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The pressure to act like a porn star in bed is ruining sex

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable and 8 other books. She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sexuality, sustainability, su...

Overperforming during sex will ruin the actual pleasure of it

Slut-shaming is not exactly new: Women have been judged for their sexuality for centuries. But according to Rachel Hills, author of The Sex Myth:The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, millennials exist in a whole new era of crippling judgment and shame. Not only are women blamed for being too sexual — we're now condemned for not being sexual enough. This is doing more than just hurting our self-esteem — it's robbing us of the pleasure we deserve.

Hills attributes this unsettling trend on the pervasive influence of the media and its effect on our inner lives. As Western societies moved beyond misogynistic, anti-sex, puritan values (thanks to the otherwise positive sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s) we suddenly found ourselves immersed in a hyper-sexualized culture, one that continues to reign today. Hills is not a purity enthusiast — she doesn't want us to return to the pre-feminist dark ages. She does, however, want us to reflect on what we really desire and truly feel about sex — unencumbered by pressure to conform (and perform) to societal norms. That's how we avoid getting caught up in The Sex Myth.

More: 9 Reasons feminist men are better in bed

A few years ago I noticed that the younger guys I dated tended to use porn as a measure for their own performance. What disturbed me the most was that these guys weren’t grounded in their own bodies — they were somewhere far off, as if they were watching themselves on a screen. Don't get me wrong — they (mostly) had all the right moves. But good sex is about far more than the right moves, no matter what your gender.

The scenario is even bleaker for women. Hills interviews Clarisse Thorn, a sex writer who coined the phrase "Sex Crazy Nympho Dream Girl" to describe a woman who knows how to perform pleasure perfectly, but who is not necessarily concerned with actually experiencing it. According to Hills, Thorn is "...wary of how easily the performance of pleasure can become an acceptable substitute for pleasure itself."

I'm pro-porn, especially feminist porn. But porn, in part, is to blame for these expectations. Women in porn seem to moan constantly during sex, achieving a crescendo of screams and grunts near orgasm that if replicated in real life, would have your neighbors calling 911. And the perfect bodies of most conventional porn stars set a standard very few can (or should) live up to in real life.

More: When it comes to your clitoris, use it or lose (seriously)

What would happen if we put a premium on our own pleasure and told the truth in bed? Performance isn't de facto problematic — when used as an adjunct to an otherwise healthy, honest sex life there's absolutely nothing wrong with fantasy and drama — playing pretend can bring the spice you desire.

But I wonder if we're too afraid of hurting our partner's feelings and deflating their erections — resulting in what we fear the most — romantic rejection. For women, if you feel like you have to fake it 'til you make it into his heart, your own sexual narrative is completely erased. Why is the nakedness of ego competing with actual nakedness in bed?

The holy grail of the sexual act is the orgasm, and it has attained such iconographic performative status that we often feel like failures when we don't have them in partnered sex. Hetero men are finally getting the memo about how to provide an orgasm for a woman through clitoral stimulation. But a myth persists — penetration is still thought to provide a superior mode of pleasure. (Thanks Freud.)

It should be noted that the men I mentioned earlier were still having orgasms — even if they weren't 100 percent present in their bodies. This is not the case for women performing pleasure — the orgasm gap persists and women have “meh” sex on the regular.

We seem to think that everything in our lives can be tweaked and adjusted, as if there will always be a 2.0 version of ourselves. Our sex lives are not bulletproof coffee or an IPO. We should not aim to perfect them. We have to simply be in them — in the moment, in our bodies, with our partners (or alone). Sex is not something you win; it’s something you do for fun, pleasure, and often, for connection with other human beings.

The truth is that all sex is different, all bodies are different, and all responses to stimuli are all different. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to sex, and we must be patient with ourselves and take the time to figure out what we want and need without the benefit of a Cosmo Top 10 positions list.

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