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