There are many reasons why I watch porn. Lately, I’ve been very single and very lazy, which means that whatever action I lack in my bed, I don’t even make up for in my mind. I watch free pornographic videos on the Internet as I eat frozen pizza: of course I like the real thing better but, short of having everything I need at home to do it right, I am content with the pre-made product after a long day.
Clearly, there are issues with the existence of porn, not least of which the ways in which it relates to prostitution. I recently had an extremely heated debate about it with a good friend of mine and have no intention to relive it —although I could do with the half-a-bottle of wine we had during the two hours we talked/barked at each other. However, I do want to say that I in no way think that these issues are not worth discussing. It’s just not the point of this piece.
What I really find fascinating about porn is how telling of our perception of sex it is. I have to admit I don’t care much for straight (or even bi) porn on a personal level but I have talked with enough people who do to understand that some issues conflate. One of the most recurring features in porn is evidently the dominance/submission theme. Generally, at some point, someone will get told what to do by a sexual partner and they will oblige. This behavior ranges from the relatively inoffensive “You like that?” to super-hardcore BDSM action I personally don’t enjoy watching —I think that might come from a CSI episode I watched as a kid where someone died in a sex dungeon because they couldn’t shout their safe word through all the leather. But all in all, sex relates to power here, which sounds great if it means empowerment, yet tends, more often than not, to perpetuate patterns of patriarchal oppression one can already find in so many other aspects of Western culture. In heterosexual porn, it usually means that male pleasure is almost always primordial, while female orgasms are often reduced to spectacular genital prowesses. That also goes for lesbian porn which is mostly aimed at a straight male audience. As far as gay porn goes, one will often find that topping is used as part of a dominance scheme, as if bottoming was somehow the more submissive act of only two available options [Side note: for those of you who do not know what “top” or “bottom” means, I wonder what you’re doing on my blog, but let’s just say that if gay sex were a ball game (and boy, is it ever…), the former would be the pitcher while the latter the catcher.]
To understand why that is, one needs to take a step back and analyze what images of sex gay culture has given us. Similarly to the way that heterosexuals tend to assign heterosexist roles to homosexual relations, gays themselves are not free of all blame. I cannot tell you how many times I have been chatted up by men at bars or clubs only to be asked, two sentences in, whether I was a top or a bottom. While I appreciate how clear their intentions are, I resent the fact that someone might change their mind about me based on what I might or might not do in bed with them —not to mention that they never ask whether I give head, have a particular fetish, or ANYTHING ELSE which may come up during sex (again, the Penetration Fixation). It isn’t surprising that most of the men who ask that question tend to call themselves “total tops”, thereby signaling that they are higher up in the gay hierarchy because they never relinquish power in bed. I truly believe that the appellation itself implies whether you can claim to be at the top of the pyramid or not, and is not indicative of the actual technics of sex —I mean, if there is one thing I’ve learned from porn, it is that you don’t have to be literally on top of someone else to be a top. Linguistically, the nominalization leads me to think that it has indeed more to do with status than habits, which is why I prefer to use the terms as verbs rather than nouns. Essentially, I don’t have a problem with someone’s preferences (although anyone who calls themselves “total” anything is probably missing out) just as long as they don’t use it to justify their oppressive views of masculinity and femininity. Phallocracy, one of the core components of misogyny, allows men to measure their own and each other’s self-worth in relation to the size of their penises. For straight women, it means that they have close to no claim to their sexual pleasure, because their genitals are deemed unworthy of the same attention as men’s. They literally come second. As regards lesbians, no one seems to know/care about their sexual activities because WHAT MATTERS IS THE HOLY PENIS. For men who sleep with men, it becomes even trickier because, short of taking out our dick rulers every time we want to have sex, how to decide who is going to take one for the team? Worry not, guys, sexism has it all figured out: just replicate the masculine vs. feminine power play you’ve seen with heteros! It seems being on the receiving end is more feminine [Side note: this make sense because, with all the (literally) fucking privilege “real” men have, they are born to be givers] so act the most masculine you can and make sure to let the world know about it. Go on Grindr, write “masculine looking for same” in your description, and worst comes to worst, you can rock-paper-scissor it out if you can’t tell who the more masculine of the two is because of ALL THE MASCULINE UP IN HERE. Because eww, feminine is gross, and if you wanted to sleep with women, you’d be straight. Right?
That attitude towards gay sex and the worship of hegemonic masculinity is very evident if you look at porn playlists on gay platforms. Generally the most popular ones are: daddies, muscle, real men, straight men, married men, etc. Granted, some of those videos feature femme actors but they are almost always the object of power abuse in, at best, teacher-student/boss-employee story lines and, at worst, uncle-nephew scenarios. Beside the obviously borderline pedophiliac fantasy that they feed, those porn flicks enable men to think that, when it comes to sex, you’re entitled to more power when you’re masculine ergo the femme object of your lust is to be demeaned and abused —don’t they all say they love it in the videos anyway? A pattern which, if I’m not mistaken, is also present in straight porn.
With that in mind, note how relatively common it is to hear that women don’t watch porn. Even among my female friends, a few of them are rather vocal about how they think watching porn is something men do that they don’t and which they find creepy. However, I’m always wary of any belief that, shy of denying women a sexuality, labels it as opposite to men’s. I don’t blame some women for not relating to the way that they are treated in X-rated films, but the fact is they still constitute one third of porn watchers. And that is exactly my problem with porn: it gives close to 30% of its audience the impression that they should be sexually submissive to their male partners; not to mention all the men (straight and gay) who don’t relate to that macho-man power-hungry sex-machine figure, yet are taught that this is what is expected of them. Conversely, people —and more importantly women— who don’t watch porn often turn to erotica, usually because it is written from a female point-of-view and is generally a little less focused on male orgasms. But, while that sounds like a good alternative, we are witness to the exact same phenomenon, namely the overwhelming success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, an erotic saga about the sexual affair of… a submissive young woman with her abusive older boss who, of course, is male.
Yet, time and again, I’ll stumble upon a porn video whose story line goes outside the boundaries of normative visions of gender and sex relations. Usually, the men involved don’t all look like Abercrombie & Fitch models on steroids, consent to sex as part of the narrative, are attentive to making their partner(s) enjoy it as much as they do and will alternate between top/bottom positions without having to insult or humiliate one another in the process. I know some die-hard pornographers will find it unoriginal, boring or creatively limiting, but one should probably take a step back and look at what porn usually gives us to watch: worn-out plots with plumbers, police officers, soldiers, gym coaches, and men in suits; endless gynecological shots of genitalia; and four lines of Neanderthal dirty talk repeated over and over. If porn is going to exist and be as accessible as it is now, if erotic novels are going to be turned into mainstream movies, there are countless ways to write relatable material that does not necessarily involve femmephobic misogynistic phallus-worshipping content [Side note: This has nothing to do with BDSM, which is so in-your-face (literally) about the power play involved that you don’t feel duped about what it is: a niche. And it is surprisingly varied in its practices and often allows for all types of people, including women, to hold the proverbial whip hand.] Also, I would like to see non-Caucasians representing more than some post-racial fantasy about the otherness of their anatomy. Alas, of all the things the adult entertainment industry has taught me, the most salient is how our culture gets off on hegemony.