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How Porn Can Misrepresent and Fetishize LGBTQ+ Individuals and Relationships

It shouldn’t be societally normalized for any industry or medium to misrepresent, exploit, or fetishize LGBTQ+ folks and their relationships—yet the porn industry certainly does, and unfortunately often gets away with it.

By October 25, 2021No Comments

Fight the New Drug is an awareness organization educating about the harms of pornography on individuals, relationships, and society. We share research, facts, and personal accounts to help promote understanding for various aspects of this multi-faceted issue. Our goal is to maintain an environment where all individuals can have healthy and productive conversations about this issue, while acknowledging that this issue can impact any person or relationship differently.

Decades of studies from respected institutions have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption on individuals, relationships, and society. #NoPornovember is all about giving visibility to these facts and empowering individuals to choose to be porn-free. Learn more by clicking here.

TRIGGER WARNING
The following post contains explicit descriptions of porn videos and discussions about derogatory terms.

 

When it comes to sex and the human body, many people turn to porn as a primary educator when they have natural and valid questions and curiosities.

Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13, and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980COPY  What’s consumed in porn is often processed as reality. One study shows that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCOPY  Similarly, survey results also show one in four 18 to 24-year-olds (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7COPY 

But what if the porn consumed, although specifically crafted and powerfully convincing, isn’t an accurate or representative depiction of real relationships and real people?

Some misrepresentations in mainstream porn are so common that they’ve shaped popular perceptions of sex and sexuality. This includes how some misrepresentative depictions of LBGTQ+ individuals and relationships in mainstream pornography have shaped perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community.

Porn’s role in misrepresentation

For an industry that is often culturally thought of as being allied with the LGBTQ+ community, the mainstream porn industry’s depictions of LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships often make it seem like they are less interested in accurate representation and more interested in profiting at the expense of LGBTQ+ people.

Regardless of any diversifying factors, people do not deserve to be abused, fetishized, tokenized, misrepresented, or exploited for “entertainment.” It shouldn’t be societally normalized for any industry or medium to misrepresent, exploit, or fetishize LGBTQ+ folks and their relationships—yet the porn industry certainly does, and unfortunately often gets away with it.

Porn producers, including many who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community, are creating content that they are promoting as being catered to an LGBTQ+ audience—though the content itself often misrepresents LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships, promotes derogatory terms, and is generally intended for a cisgender, heterosexual audience.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding Of Healthy Sex

How lesbian porn isn’t representational

Although “lesbian” has remained one of the most searched-for terms on popular porn sites over the past few years, the majority of mainstream porn isn’t necessarily made for a lesbian audience at all, but for cisgender, heterosexual men. Not to mention mainstream porn gets a lot of things wrong about LGBTQ+ sex in general.

Exaggerated and inaccurate caricatures of female same-sex relationships are the focus of an objectifying fantasy in these videos. These “girl on girl” scenes aim to fetishize a sexual orientation and play up stereotypes that often misrepresent what lesbian relationships are truly like.

What do real lesbians think about lesbian porn? In a viral Buzzfeed video from a few years ago, “lesbian porn” was critiqued by women who are lesbians who pointed out the ridiculous fake fantasies of the genre. While it’s too triggering to embed here, the video reinforces that it’s predominantly guys who watch it and it’s predominantly made for guys. Lesbian relationships do not exist to be a fetish for heterosexual men, yet porn often sells the “fantasy” that lesbian women can be seduced by the “right guy.”

Some common storylines found on popular mainstream porn tube sites include a lesbian couple being seduced by a mailman, pizza delivery guy, or male plumber, or lesbian women trying to seduce their straight family members or roommates. What harmful beliefs do these plotlines perpetuate? That female sexuality isn’t to be taken seriously, that lesbian women are predatory, and that “the right man” has the power to change someone’s sexuality. This is not an accurate representation of reality.

The simple fact is, lesbian women can’t just be “seduced” by the “right guys,” nor is it every lesbian’s goal to seduce non-lesbian women—no matter how much porn aims to fantasize those ideas.

Here are a few quotes from more women in the video as well as quotes from a Vice article on the same issue:

The thing about lesbian porn is, most of it is not made for lesbians, it makes it look like we have completely awful sex.

What real lesbian sex looks like is never really depicted properly in lesbian porn, it’s more what people think lesbians do. More often than not it’s just two straight girls acting. It’s not really genuine but then again, is any porn genuine?

For me, sex is more of an emotional bond between two people and that’s not how it is in lesbian porn. In lesbian porn, they’re trying to make each other have an orgasm in two seconds and that’s never the case. Sleeping with a girl takes work.

None of this is real. Please don’t assume that any woman—gay, straight, whatever—would find any of that remotely pleasurable.

It’s not real, it’s not honest, it’s not for the people it’s ‘apparently’ for. It sucked,” another one of the Buzzfeed video participants said.

How gay porn isn’t representational

Although gay porn is a popular section of mainstream porn sites—with some sites like Pornhub dedicating an entire section of their annual reports to discussing porn from their “Pornhub Gay” brand—the content often mirrors trends seen in “lesbian” porn as it capitalizes on toxic stereotypes and misrepresentations.

One popular trope in gay porn involves gay men “seducing” and coercing hesitant, shy, or even straight men into having sex with them, misrepresenting gay men by portraying them as coercive predators. In fact, “Straight Guys” was one of the top-viewed Pornhub Gay categories for 2019.

Related: 6 Marginalized Groups Of People Porn Has No Problem Fetishizing

Gay porn has also been known to combine hurtful racist stereotypes along with two-dimensionalizing and dehumanizing gay stereotypes. Consider the popularity of “Black,” “Japanese,” and “BBC” categories and searches below on Pornhub Gay, all of which feature problematic racist tropes.

But what do some actual gay men think about gay porn? Hear one guy’s experience with porn that portrays gay men and how he says it impacted his understanding of sex and relationships:

I copied what I had seen in porn, and it went a lot deeper than merely mimicking techniques. What I saw in porn were damaging stereotypes, so naturally, I adopted these into my own sex life. Too often, there was fem-shaming, disturbing daddy/son scenes, and the idea of gay men actively pursuing straight men until they gave in—all terms which Pornhub report as among the most searched terms within the gay porn genre.

And here’s one personal example from an individual who reached out to us that illustrates how porn can promote ideals that are misrepresentative and cause real harm:

“To gay guys out there who watch porn, we all know the common porn theme of gay men meeting someone and then slowly getting more intimate with them until they hook up. It seems like such an attractive idea: get a guy out of his comfort zone, make him live a little, get frisky, and then get something going, even if he hasn’t given you an actual ‘okay’ yet.

I used to enjoy that porn theme. Until it happened to me. A man took advantage of me. He slowly broke through my comfort zone and, without my consent, took advantage of me sexually.

This is a message to everyone out there, regardless of sexual orientation: don’t endorse porn that teaches these ideas of sexual assault and rape disguised as normal fantasies. Porn sites make it seem so hot to test blurred lines and take advantage of someone, but these ideas are extremely harmful, and they hurt them deeply.”

These dehumanizing portrayals in porn do not help to humanize or invite respect for gay men in our culture.

How bisexual individuals are portrayed as predatory

In porn, bisexual individuals—predominantly women—are fetishized for their attraction to different genders and are often portrayed as willing to have sex with anyone at any time. Other misrepresenting tropes in porn include bisexual individuals forcing individuals of the same sex to hook up with them, and bisexual men “turning” lesbian women straight.

Also, in porn, bisexual people are often portrayed as having high sex drives and being willing to jump at any opportunity for a threesome. Many porn consumers may make the argument that this portrayal of bisexual people is intended to be an exaggerated fantasy, but how is this fantasy misrepresenting real people and affecting our culture’s understanding of them?

Porn often sells the idea that bisexual individuals are not only hypersexual, they are serial cheaters, and always interested in a sexual encounter whenever and with whoever. What porn clearly misrepresents is that bisexual individuals, like everyone else, have individual libidos, desires, and longings for connection.

Related: Minority Groups Are 4x More Likely To Be Targets Of Revenge Porn, Study Shows

Listen to one bisexual man in this article he wrote about common, egregious misrepresentations of bisexual individuals and couples in porn:

“My generation and the ones younger than me are becoming (if not already are) adults. We’re dating men and women, and we’re having sex. We’re trying to figure out our identity and how we treat the people we date. We’re trying to make sense of the world with the rapid changes that occur as a result of the proliferation of technology.

“We need to start discussing the impact of Internet pornography immediately, as we’re not sure exactly how watching thousands of videos of graphic, explicit, and misrepresenting pornography is going to affect this and future generations…. I can safely claim that it’s not helping to break down stereotypes about bi people.”

Portraying a person’s sexual orientation as a fetish is a dehumanizing misrepresentation.

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The abuse and degradation of transgender people

One quick internet search pulls up porn genres and entire porn sites specifically dedicated to the abuse, degradation, and humiliation of transgender people.

Now, not all porn featuring transgender individuals is focused on their belittlement and humiliation, but too many videos are.

This is an especially challenging issue because the porn industry is one of the most prominent places where trans people are featured and normalized, but that normalization often comes at a price. Many of these videos are clearly focused on “punishing” and humiliating them with forced, painful sex acts, often using highly derogatory and offensive terms.

Here are some examples of content on the world’s largest porn site, XVideos, featuring categories of transgender individuals that capitalize on derogatory terms. Notice how the search bar auto-populates the terms even with only a couple of characters typed in, and the numbers on the right are how many videos correlate with the terms on the left.

Whether it’s intentional or not, the ideals portrayed in porn teach the consumer what is sexually acceptable, especially seeing as many young people turn to porn for information about sex. This is especially problematic when considering the prevalence of derogatory terms and abuse of transgender people on mainstream porn sites. What is this content doing to perpetuate the degradation and dehumanization of trans people in real life?

Here’s a sample of real titles from the world’s most popular porn site:

Listen to what one trans woman said in an article about misconceptions (link trigger warning) surrounding dating and porn:

Sure, while you might see a lot of trans porn stars labeling themselves that way, many trans women experience it as derogatory. The term ‘tranny’ makes me feel like a thing rather than a person. Porn companies are giving their audience a fantasy. Unfortunately, these fantasies are all too often produced and directed by cis men. Simply put: Don’t let what you see in porn dictate how you communicate with a trans woman.

BHW - General

LGBTQ+ bodies objectified as stereotypes and fetishes

Porn often sells an unattainable image of what the sexual ideal is. And considering how much of mainstream porn is catered to a heterosexual, male gaze, this means that content often fits the mold of what one specific demographic may find attractive and sexy.

Related: 4 Ways Porn Warps The Way Women View Themselves

In porn, marginalized individuals are often portrayed in very specific ways or made out to be objects or objects of a fetish rather than real people who are deserving of love and respect just as they are.

In an interview, one transgender woman recently shared:

When porn hyperfixates on a marginalized (performer’s) body size, race, gender, and/or capabilities, the marginalized viewers take a toll… This is doubly the case for people who are regularly stereotyped as monstrous or grotesque, such as trans women. We come to believe that our bodies are fundamentally unlovable, or that they can only be desirable on another person’s terms.

Bottom line, all people—whatever their sexual identity, skin color, body shape or size—are more than just a collection of body parts and deserve love and respect.

Abuse and harmful stereotypes are not “entertainment”

The porn industry seems to get a free pass to promote endlessly harmful and abusive content in the name of sexual entertainment—where this same content wouldn’t be accepted if any other industry had produced it.

Think about it: if the average film or TV show had the same kind of misrepresentative, exploitative, and extreme abusive content that you see on mainstream porn sites, you can bet that those studios would be shut down and condemned for promoting the fetishization of LGBTQ+ individuals. But abusive pornographic content was not created in a vacuum, unfortunately.

Related: Does The Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

For example, content relating to the punishment or degradation of LGBTQ+ individuals exists because of an existing demand for it. This porn perpetuates the existing ideas about harmful stereotypes of LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships, and normalizes them further. This demand exists partly because of a few reasons: the escalating nature of porn, porn culture’s pervasiveness in our society, and because porn is sometimes reflective of ideas already present in our culture.

So how can we help limit the advancement of harmful ideals relating to LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships, and promote accurate ones instead? By spreading the facts about porn. Because everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, deserves love, respect, and so much better than what porn often sells as “fantasy.”

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You deserve more

No one deserves to be abused, fetishized, or tokenized—regardless of any diversifying factors. It’s unacceptable for the mainstream porn industry to exploit LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships for “entertainment.”

Even for those who consume porn only occasionally and casually, it can have a significant impact on the way they view themselves, their partner, and shape their ideas of what’s sexually acceptable or desirable.

It’s also worth noting that regardless of the misrepresentative messages can instill in consumers—whether it be toxic ideas about LGBTQ+ individuals, false ideas about body image, unrealistic expectations for sex, and other messages—just as harmful as what porn shows can be, is what it doesn’t show. This is true for porn involving heterosexual relationships with cisgender individuals, too. Porn often omits mutual respect, dignity, intimate touch, open communication, checking in with consent, awareness of your partner’s needs, and appreciation and respect for all body types and preferences.

Related: 10 Things Porn Gets Completely Wrong About Real Sex

The truth is porn that glamorizes the misrepresentation and mistreatment of real people, including those in the LGBTQ+ community, wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a demand for it. Every view, click, and download fuels the demand for the continued production of this content and reinforces attitudes and behaviors of degradation and objectification. Supporting the industry further perpetuates misrepresentation and will continue to drive pornographers to create content that exploits and fantasizes marginalized people in hurtful ways.

Much of the porn industry is far from a source of unity, equality, representation, and respect. There is no substitute for love and respect, and as a global movement, we strive to fight for love for all people and educate on how everyone deserves better than porn.

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