Toby Francis reminisces over his first sexual encounters, during which he discovered the disconnect between porn and real life.
The Exorcist may be a weird movie to watch while offering someone a hand-job but, goddamn, my first serious high school girlfriend gave it a red-hot go.
I remember it vividly; we were both thirteen, curled up on the floor with a doona and a pillow watching that scene where Regan pisses on the carpet. My girlfriend reached her hand over my stomach and down to the lip of my underwear while whispering in my ear, ‘Tell me if you don’t want me to do this.’
I freaked the f*ck out.
I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand, threw it off my body, jumped out from under the covers of a doona that would have done very little to hide a sneaky HJ and ran from the room, exorcised by my own embarrassment.
Bolting down the hallway towards the bathroom, I locked myself away and stood in front of the mirror, dropping my pants so I could stare at my penis and try to figure out if it was small or not.
Eventually, my girlfriend coaxed me out of the bathroom and we sat down together to talk about my genitals, specifically how I lived in perpetual fear of having a tiny hang-down. We talked for hours in what became the death knell of our relationship. Not only did I never get that hand-job but we never finished The Exorcist, so it was years before I discovered if the MacNeil family ever got that stain out of the carpet.
A few months later my hormones beat out my fear and I discovered the joy of bumbling teenage fondling. Of course, I was still afraid of having a tiny penis but even if I did have a weeny peeny I wanted it to be touched by somebody who wasn’t me.So, I finally got that hand-job and, gentleman that I am, returned the favour. It was a very exciting experience for me, all that breathing and trembling, the soft skin on the inside thigh and the shuddering at your touch. My hands running the rim of her underwear as her hips moved forward telegraphing her want of my body, then down under the cotton, a kiss exchanged in passion before finally, yes, the moment my anxious teenage self had been waiting for…
(For the record, ‘vaginal contact’ is close to the least sexy name for vaginal contact, second only to the super classy ‘fingering’.)
And then, confusion.
Why was she not writhing in passion? I’m touching her in all the right places, she’s helping to direct my hands, why isn’t there moaning and wild unbridled trusting? Sure, her breath is heavy, but isn’t she meant to be a mess of sweat and grinding and raw unbridled sex-noise? What the f*ck is going on? I mean, shit, it took me long enough to get over my penis-anxiety and now this?
This was a moment in my life that should have been exciting and important but all I could think was, man, sex is horrible… and thinking back to that time in my life, I think I know what my problem was.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think porn is bad, nor do I think porn is good. It depends on the porn, on the attitude of the watcher, on the maker – it depends on a whole lot of things, but that’s an entirely different article.
What I do think is that we don’t talk to teenagers about porn enough during sexual education. It’s hard being a teenager. Sex is already confusing and stressful when you first start exploring it and that’s even after the whole ‘birds and the bees’ talk. But, the fact is, teenagers look at porn and we shouldn’t act like they don’t. Porn, for better or worse, informs part of their sexual education. Can you think of a single thing that a teenage boy would rather do than look at porn and masturbate? Ok, I can think of only one single thing, and that’s ‘making the sex with an actual person’, but outside of that?
No, there’s nothing else.
Teenagers have always looked at pornography; in the 50s it was sneaking the risqué magazines from your older brother’s top drawer; in the 80s, a stolen Penthouse or a dirty movie you found in your parent’s closet (hopefully not home-made); and now it is most certainly the Internet.
And I don’t really think it’s something we can adequately and ethically police, nor am I even sure that it should be policed. What I am sure of is this: my anxieties regarding the size of my tackle and my confusion at the normalities of female sexual arousal were exacerbated not by the fact that I used pornography, but rather because pornography was never put into a real world context by the teachers who were telling me what sex is all about. It was glossed over quickly and superficially. We were told penises came in all sizes and that pornography wasn’t real life and that was about it. We were never told that, in pornography, women overact to an extreme degree. I mean, we knew it was over the top but we were 13-year-olds, so could have no possible understanding of how over the top it truly was. We were never told that the average porn actor’s penis is three inches larger that your average twig-and-berries. We were only told, very briefly, that pornography was a fantasy, that it wasn’t, in fact, real.
Sure, we already knew it wasn’t real, let’s not kid ourselves. We knew we were meant to take it with a grain of salt, but until you tell a teenager specifically what is so fantastical about John Holmes and his monster roger then how are they meant to know how much salt they’ll actually need? Because a grain doesn’t really cut it.
I knew my penis didn’t have to be as big as a porn actor’s but how much leeway did I have? I didn’t have the monster cock of a porn star, not by a long shot, but was that gap between a porn actor and me enough to put me in the ‘tiny penis’ brigade? The only real sexual stimulation and exposure I had during those first formative months of puberty was pornography, and without a yardstick how was I to know how little or how much of the moaning a porn star does is comparable to real life? The combination of sexual education and the deficit of contextualisation of pornography makes for a very confusing sexual awakening.
Of course, we expect our children to learn about sex in the classroom and not through blue movies, but learning isn’t relegated just to the classroom – it’s something people do all the time. We learn through experience, and the classroom is just one way in which we experience and examine the world, but everything outside of formal education informs our learning. It can’t be denied that pornography informs part of our education – the way we see the sexual world – and if we aren’t providing a way for teenagers to analyse and contextualise the learning they are doing outside of school then how much good is the classroom actually doing?
I’d argue, not fu**ing much.
Different messages from different avenues without a frame of reference do nothing to help anybody understand very much about the world, particularly hormone-driven teenagers who it generally confuses the right f*ck out of (literally).
Now that I’m older, I don’t get anxious about the size of my penis, nor do I expect my girlfriend to become a shaking ball of sexual exuberance as soon as I touch an erogenous zone.
And while I didn’t need a classroom to learn the ways of sex, or to eventually shake my anxieties and better understand how a woman reacts to sexual touching, it certainly would have helped when I was thirteen and, in all probability, moved the learning process along a good few steps.
Teenagers watching pornography is a reality, and while it might not be a palatable one to the parents of those teenagers, it’s a reality nonetheless, and the best we can do for them is help them understand what is going on with Ron Jeremy’s wang (the link isn’t to his wang, don’t stress…)
(Fun fact: Ron Jeremy grew up next to a power plant. Also, for the record, my penis is remarkably average. I know because I measured it and only a few girls have laughed at me.)
Illustrations by Ken K Chung and Mikael Hattingh