Rex Behr in a pool.
Image courtesy Rex Behr

Why Doesn't the Porn Industry Accept 'Big Handsome Men?'

BHM, or Big Handsome Man, is a genre without a lot of recognition—but it could be the next big thing in porn.
April 20, 2021, 1:00pm
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Welcome to Rule 34, a series in which Motherboard’s Samantha Cole lovingly explores the highly specific fetishes that can be found on the web.

Vinnie O'Neill never saw himself becoming a porn performer. He watched a lot of porn, but never pictured himself as the male talent.

"I always assumed I don't have the right body type or penis size for this," he said, "because that's the image the mainstream porn projects—all male talent are fit with very large penises."

O'Neill is a Big Handsome Man or BHM, a genre of guys who exist outside the stereotypically muscular and trim male pornstar physique. They're the counterpart to BBWs, or Big Beautiful Women: extra-large men, appreciated by fans for their girth above the belt.

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For decades, much of mainstream porn has been dominated by big dicks and abs that could grate cheese. Male talent like Lexington Steel, Rocco Siffredi, and Johnny Sins have risen to fame at least partially because of their fantasy-level physiques. But in the last five years or so, that standard has shifted. The rise in camming and independent modeling platforms has opened up a new world of body types, sexual expressions, and fetishes that studios rarely allowed or accounted for. 

Big Handsome Men are sometimes seen as the straight side of "bears" and "chubs," two categories of talent that exists within the gay porn world. Bears include barrel-chested, hairy, or muscular men, and chubs are usually just plain corpulent guys. Bears have been around for a long time, as has queer porn that's welcomed and championed a wide spectrum of body types. BHM isn't limited to straight porn or heterosexual fans, either. 

BHM performer and content creator Rex Behr, who also considers himself a bear, said that the move toward the BHM label was a natural progression. 

"As an out and proud bisexual man, I’d done plenty of all-male scenes with other guys. Which I still regularly do now," he said. "That made me quite popular among the gay bear and chub subcultures within the LGBTQ community and fan base. But I always wanted to showcase my bi side too, especially as a heftier man." He collaborated with some local female talent, and started incorporating more straight scenes in his repertoire. "It’s still such an overlooked and marginalized niche in porn, so I’m very happy to help give it more exposure."

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There are a few notable examples of big guys breaking the mold before that: in 1995, The Secret Life of Herbert Dingle starred Mark Kernes alongside Sharon Mitchell, and the box cover played up his looks—a slightly disheveled guy in a rumpled gray suit—as contrast against his lithe female counterparts, crawling all over him in nothing but neon thongs. 

In the past, BHM and large men in porn in general have often the butt of a joke: The Minion's gimmick is letting beautiful women smear food all over him, and a search of tube sites for "fat man" and variants of the phrase returns a lot of degradation content.

Big guys have been doing porn for a while, but it's difficult to trace exactly when Big Handsome Man became a genre of its own. It's not a category on any of the major tube sites like Pornhub, xHamster, or XVideos, and doesn't have an award category in any of the major porn award ceremonies like AVN or XBIZ.

“When God has given you a gift, you have to do what you do, you know."

It had a name at least as early as 2005, when Lee Monaghan, a professor at the University of Limerick in Ireland, studied virtual constructions of male embodiment—including Big Handsome Men, Bears, and all of the subsets in between. In that study, Monaghan drew a chart to illustrate the many types and subtypes of gay and straight bears and BHMs: 

Lee Monaghan's chart describing different types of BHM, bears, etc

But even a chart like this doesn't define bodies completely, and that's by design. Monaghan interviewed people within these communities online, and found that most defied concrete definitions—they said things like "if you think you’re a BHM, then you are" and "part of the magic of the Bear label is that it escapes precise definition."

"Such definitional practices, intended to include and empower bodies, contrast with objectifying biomedical categorizations, which are geared towards disciplining bodies," Monaghan wrote. In other words, you can't put BHM in a box.

In part because of how slippery the definition of BHM is, and how scarce BHM representation is in porn, several of the performers I spoke to were mostly unaware they were even doing it when they started. 

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"I knew I was a bigger framed guy anyway, but at that time I didn't really consider BHM, I was just a bigger guy doing porn," Hektek, a performer and photographer who started his own production studio, told me. "It wasn't till probably six months, or almost a year later, that I even came across the term BHM... When God has given you a gift, you have to do what you do, you know."

Selling The Fantasy

Most porn is a fantasy; a performance of what viewers wish they could be, or scenarios they'd imagine themselves in. They can be extravagant, unrealistic, or as pragmatic as wanting to see yourself represented on screen. But in the adult industry, there's a market for just about everything; If it exists, there's potential for porn to be made about it.

Vinnie O'Neill and Nikki Sequoia

Vinnie O'Neill and Nikki Sequoia; image courtesy O'Neill

O'Neill dipped a toe into the porn world when a friend who shot independent content asked him to join her for a point-of-view blowjob scene. After that experience, he decided to give the industry a shot. 

"When I first started out, I was very ashamed of my body, I had no confidence growing up and even as a younger adult," he said. "I tried to film a lot of POV content when I first started. As I released more content and I gained more fans, I started to receive the positive feedback, like 'hey, we like your body, show us your body, don't just show us the girl.'"

He'd gone into the industry assuming everyone just wanted to see his female scene partners. But once he started showing his whole self on camera, fans responded with positivity—he said they'd comment things like, "You look like me." 

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"We're selling a fantasy to these customers; they're imagining being the ones having the sex," O'Neill said. "And we can fulfill that fantasy better if the people having sex look like the people that are watching the porn. And that's given me a great amount of confidence to go forward with what I'm doing."

Behr said he gets a lot of positive feedback from viewers, too, who echo similar sentiments: They want to see themselves in his work. "Among the best comments I’ve gotten are when other big guys thank me for helping them feel more comfortable and confident with their own bodies," he said. "Mission accomplished right there—exactly why I do what I do, and will keep on doing it." 

Just because they make it look easy for the fans, doesn't mean it is, however. Fat-shaming and ridicule exist for BHM performers just as it does for regular, heavy men, as well as for BBWs—although the performers I talked to were careful not to equate their genre's struggles with BBW performers'. But the negative commenters still try to get to them.

"I do get a few haters and fat-shaming idiots spewing their venom every once in a while, but thankfully that’s pretty rare," Behr said. "I don’t let it bother or upset me when they do, anyway—speaks more to their bigoted ignorance and narrow-mindedness than anything else. Both me and my fans shut them down pretty quickly regardless." 

O'Neill said the most offensive comments he gets is a question: "How can I get laid like you are?"

"People have mocked me my almost my entire life for my weight or my appearance or things like that," he said. "They don't even bother me anymore." But the assumption that he's not working, and has worked hard to earn shoots with scene partners who also respect the trade, is insulting.

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"I'm not 'getting laid,'" he said. "When a fan says that to me, it tells me they don't respect me and they don't respect the people that I'm working with. They think all we're doing is having sex."  

"Embrace it already" 

The porn industry is far from perfect in how it represents diversity, and when it comes to bigger bodies, the whole internet is often against them: Women experience fatphobic algorithms that read them as more sexualized than their thin counterparts (and censor them as a result), queer and BIPOC content creators face more stigma than straight, white, cisgendered plus-size models, and "super-size" BBWs exist outside of society's range of "acceptable fatness." As men, BHMs have a lot of privilege that BBWs, and especially women of color in that genre, don't.

“If you hire diverse talent, you'll find that you have a diverse fanbase. No one can ever film something that's going to make every single one of those fans happy."

But the industry is still hesitant to fully accept them as a porn genre worthy of their own categories and recognition—and working with straight-sized models as a BHM can be tricky. O'Neill said that one of the most common responses he hears from potential scene partners is that their fans won't like them working with him; he understands this, from a business perspective. "It's always in the back of your mind... How are my fans going to react to this? How are my fans going to perceive this?" But he thinks this hesitancy, especially from studios and agents, is holding the industry back.

"Studios are hesitant to change up the way they do business. They're hesitant to hire talent of color. They're hesitant to hire BBW models or BHM models because they're afraid of how their customer base is going to react, and losing money," he said. "And it's a very valid concern. But my philosophy is: Do the right thing. Do what makes you happy personally, and work with diverse talent if you work with diverse talent. If you hire diverse talent, you'll find that you have a diverse fanbase. No one can ever film something that's going to make every single one of those fans happy." 

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Hektek said that he's had adult models tell him in private that he'd be their type off-camera, but not for shooting content, because they have a brand to maintain—one that doesn't include heavy men. "You kind of have to feel slighted by that... as a business person I understand... But I also realize that our fans don't know what the fuck they want sometimes. You have to create something for them to like it." 

Nikki Sequoia, who O'Neill credits with helping him get his starts as a scene partner and industry confidant, told me that the porn industry is severely lacking in diversity. "Many companies use the excuse 'it doesn't sell,'" she said. "The problem with this logic is that they haven't included diverse body types in enough of their content to have any real data on the demand of such content." 

BHM and BBW models are consistently in top selling categories on independent sites like Manyvids and Clips4Sale, Sequoia said. The demand is clearly there, but platform representation and industry recognition is lacking. "I do see some mainstream companies starting to add BBWs into their content lineup, but no one is bothering to give BHM a try... Vinnie's content is high in demand due to breaking those barriers and giving many men the ability to see themselves with these beautiful women, and giving many women who prefer bigger men a fantasy of being the hot model with the BHM," she said. "I feel that mainstream porn takes too much influence from mainstream media's idea of 'beauty' when in reality, the world is so diverse and we need to embrace it already."

Behr said he wishes BHM enjoyed more acceptance in the porn industry, because there's obviously a market for this content that shouldn't be overlooked. "Since there’s definitely a market for it, once we overcome the lingering body-shaming stigma that unfortunately still persists in our society," he said.

"Film diverse content, work with diverse people, diverse body types, diverse genders and gender identities, diverse races and ethnicities," O'Neill said. "If the content you produce is diverse you will build a diverse audience."

Other than a lack of mainstream recognition, Behr said his biggest challenge, as a six foot, four inch tall, 450 pound porn performer, is the sturdiness of the set. "Namely, the breaking of a bed when a scene gets really intense," he said. "Usually while she’s riding me cowgirl, and we both start pounding and bouncing on each other a bit too vigorously toward the finish. But even that never deters us—we’re too lost and captivated in the moment of pure ecstasy to even stop. We just have a good laugh about it afterward—jokingly lamenting it as an occupational hazard of sorts."