Collage illustration of a man's bare legs behind a nuclear explosion.
Collage by Hunter French / Images via Getty

Apocalypse Porn Shows Why People Are Horny for the End of the World

Apocalypse porn and world-ending sex fantasies have a decades-long history that illuminates how we cope with desire in crisis.
June 26, 2020, 3:24pm
RULE34_FRANCHISE_LOGO_050720
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.

In the middle of a months-long global pandemic, economic collapse, climate calamity, and civil unrest unlike anything we've seen in a lifetime, the world—or at least the world as we knew it—feels a little like it's coming to an end.

And people say they're horny for it.

Like giggling at a funeral, getting boned up during the apocalypse feels taboo but ultimately, uncontrollable. Much has been written about how the COVID-19 lockdown has fucked with our sex lives: under forced cohabitation or isolation, we've all gotten a little screwy.

But there's a long tradition of being turned on by the end of the world in porn. As scholars and sex therapists I talked to assured me; and even when we're faced with the apocalypse, feeling these things is as human as it gets.

A Brief History of Apocalypse Porn

Defining "apocalypse porn" is tricky. There's disaster porn, a colloquial term for gawking at ruin, which is something altogether different from what we're discussing here.

There are true apocalypse adult films, like the 2007 film Crescendo 2012, where the premise is that people fuck like there's no tomorrow, because there won't be. Outside of porn, these scenarios are everywhere in pop culture. Britney Spears' video for "Till the World Ends," for example, while not pornographic, falls into this category of world-ending orgy fantasy. So does Prince's "1999." Melancholia, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Armageddon, Last Night—the list of world-ending movies with a sex or romance plot goes on.

Searching "apocalypse" and "end of the world" on porn tube sites like Pornhub or Xvideos returns mixed results. It's mostly riff on the retro Mad Max_-style post-apocalyptic style, like Apocalypse X or a parody of _[Bird Box](https://www.xvideos.com/video44185677/trickery-kali_roses_gets_fucked_during_birdbox_challenge). Compared to results for, say, cock and ball torture or selfsuck, which have hundreds of video results, apocalypse porn doesn't seem to be as popular or prolific. But what is out there is usually more plot-driven and carefully produced.

Apocalypse sex can happen at the end of the world, or just the end of this world. Coronavirus porn could probably fall under the category of apocalypse porn, since so much of it leans into a dystopian horror flick theme. Then there's post-apocalyptic porn like the 1987 film The Load Warrior, a parody of the second Mad Max film_, The Road Warrior_. In Load Warrior, men are cows to be milked for the world's most scarce and precious commodity: semen.

In the 1981 Satisfiers of Alpha Blue, people in the far-off future travel to a planet of erotic pleasure to get their needs fulfilled by computers that fuck them perfectly. Of course, one of the characters wrestles with questions of connection, love, and romance versus the cold perfection of artificially-intelligent fuckbots—themes reflected in mainstream pop culture today, with more recent films like Her and Ex Machina still asking the same questions of humanness and sexual connection.

It's not the end of humanity, but the teetering, collapse, and rebuilding of society, that still resonates today.

Within the category of post-apocalyptic porno flicks, the 1982 avant-garde Café Flesh is a favorite of Laura Helen Marks, porn scholar and professor of English at Tulane University. It's set in a post-nuclear apocalyptic future where almost everyone gets violently ill if they have sex, and those who don't are put on stage to perform live porn theatre for the rest.

Marks told me that she sees two divergent approaches to apocalypse porn: lawlessness or breakdown in social structure, and the case of a completely authoritarian world that spawns outcasts and rebels.

"In the former case, there is a good deal of desperation, barter, and primitive economies, which can provide a certain level of danger and excitement—a sense of 'who gives a fuck,'" Marks said. "In the latter case, the films offer a contrasting sense of being controlled or restricted, which similarly augments sexual fantasy though in the opposite direction—toward strict regimes and containment."

Both approaches play around with erotic fantasies of gender, race, and class divides, where identities and power dynamics are either dialed to caricature levels or rendered meaningless.

"We get to indulge in fantasies of subversion of traditional hierarchy, or hyperbolic renderings of those hierarchies," Marks said.

As the whole world struggles to define its "new normal," and we're attending orgies over Zoom and inviting the virtual world into our sex lives more than ever—combined with the uniquely 2020 phenomenon of widespread "skin hunger"—it's no wonder some among us are little horny all the time.

Why We're Drawn to World-Ending Porn

Here in real life, sex at the edge of global collapse is a little more complicated than Prince or Britney made it seem. And the overarching impression that everyone is so horny right now—whether we're getting that from Twitter jokes or all the personal essays floating around on the topic—might not be the whole story of what people are actually experiencing.

"People are definitely being impacted by the state of the world at the moment—all of the uncertainty and unrest can be really hard to cope with," Kristen Mark, director of the sexual health promotion lab at the University of Kentucky, told me. "We’ve noticed in our data that sex lives are, for the most part, being negatively impacted in terms of frequency. But for those who are remaining sexually active, they tend to be more open to trying more adventurous sexual acts. This might be offering distraction from the world around them, something that makes them feel good, the novelty can be helpful."

"Some people cope by seeking out pleasure, intimacy, and connection as a distraction from their anxiety, whereas others experience a loss of libido when overwhelmed with anxiety"

Part of that might be biological. NYC-based psychotherapist and sex therapist Dulcinea Pitagora told me that when people are under higher amounts of stress—say, from a bombardment of tragedy in the news every day, unemployment, or lack of intimacy from lockdown—their brains and bodies look for all possible sources of oxytocin and dopamine.

"People tend to be more susceptible to the phenomenon of falling in love when under intensified stress due to a change in brain and body chemistry, such as heightened cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline," they said. "So there’s something happening at the chemical level during natural disasters, but there are also psychosocial factors that go along with the realization that so many people are dying in addition to having to avoid spending as much time with people as we would like. The associated fear within a context of constraint leads many to experience a spike in desire as a coping mechanism."

Pitagora said in their practice, they've seen a couple trends lately. "A benefit of the current heightened unrest is that some people are gaining a heightened awareness of their privilege," they said. "As a result, one thing that’s happening with people in relationships is they are discovering differences in privilege between partners, or in their awareness of or values around their privilege, leading to conflicts and sometimes break ups."

Another thing Pitagora has seen seen is increased and decreased frequency of sex and desire, depending on how the person copes with anxiety. "Some people cope by seeking out pleasure, intimacy, and connection as a distraction from their anxiety, whereas others experience a loss of libido when overwhelmed with anxiety," they said.

Whatever you feel here at the apparent end of the current state of things is probably fine and healthy, sex-wise. "Sexual desire is driven by so many factors. It could be stress, anxiety, exhaustion, uncertainty, relationship context, societal pressure, so just take it as it comes," Mark said. "Sex drive is normal and sex drive fluctuations are a natural part of the experience of desire."

In the process of working out why we feel what we feel right now, perhaps apocalyptic stories and pornography can bring some clarity—or at least some distraction, since we're all inside anyway. Porn can be a mirror for society, even if they're 80's disaster skin flicks. Asking how sex fits into the future can illuminate our desires and values in the present.

"Porn has proven to be an interesting site for such ideas because on the one hand, of course porn is going to grapple with a scenario that relates to sex, but on the other hand most visions of sex in the future are sterile, lacking in intimacy, or couched in some kind of outlaw economy," Marks said. "These kinds of conflicted porn movies are the ones I find particularly interesting, though, and they can sometimes generate an unexpected and surprising level of eroticism, even when simultaneously bleak."