This final instalment of my Violent Lesbian series is vaguely on the huge subject of pornography. I hope to show that by considering porn and its current impact on our sexuality, most of the strands of my arguments over the past few posts will naturally come together in a pleasing conclusive cum shot.
Something to be gotten out the way first: it’s important for me to clarify that when I use, and have used throughout my posts, words like ‘men’, ‘women’, ‘queer’, ‘lesbian’, I am using them strictly in the most symbolic, theoretical way. I’m interested in the cultural spaces surrounding our definitions and behaviours that influence our ideas of these concepts, I’m not discussing the actual reality of being a man, woman, gay or straight. I completely acknowledge that an individual’s sexuality is made of a myriad of infinite variables of history and character, not to be so strictly defined in the simplistic fashion I use these words. I’m attempting to build a bigger picture that goes beyond the individual, into the cultural stories we buy into.
It is well-known that most online porn is something to do with lesbians: Lesbian has been the most popular category on Pornhub since 2014, and has always been top 3. It is equally well-known that lesbian porn has pretty much nothing to do with actual lesbians, and instead operates a visually stimulating cartoon of girl-on-girl action that incorporates a lot of masculine references, aimed at comforting the male viewer’s ego: the genre definitely over-estimates how many women get their rocks off by giving a blowjob to a strap-on dildo.
Lesbian porn is now at the interesting moment of at times being as sadistic and violent as the worst of gonzo porn, and also more watched by women than men. While I’d argue that porn is still broadly speaking aimed towards a traditional masculine perspective, we can’t pretend that women are ignorant of the phenomenon anymore, and we should now accept that absolutely everyone is affected by porn. It makes you wonder at how our sexualities must have fundamentally shifted in such a short time. Later I will talk about some of the negative qualities of porn in quite a gendered way, I want the reader to remember that porn, lesbian or otherwise, is very much consumed and enjoyed by women and non-male identifying people.
The point of porn is that it is visual, not tactile, not like ‘real’ sex; therefore it operates on a very different, much more intense imaginary platform to real sex; but though we may factually know this, it can still be difficult to separate the Real from the Fantasy. Only with a de-training process or sufficient education can we stop porn from taking over our real sexuality; and amongst those (young people) who do not have a history for comparison or good enough advice, the results can be catastrophic. The prevalence of sexual violence, bullying and insecurities amongst the internet generation, as well as the near-total formation of their sexuality through online porn, has been documented, and is extremely worrying, when considering that porn has gone from just an entertainment to forming whole identities in its image; its grotesque, choreographed, abstracted creatures now provide a model for not only using and enjoying one’s own body, but a whole mode of gendered behaviour accepted as normal throughout relationships.
The problem is how we look at our sexuality: we tend to think of ourselves as individuals, but we aren’t. We all buy in to similar behaviours, rules and taboos consciously or unconsciously, that are decided by things like popular porn categories. We are taught what to find sexy, we don’t always decide for ourselves; someone has to tell us, ‘it is okay to be turned on by this’; humans can theoretically find anything sexual. Our sexuality is constructed in some way by a desire to be normal, to be part of our communities; and we have an invisible eye on us the whole time to ensure we stick to these socially agreed guidelines. This eye, that we all construct for ourselves to watch us even in our most intimate moments, is what some call the eye of God, the eye of the camera, or the eye of our conscience; it is what Lacan calls the Big Other. The Big Other structures our desire, and is a presence that essentially forces us to admit that we exist in some way collectively, as it is really the eyes of each other that we are performing for.
It is a problem when a behaviour that society has in some way agreed is to be encouraged turns out to grow out of control, and is actually innately violent and destructive. I refer here to problematic masculine sexuality and how it has been constructed over the past century, following a huge shift in attitudes towards women and sexuality in the West. Generally speaking, as men have had to gradually share power and some experience an emasculation, the rise of violent, hardcore, gonzo pornography has risen exponentially, and because of the internet no one is held to account; it is a safe anonymous fantasy space. There has never been a time when normal sexuality was so violent and humiliating towards women. Think of how prevalent these scenes are: brutal anal sex, choking, deep-throat to point of gagging, cumming on faces and breasts, slapping, spitting, contorted acrobatic positions (most of these common in lesbian porn). The point of these activities is not sexual pleasure, it’s something much darker.
Men are taught, by porn and the world around them, that female sexuality is something they can just take whenever they want. I speak from experience as well as the experiences of my queer female friends; it can be seen from the abuse that often ensues after having any slightly sexual or affectionate contact with a female partner in any kind of public space. According to porn, lesbianism is just something girls do for male attention. This is something we are all taught, and goes some way to explain why, when men are confronted with either female-perpetrated violence, or female-only sexuality, society is so happy to slap ‘lesbian’ on one and ‘violence’ on the other. It’s a simple solution that works both ways, and has the same end result: the categorisation of FREAK, that we need not be too worried about.
We have moved into an interesting time, where though the internet has been dominated by hardcore unhelpful pornography, the alternative viewpoint has also had an opportunity to expand. White, powerful men are not the only ones creating media now; the stories they started centuries ago, about female sexuality, are now being picked up by contrasting voices, that expand the tight space around these characters and allow room for real creativity and expression. This is how we have gone from Carmilla to Lisbeth Salander, and have the potential to go even further; to move fully beyond the violent lesbian, to have a majority of alternative voices instead of always a minority, to allow male and female characters to become something more, something different, from what has existed and been repeated over and over again in the past.
My interest in the case of the Violent Lesbian has, at its bones, been a fascination with the duality of stories, dualities that are so clear in this genre. We can see, in Aileen Wuornos and some incarnations of Carmilla, the dying body of the old codes; in Lisbeth Salander and to an extent Villanelle (the jury’s still out on that one) we can see a new mode of representation appearing within this framework that more accurately fits our lives, our self-expression, our complexities, our new language and understanding of sexuality, gender and identity. We can express, through the similarities of old stories, how different we can be.