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NSFW Videos Are the New Sex Ed for Adults

Startups are using explicit footage to improve our understanding of our bodies

Credit: Jay’s Photo/Getty Images

FFor the past 15 years, Swedish filmmaker Erika Lust has devoted herself to the world of indie adult cinema, using her talents to create stunningly beautiful films that document a variety of intimate relationships and sexual experiences. Through her work, Lust has seen firsthand how ill-equipped many of us are to talk about sex, or even explore our own sexualities. And over the years she’s worked to help move the conversation forward.

In 2017, Lust and her husband launched The Porn Conversation, a site geared towards helping parents navigate conversations about adult entertainment with their kids. Now she’s using her platform to address the needs of adults. This spring, Lust unveiled The Lust Ed, a series of free videos created in partnership with sex experts and adult entertainers. The videos will offer viewers honest information about topics like squirting, mutual masturbation, and navigating masturbation as a disabled person, supplementing those lessons with graphic depictions of the subject matter.

For Lust, this new video series is a way to fill the wide space between pornography and sex education, providing adults with something more exciting that conventional sex ed lectures, but less vulgar than hardcore porn. She isn’t the first to explore this space. In August 2012, the self-proclaimed “real world sex” site MakeLoveNotPorn.tv launched with the promise of offering an antidote to pornography, one that would offer people the chance to expand their understanding of sexual pleasure by getting a peek into other people’s bedrooms. Three years later, OMGyes debuted a collection of videos in which women talk about — and then demonstrate, in graphic detail — the various vulva stimulation techniques that help them experience sexual pleasure.

Given that porn is often treated as a menace to budding sexuality — numerous state legislatures have passed bills asserting that porn is “a public health crisis” — the idea of enhancing sex education with explicit content might seem backward. But research suggests that, rather than pushing us even deeper into our supposed “public health crisis,” sex education that refuses to shy away from the reality of sex actually helps to make us healthier and happier. Whether or not these projects are the future of sex education, they’re still an important tool in the fight to make our culture more sensible when it comes to sex.

Rather than perverting our minds and warping our libidos, exposure to sexual content can actually improve our understanding of our bodies and those of our partners.

In many ways, the move to make sex education more explicit just brings us in line with the education offered in other, more open, parts of the world. “The U.S., relative to other first world countries, has low explicitness in sex education,” says Nicole Prause, a scientist at the Liberos Center, a biotechnology company specializing in research on sexual psychophysiology. In the Netherlands, for instance, there are approved sex education videos that use fully naked adults to educate young people about anatomy — a strategy which, Prause remarks, would likely lead to jail time were someone to attempt it in the United States.

But the panic we feel about letting our sex education feature actual sex, and the resulting emphasis on censorship of sexual imagery, is incredibly overblown. Rather than perverting our minds and warping our libidos, exposure to sexual content can actually improve our understanding of our bodies and those of our partners, according to Prause — provided that we consume that content within an appropriate context.

“Pornography is somewhat agnostic. It depends what you take from it,” Prause explains. “We know that adolescents that view more pornography have more accurate genital knowledge,” largely due to the fact that they’ve had the chance to observe a variety of genitals, up close and in action. Although pornography that features a limited and often cartoonish range of body types and sexual activities can be damaging by lowering viewers’ self-esteem by reinforcing the idea that there’s just one way to be sexy, merely seeing naked bodies or sex itself does not have that effect.

In fact, pulling back the curtain and encouraging people to actually see and appreciate the diverse range of what bodies and sex, can look like, can have tremendously positive effects. Destigmatizing sexual content helps to increase feelings of body positivity, self-comfort, and sexual self-confidence. It helps sharpen understanding of what consent looks like and helps us better understand how to properly identify when our bodies are actually aroused and ready for sex.

“Hiding the rawness of sex behind a mask of euphemism only heightens the stigma surrounding it,” says Lust.

Prause notes that the research suggests she’s correct. “All the data are very consistent that [increasing the explicitness in American sex ed] would be a positive shift for a variety of outcomes,” says Prause.

OMGyes has seen firsthand the positive effect explicit sex education can have on viewers. In a recent study, scientists at Indiana University School of Medicine showed OMGyes to 1,000 people, ages 18–83. A full 94 percent of subjects said that after viewing OMGyes content, they could more confidently explain their sexual preferences in detail, while 95 percent said they had their understanding of pleasure expanded, and 81 percent said they discovered new ways to describe the kinds of things they liked.

And it’s the video aspect of these projects that seems to be particularly essential. In their own research, the OMGyes team has surveyed thousands of people about the tools they’ve found to be helpful when exploring and learning about sex pleasure. “[Fewer than] 10 percent of them actually found anything useful from reading,” says Rob Perkins, co-founder of OMGyes. Perkins compares reading about sexual techniques to trying to learn dance moves from a chart of foot positions: “There’s just such a difference between reading about these nuanced touches and doing them” — and getting a video demonstration can do wonders to help close the gap.

It remains to be seen whether such explicit projects will become a standard part of the sex education curriculum. But Lust believes that “if we can normalize explicit sex outside of porn sites, and as a way of learning, then I think we can reach more people who haven’t had the sex education that they need.”

OneZero columnist, Peabody-nominated producer, and the author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex — And the Truths They Reveal. http://luxalptraum.com

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