SEX RE­PORT

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ’EM, JOIN ’EM: SO­CIAL ME­DIA ARE CRE­AT­ING A BRAND-NEW WAY TO BE A PORN STAR

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - WORDS ANNA HARTFORD

So­cial me­dia: per­fect for porn?

‘tHIS IS NOT IN­STA­GRAM. IT’S PORN,’ a caps-lock mes­sage reads on the home­page of Porn­sta­gram. A dis­claimer blocks your il­licit view: are you over 18? (The same dis­claimer ap­plies to read­ing fur­ther here: this piece is about pornog­ra­phy, and it’s ex­plicit.) Agree­ing with one click, you are quickly pre­sented with a mil­lion dicks. Lady that I am, I’m not sure I have the vo­cab­u­lary nec­es­sary to de­scribe ev­ery­thing I then saw. Safe to say there were more iced buns and cream pies than a con­fec­tionery fac­tory, more bell-ends than a Christ­mas pa­rade, and more back doors than all of Broad­way.The glam­orous ladies of MC car­ried on their busi­ness around me, while I leaned covertly over my com­puter, watch­ing gy­rat­ing GIFs and per­pet­ual loops of pen­e­tra­tion up­loaded by (gen­er­ous?) strangers the world over. I can’t help wor­ry­ing what the IT guy thinks on days like this.

Porn­sta­gram joins a new gen­er­a­tion of porn-cen­tred so­cial me­dia spin-offs: among many oth­ers there’s Flucker, Pin­sex and F***book. The lay­out and fea­tures of these sites are sim­i­lar to their in­ex­plicit pre­de­ces­sors: you can Friend on F***book,Fol­low on Pin­sex, and ap­ply all the nifty fil­ters on Porn­sta­gram (why not see whether dou­ble pen­e­tra­tion looks mood­ier in Low-Fi?). Tra­di­tional so­cial me­dia sites are also be­ing in­creas­ingly used to upload and share porn, even when it’s tech­ni­cally pro­hib­ited.

By now it’s well doc­u­mented that when­ever an in­no­va­tion arises, the first off-la­bel use we put it to is sex. Tech­nol­ogy is quickly trans­formed to the hard­core: if you build it, they will cum. This ‘Pornog­ra­phy Prob­lem’ was ap­par­ent to the founders of to­day’s mega so­cial me­dia sites: Face­book, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and YouTube. Hence the ‘Terms and Con­di­tions’ that try and guard against ex­plicit ma­te­rial, and the abil­ity to ‘re­port’ user con­tent in what is in­evitably a los­ing bat­tle to con­trol the de­cency of con­tent. Face­book and In­sta­gram both ban nu­dity, while other sites try to un­der­mine ef­forts to find and share ob­scene ma­te­rial – re­mov­ing search re­sults for

terms like #NSFW, #sex, #porn. Of course, it’s al­ways pos­si­ble to come up with clan­des­tine search terms (#pu55y, for in­stance) to cir­cum­vent these ef­forts, es­pe­cially on less reg­u­lated ser­vices like Tum­blr or Vine (which shares ‘mi­cro-videos’). ‘When pow­er­ful com­pa­nies do their best to block a lot of porn, in my opin­ion, they’re invit­ing their users to find an­other place to share it,’ Chris­tian Thorn, the founder of Pin­sex (for ‘your daily dose of sex­pi­ra­tion’), told Sa­lon. In de­vel­op­ing the site, Thorn wanted to steer away from the usual seedy con­no­ta­tions of a porn in­ter­face. ‘We don’t wanna make it look like a typ­i­cal porn site … we tried to make it softer, easy, sim­ple.’

The in­ter­net has over­hauled count­less in­dus­tries, and porn is chief among them. Porn used to be an ex­pen­sive habit and a prof­itable busi­ness. You’d have to go out to a spe­cialised porn cin­ema (if such things were le­gal) ,or buy ex­pen­sive porn mag­a­zines or videos and later DVDs from Adult World.The first chal­lenge to the porn in­dus­try came with copy­right vi­o­la­tion. YouPorn or Porn Tube dis­trib­uted pro­fes­sional porn films eas­ily and for free – and they cut straight to the cru­cial ac­tion. With less sales rev­enue, the tra­di­tional porn in­dus­try be­came de­cid­edly less lu­cra­tive for all in­volved. Though the in­ter­net also pro­vided a few al­ter­na­tive ways to make a liv­ing through sex: people pay for live we­b­cam or ‘cam­ming’ ses­sions, and there’s a tip­ping prac­tice on Chatur­bate (prob­a­bly less ‘chat’ and more ‘ur­bate’). In fact, as fees for porn stars con­tinue their de­cline, some per­form­ers are tak­ing their ca­reers into their own hands on­line. ‘The same com­pany that used to pay my rate is now try­ing to get me to do a scene for US$600 (about R6 000),’ porn star Court­ney Cummz com­plained to The Daily Beast. ‘I’m like “Have you lost your mind?” I can sit at home and do cam shows for five hours or so, and make that much money and not have to have sex with this guy who’s a $200 (about R2 000) per­former.’

The copy­right bat­tle was fought and largely lost for pro­fes­sional porn, but the next bat­tle might be even more lethal. How can you charge for some­thing that so many people are happy to give away for free? The fas­ci­nat­ing thing about so­cial porn is pre­cisely that it isn’t mon­e­tised, nor is it pro­fes­sional. More and more porn is be­ing made and dis­trib­uted not by the porn in­dus­try, but by any per­son with gen­i­tals and a smart­phone, shar­ing footage of their bod­ies and sex lives the same way they’d share footage of their meals and hol­i­days (with the cru­cial dif­fer­ence that most so­cial porn users op­er­ate with pseudonyms). For­get food porn and life­style porn: this is porn porn.

The cru­cial ques­tion re­mains: if not for money, why would people want to do this? In some re­spects, given the gen­eral tra­jec­tory of things, it feels some­what in­evitable.The in­ter­net has a Pa­cific Ocean of sex and an At­lantic Ocean of so­cial net­work­ing: some­where the two vast oceans were go­ing to meet. ‘A few years ago no­body would have pre­dicted that people would take pic­tures of their food and put them on Face­book… People would have said, “Who is in­ter­ested in what I had for lunch to­day?” ’Thorn said, this time to The Guardian.

More and more porn is be­ing made and dis­trib­uted … by any per­son with gen­i­tals and a smart­phone

I’m not en­tirely sure what he’s get­ting at, but I think it’s this: if you ever wor­ried, ‘Who is in­ter­ested in my vagina?’ we now have an an­swer: plenty of people! They’d love to see it. They may well Like it, Share it, Re­post it, Pin it; they may Fol­low you to see what it gets up to next.We seem to have no bound­aries any more and a con­stant need for ap­proval, and if that ap­plies to ev­ery other area of our lives, why not sex too? A Red­dit user, ‘Jess’, ex­plained to The Ker­nel that she’d up­loaded porno­graphic pic­tures of her­self to feel bet­ter af­ter a friend in­sulted her body. ‘I’d like to do it again,’ she said. ‘People on Red­dit said I have to show more flesh to make my posts suc­cess­ful, though. I’ll prob­a­bly do it when I need a pick-me-up. ’While some so­cial porn users are con­tent cre­ators, many are just cu­ra­tors: find­ing videos that ap­peal to a par­tic­u­lar taste, aes­thetic or fetish, and shar­ing them with a net­work of fol­low­ers. Both kinds of users have a shared agenda: find­ing porn and in­ter­act­ing with a com­mu­nity of porn con­sumers.

As ever, we have to won­der whether this is the be­gin­ning of the porn­poca­lypse. Will we all be con­sumed in flames, with noth­ing left to vouch for our civil­i­sa­tion ex­cept the in­fi­nite thrust­ing of a mil­lion sex videos on Vine? The overwhelming amount of hard­core and of­ten ag­gres­sive porn avail­able does and should raise con­cerns: to the ex­tent that porn is prob­lem­atic (a de­bate that’s not the fo­cus of this piece), the more of it that’s eas­ily avail­able, the big­ger the prob­lem. As porn mates hap­pily with so­cial me­dia, their kinky love child will be all but om­nipresent: it’s get­ting harder to avoid see­ing porn yourself, let alone keep­ing it from chil­dren and ado­les­cents. This is es­pe­cially wor­ry­ing when porn per­pet­u­ates de­mean­ing at­ti­tudes to­wards the par­tic­i­pants, makes sex ob­jects of women, or cre­ates false ex­pec­ta­tions and im­pos­si­ble stan­dards for an ‘ex­cit­ing’ sex life or a de­sir­able physique.

Hav­ing said all that, there is also some hope that so­cial porn might be one way to tackle the ex­haust­ing nar­row-mind­ed­ness of commercial porn and the pre­tend-sex it has cre­ated. Am­a­teur porn is for the most part more real­is­tic than the cocks and chore­og­ra­phy churned out by the porn in­dus­try. Per­haps it would do porn con­sumers good to get their kicks from some­thing that ac­tu­ally ap­prox­i­mates a real cou­ple, en­joy­ing sex with each other, in­stead of paid porn stars in an un­con­vinc­ing per­for­mance of plea­sure, in be­tween a crew shav­ing them and rub­bing them with baby oil. (There might also be less con­cern about ex­ploita­tion, when people are shar­ing porn vol­un­tar­ily, in­stead of un­der eco­nomic duress.) As such, the boon in DIY porn has been lauded as a po­ten­tial ‘democrati­sa­tion’, es­pe­cially if it at­tracts more fe­male per­spec­tives that will per­haps di­ver­sify the pre­vail­ing ideas about sex, sex­u­al­ity, beauty, nu­dity and erot­ica.

‘I don’t think it’s sur­pris­ing that in some of these more so­cial spa­ces – where porn is con­sumed, up­loaded, dis­trib­uted, com­mented on – we are be­gin­ning to see dis­cus­sions about the al­ter­na­tive pol­i­tics of pornog­ra­phy,’ Sharif Mowlabo­cus, a me­dia lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Sus­sex, told The Guardian. Such dis­cus­sions might be the first re­cal­ci­trant wave turn­ing the tide on the of­ten de­grad­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions of sex we’ve come to ex­pect from porn. But these changes will only hap­pen if the mind­sets that pro­duce them also change. ‘Those same types of so­cial­ity are still be­ing used to up­hold some very misog­y­nist views,’ Mowlabo­cus added. ‘We need more than a tech­no­log­i­cal plat­form to make those ide­o­log­i­cal shifts.’

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