Don’t get me wrong, I love sex. I’m on Grindr more than I’m on Twitter. I’d probably step on a puppy to be with Beyonce, and I’ve seen Magic Mike at least twenty times. Sex is fantastic when it is fun and enjoyable for all involved parties. The problem with most porn, however, is that it doesn’t portray sex that way. Online pornography often expresses an attitude that is unhealthy both physically and mentally. Porn, as ubiquitous as it is, should represent sexuality that is healthy, safe, and progressive. Since companies do not generally create this sort of content, consensual and racially progressive porn must be created from the ground-up, similar to the revolution we have seen in social media.

Recently I expressed some thoughts to a friend who manages a pornographic website:

“You know what? Sometimes I think I should drop out and become a porn star. It seems a lot more reliable than college.”

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” he said.

“Why?”

“It’s a lot harsher than you think.”

A huge portion of erotic scenes contain some sort of violence. A 2010 study titled “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-Selling Pornography Videos” recorded that out of 304 pornographic scenes, 88.2% contained some sort of physical violence, while 48.7% contained verbal assault. Further, the people in these scenarios frequently appear to be forced into such aggression. Yet by the end they appear to have enjoyed the situation. This is a scary phenomenon, as it appeals to the notion that assault is sexy and that people will enjoy it. Since this kind of porn dominates the Web, a frightening amount of people have been fed the idea that this is how sex must be.

Porn could exhibit BDSM positively in several ways. For one, all people involved must be shown giving clear and enthusiastic consent at the beginning of shoots. It should also be noted somewhere within the material that certain objects are more dangerous than others while performing sadomasochism, as inserting large objects into the vagina or rectum without lubrication can cause tearing and other internal damage. Many safe sex objects for BDSM are as affordable as they are enjoyable and should be more common in erotic media.

My friend in the porn industry went on to say, “You shouldn’t have sex with too many black guys. It’s fucked up, but if you want to be popular you’re going to have to sleep with only white guys.”

Pornography can be extremely racist. While watching scenes with non-white actors, I noticed a pattern. More often than not, non-white ethnicities are depicted in ways that are harmful and stereotypical. In my observation, Black men are depicted as aggressive towards women in the bedroom and Black women are almost always abused while performing. These stereotypes did not appear overnight and have existed for a long time.

One of the justifications for enslaving Black men in America was that slavery protected white women from perceived Black rapists, a defense that led to the lynching and castration of an innumerable amount of Black men.

Enslaved women were likewise viewed as unable to control their sexuality, being naturally hypersexual and fond of rough sex. This discourse existed to justify the sexual assault of Black women, many of whom were sold into a sex slavery known as “the fancy girl trade.” 

Latino people are sexualized in ways similar to Black people. Men tend to be presented as two distinct archetypes: the thuggish brute or the Latin lover. The brute, like the Black male, is aggressive and dangerous with his sexuality. He is rough with his partner. Conversely, the Latin lover is gentle and romantic, tending to his partners’ needs. Latina women are often cast as hypersexual with tan skin, dark hair, lots of makeup, and busty bodies that exist only for male pleasure. So we get a similar stereotype of overt Latino sexuality.

Photo by Kelsey Kerr

Photo by Kelsey Kerr

It’s interesting to note that if there are people of color performing in porn, the co-star will almost always be white. This speaks volumes on how sexual attraction is viewed in our country.

Minorities are simultaneously considered sexy and unattractive. In pornography, interracial couples are appealing, but if there is ever a couple of the same non-white race, it is disgusting. This explains the dearth of scenes featuring non-white actors together and suggests that people of color are only relevant when they are of use to white people.

As such, depicting sexuality as realistic and enjoyable for all parties can create sexual practices that are beneficial to both sexes and multiple races. If pornographic films portray minorities as actual people and not in ways that fetishsize and demean them, gradual change can come. Depict Black men as sensual and caring in bed and not hyper-aggressive. Depict Asian and Latino men as being equally dominant and subordinate. Only in this way can our sexualities be represented in accurate and healthy ways.

Lastly, my friend told me, “Pornography is not a reflection of reality, it’s a reflection of fantasy. And fantasy is based on the ideal.”

Many readers will think I’m exaggerating the importance of porn. A common misconception is that only a small percentage of people watch porn and that these people can distinguish fantasy from reality. However, a 2013 study showed that pornography sites collectively receive more streaming than Netflix, Twitter, and Amazon combined.

Clearly, this industry has no financial incentive to change its ways. For those of us who are not satisfied by mainstream porn, we should consume healthier, more democratized content. Alternative, consumer-created porn is an untapped market that could bring larger companies to change their approach, much like how we’ve seen new media like YouTube influence film and television production. Some filmmakers are already making experimental—and successful—content.

Pornographic director Erika Lust, creator of XConfessions.com, and independent cam-girl Vex Ashley are two figures changing the porn industry. XConfessions.com is a website that produces its content by viewer request. Many of the videos show the partners pleasing each other equally, making sure the other is comfortable. Ashley highlights this experience and atmosphere by focusing not only only the body and orgasms, but also close-ups of the breath, sweat, lighting and touches. Both women claim that women and men are avid fans of their work, showing that both sexes desire to see change in the industry. In an interview for Buzzfeed, Erika Lust said, “If we want to see changes and innovation, we need more bright and creative minds, female if possible, to help reshape an old and ugly business.”

Like other media that puts production power in the hands of the consumers, pornography can be changed by progressive and talented young people, and if enough of these young people are creating and consuming healthier porn, the larger industry will be forced to pay attention. Harmful sex is becoming increasingly normalized. The democratic nature of the Internet, though, provides an opportunity for average people to normalize the sexuality that actually represents them.