The lights are low and music plays softly in the background. The mood is set, and you and your partner, whom you’ve determined is perfect in every way, are ready to go. Time for the fun to begin. But suddenly, the ideal evening you’ve been anticipating comes to a screeching halt.
“You want me to do WHAT?”
You’re baffled. Whether you’re the person saying it or hearing it, the situation has become awkward.
As uncomfortable as these moments can be, misunderstandings like this can lead to important discoveries about the differences people have in their ideas about sex and sexual experiences.
For instance, what makes him or her think you would ever do something like that?
[sex] Perhaps the media is to blame. As ideas and illustrations about sex are rampant in our culture, it would be hard to argue that media, including pornography, don’t play a significant role in how we learn and what we perceive about sex.
English and film studies professor Jeff Wray believes the growth of the media presence in our culture has made sexuality less personal and more influenced by the media’s interpretation of sex. “Media paints these pictures of what sexuality, sex, desire, allure are ‘supposed’ to be and then people, particularly younger folks, are led to reach for that ideal of love, sex and romance,” Wray said. “And of course the ideal is generalized and very much an unattainable ideal. Real sexuality is personal, develops at its own pace and is sometimes less than ideal and sometimes much greater than any imagined ideal.”
Furthermore, the ideas and images presented in film, television and music don’t apply to everyone and may not be the best way for each individual to become acquainted with sex.
One of the most sexualized forms of mainstream media is hip-hop music and music videos. From R. Kelly’s “Ignition” of 2003 to the latest 50 Cent single, “Candy Shop,” sexual images and expectations are everywhere. “If you be a nympho, I’ll be a nympho / In the hotel or in the back of the rental,” 50 Cent sang. It’s obvious what he means by the term “lollipop.”
Brady Harris, interdisciplinary studies in social science junior, believes the images and ideas presented in popular music today have an influence on the way young people think about sex. “I think there are positive and negative effects, but it’s easier to see the negative sides,” Harris said. “I think a lot of music videos today make people think it’s OK for guys to be ‘pimps’ or ‘players’ and that it’s glamorous for girls to be promiscuous or think they have to dress or look [provocative] to get a guy to like her.”
But Eric Howard, a licensed sex therapist in Lansing, believes the product of the media’s representation of sex is not necessarily a bad thing. “The media many times is beneficial and helpful to people and their sexual relations,” Howard said. “It can open topics up for discussion and communication that might otherwise be hard to talk about.”
Speaking of hard to talk about, pornography, a highly pervasive, available media taboo, influences the way many people view sex and love. Whether hidden in closets, between mattresses, in computer files or wrapped in brown paper on magazine racks, porn is usually easier to get than an actual partner.
As the Internet has changed the way we see the world, it has also changed how porn is made available to us. All it takes is a double-click and you’re in for all the kink your eyes can handle.
Dr. Barnaby Barratt, a licensed sex therapist in Farmington Hills, said he is aware of studies that show “non-violent, non-derogatory, erotic material” has a positive effect on adults and their sexuality. For healthy individuals or couples, pornography may serve as a springboard to communication and sexual growth.
While this may be true, “non-violent, non-derogatory, erotic material” is very hard to come by.
For Jessica Nowakowski, advertising junior, some types of porn are offensive because they feature female degradation and objectification. “In some of the porn I’ve seen, they are really rough with the women,” Nowakowski said. “I think it sometimes degrades women and sets the impression that sex is for the man only, and in my head, it shouldn’t be. It should be passionate and for both parties equally to enjoy.”
Howard acknowledges the negative effects of pornography by pointing out it “de-emphasizes relationships and emphasizes performance,” and he suggests this puts stress on both men and women to live up to often unrealistic standards based solely on performance.
This lack of focus on relationships is a very significant aspect of pornography, which offers few to no depictions of love or respect shared by the actors. Does this then make us believe our own sexual experiences should follow suit?
MSU alumnus Charles Cooper argues it depends on the person and the individual’s personal desires about sex.
“Pornography lets people see things that they wouldn’t normally do in real life,” Cooper said. “I think people live their fetishes through pornography, so it may make someone curious to try something they see.”
Many women especially may be uncomfortable participating in “facial cum shots,” rough sex, anal sex, bondage, “ass-spanking” and other sexual extremes, which are common in porn. From pornography, men may get the idea that all women desire such experimentation. Whether your partner is male or female, don’t assume anything about his or her desires. Ask first.
Sex should be personal, regardless of media, pornography, peers or other outside influences. Prevent awkward situations later by talking with your partner before a conflict arises. Find out what you and your partner are comfortable with and have fun, porn or no porn.

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