Ethical lesbian porn is DEFINITELY not the same as traditional lesbian porn.
by Jillian Angelini June 24, 2023
Sex is something we gradually learn and form opinions about from whispers with friends or pornographic videos on our private browsers. We read about it in magazines, watch it in movies, and occasionally catch glimpses of it in car windows. When taught to us, it is usually in chunks of information, many times by a nervous parent or in the awkward space of a seventh grade health class, and rarely does it paint the full picture, let alone be medically accurate. Most of what I entail refers to heteronormative, penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse. Now, imagine what learning about sex is like for someone who is gay.
I want to say it’s a crime against gay love not to be taught in school about the pleasure shared between a couple of the same gender. Or a strike against homosexuality as a whole by the radically conservative, who more often than not, choose to act like we don’t exist. (I am living proof that lesbianism is full-fledged.) But no, it seems the absence of queer sex education is none other than the lack of desire to teach Americans (especially horny teens blazing through puberty) what it means to have sex.
As of 2020, just 30 states and the District of Columbia legally mandate sex education in public schools, while only 22 of those states require their programs to be “medically accurate,” by which the definition varies by state, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures. Information regarding human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is mandatory in just 39 states, while 27 states focus their teachings on abstinence-only education. (In 2019, abstinence-based sex ed hit an all-time funding high under the Trump administration.)
Why would I think that the very same country that fails to prioritize cis-heteronormative sexual education would mandate discussions on LGBTQ+ sexuality? (For the record, queer-inclusive teachings see even lower numbers, as a 2019 study of over 16,000 American students between the ages of 13 and 21 found only 8.2% reported receiving queer-inclusive sex education at school.) Across the board, sex education needs to be remodeled. For those who do not fit the straight-relationship ideal, the extra step of figuring out who you are attracted to can create more confusion and even deeper searches in your browsing history.
As a queer person, the beginning of my sexual journey was tough. Tough because I had no idea what I was doing, had so many ideas in my head of how I was supposed to perform, and held a very unrealistic view of how my journey was supposed to look. I recall feeling incredibly sexually confused about my role in a queer relationship: Am I a top, a bottom – both? How can I not know what I’m doing — I have the same genitals as the person I am sleeping with!
Today, I am here to help queer people in the beginning stages of their sexual journey as well as folks struggling sexually to take a step back, slow down, and remember that everyone has a unique pleasure path — or so I have learned.
Here’s everything I wish I knew before starting my queer sex journey.
1. Understand your motivation.
Why do you want to have sex? How you respond to this question can help you understand more about your sexual journey. Do you want to have sex because the person you’re with makes you feel comfortable, turned on, and wanting to connect? Or are you interested in having sex simply because you’re the lone virgin in your friend group? There’s no right or wrong answer, but you might find that the reason you want to have sex may not align with who you are as a person, or how you envision your first time and every encounter thereafter. Other factors in your life can also contribute to your desire for sex, and your reason to engage over time may change.
"There are multiple factors that go into why we want to have sex, and they don't always line up together at the same time,” Ness Cooper, a clinical sexologist and the resident expert for luxury sex toy brand Jejoue, tells Intrigue. Changes in work-life balance, family dynamics, and physical and mental developments can all interfere with when and how often you want to be intimate. “Libido and desire for sex can also fluctuate over time, and sometimes this means we are ready to have sex at times when it's not possible to engage in consensual sex,” she adds.
2. Anticipate emotions.
After sex you might feel joy, anxiety, confusion, or even sadness. All these feelings are valid, even if they occur after an enjoyable experience. Crying after sex has happened to me many times, and it was puzzling for me to wrap my head around at first; however, it is much more common than people know. According to a 2015 study of 230 female-identifying university students published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 46% of respondents have cried during or after sex at some point in their lives. Reading these statistics was very refreshing, as I always felt immense guilt tearing up in front of my partner. On the other hand, my tears have arisen as a form of release from participating in a magical and vulnerable moment with someone I love so dearly — both circumstances are understandable and common.
Experiencing emotions is a part of the human experience, and giving yourself grace for those emotions after sex is vital. If you often find yourself in a high-emotional state after sex, knowing what aftercare you desire can help bring you back to a calm state. Practicing self-compassion in these moments is something I highly encourage as it has helped in my journey immensely.
3. Don't research too much.
No matter the number of pornos you study or how-to videos you watch online, you’ll never gain from preparation the knowledge you will from experience. (And truth be told, a lot of mainstream porn doesn’t fairly represent the LGBTQ+ community anyway.) In 2017, Pornhub published a study that shared lesbian porn was the most popular category for three consecutive years leading up to that year’s 10th anniversary of the platform. With mainstream popularity comes profitability, and the porn industry's depictions of LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships are often tokenized, fetishized, and misrepresented for entertainment purposes. Fight The New Drug, a research-based non-profit focusing on the impact of porn, proved this when it created a quick internet search on the content uploaded to XVideos, the world's largest porn site, in relation to trans people. The search bar auto-generated harmful terms and abusive stereotypes about the transgender community to showcase how porn can distort viewers' understanding of what is socially acceptable or healthy.
The trouble then lies with young people — myself, for instance — who lack educational resources and go straight to porn for answers, leading to a warped vision of what sex is supposed to look like. The first few times I started having sex, I felt pressure (mostly from myself) to try certain acts or positions that I assumed were the only correct ways to perform or be intimate. Turns out, I’m not alone. A 2023 study from Common Sense Media reported that of the 1,300 American teens (ages 13-17) surveyed, 45% felt pornography gave them helpful information about sex. I am proof it doesn’t always.
"Porn is not sex education, and it's important to remember that with all pornographic materials, you are watching performers who may not be into the person they're having sex with,” Searah Deysach, sex educator and owner of Early to Bed, Chicago's first woman-owned sex shop, tells Intrigue. “Actors in porn are working toward specific camera angles, making it very rare that the sex on screen ends up being real life. Porn is entertainment — not education — and to be able to separate those two is really helpful.”
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4. Some research is helpful.
Ethically-produced and queer-made porn can be very beneficial in finding representation of the sex you want to be having, says Deysach. “Much porn that is considered ‘ethically-produced’ features actors that are comfortable working with each other, while a lot of ‘traditional’ porn might just stick people together in a scene without much thought or preparation.”
That said, going into an unknown experience can be daunting, and some preparation can be helpful. In a 2019 survey by sex toy manufacturer Vibease, 65% of over 1,000 adults who listen to erotic audio with their partners agree that audio porn helps them have a better understanding of what their partner's fantasies and preferences are. I found the same can be said for solo play.
You might also consider resources like Scarleteen.com and Autostraddle.com, which are written by queer people for queer people, recommends Deysach. “Scarleteen is a site aimed at teenagers, but still has lots of great info for adults [that] takes a radically sex-positive approach to sex ed, [and] Autostraddle is a queer-woman oriented publication that has a rich ‘Love & Sex’ section that covers everything from dating to sex to wedding to sex toys,” she says.
5. Don’t be your biggest critic.
“Shame is one of the most challenging things to work through, and I find it takes a lot of exploration of self to break through barriers caused by shame,” says Cooper. “Being aware that it’s likely something you will have to work through throughout your life can be helpful, as many people feel let down when they try to fix shame completely, and it doesn’t go away fully. You may also find that how you react to shame when it comes to sexuality changes over time and will depend on what interactions you have at a particular time,” says Cooper.
I know from experience it's hard not to let the insecure voices in your mind take over, especially during first-time sexual encounters. No matter the obstacles that keep you from feeling the most pleasure, being gentle with yourself in these moments can help you on the journey of remaining present.
6. Communicate your desires.
"Figure out what's negotiable and what you can't live without when exploring sex for your first time,” says Cooper. “It can be easy to have high expectations and want particular things to go a certain way, but understanding that there's time to explore your sexual bucket list in the future is key. Not everything has to be done the first time, and being present at the moment is better than trying to perform loads of different erotic and sexual acts.”
One of my personal favorite times to talk about sex is immediately after sex when it is fresh in my mind. I have a good understanding of what I want to explore next time and what I don't want to do in the future. From my experience, it feels nice to talk about being intimate as a form of aftercare when you are both in a vulnerable state and willing to be open and honest. As these topics can be uncomfortable, I have also found that sharing positives alongside what you want to work on can feel easier and often may make people more receptive.
7. Release all expectations.
Wouldn't it be nice if humans found the unknown full of adventure and possibility rather than scary and anxiety-inducing? Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but not knowing what’s going to happen can leave me riddled with anxiety, rather than enjoying being in the moment. "If you're having sex with someone else who's worth having sex with, they are a human being too, and being open and honest with them about your experiences and expectations will help you realize you are not the only person who's ever had sex for the first time,” says Deysach.
While there isn’t one specific way to look or act during intimacy, embarrassing moments are bound to happen, even if porn fails to show it. Have you ever seen someone queef or fall off the bed in a skin flick? I doubt it. Remembering that anything is possible during sex, and going in without expectations can be very beneficial when those moments arise.
8. Engage in self-exploration.
One of my favorite parts of my sexual journey was learning about myself on deeper levels than I had known before by understanding what brings me joy, listening to my body, and deep diving into what turns me on — and off. I did this by exploring my body independently, watching ethical and realistic porn, and conducting a whole lot of experimentation. Experimentation can take many forms, from investing in self-care, staring at yourself in the mirror, or even masturbating.
If you do not feel comfortable with masturbation, know it is just one option on the path to self-exploration, and there are many other pathways to learning what you like. There is a whole world of pleasure out there calling your name, and I hope you feel inspired to find it.