How do you watch porn?

A few days ago, this interview with TikTok/porn star Mia Khalifia was shared in Diem and it got us thinking about porn, in general. How do you watch it? Do you like it? How much do you know about the porn industry? Has it influenced your perception of sex? Does it make you confident or self-conscious? Do you listen to audio porn?

The questions are seemingly endless. I think this is mostly because, traditionally, the porn industry centered male pleasure at the expense of female consent and pleasure. Speaking to the experience of millennial, heterosexual women, this results in a fairly traumatic and derogatory introduction to sex; many women I know scoured Reddit or Tumblr for less violent porn and “women-friendly” sites in their youth.

I spoke with a sampling of my friends about this, and philosophically, they were all very pro-porn. But at the same time, many are hesitant to engage with porn today because video content feels “rushed,” “unrealistic” or “too aggressive.” Others told me that they still feel guilty watching porn, knowing it endorses female violence on many levels. My friends questioned their kinks and fantasies — were these also just the product of porn for the male gaze? We talked about audio porn, which a number of my friends use, as a preferred experience these days because it’s less graphic and more rooted in fantasy.

The good news: It does feel like a revolution is slowly happening in porn, which has predominantly been pushed by a diverse set of leaders challenging the status quo. In recent years we’ve seen companies, petitions, and conversations crop up that all speak to how to make porn a more inclusive space for all types of pleasure. There are a few specific companies that I’m particularly excited about in this space. There’s Cindy Gallop’s, Make Love Not Porn, which promotes #RealWorldSex in all its glorious humanness, and Gallop has spoken at length on the impact that hardcore porn has had on how men think about sex. I’m also excited by the rise of Quinn, an app for audio erotica (designed for women), that provides members access to anything from spicy stories to guided masturbation and dirty talk. The founder, Caroline Spiegel shared this during a conversation in Diem a few months ago:

“We have this language for stating physical preferences like… “I like being choked” or “I like being spanked.” What we’ve found that women actually like is less to do with the specific sex act or kinks, really, but it has more to do with the context… How do we develop a language for the fact that sex isn’t really always about the sex act, it’s also about the life that exists around it?”Caroline Spiegel

Ethical porn is also on the rise. Ethical porn is porn that protects actors’ rights, offers fair compensation and working conditions, and recognizes sexual diversity. Mia Khalifa defines ethical porn as knowing “the exact conditions it was procured and distributed.” What she means is that if women produce and distribute their own content — on platforms like Patreon and OnlyFans, for example — you know it’s coming from an ethical place.

Have these new movements and companies started to change how you think about sex and porn? I have to admit, I still associate porn with men’s magazines, the black/orange of Porn Hub, and old-school video shops. But platforms like Quinn feel lighter and more accessible to me. At the same time, I’m sure we all have a lot of unlearning to do in relation to how we view ourselves in sex, and what our preferences really are, outside the performative lens that porn gives us.

Spiegel made another point that stuck with me: “Porn is treated as this hidden secret. Imagine if there were large, respected business conferences on the porn industry. There would be different conversations, ethical conversations, questions around commerce or innovation…all sorts of things that currently get neglected.” With the rise of metaverse sex and VR porn, it’s a crucial time for us to open the dialogue on the impact of porn on our expectations of sex.

Want to share your thoughts about porn? Come Diem with me.

This article was originally featured in Diem’s weekly newsletter on June 14th 2022, subscribe here.

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ceo & co-founder, Diem. building the social search engine, designed first for women & non-binary people.

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Emma Bates

ceo & co-founder, Diem. building the social search engine, designed first for women & non-binary people.