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Why Is the UK Suddenly So Obsessed with 'Chav Porn'?

There's been a 312 percent increase in British PornHub users searching for "British chav", so we spoke to some experts about why that might be.

Alice Tchernookova

A selection of Television X's "chav porn" titles. (All images courtesy of Television X)


Last month, PornHub released its annual review of the world's sexual quirks. And the world, it turns out, is really into watching other people fuck. In 2015, we as a planet streamed over 4 billion hours of smut on PornHub alone, with the UK ranking second for both overall traffic to the site and page views per capita.

None of that came as a huge surprise. Traditionally, humans have had at least a passing interest in doing sex, and many like to supplement that interest by firing up an incognito window, turning the volume down and watching two strangers – or a number of strangers – do sex to one another.

Less predictable was that the UK's ninth most popular PornHub search term would be "British chav". Climbing 23 spots since 2014, with searches up 312 percent, there's clearly been a surge of interest in adult actresses playing the role of this working class caricature: the Nickelson-wearing, benefits-cheating ASBO recipient who existed more in the minds of sketch show writers than the actual streets of Britain.

Which is odd, because in 2016 the entire concept of a "chav" just seems so dated.

After a short time in the spotlight in the mid-2000s, in which ASDA tried to trademark the word for a range of own-brand sweets, "chav" began to fall out of favour. Commentators and columnists argued that calling someone a chav was tantamount to class abuse; that the word was elitist and patronising; that it wrongfully stereotyped all working class people as feckless and entitled.

The average person might not have thought the word to be as charged as that. Teenage Slipknot fans, for instance, used it interchangeably with "townie" or "ned" to describe the kids who wore non-grunger clothes and took the piss out of them for their black nail polish and dragon necklaces, not as a mass indictment of the British working class.

However, considering 70 percent of TV professionals at the time believed Vicky Pollard – Little Britain's dystopian "chav" character – to be representative of white working class youth, it's clear the term had become a problem. For politicians and those shaping the media to still be using the word represented a uniquely detached strain of snobbery, a semantic subjugation of millions of working class people.

By 2012 – a year after the publication of Owen Jones' critically-acclaimed Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class – the word "chav" was one you'd rarely read or hear outside of polemics in the Mail or from the mouth of a culturally detached chat show guest.

So why, all these years later, is the word "chav" at the forefront of so many British masturbators' minds?

"The chav girl is not someone to take home to meet the family – she's a throwaway fuck," says Chloe Davis, a UK-based porn actress, fetish model and dominatrix. "They're prime fodder for the the middle-aged man who fancies a bit of rough with a lady of easy virtue."

The "bit of rough" explanation: problematic – in that fetishising an already problematic stereotype probably isn't the most positive reflection of men in the UK – but also not all that shocking.

A member of the upper class being attracted to someone from a lower class is a classic trope in British popular culture, from clandestine courtships in 18th century literature all the way up to Lady Sybil getting off with Branson in Downton Abbey. A survey in 2011 found that 71 percent of Brits define themselves as middle class. That "bit of rough" fantasy is all about Britain's complicated relationship with class, so if it's as common among real people as it is among fictional characters – and it almost certainly is – that's a massive amount of middle class people for whom the "bit of rough" would be a working class person. If one of those middle class people wanted a visual aid for their fantasising, what might they search for on a porn website? My guess: a word established in popular culture to sum up a load of imagined cliches about working class people.

Dr Laurie Betito, psychologist and sex therapist, takes the theory one step further, alluding to the role class can play in some viewers' taste in porn.

"I think chav porn appeals to the basest of instincts, in the sense that it is raw sexuality. There is an element of disrespect – even abuse – in it. The guys view the women in this genre as so 'low class' that they are not deserving of any respect or even pleasantries," she says, bringing to mind the depressingly giant market for "humiliation porn", which is exactly what it sounds like. "We often see the man ordering the woman around," she continues, "telling her what he wants her to do next and frequently referring to her in derogatory terms."

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There is, of course, another big issue with these so-called "chav porn" videos: the fact that many of the women in them aren't actually dressed to look anything like the stereotypical image of a "chav".

For gay guys into the scally gear fetish – the closest equivalent to all this in the gay scene: erotic gratification derived from having sex or wanking in full tracksuits – it's all about the clothes. In an interview with VICE, one scally gear fetishist said, "If I'm having sex, it's full gear. I wouldn't even pull a tracksuit down to the knees." In "chav porn", bar the odd person inexplicably wearing a Burberry cap and nothing else, the stars of the videos are just normal British women with no clothes on.

So is it that viewers in the UK just want to see something a little more familiar than what American porn studios offer up? Has "chav" become an SEO-friendly byword for the clunkier "literally just show me a normal-looking British person having sex"?

"Trends are shifting away from the plastic porn look to real people we recognise from our own lives," says Masie Dee, a porn actress who's well versed in this world, having modelled for "chav porn" shoots in the past. "From an industry perspective, what UK porn does best above all other countries is everyday, natural porn. We shoot all ages, all body types – it is a very inclusive space."

The psychology is simple: if the people in the porn look similar to the people the viewer sees on a day-to-day basis, it's far easier for them to mentally insert themselves into the scene – something you'd imagine is pretty desirable, given the enormous selection of POV videos on every single online porn site.

"I think what chav porn represents is the sort of council estate, girl next door kind of thing," says William Batchelor, PR for the TV network Television X. "People in the UK are drawn to it because you don't see that in any other country."

In 2015, Television X released Chav Life, a five-part series that, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a strong "chavvy" vibe. The company is also responsible for a number of other chav-themed titles, including Chavving It By the Sea (2012) and Council Estate Skanks (2013).

However, the focus isn't on "chavs", says Batchelor, but on Britain.

"Our content is made for a British audience by British performers in British situations," he says.

But with the "chav" stereotype mostly disappearing from the British cultural landscape, do "British situations" really still cover the "chav" thing? Are you saying the concept of "chav" is somehow integral to the UK?

"Yeah, but not in a degrading way," says Batchelor. "We want to be the best at British, and I think we couldn't have that without having any chav.'"

All of that might go some way to explaining both the proliferation of "chav porn" videos and their general popularity with viewers. But what's behind this sudden and huge rise in people searching for it?

Imogen Tyler, Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, draws an interesting parallel between "chav porn" and the rise over the past few years of "poverty porn", a term referring to the media exploitation of people living on benefits – Channel 4's Benefits Street and Channel 5's On Benefits and Proud being two notable examples.

For Tyler, the depiction of a very specific type of working class person offered up in shows like this invites a mix of shock and fascination, and the viewer ends up both enthralled and outraged by the subjects of the show. This blend of emotions can play on the viewer's mind and supposedly spark a sort of fetishisation of the people they're watching – in this particular case, those hand plucked to represent some of the cliches typically attributed to the "chav" stereotype.

"If we think about pornography historically and socially," says Tyler, "we see that it usually represents taboo desires and fascinations. So these porn search terms reveal something about the fantasy life of our nation and about the constraints – social, political, economic – under which we live."

While it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest this interest in "chav porn" is all down to the rise of poverty porn, you can see the link if you look for it. Benefits Street, the show that sparked the poverty porn debate, first aired in January of 2014. By the end of the following year there had been a 312 percent rise in people taking to PornHub to search for "chav porn".

In the end, of course, all you can really do is speculate. The above might broadly explain this sudden fascination with "chav porn", but every individual's sexual idiosyncrasies stem from a whole number of personal triggers. And without climbing into the brain of each and every British person to have bashed "British chav" into the PornHub search bar in the past couple of years, I suppose we'll never know why exactly thousands of people have become so enamoured with this relic of British pop culture.

@alicetcherno

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