pornreflect

The Men Who Watch Porn That Reflects Their Actual Sex Lives

Even Kanye is searching Pornhub for the stuff that most resembles what’s happening in his own bedroom

A few years ago, I catered an Interpol music video. We were on location at a home in the San Fernando Valley, the L.A. suburb famous for Valley Girl, Cher’s robbery in Clueless, vocal fry and porn. The house was an archetypal porn mansion, remarkable in its practicality for hosting a slew of simultaneous sex scenes. The owner — or at least the lady of the house — was the porn star Jessica Drake. (I know this because she grabbed a tray of Pressed Juicery green juices from the fridge right before the shoot got underway.) The aesthetic was glamorous kitsch, akin to one of the 1990s porno homes Larry Sultan became famous for photographing in its extravagant averageness. Still, I marveled at it as a series of sexual stages, where everywhere from the backyard, to the den, to the bathrooms were optimized for having (and filming) sex.

It also represented a sort of an end-of-an-era vibe. After all, we’re experiencing what may very well be the last generation of the porn star as a highly rarefied, specialized professional that exists purely in fantasy form. In large part, because we’re all our own porn stars now, as never before has humankind collectively owned so many nude photos and videos of ourselves. But also playing a role: Never before have we seen our favorite porn stars making dinner, being parents and living life online in real time, beyond the scope of the porn they create.

Essentially, social media has humanized porn performers more than ever while inspiring many non-porn performers to find pleasure sexualizing their bodies in social and exhibitionistic ways. As a result, fantastical porn houses with built-in sex accessories are no longer doing much for dudes today, who mostly just want “realness” (e.g., sunglasses being left on top of a woman’s head during sex) from their porn.

“Mainstream porn usually looks the same. We know it’s staged. We know it’s a set. I connect more with amateur stuff because you can tell it’s people who are really enjoying the sex,” 29-year-old Keith tells me. “One thing I really hate in professional porn is all the moaning. Unless it’s paired with really good dirty talk, it sounds so fake.” Keith, however, isn’t just looking for amateur porn — he’s looking for non-professional porn that reflects his own sex life. He says that such mirror images both make him feel more confident about the sex he has with girlfriend and inspires him to try new things.

Kanye West is the same way. For starters, his favorite porn star is Lela Star, who is famous, in part, for her resemblance to his wife (who of course, was launched from the shadows of Paris Hilton’s closet and into the center of the public eye when her own sex tape was released in 2007).

Plus, according to an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! this year, he also prefers a specific porn studio, calling the interracial site Blacked (which is owned by a white guy) his favorite adult production company. When getting into the specifics of what he likes about it, he told Kimmel, “A lot of black-on-white, obviously… my own reality.”

As a black man with a white partner, this also reflects Keith’s current long-term relationship. “White porn is kind of weird,” he explains. “I’ve never seen a male porn star who I really think looks like me, so I definitely prefer interracial porn.”

Things are a little different, obviously, when you’re dating an actual porn performer. For instance, Devon, who is in a relationship with BBW star Sofia Rose, still watches porn that involve women who look like Rose, just not porn with Rose herself. “I watched her porn before we started seeing each other, but once our relationship got serious, I couldn’t watch it in the same way as I had previously,” he says. “Once you’re actually having sex with this person and have certain feelings for them, you don’t necessarily want to see them being intimate with someone else. I know some people in the industry who do enjoy that aspect, but personally, I don’t.”

That said: “I certainly still watch other BBW stars. My search history includes ‘BBWs,’ ‘Big Tits’ and ‘Big Ass.’”

While Devon doesn’t have any interest in filming his own videos with Rose, Keith says he would love to film him and his girlfriend having sex and distribute it for the world to see. Neither of them are porn performers or sex workers, nor have they ever filmed themselves with a partner before, although Keith says his girlfriend began sending him pretty explicit photos and videos soon after they met. “I honestly don’t think having a sex tape is a big deal, at least not if it’s something you wanted to film and share in the first place,” he tells me.

Cindy Gallop, the entrepreneur who went viral for her “Make Love Not Porn” TED Talk in 2009, agrees. “One day, no one should feel ashamed or embarrassed ever again to have a nude photograph or sex tape because it’s simply just a natural human part of who you are,” she tells me.

To help do so, Gallop started MakeLoveNotPorn.TV, a video-streaming platform with a shared revenue model that allows users to socialize their sex lives. “One thing to emphasize is that we’re not erotica,” she explains. “We’re social sex. We’re what Facebook would be if it allowed us to self-express spontaneously and share sex the same way we do everything else in our lives. We’re the world’s first social sex video sharing platform, and it’s about celebrating real-world sex in a non-crafted, non-performative way.”

“That’s not to say we aren’t there to be got off to,” she continues. “But porn is purely masturbation material. We’re not just that. We’re that too, but we’re many other things on top of that.”

Among those other things, she explains: “The issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. If we did, people would bring a real-world mindset to the viewing of what’s simply manufactured entertainment. Our mission then is one thing only: to help make it easier for everybody in the world to talk about sex, openly and honestly, both in the public domain and privately within the context of their relationships. Given this goal, I decided to take the dynamic that exists in social media and apply it to one area of a platform no other social network is ever going to go — sex.”

That’s why Gallop doesn’t compare MakeLoveNotPorn.TV to the likes of Pornhub, but to Facebook and YouTube. “The distinction I’m drawing is that porn is performative, produced and manufactured entertainment whereas we’re the Facebook post. If porn is the big, Hollywood blockbuster, we’re the documentary,” she explains.

“The vast majority of our MakeLoveNotPornstars never expected to film themselves doing anything sexual before discovering our platform,” she adds. “We’ve had many women and men film videos of themselves masturbating and sharing it publicly for the first time, many of whom say doing so enhances their sexual senses of self and sexual self-esteem. MakeLoveNotPornstars also say filming themselves having sex transforms their relationship because of the communication it involves — even couples who have been together a long time.

“Social sex is enormously reassuring. We celebrate the accidents, the awkwardness, the messiness. But when you learn about sex from porn, it’s a performance. Nothing must go wrong.”

For men, this means seeing penises beyond the massive dicks male porn stars are required to have and examples of sexual experiences with different rhythms and tempos beyond those depicted in porn. All of which is much closer to real life — and what men are doing in their own bedrooms — than what they grew up watching from Vivid or Jessica Drake. “You can preach body positivity and self-love all you’d like, but nothing makes you feel as fantastic about your own body as watching people who don’t meet the standards of certain aspirational body types having a really good time in bed.”

On a more personal note, I can’t help but think of the mean mom in high school who slut-shamed and threatened me when her daughter and I stopped being friends. She knew I was a good student from a working-class family who had intentions of receiving a college scholarship since I was in kindergarten. When my friendship with her daughter faded, she told me she was going to print out all of the slutty photos from my teen Myspace and send them to college admission officers all over the country. I was scared, but at the same time — perhaps thanks in part to my own sense of entitlement at the time — I couldn’t imagine how a few scantily clad photos were really going to kill my dreams. Perhaps I looked up to Paris Hilton a little too much, but in 2010, I couldn’t imagine that people actually believed anyone honored our right-to-privacy.

Because even back then, privacy, like that porn mansion I encountered in the Valley, was a thing of the past. But more largely, as we imagine a future in which our sexual culture is as democratic as the internet once was, we won’t mistake all documentations of sex as porn and won’t hesitate to post a video of an amazing IRL blowjob the same way we would highlights from a workout.

After all, both are simply functions of humans who have bodies and use them.