Why You Should Question the Kind of Porn You Watch

Author and educator Tati Español explains why most mainstream porn falls so far short of representing the kind of sex people actually have.

30 Noviembre 2021, 8:45am

This article originally appeared on Vice en Español.

Given that our ancestors were daubing pornographic images on the walls of caves some 37,000 years ago, it isn’t surprising that we make, consume, and think about porn so much here in the present. Every medium we’ve created to date has become a site for erotic exploration. We’ve written porn, painted porn and sculpted porn; in fact, the first pornographic film was made in 1896.

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The 70s saw the rise of the adult cinema. For the first time in human history, it was permissible to congregate in dark rooms to watch sexually explicit material, with hardcore films like Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas crossing over into the mainstream. 

New advances in technology – namely the affordability and availability of VHS players and cable television services – meant that porn went from being a public commodity to a private affair in the decades that followed.

And then, of course, the internet arrived. These days, porn has never been more accessible – which means people have started asking some fundamental questions about how these images affect our relationship to sex

“Porn leaves a mark on our entire culture,” says Argentinian sex educator and author Tati Español. Her most recent book Todo sobre tu vulva: Apuntes sobre el placer (“All About Your Vulva: Notes on Pleasure” in Spanish) explores what that mark might involve, and attempts to challenge the mechanistic sex often featured in mainstream online porn, which you can pretty much boil down to three things: big hard dicks, small shaved pussies, and round, perky tits.

Feminist and ethically-produced porn does exist, and there is inclusive adult material that features actual plot and actors of varying body types, gender identities and sexual orientations. But a lot of the porn people watch isn’t like that; instead, it’s usually porn that rarely features condoms and where cisgender male ejaculation is seen as the natural conclusion to sex. We spoke to Español about why it’s worth questioning your consumption habits and exploring different kinds of porn.  

Tati Español. Photo courtesy of the interviewee.

VICE: In the book, you say “everything is porn”. What do you mean by that?
Tati Español:
This is what is known as the “pornification” of everything. We’re assaulted with images and ideas co-opted from porn in different areas of consumption. We watch television and we see faces that say “this is sexy,” “this is sensuality,” “this is arousing,” and “this is erotic”. These images and these messages are everywhere and show us a concept of pleasure that is dangerous.

Is it dangerous that there’s a gap between the sex education we get at school and what we can access on the internet?
On average, people see porn for the first time between the ages of eight and ten. This is the mainstream porn, the industrial porn, that comes to us without us choosing it. Porn could be a great ally to sex education but the truth is, mainstream porn doesn’t contribute anything to it. In general, we use the internet to look for answers, and because sex and pleasure remain taboo subjects, even into adulthood, this search can lead us to all kinds of websites.

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What would you like to see more of in mainstream porn?
The person with a vagina is not seen as a desiring subject, but as an object to be pulled out of, pumped, drilled and hurt. We need to see people with a vagina being allowed to actually express their own sexuality, using their own methods. We don’t hear dialogue, we don’t see a search for pleasure, we don’t witness agreement or consent. We just see a hole being penetrated. You don’t see the use of a condom, either, and that is another danger because mainstream porn is, regrettably, many people’s school.

What do you make of the bodies we see in mainstream porn?
They’re more or less all the same. Women are slim. Men are muscular and have gigantic penises they can keep erect for a really long time. The industry pushes an idea of what is correct, what is consumable, what is erotic. Bodies that don’t fit this find themselves put into fetish categories. 

Does prioritising that aesthetic change the sexual dynamics?
Certainly. Those people never interrupt the act. They don’t drink water, they don’t look for anything, they don’t take off their clothes clumsily, and above all, they don’t actually touch each other. There are no emotions. To reach orgasm, we rub against something – vulva, bum, leg – and you don’t see this at all. What you are shown is how to have sex in a way which only feeds male fantasies.

Can we talk about the way the industry infantilises bodies? A lot of the most-watched porn categories involve teenagers…
It’s a very big patriarchal tool. What the patriarchy has made us feel is that mature bodies are disposable; they’re not valued sexually, and older women having sex are barely ever seen.

What are the alternatives?
Feminist porn, post-porn and ethical porn are different variations of porn that aim to modify everything that porn has taught us. It’s about a representation that reflects the sexual practices of women, their tastes, the diversity of bodies, shapes, colours, and sizes. Bodies are shown in another way: There are fat bodies, trans bodies, bodies with hair, cellulite and stretch marks. Sexual relations are also diverse; I even saw asexuality incorporated recently. It’s porn that has been worked on ethically, where there is care and no subjugation of eternal working hours, and we don’t see the sex act as the main thing. Perhaps what’s still missing is the representation of other practices: eroticising other shapes and methods, but above all, dialogue.

How is the blame managed if a person consumes this type of porn?
Desire, as much as sexuality itself, is a social construct. We can’t deconstruct it from one day to the next. This is a process that I think will take generations. We’re currently in a hinge generation where everything is overlapping, everything is mixed up. If you were taught to watch the mainstream porn we’re talking about here, it is hard to undo that. But there is another type of porn out there. We can’t escape desire and fantasy but we can question our consumption habits. And we can change them little by little. 

Tagged:

pornography, sex education, Literature, VICE International, feminist porn, VICE en Español

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