Could porn make tv less sex-phobic?

29 : 09 : 2017 Media : Culture : Digital
Love film poster by Gaspar Noé Love film poster by Gaspar Noé

As porn brands continue to innovate, an extraordinary new concept merging pornography and fiction could change how we view sex on tv.

Holly Friend, picture researcher, LS:N Global

The term ‘sex sells’ has guided pop culture for years. While the adage normally serves as justification for brands such as American Apparel to parade partly clothed females in compromising positions, explicit pornographic content has also become increasingly normalised. Pornhub has been shamelessly pushing for recognition as a lifestyle brand, sponsoring fashion shows and collaborating in September 2017 with designer Andrew Richardson on logo-emblazoned streetwear. Commercially, it makes sense: there are more pornography users than users of Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined, according to porn site Paint Bottle.

In our microtrend The XXX Factor we explored how the fashion and sex industries are not too dissimilar. Now, porn site xHamster has attempted an unexpected move into a less overtly sexualised sector: mainstream television. On hearing the news that Netflix show Sense8 was to be cancelled after just two series, xHamster wrote a letter to the show’s creators offering to produce and stream a third series.

The core reason for the proposal – clicks – is indisputable. xHamster is one of the most visited websites on the internet, with more daily visitors than The New York Times or The Daily Mail, according to the company. When your target customers are already frequenting a site on a daily basis, why not bring your content there? It doesn’t hurt that the company has a hefty budget ready and waiting.

While money and web traffic are predictable cards to play, it is xHamster’s approach to sexual limitations on tv that is worth paying attention to. ‘We know that a series about polymorphous perversity is a hard sell for a mainstream network such as Netflix,’ reads the letter from xHamster to Sense8. ‘We have no such limitations, and also understand implicitly the interconnectedness of sexualities across boundaries.’

This could open up a new type of intelligent pornography, or a new style of fiction with storylines as provocative as the explicit content.

What would a tv series look like without sex-phobia? xHamster made it clear that it wouldn’t produce a porn parody of Sense8, but a more contemporary alternative that would welcome honest, explicit and potentially unsimulated sex that would make Hollywood’s sterile love scenes seem laughable. This could open up a new type of intelligent pornography, or a new style of fiction with storylines as provocative as the explicit content. HBO is no stranger to steamy narratives, and critically acclaimed films such as Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac or Gaspar Noé’s Love have experimented with the controversial concept of using real sex. Both films are readily available on Netflix, but they still portray heterosexual relationships, whereas Sense8 has the opportunity to immerse audiences in the polyamorous lives of transgender, gay and bisexual characters.

Interestingly, xHamster is also taking steps to becoming a Civic Brand. The platform is an advocate for non-normative sexuality, fighting against anti-LGBTQ laws and even making a stand against the state of Utah’s archaic abstinence-only school curriculum by rerouting porn viewers to sex education videos.

The creators of Sense8 did not take up xHamster’s offer. Even though this may have proved a dangerous move for a progressive, liberal series to venture into such territory, the idea of the unlikely collaboration is so crazy that it may have worked, allowing for a much-needed change in pornography and an intriguing future for television.

For more on how to encourage a more honest language around sex, read our opinion pieces on gendered sex toys and why brands should be free to use the word vagina.