOVEMBER 17, 2008 1:25PM

Sexual Ideals: Porn vs. Romance Novels

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NB: This started as a response to AmyTuteurMD's wonderful article, Your "orgasm face"? Cosmo and the pornification of women, but has since turned into Chapter CDXXIX in my "Differences Between Men and Women" blather. Kudos to Dr. Amy for bringing up the dialogue.

One of the fundamental differences between men and women boils down to a simple analogy:


Each one of these entertainment forms represents the globalized ideal sexual encounter that strikes at the core of each gender's biological, physiological and sociological makeup.

I will take this moment to make the natural disclaimer that there are exclusions to this observation: some women dislike romance novels. Some men dislike pornography. And certainly no one, male or female, is exclusively aroused in the ways that I am about to describe. I will also say that my observations are truly basal-- that is, everything here is mitigated by societal pressures on individuals both to uphold and to break free of traditional gender roles. But taken across society as a whole, the following plays out and holds true.

If you watch a basic porn movie with any sort of plot, there is a formula which they inevitably follow: an average fellow in a more-or-less macho line of work-- a plumber, a businessman, a cop, a football player-- inadvertently stumbles upon a woman who is represented to be breathtakingly sexually desirable.

Naturally, there are men who are turned off by bleach-blondes with beach-balls for breasts (I'm one of them), but this "porn star" look reaches deep inside most men and strikes a chord for reasons I won't go into here.

These women, who are completely objectified, are usually portrayed in a way that makes them the very opposite of the women most men are out there meeting in society-- in bars, dance clubs or church socials-- wherever they troll for potential sex partners. They are almost always very brazen, whereas real women are more demure. They are almost always scantily clad, whereas real women are more modest. But more importantly, they are almost always desperately horny-- so much so that the man in the porno merely has to show up to get sex.

In fact, sometimes these women are so wound-up when the man arrives on the scene that they are masturbating or engaging in sex with another woman. The implication that lesbianism breaks out when there is no man immediately handy is one of the fundamental tenets of the girl-on-girl action in most normally heterosexual pornography. The women engaging in lesbian acts in most porn are clearly not lesbians, and do not fit any kind of lesbian mold or stereotype. These are crazed, horny straight women who just can't wait, and will hump the first human being that arrives on the scene.

Enter the macho Everyman. When he encounters this completely unrealistic woman, he doesn't even have to speak. He doesn't have to buy her a drink, or compliment her outfit, or ask about her interests. There is no small-talk to be made. She's ready for action-- in fact, she's already wet. In the porn world, the guy shows up, drops his pants, and the foreplay begins.

About the foreplay: it's all directed to the male. There is a usually protracted scene of fellatio, in which the female is shown to be "hungry" for the penis. And although there is also a grotesquely close-up and short scene of obligatory cunnilingus, the reason for the latter appears only to be to "prime" the woman for coitus.

The oral sex performed on the woman in pornos is perfunctory, brief and furious, which does not even nod to the female's actual desire, but rather, plays into the way men, when stripped of societal conventions, actually enjoy their sex: Men are entirely goal-oriented, whereas women are more about the process. The male sexual encounter is totally geared toward the orgasmic release. And while many real-life men have learned to delay their pleasure in order to please women, many more have not, thanks in no doubt to these "idealized" sexual representations in porn.

Men in porno films usually also sport amazing stamina and overly endowed genitalia, which, oddly, performs the same harmful function of supermodels in Cosmopolitan: it makes the viewing men feel inadequate, and gives them complexes about their own abilities and endowments.

Returning to the porn encounter, the penetrative sex begins, and it represents the ideal of the male mindset: he may completely have his way with her. Whatever he does is fine. The woman never speaks, only squeals with delight. He's never thrusting too hard. She's never uncomfortable. She's willing to take him in whatever position he desires, and he is always in control. Even in the obligatory "cowgirl" scene, where the woman is on top astride the male and the man gets his moment of objectification (at that point, he's just a penis with a big handle), the woman is shown as being so very crazed with lust that she has lost herself entirely, and her flailing and bouncing is more or less an opportunity for the man underneath her (who isn't having to work too hard) to get a close-up show of her globular breasts.

Then, the moment we've all been waiting for: the "money shot." The ejaculation is always shown outside the body, and invariably achieved through simple masturbation, mirroring what's going on with the viewer. There's always a lot of attention given to it-- in fact, in many porn films the moment of ejaculation is shown multiple times or replayed from different angles.

The implication of this focus on the semen underlines the male's basal physiology: when all is stripped away, he really just wants to get it over with. Biologically, an orgasm is like a sneeze, or urinating, or defecating: you feel better when you're done. The female, for her part, is portrayed as overjoyed that the man is climaxing, and is willing to accept his semen anywhere on her body, including on her face, playing into the male fantasy that this woman is there for him do with as he pleases, including the degrading act of, in essence, leaving a waste product on her face.

No attention is paid to the woman's orgasm. The squealing that implies it is overshadowed by the man's ejaculation, which it always coincides with. We're never really sure if she climaxes, because it frankly doesn't matter. This fantasy is all about the dude. The man in the porno never asks if he's performing all right, or if the woman is satisfied, it's a foregone conclusion that she is. Just look at her face.

Afterward, there is no cuddling, no bathing in the afterglow. They part ways, often without speaking. It is interesting to note that even in a porn narrative that follows the same man on some kind of erotic adventure, we will likely not see this woman again. He's had her, it's time to move on.

This is, when all convention is stripped away, and if men were allowed to be entirely selfish, what the ideal fantasy sex act would be like: easy, hot, detached and quick.

Women, by contrast, have the romance novel providing equally unreal expectations.

In romance novels, it's not at all about the destination, it's about the journey. The heroine of a romance novel is always what every woman wants to be: she's sure of herself, and headstrong. She's been burned or forgotten by love, and she's lonely.

Enter the male lust object. More often than not, there is something adversarial in their relationship. He may be a despicable bad-boy, he may be ready foreclose on her father's farm, he may be so badly bruised and brooding from the death of his wife that no woman will ever again have his heart. He has to be won over. And our heroine will rise to the challenge and finally once and for all complete him and make him into the decent, warm, giving, compassionate man she knows him to be at his core.

After a series of frustrating encounters which always include lots of dialogue, in which she finds herself conflicted in her feelings-- repulsed by him but still undeniably attracted to him-- the moment turns, and she finally manages to pry open his heart. Not his pants, mind you, but his heart.

The pants are next. The first sexual encounter is always torrid and passionate, with lots of eyelet lace and candlelight, or pastoral shelter from an impending storm, or a roaring fire and red wine, or a deserted road and a view of the ocean's pounding surf. More importantly, however, than the setting is the acceptance of the mutual attraction combined with a deeper and more meaningful feeling, and the promise (or at least the possibility) that it might work into a relationship of real, everlasting, happily-ever-after love.

From this point to the end of the novel, the man stands by the heroine's side as a partner and consort. They work together to resolve whatever remaining plot conflicts remain, and the upbeat ending of the story shows the woman, now in total control of her life, with the object of her love steadfast and true beside her. What else could a woman want, deep down?

Of course, real life is not so simple. Guys very rarely get these porn encounters. Women's sexual conquests never quite work out with the rose petals and violins. Likewise, men do, on some level, want love, just as women want crazy hot sex. But these "art" forms, such as they are, give us a glimpse into what the mass market has deemed our deepest sexual desires to be, and by our consumption of them in massive quantities, both porn videos and romance novels, we are proving the market right.

Whether we have shaped them, or they have shaped us remains the unanswered question. These unrealistic portrayals of sex are dangerous on both sides, for they set a very high bar in our minds. As long as we keep both romance and pornography in perspective, and use them for the purposes for which they are actually intended-- fantasy-- there's not a lot of harm in them. When we start trying to make our lives in any way match up to these overblown, unlikely scenarios, however, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and self-pity, whether our internal soundtrack is set to gypsy violins or "bow-chicka-bow-wow."

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"But these "art" forms, such as they are, give us a glimpse into what the mass market has deemed our deepest sexual desires to be, and by our consumption of them in massive quantities, both porn videos and romance novels, we are proving the market right."

Friend, this post comes across as rather self-hating, not just as a man, but as a person.

Also, based on the extended shot-by-shot analysis, I think it's possible you've watched too much porn.
@ManTalkNow: I'd be interested to have you elucidate exactly what you mean by "self-hating"... that's not a comment anyone ever levels at me... it's usually just the contrary. I just calls 'em as I sees 'em.

As far as "too much porn" goes, one can't do a study without extensive research (and yes, I really have studied pornography, and yes, it really was research)... for what it's worth, this type of porn really doesn't do anything for me.

Thanks for the comment! Write back.
I like porn and romance novels. Some romance novels are just erotic literature anyway, which is literary porn. By the way my experience is that alot of women enjoy porn, but they like porn that is targeted to women as oppossed to the majority that is targeted to men.

There is porn for everyone, one person is a niche market in the porn industry.
I sometimes wonder who this mass market is, it is so alien to my own proclivities. I abhor romance novels, as a writer and as a reader and as a woman. I've watched porn with the bf but most of it is just too stupid to be a turn on. My imagination is much better - and resembles nothing as gross as the classic romance novel set-up you've outlined here (which, by the way, you did with hilariously suspicious aptness - are you a fan of the genre?!)
Okay, Thomas. In answer to your question, I get a whiff of self-hatred as a man from your descriptions of porn. It reads as if with lip curled - indicating strong distaste. And that distaste reflects not just on the subject material, but also on the consumer (assumedly a man). It's as if you're saying men shouldn't enjoy this. For the record, particularly regarding the kind of film you describe, I don't enjoy it, but I'm neutral on those who do.

You also seem to express discomfort with the choices people make in general. Derogatory reference to the "mass market" can be couched in political or sociological terminology, but what you're really saying - ultimately - is that you don't like the choices people are making. Demand from people drives the production of these things. People want them, whether porn or romance novels. And, anyway, I don't think most people take either too seriously.

God, I'm discussing porn again. Rough week.
@SandraMiller: As I said before, I actually have made a serious academic study of this subject. I've read more romance novel than anyone-- male or female-- should ever have to! And for what it's worth, I didn't really care for any of them.

Personally (and this may be another whole porny essay)... I enjoy gay porn, but not straight porn, even though I am very sexually attracted to women as well as men. It keys in some regard on what you said: the women in porn are so tarted-up they look absolutely ridiculous to me. All that bleached hair and high-heels and Ferrari red lipstick, I just can't take it seriously. But in gay porn, the guys are usually just good-looking and natural. When hetero sex is portrayed with more natural-looking women (like in mainstream Hollywood movies), I find it much more arousing. And by contrast, when they play up the leather and piercings and all that baloney in gay porn, it turns me off. So maybe I'm just more of a purist in both porn and romance. Hmm.

Thanks for commenting.
@ManTalkNow: Actually, I endorse people using porn if they enjoy it. And I have a spot for it myself, particularly if it's done well. My issue is that most of it isn't done well.

I don't hate men (or being a man, for that matter). On the contrary, I love men, and I love women. My lip-curl you may be sensing is equally present in my tone for the romance-novel part of my essay. If I come off as judgmental, it's not entirely without purpose, but my condemnation of the "mass market" is more of those who are marketing the products (porn and romance novels) to us than to those who are buying them.

Again, I don't judge or dislike porn... or romance novels, when they're well done. Just most are not.

Thanks for reading.
@ Stellaa: I agree that it is entirely commercial. But I do think it is both interesting and telling as to why they produce what they produce... why it is commercially viable.

And maybe it has driven me nuts. :-) Thanks for commenting.
@Lindsay Hoffman: Your point is very well-taken, and apt. All that moaning is absolutely meant to glorify the male. I will work that perspective into my next edit on this essay. Thanks a lot for your comment!
loved Lindsay's comment - and for the record I much prefer gay porn to straight porn. It seems more, I don't know..real? unsimulated? I guess it's the difference between 2 participants who are equally giving and taking and getting obvious pleasure vs. the obvious fakery of hetero porn.
I'm not a fan of porn and I'm definitely not a fan of "Romance Novels". Now romance within a great novel, I'm all for... I'm not a big lover of peni (plural for multiple penises?) so I'd rather look at and/or touch a real woman than watch porn. But I digress. I was curious about it as a child but as I became older I put away childish things.

I'm not judging. If porn spices up a love life, AMEN, go buy some porn. If a man/woman are lonely and need stimulation, go buy some porn. We can't judge people who watch porn, check that, I can't judge people who buy/watch porn. If I were single and lonely, I'd probably get some in a minute, or better yet, just order some PPV.

I find most of the porn that I saw when I was younger, humorous. I played sports growing up so I knew the men on most of the films were "not of the norm" but then I saw a film with John Holmes in it back in the early 80's at a friend's house with mixed company and every person collectively, at ONE TIME said "DAAAAAMN". That man was a FREAK!
There is more to the porn world than the vanilla straight male fantasy porn you describe, but yes - I do think both genders have strange expectations.

:) Smut is smut. Different venue, of course . . .but in the end the goal is the same, to arouse!

I prefer erotica, fanfiction to be exact. I tried writting my own too . . . .:)
Good post and I agree with most of your observations. Umm... wondering, (but only if you want to divulge) for what reason were you doing your research?

I agreed with Lindsay's comments: "I would disagree with one thing re: porn - that the female orgasm isn't important. Rather, I think it is important, and the woman seems to be in a constant unreal state of orgasm. Men thrive on success..." but want to add: The women orgasming in almost all straight porn is NOT about truly giving the women pleasure. You did point out the ridiculously short foreplay, especially on the oral sex - cunnilingus part for the women, as well as no afterplay. Rather, imo, it is about EGO. Men, again imo, can identify with the male protagonists, even if their own cock is not as well-endowed and their stamina is not at the kama-sutra level... but still, men subconsciously put themselves in the role of the male protagonist. And it is quite a stroke (pun intended) to the ego, to imagine that they are so ridiculously desirable and sexy that anything they do will just satisfy these sexy (in porn's opinion, not mine) women.

I also agree with the poster who compared it to drugs and moderation. However, also think there are a ton of 'immoderate users', so to speak. I've taken extensive web design courses and our instructors made us aware of the following: leading the way in technology near the 1st web surge (umm...) up to today has always been the porn sites. And, when all the other e-commerce sites have been scrambling to stay afloat, the porn sites have not only done well, but the bulk of money (overwhelming $ made from anywhere else on line) made online is from porn sites. I don't have figures for you guys.

I used to think porn was more or less harmless, even though totally unrealistic... I no longer feel that, having been jaded by someone who was/is almost certainly a sexual addict (no, it wasn't confined to porn). And now, I guess I feel much less positive to it... not from a prudish or moralistic point of view, but from the view that it sets up totally unrealistic expectations, and that is the people who see it don't take it with a huge grain of saltpetre, then it makes it harder to have authentic sexual relations with real women who may actually desire some attention and foreplay, or who may not find the idea of 'semen slurping' etc., a turn-on.
This was a post worth sharing. I agree with your statements here, and I feel that the same things can be spoken of in the realm of love itself. People look for love to become a thing of flawless and unbreakable virtue that requires no sacrifice or fuel.
I think that in a society that favors sex over love, it is hard to find people willing to find love and work hard at it anymore. Am I alone in this thinking?
Nicely written, and I agree. However, many women I've talked to and tried to make this analogy vehemently disagree with the premise. It seems equitable to me, but what the heck do I know, I'm just a guy :)
Thanks for the great post here. Despite the fact that there is a lot of truth in this one, I would like to say my opinion on few facts. First of all I can't fully agree with the statement "PORNOGRAPHY is to MEN
as ROMANCE NOVELS are to WOMEN." Of course in most situations it will be like that. However there are many exceptions and in modern society more and more women love porn. For example my wife. She is watching porn every day and has even her favorite actress Priya Rai. I don't see anything wrong here because she loves the way that porn actress look and tries to be like her. It is a right thing to my mind. I love watching porn of course too so your statement in most situations will be right as I said. Time is changing everything. Now many people love porn and not too many love romances. I love both and I won't separate them. Thanks for the great article one more time here and keep posting such nice ones in the future too.