As an ever-present medium of sexual desire permeating our lives — primarily via the Internet — porn has taken a deep root in our collective conceptions of intimacy, affecting how we relate to sex and sexual practice both virtually and in reality.

While pornography is inherently a fantastical medium — a space to consider different sexual fetishes, desires and indulgences — it undoubtedly has a profound impact on how people relate to their partners.

The vast majority of porn, especially high budget videos with paid actors, typically take as its focus a phallocentric vision of pleasure. Male fellatio, the now standard “money shot” ejaculation — which has been a leitmotif of hardcore porn since the 1970s — and the wealth of violent and degrading physical acts that position women as an object of male desire are all common in Internet porn. While this is by no means an accurate representation of the varied and complex forms of porn available on the Internet, it is certainly one prevalent trend.

As these images are circulated and perpetuated, it is imperative consumers of porn media remain mindful of how certain sexual acts are perceived, and moreover, how to engage in honest communication with sexual partners about these fantasies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone enjoying or taking pleasure from various forms of pornography, but it’s absolutely necessary porn viewers think through the divisions between fantasy and reality.

There is, of course, slippage between these two realms. If one watched several videos concluding with the standard “money shot,” they may think such an act is something common in all sexual interaction. Instead of taking porn as a literal translation of sexual fantasy, people must see it as one vehicle of sexual exploration, and not a precise depiction of common or prevalent sexual patterns in their non-virtual lives.

Rather than passively viewing porn without considering its effects on reality, people should consider talking with their sexual partners about their fantasies. Finding something sexually appealing on the Internet is entirely normal in this digital age, but communicating that desire is perhaps a bigger challenge. Pornography has this to do with love: without being honest about our conceptions of sex, many of which have been influenced by pornographic images, sexual partners may struggle to satisfy and appreciate each other’s desires.

Subconsciously, many of the images of porn — the objectification of women, some of the more involved sexual acts — will inevitably spill into how we treat each other in the bedroom. As such, unhealthy expectations of how people should or shouldn’t perform in the bedroom can be formed by these images.

For example, in many of the conventional, heterosexual modes of porn, women are commonly treated as receptacles for male pleasure. Porn contributing to this conception of gendered thinking only establishes a distorted sense of sexuality. That women are often abused or violently assaulted in these videos — look at the horrifying trend of “rape porn” — is indicative of this disturbing sense of sexual interaction. Thus, there needs to be a more conscious way of navigating sexual fantasies on the Internet — a way that takes into consideration those degrading and deeply flawed visions of a phallocentric sexuality.

However, there are also plenty of avenues in porn providing a less one-sided view of sexual desire. Porn that favors respectful, mutual pleasure is one example of a more positive outlook on sexuality. It’s the porn consumer’s duty to discern the myriad types of pornography and to recognize which ones perpetuate one-sided and non-mutual representations of pleasure.

The most important thing to remember when attempting to translate the fantasies one experiences online into the bedroom is to ask your partner how they feel about exploring a particular sexual act. Both parties must give each other consent, and be explicitly clear and open about what the sexual experience entails.

As pornography will continue to shape and alter how people conceive of sexual interaction, intimacy and romance, it increasingly requires viewers who are critical and conscious of its representations of sexuality. For love to triumph, partners must be mindful of each other’s sexual desires, and thus, being a critical viewer of porn can be one step toward developing a deeper relationship with each other.