What Don Jon Teaches Us About Sex And Relationships

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 2013 directorial debut Don Jon deals with the matters of porn addiction through the lens of a romantic comedy-drama. It stars Gordon-Levitt in the title role as well as Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore in lead roles. A critical and commercial success, the film delves into the nuances of porn addiction, its association with masculinity and our modern day thinking around sex. Even though it is nearly a decade old, the film provides some useful advice when it comes to its subject matter, and even with its comedy, it packs in an emotional punch. Here’s a look into it.

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The film opens up with a monologue from the protagonist, Jon Martello giving us an inner look as to what his priorities in life our:

  1. a) His body, for which he maintains a strict, regular workout regimen,
  2. b) His home, which he cleans with almost an OCD-like compulsiveness,
  3. c) His vintage car,
  4. d) His family, consisting of his father Jon Sr., mother Angela and sister Monica,
  5. e) His church, which he attends every Sunday
  6. f) His friends,
  7. g) ‘His’ women, or the women he regularly sleeps with, and,
  8. h) His porn, which he watches regularly to masturbate.

The interaction of these elements of Jon’s life forms the crux of the story.

Jon is a bartender in a club situated in New Jersey. When he is not taking shifts there, along with friends he picks up women to take home for one-night stands. Even though he has sex on a regular basis with multiple women, according to him, nothing beats masturbating to porn. On one such night, he sees Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson and is instantly attracted to her. After spending time in the club together, she rejects his advances of a one-night stand with Jon, a first in a long time for him. Determined to sleep with her, he stalks her on Facebook and invites her for lunch, to which she agrees. Thus begins a toxic relationship.

Roger Ebert

Since Jon wants to sleep with Barbara, and she continuously rejects his advances, he agrees to Barbara’s every command. Barbara, unsatisfied with Jon’s job as a bartender and wanting him to move up the career ladder, convinces him to take night classes. She has a problem with him enjoying cleaning his home and refuses to let him buy cleaning supplies for his home when they’re out together claiming that it’s ‘embarrassing’. She insisted on meeting his family. When she does, Jon’s mother is enamored with her while his father likes her because of her physical beauty. When they finally have sex, Jon once again is disappointed and resorts to porn to masturbate and Barbara catches him. She’s disgusted and Jon promises to never watch it again, but he continues to do so in secret anyway.


Life goes on, but during his night classes he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Esther, played by Julianne Moore. What starts out as Esther initiating awkward conversations with Jon blossoms into a sincere dynamic that ultimately changes Jon. When Esther catches Jon watching porn on his phone, she offers him a film made by an European filmmaker as an ice breaker. She questions him about his affinity for porn and his relationship which lead him to question the ways of his life.

Irish Ceniphile

One night, after his night classes, Jon comes back to Barbara having gone through his search history and discovering his regular porn consumption. Finding it disgusting, she breaks up with him. This is when the film really delves into the psyche of Jon as a character, and we discover why he functions the way he does. Initially sad, he gives up attending the night classes but his friend later convinces him to finish the course. On one such night, he has sex with Esther and she cracks open his notions about what sex actually means. She tells him he cannot find sex pleasurable if he fixates on only himself, it is about all the people involved. In order for him to lose himself, he needs to lose himself in the person he is having sex with and vice versa. She mentions that meaningless sex is what she is looking for and hence isn’t an issue to her, but it is apparent why it maybe for other women. 


On Esther’s advice, Jon stops watching porn for a week. He then goes over to her home one day when she reveals that she lost her husband and son in a car crash over a year ago. Afterwards, Jon has sex where he experiences emotions for the first time, an experience that changes him. He quits porn permanently and tells his family about his break up with Barbara. Even though his parents are devastated, his sister Monica is supportive of him, saying that Barbara had manipulated him their entire relationship. The film ends with a montage of him going out with Esther, and for the first time, enjoying sex.


On the first go, it may seem that film has no coherent theme, but it eventually becomes apparent – what boundaries, emotions and sex have to do with relationships. Jon thinks that he loves Barbara because she was the first woman to ever turn him down and in order to show his love, he does whatever she wants him to do, something she takes undue advantage of. Jon has skewed perceptions about what sex means and he uses his porn addiction as a coping mechanism until Esther points out to him how dangerous it actually is and then helps him find true value in relationships with healthy boundaries. No matter who you are, there is something you can take away from Don Jon. 


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