Can porn be politically correct?

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Caragh McErlean/Senior Staff

There’s a knock on the door. A funky beat kicks around in the background. An attractive woman answers the door. She dresses in a hurry, and her too-small robe barely covers her doll-thin waist and swelling breasts. It’s the delivery man, and oh, does he have a package for her.

It doesn’t take long before this poorly filmed chance encounter turns into a sweaty, scripted sex-travaganza. If you’ve ever watched porn before, you’re familiar with this less-than-sexy cliché that quickly turns into a laughable presentation of sexual fantasy after its height in popularity during the 1970s.

Even if you’re a porno virgin, porn’s sexual stereotypes can be seen everywhere we look. You may think that porn hides in your private browsing history, but its content seeps into our daily lives at every turn.

We see bodacious babes eat burgers in Carl’s Jr. commercials, the juice and sauce dripping down their bodies. We watch horny teenagers quickly close their laptops when parents enter, a scenario that always gets a quick laugh in film and television. We gawk at late-night commercials that advertise natural growth pills promising to give your partner that extra bit of girth you’re accustomed to seeing online.

Sex sells, and in our growing, technologically advanced, consumer-motivated world, its common appearance not only serves a sexually driven market but also has helped stimulate a discourse on sex that is becoming increasingly more aware and inclusive. More and more, people feel comfortable talking about their sex lives in casual conversation, among friends at a café or with strangers at a party. We talk about how the mainstream media distorts our average sexual experiences. Yet amid all the sexual liberation, “porn” still remains a dirty word.

As much as some would like to disagree, those who watch porn are not members of some seedy underbelly of sexual deviancy. In 2016, nearly 92 billion videos were viewed on popular porn site Pornhub.com, with an estimated 64 million visits to the website a day. If we compare that to nearly 140 million users interacting with Twitter daily, porn’s popularity is more than consistent with a rise in accessible digital media. We masturbate almost as much as we tweet — is that really so surprising?

Watching porn is the worst kept mutual secret in our society. How does it remain taboo even as its popularity soars? There’s a common perception that in associating yourself with porn, you’re complying with the images that it perpetuates. But what does this really mean for your sexuality?

If you like watching lesbian porn, does that mean you have to be lesbian? If you’re not, are you contributing to a sexual appropriation of a marginalized group of people? Where does the line between your morality and your sex drive lie when it comes to watching porn?

Like any digital media, the content of porn matters. While it may be a one-stop shop for a one-off, the images presented in any pornographic film provide a place for discourse. What do we make of the rampant sexual stereotypes — where race is an exotic fetish and misogyny is a turn-on — and how do they affect our perception of sex itself?

In UC Berkeley professor Linda Williams’s book “Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible,’ ” she writes that porn is full of contradictions. Porn attempts to display pleasure, but more often than not, it creates incidents of objectification and sadism that contradict sexual gratification.

Porn isn’t just literal voyeurism; it provides a unique opportunity to explore sexual fantasy outside a physical realm. It creates a discourse on sexuality, masculinity, femininity and body image. More often than not, that discourse is restricted to a perspective that serves a straight, white, male gaze.

If we limit those perspectives in porn, we’re essentially confining our desires and sexual fantasies as well.

In a TEDxVienna talk in 2014, independent adult-filmmaker Erika Lust recalls her first experiences with porn; she remembers feeling confused at how equally repulsed and aroused the films made her.

Her feelings are not uncommon. Mainstream porn often perpetuates harmful stereotypes and prejudices that run counter to the progressive message “political correctness” aims to dispel.

If we wouldn’t accept those messages in our mainstream media today, why do we accept it in mainstream porn?

In short, it’s because porn is complicated. Its popularity soars, and it’s more widely accessible than ever before. It empowers and excites some, and it shocks and disgusts others. What may be a huge turn-on for one person is repulsive to another. It’s a place to gratify a sexual fantasy, but it has also become a new form of sexual education. Porn becomes another way to critically think about sexual representations, and how it affects our perspective on our own and others’ sexuality.

Marginalized communities deserve to explore their sexuality and have ownership over their bodies, and that’s what politically correct porn aims to do — it equips the underserved with a visual text that justifies and validates their perspective.

Lust’s pornographic films create fantasies from a “feminine viewpoint.” The Bay Area-based pornsite CrashPad aims to authentically depict queer sexuality. Slanted Tendency features porn produced by and featuring LGBTQ+ people of color. Padded Kink creates body-positive porn featuring typically fetishized BBW, or big beautiful women.

Politically correct porn is out there. But until we reach a place where the disenfranchised are able to take ownership over their sexuality and physicality in a way that positively serves every identity, it’s more important than ever to keep producing and investing in it.

Like Lust says in her TEDx talk, let’s keep the sex dirty but the values clean.

Contact Elaina Provencio at [email protected].