We, the consumers, and pornography, the product, have unknowingly formed a lasting partnership that outlives most of our physical romantic relationships. Pornography presents itself on many of our screens, and many of us willingly invite it into our daily lives to feed us fantasies and design our desires. While the rise of pornography could be read as sexual freedom, it can also hinder exploration and fail to represent those who don’t fall into gender normative and heteronormative categories.
The pornography industry already exists as a problematic empire of extraction, with pornographic performers notably facing economic and physical objectification. Regardless, pornography still creates society’s sexual narrative as it continues to conflate fact and fiction regarding sexual activities. The insane, incessant want for instant gratification then sets up pornography as the perfect solution to fulfilling one’s sexual needs, and the addiction amps up with each click on content.
Pornography’s appeal to fantasies tends to conflict with sexual realities for many of us. There is one female, cisgender form typically represented in pornography — down to the size and color of the performer’s areola. The same is apparent for masculine performance standards and body image. In this sense, pornography distorts the reality of sexual experiences to exclude many physical appearances, causing possible dissatisfaction in one’s chosen partner.
Content featuring womxn of color performers are issues themselves, as the content is usually labeled with the performers’ ethnicity. This further normalizes the fetishization of racialized bodies, categorizing racial identities among other fetishes and subcategories that diverge from heteronormative pornography featuring white binary performers. Pornography already stands as voyeuristic in nature, and while female performers do get paid, the gaze that is exerted upon their bodies remains historically problematic and continually oppressive.
Priorities to penetration
Most pornographic content is directed from the male performer’s perspective, as he dominates a female performer through penetrative sex.
Pornography furthers this violence through the commonly-seen sexual aggression toward women. Pornographic sexual aggression manifests itself through physical dominance exerted over the female performer through direction, choking, slapping and the now-normalized activity of coming on the female performer’s face. While there may be pleasure found in such activities, pornography doesn’t encourage exploration of kinks as a joint venture between sexual partners.
Partnered with this masculine violence is feminine submission. Acts of sexual aggression are usually followed by signs of sexual pleasure by the female performer, which leads to both parties orgasming. This is quite far from the truth, according to Peggy Orenstein in her work, “Boys and Sex.” With pornography serving the heteronormative male gaze, it disregards the existence of the queer community by establishing gender dynamics.
Off-screen necessary scenes
While pornography has grown to include all kinds of subjects, fetishes and fantasy spaces, it fails to fulfill major areas of sexual pleasure and inquisition, according to Orenstein.
The intense lack of intimacy between the two performers is clear, as most pornography features short-lived foreplay with surface-level character development, sacrificing human emotion and real sexual pleasure for the sake of performativity.
Sex doesn’t have to be all about love — healthy relationships exist that revolve purely around sex — but important elements of any type of sexual relationship are diminished in pornography. In scenes leading up to sexual engagement, there are almost never depictions of condoms or conversations regarding the boundaries and desires of both parties. With the failed acknowledgment comes a failed sexualization.
Many pornography viewers admit that they are viewing scenes that stray far from reality, but we still problematically rely on pornography for our sexual education in terms of positions, attitudes and treatment of partners.
Fantasy to be found
Conventional masculinity doesn’t have to be toxic and conventional feminity doesn’t have to be subservient, but pornography makes it so. Pornography replaces our sexual education and takes away our agency to decide our own desires and sexual preferences. Our identities are reaffirmed by social recognition, most evidently through our consumed media and entertainment, so the normalization of straight relationships and cisgender identities decreases the visibility of those who don’t identify as such.
As many recognize these issues, some platforms are attempting to address what pornography fails to depict. The School of Life has created “Porn as Therapy” to replace the commerciality and forced fantasy of typical pornography with scenarios that are more similar to our realities.
Pornography will never be eliminated from our society, and it shouldn’t be. We constantly crave reprieve from pent-up sexual desires, and pornography stands as an easily-accessible medium. Instead of a guide to sexual experiences, pornography complicates our sexual interactions by detaching physicality from emotions — distorting fact from fiction.
Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected] .