Educational porn takes the sexy teacher trope to a whole new level.

Welcome to Porn Week, Mashable’s annual close up on the business and pleasure of porn.


Although the jury is still out on the effects of watching porn, most adult industry insiders actively try to dissuade people from emulating their content — because it’s all fantasy, not documentary.

Rather than depicting sex as performers enjoy it off set, most professionally produced porn — even amateur or reality content — favors acrobatic positions and exaggerated angles that can be exhausting or uncomfortable to shoot, but that highlights all the scintillating details viewers get off on. That sex is often framed by famously unrealistic, and at times problematic, scenarios and dialogue, built to play to or riff on a predominantly straight, male audience’s escapist whims and desires, and the prevailing cultural forces that feed or inform them. And content creators often sideline or omit all of the prep work and negotiation — the meticulous direction, warm up stretching, and vast amounts of lube and communication — that went into shoots, in the interest of building and maintaining momentum, integrity, and pull within their fantastical scenes.

Taking cues from something as contrived as porn, insiders stress, is a good way to have a bad time, whether by chasing what looks good while missing out on what feels good, attempting something intense without any warmup and injuring yourself, or just looking like an ass.

“I once received cunnilingus from someone [in my personal life], who had…studied techniques in girl-on-girl porn,” performer Larkin Love once told me. “He spread my legs open as wide as possible, applied the side of his face to the inside of my left thigh, and lapped my pussy with the tip of his tongue out of the right corner of his mouth, as if opening the shot up to an invisible camera. Once I figured out what he was trying to do and why he’d come to the conclusion that pussy is eaten sideways, I couldn’t help but laugh.”

Yet despite these common and compelling notes of caution, over the last decade a handful of adult content creators and performers, as well as sexual health experts and sex therapists, have suggested that porn may actually have some latent educational potential for adult viewers. Granted, this potential depends on how a given porn flick is framed, and how viewers engage with it. But there may be an unexpected amount of value, both for individuals and society at large, in trying to draw that potential out.

“Sometimes we have to retrofit movies for our purposes,” notes sex counselor Eric Garrison. “But even if they weren’t intended for education, some of us still recommend them for that.”

Porn, ugh, what is it good for?

Garrison and other sexology experts note that many people use porn as a source of sexual inspiration, often creating lists of new positions, settings, or role play scenarios to try out in the very human eternal quest for sexual novelty. And that’s fine, says performer Verronica Kirei, as long as people don’t get caught up on the exact details of a scene, instead using it as a springboard to explore what feels good and comfortable for their bodies, or relationship dynamics. “Just be present and have fun,” she says.

But this common exploratory aspect of porn viewership also opens up the potential for people to do some deep learning about their own bodies and sexualities, or the diversity of human sexual experiences. You might encounter a new kink, and start to dissect why you like it — or why you don’t but others clearly do. You might see scenarios that challenge your preconceptions about sexual scripts and dynamics, like those that put straight men in submissive roles. Or, especially in the world of queer and indie porn, you might see bodies that don’t align with traditional conceptions of sex and gender, or that are sexualized or experiencing pleasure in ways that you never thought possible. You might dig deeper, and find yourself at the cusp of a journey of further exploration.

For some people, this may just be an eye-opening anthropological experience, giving them insights into identities and dynamics they may never have known about before, or thought to look into in a meaningful sense. But for others, it’s a revelatory education in who and how they can be in the world. Buck Angel, a pioneering trans male porn producer and performer, often talks about his adult content as a valuable form of representation. He has described it as a tool for normalizing bodies like his own — and as a personal springboard that helped launch him into his current focus on activism and education. Notably, in a 2019 Daily Dot article about an NSFW Twitter post made by an indie trans performer, the writer Ana Valens pointed out that “when trans performers create their own porn, they’re also helping trans women feel that their bodies are sexy.”

A few pornographers intentionally bake cues into their content in the hopes that it will inspire this kind of exploration, introspection, and sexual education. Back in the ’80s, Garrison notes, several gay male porn studios made it a point to always have one character stop the buildup to sex to suggest condom usage, in order to get viewers to learn more about how to protect themselves from the then-emerging AIDS crisis. (“I’m watching this and thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a public service announcement thrown into the middle of a hot anal sex scene!'” he says.) More recently, queer, indie porn studios like Pink & White and TROUBLEfilms have made a point of expanding the visibility of diverse bodies and sexualities, as well as safer sex and explicit consent talk, within the world of porn, both to serve neglected audiences and to fuel education and conversation. Even in the mainstream, straight porn world, folks like Jeremy Long, a briefly notorious Asian American creator-performer, have built content around the explicit goal of challenging biases — in his case, about the desexualization of Asian men — and encouraging personal learning and social growth.


“Porn is a potent force for pushing back on common perceptions of Asian men as desexualized, or non-sexual, in American culture.”

“Porn is a potent force for pushing back on common perceptions of Asian men as desexualized, or non-sexual, in American culture,” argues Jesh Fiszel, another Asian American creator-performer, who says he was inspired by the now-retired Long’s endeavors. “Our content has subtle racial subtext to inform our audience…while also allowing people to watch it” for pure erotic pleasure.

Some evidence does suggest that pornographic encounters can turn the dial of popular knowledge and understanding. Recently and concretely, a survey of 250 people who watched trans porn found their opinions concerning trans identities and individuals improved as a result.

“In terms of whether it’s possible for pornography to influence people’s self-acceptance, in terms of how their bodies look and their sexual orientations, or their acceptance of others, a few research articles substantiate that idea,” adds Emily Rothman, a Boston University professor of community health and proponent of porn literacy studies. “Anecdotally, people have told me that is true, too.”

“However, whether there is a substantial or long-term impact on people in these positive ways…remains an open question,” she notes.

There’s always a catch

A few performers and producers have released adult series meant to be both hardcore and hot and explicitly educational, sending clear signals about how viewers can (and perhaps should) interact with them. (See: jessica drake, Nina Hartley, and Tristan Taormino’s how-to video series, for prime examples.) But explicitly instructive videos are few and far between. And, while drake tells me that people have at times stumbled across her educational content because they’re fans of her overall oeuvre, “ended up learning from it, and so kept watching,” it is not easy to find this sort of content unless you’re really looking for it. Which, given the way people are accustomed to thinking about porn, Garrison and other experts note — as jerk-off fuel rather than something potentially deeper to engage with meaningfully — only a few people actually are.

This same mentality means that, even when people stumble across porn with exploratory and educational potential, they may not recognize or engage with that aspect of it, instead just casually consuming it and moving along. After all, as Fiszel points out, in order to be successful as a commercial venture, most pornographers do try to make sure that all of their content is easy and simple to consume, without any deep inspection or introspection, as a simple piece of erotic fantasy.



Any given porn movie may also contain both potentially educational and potentially problematic elements. Notably, while a rising tide of trans porn could conceivably play a role in improving visibility and popular opinions, much of it is also still produced by and for cis, usually male consumers. As a result, it is freighted with exoticization and objectification, and fails to reflect actual trans sexual experiences. Likewise, Amy Sueyoshi, associate dean of the San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies, points out that Asian American pornographers who try to push back against popular and degrading stereotypes about Asian male sexuality can at times “forget their Asian American sisters, who are often brutalized in straight porn,” though both adverse working conditions and the perpetuation of misogynistic or racist tropes in scripts.

“Some types of pornography could be helpful for some people in certain contexts,” stresses Rothman, “but they could also be harmful to other people in other contexts.”

This complexity means that, unless you are already inclined to seek it out and have a baseline understanding of prevailing cultural and sexual dynamics to inform your search and analyses, drawing the educational potential out of porn — the depictions and dynamics that may spark new or deeper understandings and explorations of human sexuality — usually requires an educator. In this case, that’d be someone who can help you figure out which content to explore, how to explore it in ways that invite growth and understanding rather than improper emulation, and what parts of it to either take as negative examples, or to disregard entirely as irrelevant artifacts of marketable eroticization or genre convention.

That’s why, as a learning tool for adult viewers, porn is arguably most useful in the context of therapy and sexual education. Garrison, for example, notes that he will sometimes assign people pornographic videos for further viewing with context and caveats like: “The people in this free video are using this type of sex toy. Watch the technique this person uses on their partner, or how much lube they use, and think about what you can learn from that. Then, notice around this minute mark how things don’t go well. Think about what you can learn from that moment and how you can avoid similar things in your own life.”

We live in a porn world

There are other, potentially better ways to get people to explore sex, sexuality, and themselves than by deconstructing, or getting experts to deconstruct and guide us through, clips created for erotic entertainment above all else, even if they do contain explicit or latent didactic elements. We could, for example, make sure that everyone has access to comprehensive and inclusive sexual education, taught by qualified experts, in safe environments, and using bespoke tools and resources.

But could is all too often distant from can.

The sad reality is that, thanks in large part to prevailing forces of social conservatism, many people worldwide only have access to rudimentary sexual education at best. Even comparatively robust sex ed programs, whether taught in school or geared towards adults via events, lectures, or articles or videos, often cover the nuts and bolts of cis, hetero sex, but fail to acknowledge all of the other constellations of sexual experience that can exist, and the calculations that come along with them. Sex ed also tends to focus on the biology of reproduction and disease — and maybe the practice and ethics of consent, if you’re lucky. It usually tells people nothing about the diverse ways to access or explore sexual pleasure. About how to search for, use, and maintain a sex toy. About the vocabulary and theory of kinks. About, well, all the good stuff. Drake has said that she started her instructive porn series in part to address exactly these gaps.


When people don’t have access to good, diverse, and fulsome sexual education, they often turn to porn for visceral and visual answers to their questions — even if they know that most porn is highly constructed and fantastical.

Over the last couple of decades, ample research has shown that, when people don’t have access to good, diverse, and fulsome sexual education, they often turn to porn for visceral and visual answers to their questions — even if they know that most porn is highly constructed and fantastical. And ample anecdotal evidence suggests that, for lack of proper contextualization, this has led to a surge of ill-informed emulation. See, for example, recent spikes in (often under-lubricated) heterosexual anal sex, and in choking and cumshots delivered sans explicit prior communication and consent.

People may also prefer to explore some elements of sex and sexuality — especially their own — via porn, even if they have access to more reliable, professional sex ed spaces or resources. As drake points out, “the medium is so intimate, so personal — it can be viewed in private — that it allows for more viewer vulnerability. No one has to know what anyone does, or what they do not know.”

Porn is also just more engaging than most of the graphics, or the explicit yet somehow sterile and rote instructional videos, that many educators have access to, Garrison adds. “The pants and the moans and the sweat and the head and all those other things … make the education part a lot easier to swallow. It’s like the Mary Poppins thing about a spoonful of sugar and medicine going down.”

“There are also some times when I can talk about something, but I really need two people engaging in actual sex to get people to understand it,” he says. In those cases, it’s often easiest for him to say, “let me recommend a specific porn movie to you so you can see what this thing looks like.”

The entrepreneur and influencer Cindy Gallop has famously been building Make Love Not Porn, a repository for real amateur sex videos that viewers will find hot and engaging but that lack the performative and constructed elements of porn, for over a decade in order to give people a less fraught tool for pleasurable learning and self-exploration. She refers to the platform as “pro-sex, pro-porn, and pro-knowing the difference,” and as “education through demonstration.”

However, Gallop frequently acknowledges in interviews that securing funding and advertising, and thus growth and an audience for the site, was and is a grueling, uphill battle.

In the long term, we clearly need to work towards systemic culture changes that will make it easier for people to find robust and inclusive sexual education, and explore it openly and enthusiastically. But in the short term, it’s arguably foolish not to try meet people where they are, by helping them draw forth as much of the instructive potential within porn as possible, while recognizing the line between useful fuel for introspection and further exploration and pure unreal erotic fantasy.

Granted, leveraging the potential within porn for as many people as possible is no easy task either. It will likely require the spread of open dialogue about trends within porn and our engagement with them, and of guides to and classes on porn literacy, to help people make sense of what they see in scenes and what they can draw out of it. It may also require more effort from porn producers and distributors to highlight the craft and construction that goes into their content, as well as the potential insights and exploratory springboards within it, through disclaimers, tags, and other signposts.

This is work that some adult industry insiders reasonably believe should not fall at their feet; after all, most are erotic entertainers, not educators. However, this sort of framing is becoming more common in the SFW entertainment world. So it’s not entirely beyond the realm of reason to hope or ask to see it ramp up in the NSFW sector as well.

But no matter how far efforts to leverage the latent educational potential within porn go, they will always need to operate under a giant, flashing warning sign: Porn may be a source of inspiration and a starting point for exploration, but it’s still fantasy. So, never tip over into direct emulation.

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