What’s Wrong with Porn?

Last night my partner and I came home, got cozy, and settled in with our toys and our lube to watch some porn together. Sounds hot, right?

It’s a fairly normal occurrence for us; we both like to watch it, and when we watch it together we like to mutually masturbate or have intercourse with each other once something gets us going. And most of the time it’s fun and it’s exciting, and oh yeah, it’s plenty hot. But last night we ran into something that in the past has been fairly easy to navigate around: the fact that, lamentably, most porn just flat-out sucks.

It didn’t ruin our night, but afterwards we got to talking about why that is and we arrived at a number of things that I think are worth sharing here:

We started off talking about how we felt like most porn isn’t made with us in mind, that it seems to cater (and really, to pander) to those without much sexual experience or sophistication, who don’t know, for example, that touching someone’s knee isn’t likely to evoke a heavy, gasping moan, or who can’t tell when two women aren’t actually all that thrilled about having sex with each other. It also, consistent with its reputation, either goes right into the deep end or it belabors itself with aimless buildup for buildup’s sake that doesn’t resemble real foreplay in any significant way. Put simply, most of the time it doesn’t feel like watching real sexual people having a real sexual experience, it feels like watching porn people do the porn thing.

And unfortunately, there’s more wrong with that than just my partner and I not being able to get off to that sort of thing. It also lies about sex to those people who don’t know any better, and it confuses real sex for those who are just starting out. Because after all, it’s not like we live in a world where porn exists in a common, relatable context that we all understand, and that’s one of the things that promotes such poor quality as well.

Porn is far enough outside of the mainstream that there’s no culture that holds producers accountable. They get away with churning out flat, half-assed, insincere content because they know no one is talking at all, let alone critically, about their work. They know it’s a ‘get in, get off, get out’ mentality, and mediocrity thrives in that climate.

We turn our response to flavor into cuisine, our response to noise into music, our need to be clothed into fashion, our love for narrative into stories and films, but while almost every other one of our natural instincts has been developed into a rich, complex, familiar world, full of character and criticism and humanity, our sexuality has been so repressed that it’s prevented us from treating its exploration and indulgence with the same respect.

So there isn’t a culture of appreciation for porn, but the other problem is that there isn’t a culture of creation for it either. What so many pieces exhibit is an obvious lack of discipline, and it’s hard to imagine an actor or director being interviewed thoughtfully about their method or their philosophy. It’s hard to imagine some pornstar equivalent of Inside the Actor’s Studio, or art school, or a master class. It’s hard to even imagine them rehearsing. There’s a congratulatory body that gives out awards, yes, but is there any equivalent of the AFI or BFI’s 100 Best Films lists? Or 1,001 Pornos You Must See Before You Die? Is there anything that would even start making the list and truly deserve a place there?

I’ve written before about the artificial distinction we make between art and porn, and about our willingness to settle for such substandard fare, but what’s salient about that to me is that nothing and no one enforces the current state of things; there’s no mandate in any form saying it must be this way.

Call me crazy, but I see the potential for a bright and glorious future for the pornographic form, and I’ve said before that I believe that the only way for that future to become a reality is for our attitudes and our level of esteem towards it to change. The only way we’ll have great porn that both shows us and validates us as human beings is for us to start treating it as an extension of our humanity. But the point is that that’s true for all of those it involves, from its creators to its audience to all of those who care one way or the other.

Failing that, we’ll be stuck not only with this hollow, inauthentic drivel, but also everything that it feeds back to our society. We’ll continue to have men, both young and old, to whom sex is something between a foreign language and garbled gibberish. We’ll continue having women who have to deal with those men, romantically or otherwise. And we’ll continue not being able to talk about sex because the image we promote shows something no one in their right minds would ever admit to participating in.

Erotic stimulation deserves a much fairer shake than we give it, and we deserve an awful lot more from it in return. For too long we’ve perpetuated an arms race between its denigration and its misrepresentation, and it’s time for both of those things to stop.

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