Photo: Jake Scott

Learning sex from TV screens

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By Lisa Cumming

He tenderly strokes her left buttcheek while she washes his nipples. She whispers “Oh, Stud,” and … the laptop freezes. Sylvester Stallone starring in his early softporn project “The Party at Kitty and Stud’s,” gently penetrating his lover, Kitty, is frozen forever in your memory.

This, unfortunately, is not what sex is like. But then again, neither is sex like Sasha Grey starring in “GETTING WRECKED (SW ROUGH SEX PMV).”

Popular culture has been shaping views on sex and sexuality for decades, and has become increasingly sexualized in this century. Porn, as one of the most obvious examples, went from smooth, sensual sex to raunchy, x-rated fucking. Sylvester Stallone porn from the 1970s is nothing compared to the 35-k.m. cumshots you see today.

“The 1970s and the 1980s was really the golden age of porn, because it was finally legal in any form — it was really beautiful,” says Jack Lamon, a worker-owner at Come As You Are on Queen Street West. “Plastic surgery didn’t exist yet, so bodies were natural, people had hair.”

Lamon says that mainstream porn has lost that sensuality, especially on free sites like Pornhub. Tyler Schnare, a 19-year-old criminology student, agrees.

“I think a lot of men have unrealistic expectations of body image, and how things go because in pornography you don’t see people putting on a condom, practicing safe sex or getting used to the other’s body,” he says. “The lack of these steps can lead to pretty bad sex.”

In recent years, network TV has also gotten increasingly dirty. Thinking back to a time when swearing was strictly forbidden is almost laughable — a show like How To Get Away With Murder, featuring numerous sex scenes, is a far cry from Full House. Television in the ‘80s was dominated by family archetypes and American slapstick comedy, like Family Ties. The ‘90s turned up the raunchy notch a bit with Friends and Seinfeld, which often featured episodes about sex and relationships. The 2000s continued this trend with shows like Californication, and a decade later came Orange is the New Black, Mad Men and Game of Thrones. As what could be softcore porn has started to make more appearances on sitcoms and shows, especially on outlets with less restrictive rules such as HBO or Netflix, the daily exposure of the average media consumer to sex has grown exponentially — as have expectations of idealistic (and unrealistic) interactions.

“These high expectations that were presented to me in music and television did not at all match the reality of the situation.”

“In my experience, television series and music tend to overcentralize on sex and the immense passion it can bring,” says Schnare. “After losing my virginity, I thought, ‘This is it?’”

Sex in movies can seem passionate and perfect, “but it’s entirely inaccurate, it doesn’t at all convey the awkwardness, or that body rhythms won’t necessarily match,” Schnare adds. “I lost my virginity in a hook up, so having these high expectations that were presented to me in music and television did not at all match the reality of the situation.”

The act of sex depicted in popular culture has always been fairly skewed — real people have real feelings, real bodies and limitations. The difference between perceptions of sex in music, movies, and television, compared to real life is stark.

The sexual scenarios in James Bond, for example, have often been unrealistic. Bond and his unbelievably beautiful girls seem to have mindblowing, hot and dirty sex. All the time.

Music has become increasingly and overtly sexual as well. Sexual innuendos and rap songs centralizing — and capitalizing — off of the objectification of women, in their lyrics and videos, fill rap songs more than ever. Artists like Lil Wayne and The Weeknd often use sex as a pillar of their songs, and their images. This objectification has been used to sell music for decades — journalism professor Adrian Ma remembers growing up in the ‘90s with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, during an era when the Mickey Mouse Club actors and actresses were coming of age.

“At a time when we were exploring our own sexuality and becoming who we were, we had these teenage icons who were doing it in a more public kind of way,” he says.

The documentary My Mic Sounds Nice, directed by Ava DuVernay, analyzes the use of explicit sexuality as a business-savvy technique, looking at the way that both men and women are profiting off of hypersexualizing women. DuVernay argues that a lack of female representation in the hip hop realm, especially recently, has helped shape the way society thinks about sex and sexuality.

Schnare says that another problem with a lot of popular music is that it talks too much about “pleasuring your man” rather than satisfying your own needs, leading to a lack of dialogue about consent. “There is an absence of people speaking up about ‘This is what I like’ and a lack of representation on how consent is not necessarily permanent.

“It’s really a difficulty I’ve had myself,” he says. “I’ve learned to say no but I still feel awkward doing it, because there’s no example in pop culture on how to do it.”

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, which was published in the Feb. 10 issue of the paper, Tyler Schnare was identified by an incorrect last name.

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