How to Gift Your Significant Other a Vibrator

A vibrator is an incredible gift to give someone you’re in an intimate relationship with. After all, it shows that you care about their sexual health and enjoyment in the bedroom. 



How to Access a Safe, Self-Managed Medical Abortion

Meira HarrisThanks to the advent of medical abortion, we can now learn how to access and administer safe abortion for ourselves. This guide provides accurate information and resources about how to access and use safe abortion methods. As I said here, …


Sex on Screen: Reality-Checking Mainstream Porn

Part two of Alice O’s exploration of mainstream porn to help increase your sexual media literacy. Includes information about sex positions, orgasm, consent and communication, boundaries, birth control, safer sex and more as they exist (or don’t!) in mainstream porn, and how this can or should all go in real-life-sex to compare and contrast.

As with part one of this series, I’ll be exploring mainstream porn in this piece—the content that is often available for free on tube sites—meaning porn that is not explicitly feminist, queer, or alternative. In this second installment, I’ll look at the landscape of mainstream video porn in America, and the ways in which it is — or spoiler alert: isn’t — accurately representing sexual experiences—from sex positions and orgasms to consent and safer sex.

“Cheating Out” & Sex Positions in Porn

When people have sex in porn scenes the goal is to have it look good on camera in order to make a profit. A big part of that is “cheating out” or “opening up” (links to YouTube video “Ask A Porn Star: “Real Sex VS Porn Sex.” Includes explicit language).

Have you noticed how in plays or other kinds of theater, actors’ backs are almost never to the audience? Say a group of people are on stage standing in a “circle” discussing an important matter. Rather than actually stand in a circle, and block the audiences view of the action, the actors will “cheat out” and form a semi-circle so that each performer can be seen and heard.

They do something very similar in porn. Performers “cheat out” or “open up” so that the penis, sex toy, or tongue is clearly visible going into the vagina, anus, or mouth. This is not the most comfortable, and is definitely not typically the most pleasurable, way for most people to have sex.

There are also times when a sex position or act, beyond just being not super pleasurable, is explicitly painful for a performer (and not in the context of a BDSM scene where pain is intended to be experienced pleasurably). For example, even while a performer is acting out pleasure, their penis may be painfully bumping into their scene partner’s teeth, or their cervix may be being repeatedly and painfully hit by their scene partner’s penis. Pain might also come from fitting a very large penis (or multiple penises) into the performer’s vagina or anus.

Porn, like the rest of heteronormative and patriarchal culture, loves to focus on intercourse. While there are plenty of other parts of sex and sexual activities — like kissing, “dry humping”, manual or oral sex — intercourse is treated as most important in both straight and gay male porn, with most or all other types of sex being reduced to just “foreplay.” The intercourse and fellatio that we see in porn are often aggressive and intense, involving fast thrusting and deep-throating (putting a penis so far into the mouth that it goes into the throat).

There are also certain activities that are used in porn disproportionately, misrepresenting the sex people have outside of porn. In straight porn you will usually see more fellatio than cunnilingus, for example. In gay male porn you will often see more of the “top” receiving oral sex than the “bottom.” And in girl-girl porn you may see more scissoring than queer women are actually doing in their personal lives. In some porn scenes there is even a checklist of acts that need to be filmed before the day’s shoot is done.

The majority of mainstream porn content caters to the purchasing preferences of cis-men. This is a primary factor influencing what is and isn’t shown in porn. Since cis-men are the most frequent consumers, what they are willing to pay for is what porn provides. A perfect example of this is that on porn hubs where there are different settings—for straight porn, gay male porn, and porn featuring trans women—“lesbian” porn is still categorized as “straight” porn. In many ways this is honest, since so much “lesbian” porn is really girl-girl porn made for a straight male audience, not for lesbians.

You should know that:

  • When people have sex their motivations are, ideally, things like pleasure, connection, intimacy, and/or personal or interpersonal exploration, rather than needing to worry about how they might look to an outside observer.
  • There is so much more to sex than just intercourse.
  • The sex acts that we see prioritized in porn are not necessarily what people enjoy the most in their personal lives. In real life, we have the freedom to be responsive to our and our partner’s moods and desires, rather than needing to follow a pre-planned script and direction from outsiders.
  • When pain unexpectedly pops up, we can say ouch, make an adjustment, or call it quits on that activity. But mid-workday, when a certain position is supposed to be captured, performers often have to tough it out, even if and when it hurts.
  • “Cheating out” for the camera removes a level of body closeness and other kinds of touch that often factor in to people’s experience of pleasure and connection during their sexual experiences.

The Big-O on Camera

If you’re basing your understanding of orgasm on porn videos, you’re going to have some major misconceptions.

First, straight porn videos perpetuate the very false idea that most people with vulvas can and do orgasm solely from penis-in-vagina sex without more direct clitoral stimulation. Second, in both straight and girl-girl scenes, cisgender women performers are usually presented as having many orgasms during a single sex session. Third, since porn is about performing for the audience, actors of all genders and sexual orientations perform very loud, dramatic orgasms.

Many orgasms in porn are faked. In some scenes, performers are told by directors, “Come now!” so they quickly perform an orgasm. The anxiety and urgency that come with that kind of direction are usually the last things that help anybody reach orgasm. When performers are able to experience orgasms while filming, they can be so concerned with how they look and sound on camera, or whether they have ejaculated enough and in the right place, that they are not able to relax and enjoy the experience.

It’s also important to think about whose orgasm is deemed most important in porn. Whose orgasm signals that sex should be over (and why does orgasm signal that in the first place)? While heterosexual sex scenes in Hollywood almost always end with the man and woman magically reaching orgasm at the same time, heterosexual scenes in porn almost always end with the man reaching orgasm, and often with him ejaculating onto the woman’s face or body. Prior to that, the woman is often shown as being in near-constant ecstasy, despite the fact that, in terms of pleasure anatomy and other things we know play a big role in sexual satisfaction, the positions and acts are catered to the man’s orgasm. Whether the woman performer is experiencing (or faking) multiple orgasms, or experiencing no orgasm at all, is not often clear. In gay male porn, the scene is often centered around, and ends with, the top’s orgasm. Similarly, many scenes end with him ejaculating onto the bottom’s body.

Boundaries & Sex Acts

The porn industry generally attracts more sexually adventurous folks than the average person is, and porn performers are typically making sexual choices based on their career and finances, rather than what gives them sexual pleasure. So, they are generally up for doing more kinds of sexual activities or kinds encounters than your average person on the street. That being said, porn performers are also just like everyone else in having boundaries about what they are comfortable with sexually! Some performers may be comfortable doing something with their partners in their personal lives, but not on camera for work. Other performers may be comfortable with doing something on camera for work, but not be interested in doing it with their partners in their personal lives.

A recent study showed that, among American cis-women performers, 13% have never done a scene where a partner ejaculates on their face, 38% have never done an anal sex scene, 61% have never done a double penetration scene (penis or toy in both the vagina and anus), 69% have never swallowed their scene partner’s semen, 72% have never had their scene partner ejaculate inside their vagina (“creampie”), and 74% have never “squirted” in a scene. In one interview, a number of women performers shared the acts on their “no list” when working. One trans woman performer highlighted topping. Other performers listed bondage scenes, humiliation scenes, simulated rape scenes, as well as sexual scenes involving food, blood, and poop.

You should know that:

  • In healthy sexual situations, partners care about mutual pleasure and treat each other as equals. In one scenario, this might mean that orgasm is not a goal for one or all partners. While in another scenario, orgasm might be the goal for everyone involved, in which case it will usually happen for each person at different times, and often in different positions.
  • Barring experiences of abuse or assault, we are usually able to enjoy our orgasms, rather than worrying about reaching orgasm at the exact right time or whether we will produce enough ejaculate. While plenty of people struggle with anxiety and insecurity relating to their orgasms, a supportive partner will not guilt us for not orgasming enough, at the right time, or at all.
  • In Scarleteen’s direct services, users have wondered: if they are not letting out involuntary screams, could it still be an orgasm? The answer is yes! When someone experiences an orgasm they might be super loud, silent, or anywhere in between.
  • Research suggests that only about 15% of people with vulvas have had multiple orgasms during sex.
  • Only about one-quarter of people with vulvas are able to orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone, without more direct clitoral stimulation from a hand or sex toy or other sexual activities. The other three-quarters need direct stimulation of the external portions of the clitoris in order to climax.

Consent & Communication

Consent and communication are not only necessities for having sex that isn’t abusive, but are also a key part of having pleasurable and fun experiences.

Unfortunately, they are often viewed as un-glamorous parts of sex, particularly by porn’s primary audience: cisgender men. As a result, consent and communication are often completely missing in porn scenes. Aside from short enthusiastic phrases, there is very little scripting in porn—actors are more likely to use moans and screams than words.

There are also often highly gendered dominant and submissive roles in porn. In straight porn, men will usually be the more dominant partners and women the more submissive. In gay male porn, a person “giving” anal sex will usually be the more dominant partner and someone “receiving” anal sex will usually be the more submissive. Meanwhile, girl-girl scenes are often shown as having little to no power play.

Sexual acts are portrayed as happening without asking for consent nor any other type of communication or negotiation. Even in fairly “vanilla” scenes it’s common to see a dominant person moving their partner’s body around, and seemingly making all the sexual choices for them, and without any communication or consent. In addition, a dominant partner will often spank, choke, and/or ejaculate on their partner, also without any communication or consent. If a submissive partner is someone with a vagina and an anus, you might see their dominant sexual partner abruptly switching from vaginal to anal sex, again, without any communication or consent.

There are also many, many scenes portraying plots of sexual abuse or profound power imbalance—like initiating sex while a person is sleeping, having sex with one’s student, employee, child, or step-child, or coercing, bribing, or physically forcing someone to have sex.

In porn, when one person initiates sex, their partner(s) is almost always apparently in the mood. If they aren’t immediately in the mood, they are often “convinced” to participate. Of course, being “convinced” is being coerced, which is not an example of enthusiastic consent, but of rape or other kinds of sexual abuse. Once “convinced” they are unrealistically portrayed as going on to have an enthusiastic, pleasurable sexual encounter, rather than the reality: experiencing a sexual assault.

But even though it isn’t shown to us, off-camera there usually is a lot of consent and communication happening.

Behind the scenes, performers have “no lists” where they list performers they do not want to work with. Some performers with more established careers have “yes lists” where they list the only performers they are interested in working with. Performers also have model releases where they specify their boundaries in terms of what they are and are not comfortable doing on camera.

Best practice is that once a scene is cast, before arriving on set, the performers will review and agree upon everything that will be a part of the shoot—partners, acts, tone of the scene, etc. On-set, they’ll often discuss with their scene partner what they like and don’t like. Before filming begins, there will sometimes be a pre-scene interview where the performers articulate on-camera their understanding of that day’s shoot, and afterwards an exit interview where they are asked on-camera if they were harmed in any way or did anything they didn’t want to do. So while we as the audience rarely see active consenting and other sexual communication and negotiation, many of these conversations take place off-set.

All of that being said, abuse and assault certainly happen in the making of porn, just like they do in every other industry and every other community.

When we see performers acting out being pressured or forced to have sex, there is usually actually consent and communication happening off-camera. But sometimes performers are pressured or forced to do things they did not agree to beforehand. Even when best practices are employed, much more worker protection is needed than exists currently. How honest are exit interviews given that they are not confidential and porn is an insular community? Given that these are freelance workers, will they be comfortable speaking up if they were harmed knowing that they might be viewed as “difficult” and not hired again? Some companies do not pay the performers unless the scene is finished as planned, which further incentivizes them to push through even if they feel uncomfortable. What are the proper avenues for reporting assault on a porn set, and will people be believed?

Just like in many other industries, and in our culture at large, there is a long way to go when it comes to properly protecting people from sexual misconduct and believing and supporting them when it does happen.

You should know that:

  • In sex between men and women, women can play a dominant role, not just men. In sex between men, the person receiving anal sex doesn’t need to be the more submissive partner. Women and nonbinary people can play with dominance and submission in their sexual lives and interactions, too. And in any experience, between any kind of partners, there doesn’t have to be dominant and submissive roles or dynamics at all.
  • Open sexual communication can be difficult or awkward, but with practice it gets easier, and it plays a huge role in having healthy, fun and satisfying experiences.
  • We are not always in the mood! Even partners who have similar levels of desire will inevitably want different things at times—maybe one person wants to have sex and the other wants to sleep, just cuddle, be alone, or hang out without a lot of touch. The realities of our sexual desires means that consent and communication are extra important.
  • Contrary to the messages that mainstream porn sends, consent is super SUPER important. Consent is about everyone involved and can always be withdrawn. Nothing makes consent automatic, and in some situations (for example, being drunk or asleep) consent simply cannot be given. If someone says no, either with their words or their actions, that always means stop. But also, a lack of no does not equal a yes. Consent needs to be mutual, enthusiastic, and ongoing.
  • When we are having sex with safe and supportive partners (meaning partners who are invested in our well-being and pleasure), we are able to decide what activities we want to try based on what we feel comfortable with and interested in.
  • It doesn’t matter whether an abuser is a teacher, neighbor, parent or step-parent, coach, or classmate—sexual abuse and assault are NEVER okay. Some people have sexual fantasies about these situations, or enjoy watching these plots in porn, and that is okay—but, in this area especially, it is imperative to remember the difference between fantasy (or role-play) and real-life.

Barriers & Birth Control

As with consent and communication, there’s a lot that happens off-camera when it comes to birth control and safer sex practices, which are almost always invisible in porn. Reducing the risk of pregnancy and STIs is a super important component of sex for most people, but unfortunately they are not glamorous enough for porn. Jiz Lee describes suggesting using dental dams on one “lesbian” set they worked on. “The director laughed at me, saying flat-out, ‘No you can’t use a dental dam. No one would want to watch that; it’s not sexy.” Of course, in reality, things like dental dams and condoms are part of lots of people’s sexual lives, and plenty of people experience them as sexy.

Part of the movie “magic” of the porn industry is that these aspects of sex are managed off-camera. In girl-girl scenes, barriers for safer sex are virtually non-existent. In cisgender, straight and girl-girl porn, there is a lot of unprotected sex—condoms or other barriers are rarely used. Back in 2012, Los Angeles began requiring porn performers to wear condoms when filming. As a result, over the next four years, there was a 95% drop in porn permit requests, and instead they filmed elsewhere. The porn production companies knew that their primary audience did not want to see condoms, meaning profit would go way down. Since then, the proposition to make condoms mandatory on California porn sets was defeated, and we continue to see lots of unprotected sex on camera.

What we don’t see is that, off-camera, performers in professional straight porn (not amateur, for example) are required to get full STI testing at least every two weeks through the Performing Availability Screening Services (PASS). PASS provides this part of the industry with rapid response STI results. As Lorelei Lee points out, this means that performers “(unlike most sexually active adults) learn very quickly that they had contracted an STD, would not continue to work, and would be treated long before that STD could cause long-term effects.” For performers to work, they must have valid test results available on the PASS database that indicate they do not have any STIs at the moment.

In gay male porn, there’s more of a mix when it comes to safer sex strategies. The standard used to be the inverse of the straight/girl-girl porn standard: no testing, yes condoms. Now there’s a mix of condom and no-condom shoots. When condoms are used, they are generally used for anal sex but rarely for oral sex, leaving performers especially vulnerable to transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and other infections. This part of the industry does not use PASS for the most part because PASS does not permit people to work who are HIV positive. There are currently no reliable numbers for how many gay male performers are HIV positive—some anecdotal estimates are one-third or one-half, but even if it is lower than the lowest end of those estimates, using PASS would still exclude a large segment of the industry. As a result, when testing is utilized it is less uniform—individual performers get tested through their own doctors and bring their results to set. Some people who work in gay male porn have articulated a strong need for an industry-wide PASS type system that will also work with HIV positive folks, in an effort to help keep all performers safer.

When it comes to birth control, performers minimize pregnancy risk in the same way that other people do. For cisgender women performing in straight porn, while condoms are often not a birth control choice, they may utilize options such as the IUD, the shot, the patch, the pill, or others. Also, only about 1/4 of performers have had someone ejaculate inside their vagina during a shoot, meaning the majority are utilizing withdrawal as an additional birth control method. While withdrawal on its own is not highly effective, using two forms of birth control is a great way to get pretty close to 99.9% protection.

You should know that:

  • Though birth control is usually invisible in mainstream porn, it is a really important element of many people’s sex lives. Along with condoms, there are also a plethora of other birth control options out there, all of which become even more effective when you use more than one method at a time, for example using condoms and taking birth control pills.
  • Though condoms are often not used in straight porn, and are increasingly not being used in gay male porn, they are a great option for our personal lives. There are a lot of awesome things about condoms—including, but not limited to, they are the only form of birth control that also protects against STIs!
  • Safer sex is not just for straight people and gay men. While sex between people with vulvas does pose a lower risk for STI transmission, the risk is still there, as well as risk for other infections like bacterial vaginosis.
  • If you are switching from anal to vaginal intercourse, always use a new condom!
  • Safer sex practices like using barriers and getting regularly testing for STIs are crucial for your sexual health. And they do not need to be buzzkills! They can be playful and sexy. As Heather Corinna writes, “Being assertive, responsible, educated and smart about sex is empowering and about as sexy as sexy gets.”

In short, remember that porn and other sexual media are a genre of fantasy and the videos featured on mainstream X-rated sites will almost definitely not be representative of you, your body, your sexual health, and your sexual experiences.

For part one of this series, click here!

Illustrations © 2020 Archie Bongiovanni/Scarleteen. All rights reserved.

sex on screen: reality-checking mainstream porn (image of a fake pornhub-ish screen)

Couples in Conflict:The Top Three Articles for Conflict and Repair

Manage Conflict: The Six Skills Today on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue the discussion of Manage Conflict by introducing Dr. Gottman’s six skills of conflict management. Many of us connect all too well with comedian Mitch Hedberg’s feelings when he quips, “I got in an argument with a girlfriend inside of a tent. That’s a bad […] More


Our Top 4 Tips for Fulfilling Your Sex in Public Fantasy

Sex in public: it’s one of the most common sexual fantasies, but unfortunately, it’s one fantasy that can be incredibly difficult to fulfill. How can you fulfill this sexy fantasy without getting caught?



Do you need a pelvic exam? Maybe… or maybe not.

Do you really need that pelvic exam? Here’s a quick primer of how to figure out if you do and how to talk to your healthcare about it, including if they say you do when you think you don’t or just don’t want one.

A new article published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a majority of pelvic examinations performed on young women* between 2011 and 2017 may have been needless. Of the 2.2 million women* ages 15-20 included in the sample, 54.4% of all pelvic examinations and a whopping 71.9% of pap smears were “potentially unnecessary.”

This confirms something that Scarleteen has long known and pushed against: much as we appreciate and value them and the work they do, we know that doctors don’t always know best just because they’re doctors. Physicians aren’t always aware of and don’t always adhere to best or most current practices with their patients.

* The study cited used this gendered language, but all of this is ultimately about people with vaginas, not just women or girls.

In all the work we do here, we try to always identify paths to sexual wellness that focus on patient-centered, trauma-informed care. For us, one thing this means is that it’s critical we try and help anyone who comes to our site learn their rights with medical care. For example, you always have the right to know why doctors are examining or testing you, and to have a say in when and how that happens. Some of our older pieces don’t include the more current protocols for pelvic exams, so over the next week, know that we’ll be popping into them to drop notices about this so we can be sure our readers walk into the clinic empowered with the information that you or they need.

In the meantime, our staff wanted to reflect on two important questions with you all: when is it actually necessary to perform a pelvic exam, and how can you advocate for yourself if and when you feel your doctor may not be acting in your best interests or adhering to current medical guidelines?

When do I actually need a pelvic exam?

As with any medical procedure, whether you “need” to be examined is a decision that should be made by your doctor and you. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pelvic exams are primarily indicated for folks who are experiencing symptoms, like vaginal or vulval pain or visible sores — not people who feel fine — for people who would like an exam, and folks who are pregnant. Pap smears are also recommended every 3 years starting at age 21.

Outside of these factors, a pelvic exam is probably not necessary unless the patient “expresses a preference for the examination.” That’s right – it’s up to you! If it would feel reassuring to have the exam, or if you would like to be introduced to your own anatomy, that is your right. It’s just not, and shouldn’t be presented as, a *requirement.*

Why is this essential? Not everyone is comfortable with having a pelvic exam performed. People who have experienced sexual assault and other forms of violence or abuse, who have difficult relationships with their bodies, including people experiencing gender dysphoria, or who experience anxiety during a visit can actually be harmed by the experience of a pelvic exam. The first principle of medicine is “do no harm!” So, it is your doctor’s actual job to protect you from harm unless it is absolutely critical for your health.

In sum: a pelvic exam should be your choice, which means you should get them when you need them, or when you want them, but you do not have to get them every time you visit the OBGYN as has often been thought or suggested in the past. If a healthcare provider is recommending one for you, but you think that it isn’t necessary and you don’t want one, for any reason, then you can have a conversation about that with them.

Physical examinations are like every other occasion in which someone is touching your body — it should only be done with your explicit consent.

I don’t need or want a pelvic exam, but my doctor insists on doing one. What do I do?

If you feel like your doctor wants to perform an unnecessary exam, it’s always good to start with a little curiosity. Ask questions like:

  • Can you tell me why you think this exam is necessary?
  • What do we hope to learn from this physical exam?
  • Is there someone here who could give a second opinion, or can I postpone the exam until I get a second opinion somewhere else?

If you’re able, you can bring a trusted support person to any healthcare visit, whether that’s a friend, partner, or guardian. You can also express to the doctor or other clinical staff that you’d like that person to join you for your appointment if you are worried about standing up for yourself when you’re alone with your provider and that other person would help you stand up for yourself and feel supported.

As best you can, listen to and trust yourself. If you feel doubt, worry, or fear in your body, it may not be a good time for an examination, even if it is necessary. Getting a second opinion or giving yourself a minute to be alone or discuss with a friend can help you decide whether you’re comfortable with continuing the visit. Unless you’re getting emergency care, it’s usually just fine to wait on an exam until you can be sure you even need it and until you feel more comfortable with it.

We also love coming in prepared! Check out this article on getting ready for a medical visit. It helps to know why you are there, what you hope to get out of your appointment, and what a standard visit might look like.

In sum: your body, your choice!

Just so you know, if anything about a medical visit ever makes you uncomfortable, it is totally within your rights to get the hell out of there. We should always seek out the medical care we need, but trusting our bodies is not just seeking care when we hurt — it’s finding care that feels good and safe.

Don’t be afraid to try different providers, bring advocates with you to appointments, or to be assertive in a visit. This time is for you! Your provider is supposed to be just that — a provider of a service — and it’s their job to help, not harm, you.

If you ever need help figuring out what kind of medical care you need for a sexual health question or concern, you can always turn to our message boards or, if you’re in the US, use our text service to ask us a question, at: (206) 866-2279! The folks at Scarleteen are here to help and we’re dedicated to doing what we can to make sexual healthcare something that’s always something positive for you.

Do you really need that pelvic exam?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.

The World Needs Safe, Self-Managed Abortion: Here’s Why.

Meira HarrisSafe, legal, affordable, and uninhibited access to abortion is a global issue and necessity. Read more to get a current, international, intersectional picture of both the existing access and the existing barriers. Safe, legal, affordable, a…


Well, F*ck Me! It’s a Scarleteen Zine!

Say hello to our new zine, F*ck Me! It’s a (free!) flight of super-helpful fancy that can help you — or your intimate companions, your platonic friends, your students, the people who come into your clinic, your younger brother, your favorite cousin, and maybe even your parents — identify the basics of what you really want and need when it comes to sex with others, and give you a foundation for clear, candid, and meaningful sexual communication.

Say hello to our new zine, F*ck Me!, which, like everything else at Scarleteen, is free for anyone and everyone who wants it.

F*ck Me! is a flight of super-helpful fancy that can help you — or your intimate companions, your platonic friends, your students, the people who come into your clinic, your younger brother, your favorite cousin, and maybe even your parents — identify the basics of what you really want and need if and when you want to have sex with a partner, and give you a foundation for clear, candid, and meaningful sexual communication. It’s meant for people who are seriously thinking about or already engaging in sex with partners (for our younger users, or anyone who just isn’t at this yet but who does want some help figuring out sexual readiness, this is probably a better fit).

F*ckMe! was created and is written by Scarleteen volunteer (and camp organizer!) Al Washburn, and is illustrated by Archie Bongiovanni.

Like Yes/No/Maybe lists, it’s a way to figure out, take, and potentially share, a kind of sexuality inventory when it comes to what you (or whoever is using it) want and need, what works for you and doesn’t, what your unique body, mind, and other parts of yourself are like in ways it’s important for sexual partners to know about.

For more on what this zine is all about, here’s Al!

I created F*ck Me back in 2017 as a tool for my own sex education toolkit.

I frequently share Scarleteen’s articles and resources in workshops about sex and sexuality, and make a habit to bring a few printed copies of Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist with me to my classes and events. What I really, really love about Yes, No, Maybe So is the space that it creates for holistic self-reflection, curiosity, and communication of sexual wants and needs. As someone who grew up feeling pretty shy and confused about my body and sexuality, I never took the time to ask myself what I wanted and felt comfortable with before I had sex with someone for the first time (which would have been really, really helpful).

I’m an amateur zinester, and I chose this format because a) I think it’s important to normalize communicating about sex, and b) zines are all about accessibility. The folded, black-and-white, DIY nature of this type of zine reflects the way that interactions around partnered sex should feel: customizable, full of options, and based on what we individually want and need.

With wisdom and guidance from Scarleteen founder and director Heather Corinna and some illustrations from artist and Scarleteen supporter Archie Bongiovanni, I was able to expand this zine to include more pages detailing consent and communication, so that whoever fills it out gets to really reflect on how they feel about their own bodies, sexualities, and sexual experiences. With this zine, I hope that you — and whoever you share it with — will be able to look through it and really think about and feel your own wants, needs, and ideals when it comes to partnered (and unpartnered!) sex, and how you might communicate them to future romantic/sexual partners.

This is by no means a one-shot deal; our wants and needs may change between partners, or even from day to day. That’s why we encourage you to print out as many copies as you’d like (or save paper and use the digital version) to share with friends, partners, and everyone in between!

Scarleteen is here if you want more details, have any more questions or want to talk about anything that comes up for you when you’re looking at or filling the zine out. Have fun! Be safe! Love you! –al.

To use the digital version: Open up the attached file at the bottom of this page titled “f_ckme_digital.PDF” with Adobe Acrobat on your phone or desktop, then type into the open lines or boxes.

To use the print version: Open up the attached file at the bottom of this page titled “f_ckme_print.PDF” with Adobe Acrobat, and then:

  • Choose to print it and select your printer
  • Choose greyscale (black and white)
  • Choose actual size
  • Choose print on both sides of paper, and to flip on short edge (this part’s important!)
  • For orientation: choose landscape
  • Click print, fold each page in half, order using the page numbers and enjoy!

Creative Commons LicenseHERE’S THE FINE PRINT! F*ck Me! is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You’re welcome and encouraged to share and distribute it widely, so long as you don’t change any part of it we’ve made, share or post it without attribution, and it’s given to anyone you share it with in any way for free — and only for free — digitally, by printing copies, or both.

One page from the zine, a trauma and sexual history inventoryWe understand some people may want to translate this into other languages or adapt the content of this guide in some way to make a version more culturally relevant for their own groups or communities. If that sounds like you, we’re into it, just please contact us via email to discuss it and get our permission first at: effmeATscarleteenDOTcom. Smaller excerpts, with attribution, are of course acceptable and within fair use.

We hope you love this as much as our team does! Want to see our previous zine, Rebel Well: A Starter Survival Guide To A Trumped America? It’s over here.

All illustrations are © 2019 Archie Bongiovanni and Scarleteen. All rights reserved.

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Bare Bodies: Reality Checking Mainstream Porn

A clear-eyed, in-depth exploration of mainstream porn that can: amp up your sexual media literacy so you can better suss out what’s really going on with and in porn, fill you in on how it may or may not — and sometimes just plain shouldn’t — match your expectations or experiences of sexuality offscreen, and tell you more about its politics and behind-the-scenes realities.

Porn is huge. Online video pornography, specifically, is a massively lucrative industry that dominates large swaths of the internet. In America, as of 2008, over 90% of young men and over 60% of young women in college had encountered online porn before they turned 18. Given the abysmal state of school and community-based sexuality education in America, combined with porn’s vast online presence, it is no surprise many young people turn to porn looking for sex education.

As Jiz Lee, a leader in the queer porn movement, performer, and writer, wisely observes, “In the absence of comprehensive sex education, people use porn to learn about sex—what sex looks like, who gets to have it, and what it means to be sexy. On its own, that’s fine. But a limited example of what porn is has the danger in dictating what’s ‘normal’, raising issues in our understanding of sexual health, and also our sexual psyche. Diversity in porn lets us find ourself in the erotic landscape, proving we are ALL capable and deserving of love.”

I’ll be exploring mainstream porn in this piece—the content that is available for free on tube sites—meaning porn that is not explicitly or intentionally feminist, queer, or alternative. This first installment talks about the landscape of mainstream video porn in America, and the ways in which it is — or spoiler alert: isn’t — accurately representing bodies: from penis size, pubic hair, and anal douching to race, disability and gender identity.

Penises in Porn

Let’s start with the genitals we most often see in porn . With few exceptions, cisgender male pornography performers have larger than average penises; sometimes slightly larger than average, sometimes significantly larger. This is doubly true for Black performers, who are expected to have especially large penises in order to fit the mold of the made-up (and racist) “BBC” or “Big Black Cock” stereotype.

The majority of penises we see in porn are also circumcised. This is likely because America produces and watches a majority of the world’s porn, and in America, most people who have penises are circumcised. That’s in direct contrast to the rest of the world, though, where the overwhelming majority of people who have penises are uncircumcised.

Porn performers also maintain erections for a remarkably long time. The videos featured on internet porn hubs are often five to fifteen minute clips (usually stolen) from much longer films which themselves are edited down from even more footage. This means that, like with movies and TV shows, the filming process is substantially longer than the final product delivered to audience members. One performer estimates that for every ten minutes of sex in a porn video, the cast and crew worked for four hours. Another performer estimates that it takes even longer—for every forty minutes of sex in a porn video he says it takes around ten hours of filming. It’s not uncommon for a porn shoot to go for even twelve hours. That’s a lot of time to maintain an erection! Sometimes performers are able to do this naturally, but usually they utilize erection-inducing pills or shots (which can have detrimental short and long-term health effects).

When people with penises receive anal sex in porn, they’re also usually shown as having erect penises, which is hardly always the case in reality. This is true for bottoms in gay male pornography, and for trans women performers—who may have additional difficulty maintaining erections if they are taking estrogen and/or testosterone blockers. There are also plenty of scenes of trans women using their penises for insertive sex, despite the fact that this act may not play a major role in plenty of trans women’s personal sex lives. Trans women are often expected to ejaculate even though, as Tobi Hill-Meyer says, “the ability to ejaculate is about as common (or uncommon) among cis women as it is among trans women.”

Then there’s the “money shot” or the ejaculation scene. When porn performers with penises ejaculate, there is often a large amount of pearly white semen that shoots a considerable distance. In reality, occasionally the “ejaculate” you are seeing is not even ejaculate at all! It might be the face cleanser Cetaphil, or a product explicitly sold as fake ejaculate, or if it is in someone’s mouth, it might be piña colada mix (because who wants to hold soap in their mouth when they could hold a piña colada instead?).

You should know that:

  • The average penis is around five inches when erect, but plenty of penises are smaller than that. If you’re worrying about how your penis compares to those in porn, please remember: there is no right size for a penis to be!
  • Just like with size, there is nothing “better” about a penis with intact foreskin or removed foreskin. Worldwide, most people’s penises have not been circumcised.
  • Porn performers with penises are expected to maintain erections for much, much longer than is common in people’s personal lives.
  • Porn performers engage in vaginal and anal intercourse for much, much longer than is common in people’s personal lives. A recent study found that the median length of heterosexual intercourse was between 5 and 6 minutes.
  • When people with penises are on the receiving end of anal sex they may not have an erection at all, or may only experience erection intermittently.
  • Many trans women do not feel comfortable with or particularly interested in having their penises play a central role in the sex they have.
  • People ejaculate different amounts of semen that may be white, greyish, yellowish, or clear-ish, and usually do not travel far distances.

Vulvas and Vaginas in Porn

One area in porn where there is a somewhat more accurate representation of bodies is the variation among performers’ vulvas. As previously discussed, penises in porn are big, with very few exceptions. The media likes to scapegoat the video pornography industry for the recent rise in labiaplasties (plastic surgery on the labia), but given the diversity of vulvas in video porn, performers have pushed back on that accusation. Despite so many parts of women’s bodies being inspected, categorized, and marketed in porn, performer Dana Vespoli says, “There’s no market for specific vagina type.” Performers Joanna Angel and Bella Vendetta wonder about the role of pornography magazines — rather than video porn — like Playboy, Hustler, or Penthouse in misrepresenting vulvas, often through retouching. While no kind of porn offers representation of the full, wonderful range of vulvas that exist in the world, video pornography generally does features different types of labia.

There are other ways in which genitals and what they do are misrepresented in mainstream video porn. While Cetaphil and piña colada mix are used for ejaculate in some ejaculation scenes, water is used in others. Performer Bailey Bay describes that in one of her “squirting” (or ejaculation from a vagina) scenes, she used a turkey baster to insert water into her vagina which she then held and pushed out, mimicking ejaculation.

You will almost never see a performer queef or fart. You will also very rarely see a scene featuring a performer who (visibly) has their period, mostly due to specific economic concerns.

Porn payment processors have strict rules including banning any porn that involves menstruation.

Lubrication is another area full of misrepresentation. While there are some videos out there where it seems everyone and everything is covered in lube, those videos are not the norm. In general, performers are rarely seen applying or using lube. Instead, they are often seen inserting penises or sex toys into their vaginas using only fluids produced by their own bodies, even if there isn’t much, or using saliva. This is also true in anal sex scenes, despite the fact that the anus does not naturally produce any of its own lubricant. You can bet that performers are reaching for their lube bottles off-camera, though!

You should know that:

Body Hair in Porn

Imagine of a couple of normal looking people thinking about an idealized porn couple and not seeing themselves in it.While there is some diversity in when it comes to vulva parts like the inner and outer labia, or the external clitoris, you will rarely see a vulva with full pubic hair. Most vulvas in porn have been groomed to be completely hairless. If there is pubic hair, it is usually trimmed and contained to the mons pubis, with hair being fully removed from the outer labia. When un-altered pubic hair does appear on a vulva in porn it is usually under a specific “hairy” category or tag. Jiz Lee describes how a few days before a mainstream shoot, the producer found out that they usually film while “naturally hairy.” Jiz says, “I was told immediately that I was required to shave everything for the scene.” (Jiz ultimately chose to decline the shoot.)

When you see anuses and testicles in porn they, too, are usually hairless. Cis-male performers in porn display more variation with this, but often their pubic hair is removed or trimmed, too. Since their bodies (specifically in straight porn, and certainly in the wider culture) are less under the microscope, there’s more accepted variation in how they look, including more allowance for them to exhibit natural pubic hair.

When it comes to other types of body hair, hairlessness continues to be the name of the game.

Women performers — cisgender and transgender alike — almost always have removed all their leg hair, armpit hair, and even arm hair in scenes, as well as any other body hair they might have—belly, butt, feet, wherever. Men in porn often leave their leg, armpit, and arm hair—as is common in Western culture. There’s some variation with chest hair, especially in gay male porn where the presence of body hair on one partner may be an intentional choice to present them in a more ‘masculine’ or ‘dominant’ role’.

Breasts, Butts, and Body Size

The breasts, butts, and general body types we see in porn are, like the genitals we typically see, not representative of the general population.

Women performers usually have large breasts or large butts combined with thin and fit bodies. While more belly rolls are on view than in say, Hollywood films or major TV shows, the bodies are still far from representative. When a woman performer is fat, she’s usually relegated to a specific “BBW” (Big Beautiful Woman) category.

In gay male porn, performers usually have particularly muscular and toned bodies. Depending on what role or type they are portraying, their body type may vary—especially muscular, more thin, slightly thicker, etc. But again even with this variation, the bodies are still far from representative of the diversity of bodies out there.

While the bodies of cis-male performers in straight porn are also not representative, given that they are less featured on screen and in marketing, there is slightly more allowance for natural variation. Plenty of these performers are still hyper-muscular or skinny, but others have larger bellies or in general more body fat than is accepted with all other performers.

You should know that:

  • Outside of porn, lots of people have hair on and around their vulvas, anuses, and testicles.
  • Porn shows very limited body types and sizes. In reality, people with all kinds of bodies are sexual and enjoy having sex.

“Ebony” & Racism in Porn

The performers in the mainstream porn industry are overwhelming white. In America, approximately 71% of performers are white, while 14% are Black, 9% are Latinx, 5% are Asian, and 1% are “Other.” 

Image of a Black man in front of a wall of text representing all the racism in mainstream porn and saying, "Really?"While this maps fairly accurately on to the overall racial demographics of the United States, it is not representative of Americans in their 20s, who we have learned are the age group primarily performing in porn. Almost half of Americans in their 20s are people of color, making the performers in porn disproportionately white. This becomes even more true when it comes to the top performers in the industry. Ana Foxxx, a Black performer in porn, says that there are around three to five Black women who compete for top roles. “There’s different categories of black. There’s the light skin, there’s the dark skin, there’s the thick girl. But out of each category, there’s one.”

When women of color are featured in porn videos, especially Black women, they are often working on sets with lower production value and worse working conditions. There is also a racial and gender wage gap, as there is in almost all other industries, but it is especially pronounced in porn. Black women performers often make one-half to three-quarters of what white actresses make.

When performers of color are featured their race or ethnicity is often tokenized and fetishized. On Internet porn hubs, performers of color are often relegated to categories like ‘Ebony’, ‘Latina’, or ‘Asian’. If a video features white performers, their racial identity will rarely be commented on because on porn websites, as in Hollywood and our society at large, whiteness is both assumed and idealized.

There is a whole “interracial” genre of straight porn that has birthed lucrative companies dedicated exclusively to films of dark-skinned Black cis-men and light-skinned white cis-women having sex. These scenes often play out common racist fantasies and tropes, where black men are portrayed as “overly sexual” and white women are portrayed as “pure”. Interracial scenes even have their own category at industry award ceremonies.

As a result of the racism — and very expressly anti-Blackness — that exists in America and our world, white women performers often wait to do their first interracial work until it is strategic in their career. When they do agree to their first interracial scene, they will often request a higher rate. The idea that white women should be paid extra to have sex with Black men is obviously extremely problematic. As Mickey Mod, a Black male performer, says, “For people of color, there is an unstated suggestion that they are of lower value.”

You should know that:

  • In healthy, respectful sexual interactions and relationships, everyone involved should be seen and treated as whole people, not just one part of who they are, like their race or disability, and as real people, not sexual stereotypes.

Age, Disability, and Gender Presentation

Across the board, porn performers are usually young.

In America, the average age of a woman beginning to work in the porn industry is 22 years old, compared to that of 24 years old for men. On average, women performers work for three years and men for four. While performers of all genders and sexual orientations skew on the younger side, it is women’s age that is especially policed, just as it is in Hollywood. If a woman porn performer is not being typed as a “teen” she is probably being instead typed as a mom, stepmom, or “MILF”—meaning “Mom I’d Like to Fuck”. (Similarly, in gay male porn, older performers are often cast in “daddy” roles.) But the “type” someone is portraying is often not in line with their real identity. For example, the women in the plethora of “teen” and “barely legal” porn are usually, like the “teen” characters in most of your favorite TV shows, actually in their 20s. The cis-women in porn who portray moms may not actually have children—they are just older than their counterparts and/or have obviously surgically enhanced breasts, which is now a defining feature of that genre.

Image of someone in a wheelchair looking at porn and saying, "Abled bodies again? Boring."Whether you are watching straight or queer porn starring folks who are trans or cis, these performers will without a doubt be visibly able-bodied. A performer with a wheelchair? Insulin pump? Breathing tube? What about a performer using ASL? Utilizing a prosthetic limb? Or exhibiting symptoms of Tourettes? Performer with visible disabilities are nowhere to be found. Disability awareness consultant (and Scarleteen writer!) Andrew Gurza writes about the need for disabled performers in gay male porn. The erasure of people with disabilities “sends a really loud and clear message to queer crippled men that their sexuality is not valued or valid in the LGBTQ+ community.” He adds, “Seeing a disabled male porn performer would send the message to the community as a whole that disability is sexy, and that it is okay to sexualize queer crippled men.” The same holds true for disabled performers of all genders and sexual orientations.

Performers are also usually highly gender-normative in their presentation. Most trans and cis women in porn are performing a very specific and limited type of femininity. One result of this is that “lesbian” porn is almost always girl-girl: about two or more femme women having sex. Rarely are more masculine, gender nonconforming women, or women who just do their femininity differently included or featured. And most men, both in gay and straight porn, are also performing a very specific and limited type of masculinity.

Trans men are majorly missing in mainstream porn. On one main hub for internet pornography, there were recently 371 videos in the “trans male” category, as compared to almost 35 thousand videos in the “transgender” category (which, in mainstream porn, means trans women). While queer porn studios produce films with trans men, these performers are excluded from mainstream shoots. Buck Angel, the first trans man to win an Adult Video News award (“the Oscars of porn”), explains that until there is a demand from customers for trans men porn talent, there won’t be a change. (And/or until the customers who desire to see trans men on screen have the financial capital to be seen as meaningful consumers by the porn companies.)

While there is a large market for trans women performers, their work is, like most pornography, marketed to cisgender men. In this process, their videos are often labeled with degrading and inaccurate slurs, something major sites are only now slowly beginning to move away from.

You should know that:

Physical Strain

Performers’ bodies are often challenged in ways that are not common in sexual experiences outside of porn.

Performer Chanel Preston says, “I equate it to sports, because it is a sport. People don’t watch sports and say, ‘I’m going to go try that at home, I can do that.’ They like sports because [athletes] are like gods: They do things that other people can’t. And porn should be [seen] the same way. We do prepare for it. There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes.” Performer Andre Shakti echoes this sentiment. She describes the “rigorous athletic nature” of having sex in porn shoots, and lists a number of workplace injuries including “genital burn from hours of condom friction.” Performer Lorelei Lee explains that one reason some performers chose to explore more “extreme” acts like double-penetration or fisting on camera is the interest “in pushing our bodies in an athletic sense.”

Prep Time

The pre-sex preparations before a mainstream porn shoot are quite involved. Along with body hair removal, women performers will do (or have a professional do) their hair, make-up, fingernails and toenails. They will also sometimes vaginally douche. Preparing for anal sex scenes is far more elaborate. Every performer is different, but some common preparations include: limiting one’s diet to only water-based foods, at a certain point stopping eating entirely, taking laxatives, using an enema, and anal stretching with fingers or toys. As performer Charlotte Sartre says, the viewers, “see the penis going in, [but] they don’t see me laying on the bed for half an hour going back and forth between squeezing water into my butt and stretching it out.”

You should know that:

  • When people have sex in their personal lives, as far as I am concerned, the only mandatory pre-sex preparation is mutual, enthusiastic consent. Sometimes safer sex supplies like condoms or dental dams may need to be acquired, sometimes people want to shower or groom themselves in various ways, sometimes a sex toy needs to be cleaned, but the pre-sex preparation that happens in porn is definitely not necessary and isn’t reflective of most people’s actual sex lives.
  • Vaginal douching is not only never needed (the vagina is a self-cleaning organ), it’s also not generally advised as a health or sexual practice. Douching can make you more likely to get vaginal infections.
  • The intensive pre-anal prep that porn performers is also not needed. It allows for them to all but guarantee that they will not release any fecal matter while shooting. In reality, traces of fecal matter sometimes show up during anal sex, just like other bodily fluids are a part of many types of sex. Sex is often messy! As long as you and your partner are comfortable and communicative with each other it shouldn’t be a big deal.

You’ve just got to remember that porn is a genre of fantasy  — it’s usually not meant to be nor provide sex education  — and the videos featured on mainstream X-rated sites will almost definitely not be representative of you, your body, your sexual health, and your sexual experiences.

To find out about sex positions and cheating out, orgasm, consent and communication, boundaries, birth control and safer sex in mainstream porn, click here for part two!

Illustrations © 2020 Archie Bongiovanni/Scarleteen. All rights reserved.

bare bodies: reality-checking mainstream porn: image of a pornhub screen with text on it that reads things like "stolen content"
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