Porn’s new pervasiveness and influence on the culture at large haven’t necessarily introduced anything new into our sexual repertoire: humans, after all, have been having sex—weird, debased, and otherwise—for quite a while. But pervasive hard-core porn has allowed many people to flirt openly with practices that may have always been desired, but had been deeply buried under social restraint. Take anal sex: in a 1992 study that surveyed sexual behaviors, published by the University of Chicago, 20 percent of women ages 25 to 29 reported having anal sex. In a study published in October 2010 by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, the instances of anal sex reported by women in the same age cohort had more than doubled, to 46 percent. The practice has even made its way into the younger female demographic: the Indiana study shows 20 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds have had anal sex at least once.
One of the Indiana study’s co- authors, Debby Herbenick, believes that Internet porn now “plays a role in how many Americans perceive and become educated about sex.” How this influence actually works is speculative— no one can ever really know what other people do in their bedrooms or why. Some experts postulate a sort of monkey-see, monkey-do explanation, whereby both men and women are conforming to behaviors they witness on their browser media players. But in many ways this explanation doesn’t account for the subtle relationship between now-ubiquitous pornography and sexuality. To take anal sex again, porn doesn’t plant that idea in men’s minds; instead, porn puts the power of a mass medium behind ancient male desires. Anal sex as a run-of-the-mill practice, de rigueur pubic waxing for girls—and their mothers—and first-date doggy-style encounters (this is but a small sampling of rapidly shifting sexual mores) have been popularized and legitimized by porn. Which means that men now have a far easier time broaching subjects once considered off- putting—for instance, suburban dads can offhandedly suggest anal sex to their bethonged, waxed wives.