Among the complaints I repeatedly hear about porn is that it features perfect female bodies, which supposedly makes male consumers lose interest in normal, imperfect bodies. Normal imperfect bodies, of course, are what most men are limited to in real life.
People who watch a lot of porn don’t say this. Only those unfamiliar with actual porn say it, because it simply isn’t true.
Sure, many porn consumers seek out and enjoy conventionally perfect bodies—young, blemish- and wrinkle-free, incredibly round where they’re round, as smooth and firm as polished teak where they’re smooth and firm.
But an enormous percentage of internet porn features adult bodies different from that altogether. If you don’t watch porn you wouldn’t know this. But if you watch adult porn, you know what’s out there, including:
~ Amateur porn: Porn posted by non-professionals, usually made in their homes or hotel rooms. These men and women look like you and me—unless, of course, you look like Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson.
Amateur porn not only features the non-gorgeous, it sometimes features the downright average-looking. And that’s what consumers of amateur porn want—regular people looking regular, doing really hot things. It’s the genuine enthusiasm that the consumer loves, combined with the idea that the film could have been made by neighbors just down the street. Now if only we could get those neighbors to vacuum the living room before making their next video.
~ Non-silicone, often non-perky: Critics who claim that every porn actress is puffed up with silicone are full of, um, hot air. While the eerily perfect silicone look has lots of fans, so does the natural look.
And so many of the top models feature exactly what they developed on their own, glorious imperfections and all. And some have less than they were born with—whether they’re called hangers, droopers, suckers, or saggers, there’s an audience for breasts that are definitely not youthfully perky. What a great country—whatever breast type you like (even flat-chested), there’s porn made exactly for you.
~ Fetish: While many porn sites feature videos for the mainstream, others cater to niche markets. Fetish sites aren’t for everyone, but one by one they feature everything you can imagine, and plenty you don’t: women on their periods, women who don’t shave their legs, women with giant clitorises, women with bald heads, women amputees, women who are lactating, women wearing diapers, women a little overweight, a lot overweight, and so overweight they have trouble navigating a doorway.
No Emma Watson look-alikes need apply here.
Why do some consumers like to wank to pictures of pregnant women or women finger-painting with their menstrual blood? People who enjoy it answer exactly the same as everyone else describing their favorite visual arousal: “I dunno, it just works for me.” That’s the same answer you give when asked why you prefer the flavor of ice cream that you do, right?
~ Old: There’s mommy porn, granny porn, grandpa porn, in-law porn, mature porn. That’s a lot of gray hair.
Some crusaders say that watching videos of old people being sexual is even more disgusting than watching “normal” (albeit objectionable) porn. But these days we all believe it’s OK for older people to be sexual, right? So how are videos of their sexuality any more perverted than videos of young adults having sex?
The decency critics want to have it both ways—they demonize porn for featuring unrealistically beautiful young actresses, and then they cringe when porn features more normal-looking middle-aged actors and actresses.
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[Reminder: in this piece we’re discussing legal adult porn. Don’t change the subject and talk about illegal child porn, whose viewership is a tiny fraction of the audience for legal adult porn.]
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So what does this all mean?
First, people who don’t know porn should stop talking about what porn shows. For critics who say, “But I don’t want to watch that crap,” fine, don’t watch it—but then you don’t get to be a critic. If you insist on being an ignorant critic, at least preface every third sentence you say with, “Of course, I don’t know what actual porn is like, because I haven’t really seen any.”
Second, people surprised with the real content of porn should ask themselves—if it isn’t just the perfect bodies, what else do people want from porn? Why do they watch stuff that I wouldn’t watch in a million years if I wanted to be aroused?
That’s where things get interesting, because people watch and get excited by an incredibly wide range of sexually explicit material.
Many anti-porn crusaders (and even smart people like the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts) make the mistake of assuming that what arouses people on video indicates what they want to do in real life. But that’s wrong: people watch Matrix or The Terminator and don’t go crashing their cars; people watch RoboCop or Natural Born Killers and don’t go out and kill; heck, people watch Olympic curling and they don’t go out and curl.
So why does our human family love watching images of things they don’t want to do themselves? Consider common video choices: straight men like to watch men fellating men. Inhibited people like to watch orgies. Assertive women like to watch submissive women.
We are a perverse species.
Different people watch porn for different reasons. We shouldn’t be surprised that different people like different kinds of porn, including porn that you or I might find boring, disgusting, stupid, or way too much like our first marriage.
If we thought of porn the way we think of everything else—TV, novels, clothes, kitchen appliances—we would have predicted this. In porn, as in everything else, American consumers have a wide range of choices, and vote with their eyeballs. Every eyeball likes perfect images. Intriguingly, every person with eyeballs imagines perfection differently.
If a decency crusader doesn’t watch porn, and thinks that people engage with porn differently than they engage with everything else in their lives, he or she wouldn’t—couldn’t—imagine this.
And if a decency crusader knows nothing about everyday life, he or she could easily overlook the simple fact that all of us are surrounded by gorgeous bodies—at work, at the grocery store, in the airport, at the gym, on the street—and have to figure out how to stay interested in our imperfectly-bodied mate at home. Porn is the least of that problem, which has existed in the West since the Greeks and Romans.