Everything You Need to Know About Pornography

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The Giant AskMen Guide to XXX Movies

Everything You Need to Know About Pornography

The Giant AskMen Guide to XXX Movies

So what is pornography, exactly, anyway?

“This seems like it should be such a simple question, but it just isn’t,” says Angie Rowntree, director and founder of ethical porn site Sssh.com. “Some filmmakers who make erotic films object to having their work described as porn, but precisely where the line is drawn between ‘art,’ ‘erotica’ and ‘porn’ is probably a very different spot from one viewer to another.”

“A fair amount of controversy still hangs over this definition,” agrees Sarah Valmont, an award-winning freelance writer. “On the surface, porn is defined as a sexually explicit performance — but explicit sex has found its way into many scenes on primetime television and mainstream films, or indie films — and none of the examples I’m thinking of are what come to mind when you say ‘porn.’ As such, it would seem that ‘in practice,’ defining porn on screen becomes about whether genitalia or penetration is visible.”

“A Supreme Court judge once famously said ‘I know it when I see it,’ and that’s both the best and worst definition out there,” says porn scholar Madita Oeming. “On an abstract level, porn is a cultural construct. It’s a category we invented to differentiate between good and bad, to project our fears on. To me, personally, porn is a safe space to explore my fantasies. I believe that’s true for a lot of people.”

You might want to define it as “sexually explicit content created with the intention of arousing and exciting a specific audience,” per Thomas Wood, head of brand communications at TeamSkeet.com and MYLF, or as “a visual stimulus intended to cause sexual arousal that displays or suggests adult human nudity,” per Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist and psychologist at Liberos who studies porn — or even as “any media that makes your bits and pieces buzz,” per Billy Procida, host of The Manwhore Podcast. 

Then you have other aspects of porn — as Valmont says, “porn is a form of expression that utilizes explicit performative sex not only for the purpose of sexually arousing the audience, but also for satire and social commentary.”

“So much of what ‘trends’ in porn, from the ‘lecherous step-families’ to ‘women stuck in appliances’ is basically a carnival mirror held up in front of society,” Valmont says. “Porn is part of a longstanding tradition of not just presenting the audience with wanton taboos, but also subversive subtext.”

It’s not all titillation, though, says Maitland Ward, adult film actress with Deeper.com: “While porn is obviously about sex and entertaining an audience that is looking for gratification in that way, I think it’s really more than that, and it shouldn’t be discredited for ‘just being porn.’” 

“I always reject the stereotypical view that adult films are mindless and a guilty pleasure,” says Ward. “Porn can offer an experience of not only sexual release, but one of human connection, stimulation and eroticism. It can be high quality production, engaging entertainment and something that also gets you off, and I think that’s the best kind of porn. That’s the four-course meal, as opposed to a fast food burger.”

As hopeful as that definition is, it’s not one that’s shared by everyone, unfortunately. As Ben Lawson, founder of Tantra Punk, notes, porn is “constantly on the defensive against persecution, it’s morally and politically controversial, highly regulated, ever-evolving and always fighting to survive within the bounds of free-speech rights.”

A Brief History of Pornography

While people have been depicting nudity and sex for eons, even filmed pornography isn’t a new concept by any means. As Procida notes, “In 1896, Thomas Edison recorded The Kiss.”

“It’s just a sweet kiss between two actors recreating a scene from a stage play,” he says. But “the movie was deemed obscene, as the act of kissing was too intimate to be viewed by the masses. Back before there were stag films, there were dudes jacking off to two people kissing.”

But it’s worth looking at what the past few decades of porn have been like — and how they’ve come to shape porn as it is today. Though this is by no means a complete history, or anything approaching it, it does sketch a brief outline of a changing industry.

Porn in the 1970s

“The 70s were an interesting moment, because porn had just been legalized in the U.S. and went from underground to the public sphere,” says Oeming. “Deep Throat was playing in Times Square theaters and became the most successful porn movie of all time. In this so-called ‘Golden Age of Porn,’ adult movies were feature-length, and contained a lot of humor and dialogue to make the collective watching experience more comfortable.”

The 1970s were also the decade that brought us the “Miller test,” Lawson explains.

“The Miller test is a key part of the ongoing legal strategy to assert that porn should be treated as protected speech,” he says. “The verbiage ‘Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value’ sets a high standard to criminalize the art form under obscenity laws.”

Porn in the 1980s

“The invention of the home video recorder was another tipping point because it took porn watching from the cinema to the private sphere,” says Oeming. “Adult content became much more diverse because it didn’t have to cater to an ‘average’ taste and it centered more directly around the sex scenes. Movies became shorter and the humor elements disappeared.”

The ’80s also featured ongoing legal battles around porn in the U.S., for which the publisher of Penthouse magazine, Larry Flynt, was often a flashpoint.

“Larry Flynt was a porn pioneer whose entire career is an important moment in porn’s history considering his constant battles for First Amendment protection,” says Procida.

As well, says Erika Lust, an award-winning adult filmmaker and producer and creator of The Porn Conversation, the ’80s were huge for female-led porn. Candida Royalle, Fatale Video, and SIR Productions, Lust says, “were the first to show how women could actually enjoy sex by themselves, instead of solely being objects of male desire.”

Porn in the 1990s

“With the popularization and affordability of hand cameras, Gonzo porn — what we today primarily know as POV porn — became a major trend,” Oeming says.

Home video, Ward says, meant “you no longer had to sneak into pussycat theaters or steal a stag film. You could play it at home whenever you wanted and in private.”

“The VHS was pivotal in the adoption of pornography,” Prause agrees. “Many people mis-attribute the increased use of pornography to the Internet, but data is clear that that is absolutely not true. The biggest adoption occurred when people were first able to view in private thanks to the development of the VHS tape.”

Another important porn moment in the ’90s was the 1991 founding of the Free Speech Coalition, “the non-profit trade association that has tirelessly fought many hard-won battles on behalf of the industry,” says Lawson. “If you like porn, you’ll love the Free Speech Coalition, and want to help them in any way you can.”

Porn in the 2000s

“The internet took porn to exponentially higher levels of accessibility,” says Ward. “Adult content was right there at your fingertips on your computer, and eventually available on all your devices.”

“In the early 2000s,” says Lust, “the majority of porn sites were available by paying a subscription. However, as free video sharing platforms such as YouTube paved their way into the internet, the porn industry followed.”

“The emerging tube sites (what we commonly call today “free” or ‘mainstream’ porn),” Lust explains, “recognized the potential for high traffic levels and then exploited this to make money from ad revenue. In 2007, Pornhub was officially launched, and by 2008 it already had its mobile site.”

This, she says, led to massive viewership growth, and the focus of Pornhub (and parent company Mindgeek) on free porn sites as a business model “focused on quantity rather than quality.”

Porn in the 2010s

The tube sites, Oeming says, “killed the business for a lot of smaller studios. People became less and less willing to pay for their porn.”

While smaller porn studios were competition for the tube sites, these free sites got along just fine with another, emerging class of porn producers: amateur creators.

“There has always been homemade porn, of course, but beyond the ease of shooting video on devices like smartphones, the modern distribution channels make self-publication a snap,” says Rowntree.

“There are some problems and challenges associated with the ease of creating and distributing content, of course, but for the most part, I think it’s a very good thing,” she says. “Among other positives, when performers self-produce content, it gives them so much more agency and control, because they’re calling all the shots.”

Near the end of the 2010s, however, the U.S. government passed the SESTA/FOSTA Act, which Procida notes led to crackdowns on all kinds of “’adult content’ under the guise of stopping sex trafficking,” making it “harder and more dangerous for sex workers to work.”

Porn in the 2020s

“In recent years, platforms like OnlyFans have turned the whole studio system upside down,” Oeming says. “Most porn performers are independent content creators now.”

That’s part of a trend, Lawson believes, that’s decades old. “It’s worth noting that over the arc of history of modern porn, thanks to consumer technology advancements, it has trended towards decentralization of production, more empowerment of performers, and less financial and sexual exploitation by directors, talent agencies, studios, distributors, etc. (despite the consolidation of ‘tube sites’),” he says.

This has dovetailed with a trend, says Candice Horbacz, who performs in the adult industry as Eva Lovia, towards connection between fans and performers: “[Consumers are] looking for more than just steamy content — they want to get to know the performer behind the screen, by chatting, getting custom videos, and watching their non-adult content.”

Platforms like OnlyFans aren’t popular by accident, however — their rise is likely driven in part by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Procida. 

 “The pandemic put billions of people into financially precarious situations,” says Procida. “And for the history of civilization, sex work has been seen as a last resort for survival.”

As for the technological aspect, the 2020s have brought us virtual reality porn — though it remains to be seen how popular that will get — as well as sex toys that can sync up with videos.

Exploring Different Types of Pornography

There’s a concept online called Rule 34 — roughly, “if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it.” It’s not always accurate, but it’s a good rule of thumb, because there’s an untold amount of porn and erotica out there and it often takes on subjects you wouldn’t have guessed at. 

As such, there are more different types and genres and subgenres of porn than could possibly be listed in one article, but here are some popular ones, in no particular order: 

Story-driven porn

One of the most common kinds of porn is porn with a plot, where the sex features as part of a storyline — one of the characters might seduce the other one, for example. Porn actress Cindy Starfall notes that certain popular porn plots, featuring stock characters like “plumber, girl next door, and pool boy” are quite common in this kind of porn. 

Gonzo porn

On the other hand, gonzo porn typically has no storyline, says Starfall. This kind of porn is all about the attractiveness of the performers, she explains. After a stripping scene, then it’s “straight to the action.” Historically, gonzo porn used handheld cameras that gave the shot an intimate focus, but today, plot-less porn doesn’t necessarily hew to this ideal. 

Parody porn

Rather than re-use the same old porn story, why not porn-ify an existing story? That’s the concept behind porn parodies, which porn director Ivan, CEO for Alt Erotic, says have been popular in recent years. 

Parody porn “takes the story line of a regular mainstream movie, [often] superhero movies, and add a sexual, humorous twist into it,” says Starfall. 

Animated porn

“Hentai porn is becoming more and more popular worldwide, which opens up an endless possibility of contents and may potentially bring interesting changes to the industry,” says Oeming. “It has also started complex conversations about consent and boundaries between animated people and tentacles.” 

Bondage porn

Bondage porn is all about exploring the BDSM lifestyle. “Think 50 Shades of Grey,” says Starfall. “It often shows a very submissive [performer] who takes pleasure in pain, such as being tied up.” 

Femdom porn

“Femdom is a type of porn that empowers women,” says Starfall. While much of hetero porn features a dominant man and a submissive woman, femdom flips the script. Here, the woman “is able to control a man, make him do what she wants, worship her beauty, even dominate him financially.”

Free use porn 

“One growing trend we see that is here to stay is free use,” says Wood. It’s “a genre ruled by one simple rule: ‘universal consent,’” he says, where the participants depicted can start having sex with anyone at any time without navigating the other person’s desires or boundaries. Some porn producers imply these videos are set in an ‘alternate universe’ where everyone consents to sex at all times. 

Fauxcest porn

“A major porn trend in the past decade has been incest, or rather fauxcest, porn,” says Oeming. “Stepmom or stepsister have become wildly popular search terms.”

“I think that is a useful example to understand the difference between what we enjoy watching in porn and what we actually want to experience,” she adds. “I doubt that all the millions of people watching this genre every day actually want to fuck a family member. It’s about the transgression, the taboo.”

Vanilla porn

“By far the most common type of pornography still viewed by men and women depicts one man and one woman engaged in consensual vaginal intercourse,” says Prause. “This is also the type of pornography we show participants in the laboratory, and it still causes sexual arousal (including full erections) even in men who are very experienced with pornography.”

Kinky porn

“There is are data, both neuroscientific and self-report, showing a significant overlap of pain and sexual arousal,” says Prause. 

“Many men and women enjoy the portrayal of consensual aggression, while both men and women do not enjoy non-consensual aggression, in pornography,” she adds. “Thus, genres that include consensual ‘aggression’ like spanking, slapping, and hair pulling, are popular and likely to remain popular for most viewers.”

Educational porn

“I think it would be great if there was content that was geared towards education,” says Horbacz. “Realistic sex with story lines that taught the viewer things like reading body language, consent, safe sex, the importance of giving pleasure not only taking it. Just more healthy sex.”

Thankfully, such a genre is beginning to form, thanks to Afterglow’s “Eduporn” series. 

Ethical porn

“In my opinion, the most important genre is “ethical” porn,” says Lawson — what Lust calls “porn that promotes gender equality, intimacy, diversity, affirmative consent, safety, pleasure, and sexual freedom and exploration.”

Within the framework of ethical porn, Lawson says, “you can explore infinite sub-genres while feeling relatively confident that frameworks of consent, fair compensation, thoughtful representation, etc. are in place.” 

The Pros and Cons of Porn

“Porn can be used positively or negatively, as can anything else — it all depends on the perspective with which the films are made,” says Lust. “I don’t think it’s porn’s responsibility to educate, but yes it can have the power to inspire a joyous mindset on sex and relationships if we are willing to bring it to the porn we create and choose to watch.”

“The thing is, society doesn’t like to talk about porn,” Lust says. “Whether we think it is a good or bad thing, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. So rather than promoting a ‘pro-porn’ or ‘anti-porn’ attitude, I feel it’s more urgent for people to talk about it, and analyze it.”

“We have to criticize [porn] openly, just as we criticize other parts of society,” she adds. “We need to confront pornography and take responsibility for it, instead of trying to brush it under the carpet and equip ourselves with the tools we need to think critically about it.”

With that in mind, what are some positive and negative aspects of porn? 

Positive Aspects of Porn

It Can Normalize Sex for Pleasure

“Porn can normalize sex, and importantly sex for pleasure,” says Horbacz. 

In a society where sex is often seen as a deeply taboo concept, this is no small thing. Being able to see performers engaging in all kinds of different sex acts with no regard for conservative or traditional morality can help destigmatize your own desires in a big way. 

It Can Normalize the Sexiness of Diverse Body Types

“Modern pornography represents a wide variety of body types, so has become associated with a more positive body image,” says Prause, noting that the reverse was true roughly 30 years ago. 

This kind of diversity, Horbacz says, “can really normalize and build confidence in one’s body.”

It Can Be an Escape

One of the biggest pros of porn, according to Ivan, is a sense of “escape and stress relief for that individual.

“It creates an escape for consumers,” Starfall agrees. “You just had a hectic day and you just want a release without needing to go on a date. I love watching porn as well when I want to relax.”

It Can Help You Experience Physical Pleasure

“Porn is known for leading people to have orgasms,” says Rowntree, “and regular orgasms have various documented benefits such as: reduced stress, improved immunity, pain reduction (including period cramp relief), stronger pelvic floor muscles, better sleep, and so forth. Win win, right?”

It Can Be a Fun Experience With a Partner

“You can use porn to explore fantasies (both solo and partnered) and create more of a dialogue that otherwise might not come up in regular conversations — i.e ‘would you like to try that?’ or ‘that looks interesting,’” says Rowntree. 

“It can give you new ideas to try in the bedroom,” she adds. “It can also lead to exploring each other’s bodies and can increase your overall satisfaction. Porn can definitely inspire some hot nights and put you in the mood, giving your sex life a new spark.”

It Can Represent a Step on Your Sexual Journey

“Well informed, mental health conscious consumers of porn can, in moderation, benefit from exploring a vast array of visual pleasures,” says Lawson. “Whether this serves simply as ‘masturbation fodder’ or catalyzes the building of confidence and prowess to bring fantasies to life with consenting adult partners, it’s a net benefit to society.”

Negative Aspects of Porn

It Can Lead to Overconsumption

“While the science of porn addiction is hotly debated, anything in excess can become harmful, so I’m willing to fully acknowledge that porn can be abused,” says Lawson. “The good news is, there are a lot of sexual health and wellness educators and therapists who are trained to help porn consumers change their habits if they feel their porn use has become problematic for any reason.”

It Can Be Easily Accessed by Minors

Today, porn is “way too accessible for minors,” Horbacz says. “Without context, it is very easy for them to get the wrong idea of what sex is and should be. Again, porn is adult entertainment.”

“Currently the dilemma of finding the perfect balance of privacy and security on the internet has made universal standards of website visitor age-verification difficult across jurisdictions,” says Lawson.

“Thankfully, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) has created the ‘Restricted to Adults’ tag,” he notes, which might allow adult website owners to enable better parental filtering.

It Can Create Misinformation for Viewers

In part because of a lack of comprehensive sex education elsewhere, porn often serves as a de facto sex ed for young people who don’t yet know the difference between porn and real sex.

“Youth rarely receive instruction about pornography and cannot distinguish what information is accurate (e.g., most women like to have their clitoris stimulated) and inaccurate (e.g., most women like to be slapped in the face without warning during sex),” says Prause.

It Can Reinforce Problematic Views of Women

“While I think critics of porn tend to overstate its influence on the mindset and behavior of those who watch it, there is certainly porn out there that encourages a negative view of women, or that reinforces terrible stereotypes, or that is otherwise problematic,” says Rowntree, though she notes porn is hardly the only type of media to struggle with this issue.

It Can Lead People to Try to Replicate Behavior Offscreen

One con is “People believing what they see on camera is all real,” says Ivan. “These people can’t separate fantasy from reality and try to implement these techniques with their partner which can be dangerous. Most people don’t understand the prep that goes into an anal scene, so when they do it at home, it literally can be a shit show.”

It Can Create Unrealistic Ideals

“For some people, porn, just like social media, can create a lot of pressure to live up to the images on the screen, be it in terms of body ideals or performance,” says Oeming.

“Those who use porn to learn how to have sex may walk away with warped ideas — of how effortless anal sex is for example. That’s not a shortcoming of porn, though, but of an educational system that fails to provide the necessary inclusive knowledge about pleasure and consent.”

Porn Sites to Check Out

Of course, there’s no one definition of what the “best” porn is — as Prause points out, “the best porn is that which you feel sexually aroused viewing.” As such, she notes, it’ll depend on your tastes (and, if you’re not watching it alone, on anyone you’re watching said porn with).

“I recommend that people explore the genres that interest them the most and discover for themselves which creators and studios work they like the best,” says Rowntree. “While porn is much easier to access these days than it used to be and a more acceptable topic for discussion, the question of what you like remains a deeply, fundamentally personal question. In my view, it’s something to be discovered, rather than simply declared.”

So in the name of discovery, AskMen asked the people interviewed for this article for recommendations. Here’s what they had to say: 

Lust recommends Shine Louise Houston’s Pink & White Productions, as well as “Paulita Pappel and her Lustery and Hardwerk, Joybear, and the work of Casey Calvert, Sally Fenaux Barleycorn, Bruce LaBruce, Sylvia Borges, and Lis Freimer among many others.”

“If you’re a straight cis man and think you’re amazing in bed, you should pay for a Crash Pad Series membership so you can see how women actually get off,” Procida says. “Queer porn and female-led porn is maybe the closest to realistic, even when it’s being a fantasy.”

“I also have loved my membership to HotMovies.com, for the vast library of anything you can imagine,” Procida adds. Oeming, for her part, recommends PinkLabel TV for queer porn, Kink.com for “kinky rough fun,” and OnlyFans “for whatever you like!” 

“I definitely lean towards brands and creators with an artistic, narrative edge to their erotic content,” says Valmont. She recommends sites like Penthouse, MissaX, and Hegre.

Perhaps most importantly, says Rowntree, “Once you’ve figured out whose work you like the best, pay for the porn they make. That’s the best way to support and encourage your favorite creators. Shooting porn isn’t a volunteer gig, after all.”

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Source: AskMen


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