Sex Education Methodologies and Pornography:
Accountability of Adult Entertainment Companies as Sources for Sex Education
Sex education has historically been its own site of tension with a focus on its deficits situating the vast majority of the problem. Abstinence only and prevention methodologies in sex education highlight the shortcomings of established curriculums and center calls for a more comprehensive understanding of sex, sexuality, and intimacy. With the acknowledgment that a comprehensive sex education (CSE) curriculum is the best approach for educating on sex ed. topics, porn as a sex educator is discussed. The following research positions whether or not adult film and porn companies utilize a comprehensive sex education curriculum while simultaneously pushing pornographic content. Through discursive media analysis of a sex education platform to understand how porn companies might discuss sex education topics – I then address five porn companies on the extent they educate on comprehensive topics like pleasure, consent, and general sex ed topics. In general, the following piece assists in helping hold adult entertainment companies accountable for the notion that they are our dominant sex educators in society.
Key Words: Abstinence Only Sex Education, Adult Film, Comprehensive Sex Education, Feminism, Heteronormativity, Intimacy, Patriarchy, Porn, Power, Sex Education
It is incredibly rare that one discovers adult content on their own as it is much more likely that adult content slips into our worlds finding us first. As consumption of content became the norm with the rise of technology and media methods, adult entertainment became beyond mainstream. Movies, television, books, podcasts, and much more make sure to devise content that brings in users based on the classification and organization of it as information on porn, sex, intimacy, and the real world. There is hope this content could offer some perspective on related topics which is why we are interested in it, but it could be everything from the real deal to some academic paper on the extent that porn is actually sex education – and it would still be a way that porn finds people first.
The sex educator in me wishes to believe that someone who stumbles upon this paper would be doing so out of praxis and if not – I can try saying sorry to disappoint you, but there is something empathetic going on here too. It is possible you have been informed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus’s film Hot Girls Wanted (2015) or the ever so recent documentary by Suzanne Hellinger on Netflix titled Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (2023). Perhaps you have even gotten intimate with Dworkin’s work and the debates generated from anti-porn and anti-sex movements of radical feminist groups in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Maybe you stumbled upon the erotic like Audree Lorde or got lost in the art of the nude like Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Collier did one too many times – yet not enough. Maybe you're an adult content indulger, an avid criticizer, an occasional adult toy shopper, none of these possible random tangents, or someone who empathetically denies it for the self – this work is for you.
The idea that pornographic content stumbles onto our screens is extra frustrating when we consider how tough it is to get a decent sex education. In my head, sex education curricula could be the perfect place to receive information on how to navigate the internet in exploration of sex, sexuality, and intimacy without indulging in illegalities or putting yourself in harm's way with the possibilities of results that someone without the words to explore the internet might find. Historically, contemporary issues have surrounded sex education as it was sporadic and not formalized within school curricula til the 1980’s (Connell, 2009). After a boom in conversations, one can begin to understand that governments like the American government were uninterested in teaching their kids about sex – yet had to via an abstinence only methodology. While abstinence only methodologies are correlated with mitigating all the negative effects of sex and intimacy including unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections -– it does not address the fact that communities, parents, adolescents, and schools have been demanding more out of sex education curricula for years due to the fact that teachers are unprepared, ignorant, uncomfortable, or agitated by the subject matter (Malfetti & Rubin, 1968). How does one even begin to learn about sex if the educators teaching lack the tools to speak about it themselves?
Because of insufficiency and neglect to inform, abstinence only models were replaced by comprehensive sex education curricula (Hoffnung, 2017). A comprehensive sex education (CSE) is an agenda that is inclusive of all identities in order to provide an age appropriate, sufficient, equitable education on biology, gender, sexuality, pleasure, contraceptives, and social pressures. However, with the United States government thinking it’s intrinsic to push sex education in schools the curriculum of a comprehensive sex education is typically catered to the power structures and interlocking systems of oppression that are systematic to sex and sexuality (Pardini, 1998). While a comprehensive sex education might be the most informed curriculum, the extent that one receives and achieves this is unlikely due to many persistent problems related to sex education and the praxis of it.
Parallel to the opening idea that adult content invades our personal space before we have the understanding of how to navigate sex and intimacy because of insufficient or untimely sex education – adult film and pornagraphic content as a sex educator is a conceivable notion. If one lacks educators to learn from, it only makes sense that easily accessible pornography has been a resource debated as a malpractice form of sex ed.. To many, the correlation between porn consumption technology and sex education is obvious as Alice Echols (1983) positions adult film as creating dangers for society because of the notion that it causally determines mistreatment of bodies. Moreover, viewership of porn that depicts hardcore abusive fantasies through “realistic scenarios” perpetuates individuals developing similar unhealthy fetishes and the prevalence of exploitation, r*pe, and sexual abuse (Brennan, 2017).
On the other hand, mainstream porn bolsters less tangible and more invisible forms of violence. While pornography as a tool for perpetuating circuitries of harm such as the patriarchy and sexual power dynamics is commonly spoken on and highlighted by Vicki Kirby (2006), the rise of ethical feminist porn has garnered less attention than the critiques of male narrative mainstream harcore content. With a situated understanding that pornography has committed and continues to commit violence, Judith Halberstam’s “The Queer Art of Failure” positions pornography within a less elevated domain when under the framework of ethical feminist porn as it leaves room for accountability and the fantasy that adult content can provide.
Overall, while there are many people who further position the negatives of mainstream pornography, the rise of ethical feminist pornography gives adult content a revamped mission related to breaking away from the domination of the heteropatriarchy and how the media caters pleasure towards the male heteronormative gaze (Orenstein, 2016). Ethical feminist porn intervenes with the male gaze by producing content that hypothetically allows for people of all identities and sexualities to gaze, be sexual, and feel desired by offering a window into realistic scenes and fantasy with authentic portrayals of sexuality, gender, intimacy, and bodies (Smith, 2015). This can be found in how Jennifer Lyon Bell (2001) situates pornography next to character theory as “less can be more,” “central imagining” is key,” one must leave “room for fantasy,” and “character doesn’t equal personality.” The empathetic language that results from this kind of epistemology can lead to the practice and praxis of sex education within pornography.
The following piece emphasizes how pornography has been a problematic tool for learning about sex, sexuality, intimacy, and pleasure as it is not representative of marginalized identities, perpetuates heteronormative patriarchal ideals, and is rooted in systems of exploitation and hierarchies. That being said, in understanding that comprehensive sex ed. is the most encompassing course of sex education compared to abstinence only models, as well as the space that comprehensive sex education curricula leaves for agents to learn about related subjects at their own pace – ethical feminist porn must be brought into the conversation. Through ethical feminist porn, adult content as a positive source of education is situated, however; the extent of its positive effects is related to whether or not it acknowledges that its content is relevant sex education material. This kind of information should be readily available on their site within a mission statement or scattered diction and discourse through their platform.
Through the analysis of different kinds of adult film and entertainment companies easily accessible on the internet, this piece looks at the extent porn takes root in a comprehensive sex education curriculum. Based on whether or not pleasure, consent, and sex education topics are easily accessible and present on their site, different porn companies with differentiating missions exist. Sex education as a pursuit and adult content as the medium is increasing. With a literature review to position the conversation of porn, sex education, and surveying of power all in the same context, this piece evaluates the Queer Sex Ed Community Curriculum (Amsterdam, Netherlands) in order to understand what comprehensive sex education can look like at some of its best. Whether it is the dominating heteronormative mainstream ethical form of adult content, ethical feminist adult content, or a queered lens on ethical feminist porn, different sex education methodologies exist within porn companies. They often acknowledge they are tools for comprehensive sex education. The following companies that are a) mainstream ethical and heteronormative, b) ethical and feminist, c) and queered, ethical, and feminist are assessed based on the understanding of what comprehensive sex education can actively or absently look like. 1) Pornhub (Luxembourg Luxembourg, Europe) and their leading production company 2) Brazzers (Canada) are used as a representation for heteronormative mainstream content. While 3) Bellesa (Canada), 4) Blue Artichoke Films (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and 5) Sex School Hub (Berlin Germany) are representative of feminist and queer ethical porn companies. Despite adult content and pornographic companies being used as sources of education, the queered ethical and feminist porn companies leave more room for sex educational information as it relates to pleasure, consent, and general comprehensive topics removed from dominating systems of power. Ultimately, they also recognize that adult content must leave room for fantasy, and fantasy should not be subject unless consensual.
Abstinence and Prevention Methods in Sex Education
The discussion surrounding whether or not sex is supposed to be pleasurable is something that is easily influenced throughout society and can vary throughout different cultures; however, this question also situates the sex education that one receives as an important influence (Strong, 1972). As Connell (2009) emphasized that sex education was unregulated and not formalized within school curriculums in America, it was revealed that the government deemed it unnecessary to educate school age children about sex and natural bodily processes – something for which pleasure is a descriptor. With the AIDS epidemic taking the lives of many in the 1980s, foundations supporting abstinence only and abstinence centric formal education in public schools in the United States began with major prowl. When time passed and collective trauma related to sex, sexuality, intimacy, and so much more had ensued, Connell saw that sex education in the context of 2009 was beyond heteronormative and relied on binary thinking. This was because sex education notions and ideals had been built on foundations of abstinence centric values.
An Abstinence only sex education posits an agent to refrain from any kind of sexual acts with another person that includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. That being said, it is up to people individually to come to terms with the definition of abstinence as some only see it as penetrative heteronormative intimacy that relates to abstinence, and not other kinds of sexual activities. The simple fact that abstinence only relates to heteronormative intimacy accentuates how rooted sex education is in patriarchal systems of power by portraying sex as something a man does to a woman (Connell, 2009). Moreover, while abstinence only educations look to not engaging in sexual acts in order to mitigate pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, as well as something you do not want to do; the burden or responsibility of contraception is placed on ovary owners predominantly.
Carrion and Jensen (2014) criticize the dominant processes of unclear and inconsistent curriculums that are not sufficient in teaching children relevant comprehensive life skills. There is a misallocation of power and influence that gives rise to such faulty systems of education as well as the notion that sex is a beyond taboo subject in our society. Then again – it is the only subject about which we cannot stop talking.
With some teachers designing their own sex education curriculums and others deciding to put no effort in whatsoever, inconsistent curriculums were biased and based on evaluations of what is deemed relevant with a lack of care and attention allotted to the subject, – especially with government funded United States sex education curricula (Carrion and Jensen, 2014). Rosoff (1989) in tangent with Carrion and Jensen depict how sex education efforts tied to abstinence are prevention based and born out of fear. The AIDs crisis next to the rise in teen pregnancy made curricula turn to prevention techniques, but a lack of consistency in subjects between school districts and differing states being left to their own devices with regards to curriculum only made things more challenging for sex education. Rosoff places abstinence centric sex education within the domain of interlocking systems of oppression that are reactionary rather than prevention oriented treatment – general sex education of entire generations is practically in response to a health crisis.
Moreover, with sex ed. being skewed to abstinence morals and prevention techniques, it is necessary to briefly talk about it in tandem with religion. Slominski (2021) details the relationship that religion has had with sex education in America and how religious ideals have shaped many people’s experiences with sex education. While religion’s role in sex ed. goes beyond the abstinence approach that many people would initially assume, religion shaped a lot of the current controversies related to the subjects of sex, sexuality, and intimacy (Slominski, 2021). Depending on the communities, religion was a discipline with a facet of sex education too. Whether it was taught in religious schools or rooted in biblical texts, religion and sex education have gone hand-in-hand with one another and have historically pushed for prevention curricula while creating the space for agents to indulge ignorantly in sexual activities.
Calls for Comprehensive Sex Education
With sex education being rooted in systems like the government and religion as well as sex education being a neglected topic in people's lives, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1973) took initiative across the United States. Published in nineteen different languages, the Collective had the goal of helping women understand their bodies and teach themselves information that was denied to them by medical professionals, educators, and society as a whole. They believed that all women deserve to have the knowledge and agency to empower themselves in their bodies and make informed, free decisions about their sexuality, reproductive health, and appearance in society. While entirely dedicated to people who were assigned female at birth, this text shows how patriarchal sex ed. placed responsibility on women to understand their own bodies – as well as how women powerfully responded.
Dobson and Ringrose (2016) discuss projects responding to lack of sex education and explore new pedagogies surrounding how adolescents in the 21st century are entering a world where a new form of sex education requisites development. With a rise in technology, “sext education” is an entirely new concept that is unable to be addressed via prevention methods and abstinence methodologies. If sex education campaigns are leading to damaging consequences for young people as they promote victimization, sexual harassment, and violence against bodies – sexual agency and competency is at threat (Dobson and Ringrose (2016). Schools as an environment for sex education curriculums are necessary as logics of gendered responsibility for bodies, sexual purity, normalization of heteronormativity, and general encompassing behaviors are all being built and conceived of in these spaces.
When we acknowledge all of the negatives surrounding abstinence methodologies as well as complaints that situate the development of comprehensive methods, Hoffnung (2017) adds how a consistent and comprehensive sex education course must be enlisted and taught to all students in public schools regardless of their gender identity. As Dobson and Ringrose as well as other authors showed prior, comprehensive sex education is necessary for challenging double standards (Hoffnung, 2017). These consist of gendered standards for men and women as well as what it looks like to separate genders when tailoring sex education programs. Methods of separation never equate to each other and provide no equity in sex education as it often leads to the reinforcement of stereotypes and the strengthening of compromising ideas related to the masculine and feminine (Hoffnung, 2017). Within comprehensive sex education curricula are concepts on gender and oppressive power structures that “separate but equal” gendered sex ed. fails to fulfill pertaining to individualized attention and reinforcement of existing socio-cultural norms. Moreover, Pardini (1998) linked to Hoffnung argues that comprehensive sex education must replace abstinence as it is insufficient and dangerous for young adults because necessary information is deemed unnecessary to teach – sometimes to only one gender..
While the logic for a comprehensive sex education is established and sound, Goldstein (2019), brings into conversation how the LGBTQIA+ community can benefit from a gender based puberty education where they are included. To understand what a comprehensive sex education entails, Goldstein discusses how either/or orientation (boy or girl, man or woman) reinforces a binary and simply put – lacks comprehensiveness. A comprehensive sex education is one that is medically accurate, finds foundations in history, and is age appropriate. Mustanski et al. (2015) depict how broad curriculums can even address lack of parental support, peer support, and community services as the education system does not have the urgency to deal with sex ed. curricula. This means that comprehensive sex education can extend to online services outside of students education – as it is capable of providing a better sense of one’s identity regarding sexual orientation (Mustanski et al., 2015).
Baams et al. (2017) adds and solidifies what a comprehensive sex education looks like as it deals with bullying, toxic heteronormativity, and takes into strong consideration the timing and information necessary for sex education. In comparison to abstinence only methodologies, comprehensive sex ed. helps focus on the idea of power, gender, inequality, and discrimination of those within the LGBTQIA+ community as well as heteronormative identities. This includes and emphasizes asexual and aromantic identities. In summary, a comprehensive sex education should be critical of the past and help, not hurt, those who are in need of education relating to sex, sexuality, gender, and pleasure (Baams et al., 2017).
Mainstream Porn: A Tool for Sex Education
With the conversation on sex education situating our discussion in porn, Alice Echols (1983) uncovers what it looks like when a comprehensive sex education exists outside of school curriculums and moves into less tangible spaces of discourse and learning. As Mustanski et al. (2015) uncovered that sex education exists outside of school systems and in the hands of community, parents, and socio-cultural spaces, Echols work on mainstream internet porn as an incredibly trafficked media sex educator in itself uncovers how mainstream porn is a determinant of pleasure, bodily treatment, and ways of intimacy. Pornography as it is most commonly known is male narrative mainstream hardcore content (MNMH), and has forever been a catalyst for male sexual revolutions and the marginalization, fetishization, and mistreatment of bodies as it generally lacks authentic portrayal of non-ideal and non-heteroseuxal identities (Bell, 2001; Echols, 1983).
The degree that MNMH pornography diminishes oppressed identities can be understood from Brennan (2017) and their analysis of the famous male narrative site “Boys Halfway house.” Famously known for its gonzo gay porn, Brennan notes that sites like these garner appreciation for liberating sexual fantasies; however, it often depicts violence, abuse, and r*ape through the exploitation of male bodies in exchange for housing. Yes – this site leveraged sex for a roof over the head of agents who are often expelled or marginalized in their respective communities. The even scarier hidden concept is if porn is capable of being a sex educator and providing comprehensive sex education, sites like “Boys Halfway House” being used to explore fantasy means possibly teaching what certain kinds of intimacy could look like for those who were unable to learn about it in better spaces. Viewership of porn depicts hardcore abusive fantasies through “realistic scenarios” and perpetuates individuals' development of similar unhealthy fetishes and behaviors that are rooted in unsafe systems and power dynamics (Brennan, 2017).
Massey et al. (2021) further shows that youth are greatly affected by sexual imagery and social learning uncovers these behaviors that harm bodies, as male narrative mainstream hardcore content is capable of influencing adolescents sexual development. When one consumes visual sexual stimuli (VSS), which Nicole Prause (2019) explores, it is possible that VSS can better relationships and sexual behaviors, but not always the case (Messey et al. 2021). Prause understands that VSS can be an educational tool and has the capacity to instill negative sexual behaviors because what is viewed is not always healthy sexual acts. Learning sex education via MNMH content normalizes degrading behaviors. Because of the prominence of visual sexual stimuli in our society, Lisa Tremblay (2011), firmly believes that porn has become synonymous with sex and hidden behind it is the capitalist agenda of monetizing off of new sexual fantasies. In conversation with Anne Korfmacher (2020) and their podcast “Girls on Porn,” the understanding of how mainstream porn leads to the suppression of female desire, fetishization of identities and acts, and forceful submission of marginalized bodies is implicit. MNMH and gonzo pornography perpetuates racism, ableism, and pedophilic tropes that make porn ubiquitous (Korfmacher, 2020).
Pornography as it exists under heteronormative MNMH frameworks is ever present because of Pornhub setting the tone for how things can exist on the internet (Hillinger, 2023). In the documentary Moneyshot: The Pornhub Story, the discussion of pornhub as a “crime scene” that situates almost every discussion on the subject of pornography is addressed. The internet's creation led to an explosion of pornographic content and Mindgeek, the late owners of Pornhub, quickly jumped in as an intermediary in providing MNMH pornography. If one were to consider porn as a sex educator, Pornhub would be the principal educator and culpable for the creation of extensive and negative discourse related to sex, sexuality, and intimacy. While pornhub made financial freedom easy and accessible for those who consensually wanted to upload their own content, Hillinger captures how categories like “teen” are stand-in choices of diction for age and petite bodies. To walk away with a lesson on sex from Pornhub in this case would be to sexualize petite bodies as adolescents and this feels viscerally wrong.
Moreover, Pornhub must be spoken about in relation to human trafficking and exploitation as Mindgeek blatantly enabled and profited from r*ape, sexual violence, and sex trafficking (Hellinger, 2023). When Nicholas Kristof wrote his opinion article in the New York Times, titled “The Children of Pornhub,” he set out to expose how “pornhub prides itself on being the cheery, winking face of naughty” during moments of hardship like the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it was simultaneously monetizing “child r*apes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags” – just a few examples (Kristof, 2020). For many people consuming Pornhub’s content, there is a generous assessment of ignorance or culpability that comes with turning a blind eye to the fact that they are “making money off the worst moment” in people’s lives (Kristof, 2020). While “Girls Do Porn” was already mentioned, Kristof highlights how the company which released its content through pornhub, recruited young women for clothed modeling gigs only to coerce them into performing in sex videos. While Pornhub might have ridded themselves of as much content as possible through a content purge of unverified users who were possibly committing illegal acts or violent ones, criticism must continue as the dominant MNMH porn outsourced by Pornhub can reach anyone’s computer with Mindgeek’s intense search engine optimization strategy (Hillenger, 2023). If someone were to search a question or topic related to sex, sexuality, and intimacy, search engine optimization makes it beyond possible that Pornhub is the educator there to answer the question. While Kristof’s work gave reasonable steps for adult content companies to move in the right direction, such as allowing only verified users to post, prohibiting downloads, increasing moderation, the “measure’s wouldn’t kill porn” or “bother consumers of it” (Kristof, 2020).
Intangible Powers of Mainstream Porn
While the violence and dangers that the dominant MNMH pornographic content perpetuates is made tangible by authors and analysis mainstream heteronormative content as it exists today, the reality is that porn pushes power in many different – more invisible ways. As mentioned already, mainstream internet porn is an incredibly trafficked media and feminist scholar Alice Echols (1983) notes that the advancement in porn consumption technology has created dangers for society because of the notion that mainstream porn causally determined mistreatment of bodies. Echols introduces the idea that tube pornography is a catalyst for male sexual revolutions and marginalizes other identities by creating content that objectifies or lacks any portrayal of non-ideal, non heterosexual, identities. In tandem with Vicki Kirby’s “Identity and Politics,” one can view mainstream ethical pornography as a system of power that acts on agents rendering them subject (2006). This is understood “when power is regarded as a separate property, it seems inevitable to compare it to a commodity that can be possessed or lost, or a force that we control, or are controlled by” (Kirby, 2006; pp.108). If porn at the bare minimum is pushing heterocentric content that makes bodies feel like they are objects of pleasure as well as desire to be treated as objects of pleasure, it is easy to understand how that is beneficial to the patriarchy and male capitalist agenda. This power is felt in the body and mind, and can be understood in terms of the tropes and archetypes adopted by adult mainstream film as well as the simple fact that male pleasure is prioritized.
During the porn debates of the 90’s, a “cultural feminist perspective on sexuality” emerged and “crystalized” (Echols, 1983; pp. 46). This was because “porn not only reflects our culture's misogyny, but causes violence against women as well” (Echols, 1983; pp. 46). With pornography, there is a “double valence of subordinating and producing” that is internal to power – and entails an endless domain of paradoxes because of the fact that porn is a tool for pleasure as much as it is for inflicting harm (Kirby, 2006; pp.109). While some people's pleasure is culpably found in domination of others, Kirby points out that “a subject is passionately attached to his or her own subordination,” and it would be wrong to think that there is not an attachment to the subordination created by adult mainstream entertainment (Kirby, 2006; pp.110). In other words, one can find pleasure in the recreation of tropes that seem violent in pornography, but might be safe and consensual in their respective intimate settings. Even though “power is negative, restrictive – a unitary force that originates outside the subject and stamps it into submission” finding pleasure in subjugation is where “agency exceeds power” (Kirby, 2006; pp.111-112). Echols, on the other hand, would not settle for Kirby’s application of agency. Many would argue that “pornography is the theory and rape is the practice,” and rendering bodies no other choice than to “follow the dictations of man” (Echols, 1983; pp. 46). If adult mainstream film is following the discourse of the patriarchy. This is forever rooted in the way power flows between bodies, minds, and environments, and the understanding that porn perpetuates a similar violence is conjoined. For many, porn is so pervasive that the “personal integrity is so effectively inculcated with disciplinary expectations that he is the psychic instrument of his own compliance” (Kirby, 2006; pp. 112). Porn is the tool that renders so many disciplined to norms of sexual dynamics and intimacy.
Ethical, Feminist, and Qeered Lenses for Porn
If we begin the conversation on ethical and feminist pornography with where we left off on MNMH porn, the idea that there are other ethical kinds of porn which take on a feminist framework and praxis can be analyzed nicely next to Judith Halberstam’s The queer art of failure. Halberstam situates low theory as “trying to locate the in-between spaces that save us from being snared by the hooks of hegemony and speared by the seductions of (capitalism)” (Halberstam, 2011; pp. 1). Capitalism is a thick root for the stump in this world that is mainstream notions, and its existence is chained to its violence; however, low theory would postulate that porn analysis is missing something. “Being taken seriously means missing out on the chance to be frivolous, promiscuous, and irrelevant,” which already sounds like a bad porn title – but is actually Halberstam articulating something of great importance (Halberstam, 2011; pp. 3).
Despite the understanding that porn is capable of enacting power on bodies and minds, accountability might not mean expelling it from existence in its entirety as companies might be trying to do some good with it. We know porn reifies the bad, but it has the ability to resist powers as well. Olga Marques, in “Women’s Ethical Pornographic Spectatorship” said that “ethics is prominent in self governing individuals” and in a “neoliberal society, we are responsible to make an enterprise of our lives” as “we have a power to consume” (Marques, 2018). While it is charged to say “we have a power to consume,” we do as it can be situated in acts of resistance as simple as eating, acquiring new knowledge, or even using pornography. After being depicted as objects of pleasure for so long, the subjectivity of pleasure for vulva owners depicted in porn is a desire located within low theory. This is because adult films created for the male gaze are quite literally not for the gaze of other bodies as touched on by Allegra Smith in “Whose Porn Is It Anyway” Smith, 2015). “Allowing women to have the agency where the pornstar is the object of female desire” states a “reciprocal process” where porn can be gazed upon by the vulva owner too (Smith, 2015; pp. 48). Moreover, power dynamics is a topic located at the epicenter of feminist discourse and a feminist sexual ethic makes room for diverse sexual expression and imagery so as to not ruin it for others (Smith, 2015; pp. 48). In conversation again with Halberstam, ethical feminist pornography is a “counter to the male gaze” and makes for a multiplicity of sexual acts and practices that are rooted in sexual culture and has “contextualized understandings of the treatment of bodies within adult film (Smith, 2015; pp. 48). Feminist frameworks understand that accountability is a necessity and Halberstam argues that “conversation other than mastery seems to offer one very concrete way of being in relation to another form of being and knowing,” situating the consumer in the position to exercise their power and hold adult film accountable for what it purveys.
Preggy Orenstein in “When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?” (2016) looked at how different gender identities are taught about sex, and discussed the increasing presence of pornography in media and culture. When adult content substantially grows to fill voids of the internet as well as the mainstream, in tandem with lack of or insufficient sex education, porn serves as an educator for teenagers and young adults. While this is redundant to state as Orenstein is arguing about sexual violence being the backbone of porns curriculum – she also establishes a lack of women’s pleasure being depicted. Feminist scholar Allegra Smith (2015) discusses how ethical porn intervenes with the male gaze by producing content that allows for people of all identities and sexualities to gaze, be sexual, and feel desired. If porn consumers understood, like Marques (2018) and Smith (2015), that one must be critical of the porn they are watching and whether it is ethical, degrading, genuine, and/or consensual, it arises from the fact that viewers want to see real sexual acts. Ethical pornography is capable of creating content that offers a window into realistic scenes with real cultures, sexualities, and bodies – and therefore a multitude of ways for people to understand pleasure (Smith, 2015).
When I realized that this literature review gave me the opportunity to venture into film theory for ethical feminist porn, I decided I would do so with Jennifer Lyon Bell (2001) who created Blue Artichoke Films. Submitted to the International School of Humanities and Social Science for the degree of Master of the Arts in the department of Film and television at the University of Amsterdam, Bell thinks that pornography in all of its pleasure and fantasy is the perfect example of Christian Metz’s “a film is difficult to explain because it is easy to understand.” In situating Linda William’s notion of one of the most well known pornography to date, Bell wants to look at “Gaze Theory” within the framework of being an extreme form of male fetishization – “an approach Williams does not conform to herself, but rhetorically begins.” (Bell, 2001). After looking at Male narrative mainstream hardcore content, Bell concludes that there is a lack of emotion in male narrative mainstream hardcore pornography. Characters in front of us might demonstrate a small amount, but pornography does not “conform to Smithian theory,” or that “the character and spectator [are] aroused by the same prompt,” and the viewer is using “this shared arousal to ‘get into the character’s shoes’ by centrally imagining that characters experience” (Bell, 2001). Pornography moves away from Smithian ideas as “excess of sympathy” “may detract from desire-generation” because abundant emotions “add new dimensions to the spectators appreciation of narrative or character” – therefore more to consider in arousal. In this case, more is capable of making things too complicated which could “hobbel the spectators sexual desire” (Bell, 2001). With central imaging techniques that “enable the spectator to tap into [a] simulated desire-generation process of character, allowing the spectator to imaginatively reap benefits of the somatic experiences to which the character is privy,” pornography is the perfect place for fantasy to Jennifer Lyon Bell and her work at Blue Artichoke. While I will analyze it more later, this idea establishes ethical porn as a “freedom to fantasize” that “can increase the overall sexual desire the spectator experiences.” Bell’s work shows that a spectator may go on to centrally imagine other emotions, thoughts, et. without compromising the text” but “character is almost always much more than just a body” (Bell, 2001). Male Narrative mainstream hardcore pornography, “a genre in which character is generally assumed ‘not to matter,’ serves here as an example of how different aspects of character might be useful in generating the particular form of spectatorial engagement.” Bell (2001) goes on to explain the film theory behind what we might already viscerally feel, as well as where their work using the ethical feminist and queer lenses for adult film take root.
Ethical feminist porn is a process and production of adult content that is free of exploitation, made with consent and respect, and centers a diverse set of bodies, sexualities, and identities while rejecting the patriarchal and heteronormative male narrative and gaze as it has existed within porn far too dominantly. Because of this, Ethical feminist porn has the possibility of being a positive source of education, yet it is related to whether or not the content is relevant to sex education curricula. While this kind of information should be capable of being sourced on their site, through analysis of different kinds of adult film and entertainment companies on the internet, I look at the extent to which companies are rooted in ethical feminist frameworks and comprehensive sex education curricula.
Through a mixed methods practice, I acquired data for my research. Beginning with a literature review posits the analysis of discourse from adult film media and production companies, while the extent that they are sexually comprehensive is affirmed with a discursive media analysis of its own.
The literature situated prior is a result of research surrounding adult film and media content in order to explain how the industry functions and whether or not it is relevant to nursing our knowledge surrounding sex, intimacy, sexuality, gender, race, and more. I wanted to continue this critical analysis in tangent with ethical and feminist pornography and the extent that it can be pushed as a form of positive sexuality – especially in comparison to mainstream companies like Pornhub. The extent that adult film is considered to be sex education contrasts what sex education has looked like in the past, present, and where it needs to go in the future. However, comprehensive sex education as the best sex education is avowed as it leaves room for pornography and adult film to be exactly what the agent desires. Afterwards, sex education and ethical mainstream and feminist companies, whether based on the internet or in film production, are put into conversation with one another to explain the extent that pornography is a pervasive form of content capable of teaching and influencing individuals in negative, positive, and fantastical ways. In other words, the concept of power as it relates to pornography is spoken about; however, what is mitigating the level that they succeed in influencing people in positive ways might be related to the extent that adult content companies are utilizing sex educational discourse, rhetoric, and diction.
An additional method of media analysis was adopted in order to understand the extent that discourse and rhetoric are related to comprehensive sex education. A comprehensive sex education website was discursively analyzed first because it positions necessary information related to language relevant in pushing sex education and intimacy positivity. Orienting this work with relevant diction related to present sex education projects is pivotal for marking where sex education currently is – as well as where it needs to go in the future. I decided to look at Queer Sex Ed. Community Curriculum for their work in creating, accessable, accurate, and accountable information that centers pleasure and consent. This site represents how it is easy, quite literally, to create words that are sex education as well as address important topics, rather than perpetuating dangerous norms.
With discourse analysis of a sex education project to establish a foundation for the themes utilized and capable of being taught in relation to sex education, adult content and media streaming sites as well as adult film production companies were analyzed. The discourse relevant to the comprehensive sex education company will situate some of the necessary ways to discuss topics related to sex, sexuality, intimacy, and many more topics. The extent that these forms of media push sex educational projects or acknowledge that they are sources of sex education is based on whether or not they have the same diction, syntax, and or acknowledge that adult content is teaching people – in positive and harmful ways. In other words, this will presuppose if the rhetoric and discourse on these two forms of media (sex education and adult film) match up or differentiate entirely. Topics such as 1) pleasure, 2) consent, and 2) the presence of general sex education content were markers of comparison. .
I will look at a total of four companies related to adult entertainment and content production: 1) Pornhub will be the initial subject of interest due to its dominance in the industry and the necessary critique that its presence always demands. 2) I will also look at the closely related heteronormative production company called Brazzers as these production companies are capable of pushing different forms of discourse via the kinds of content they are funded to make. Simultaneously, these companies will be put in contrast to ethical feminist companies like 3) Bellesa, and queered ethical feminist companies like 4) Blue Artichoke Films as they are not only production companies, but also sources for adult content. Moreover, these platforms situate what it looks like to move away from the male gaze in adult content as well as hierarchical structures of power as both companies are run by women and represent in their content how porn historically depicts women as objects of pleasure and not subjects of their own. They seek to alter the pornographic gaze. Each of these company websites will be analyzed on the extent that they have discourse relevant or irrelevant to helping push comprehensive sex education curriculum and knowledge. I will also look at the 5) Sex School Hub as it is clear that they combine sex education and adult content with a queer, ethical, and feminist lens that makes pleasure and education their number one priority.
In summary, the literature review sets the foundation for the analysis of comprehensive sex education and adult entertainment media sources. With these types of media in conversation with one another, a discussion of the results and limitations is generated. Furthermore, the extent that this information is necessary for future research is discussed.
Results and Discussion: Discursive Analysis of Platforms: What is Comprehensive Sex Education and What Does it Look Like on Porn Platforms.
Comprehensive Sex Ed from Queer Sex Ed Community Curriculum
I decided it would be important to bring into conversation a real example of a comprehensive sex education curriculum to posit the conversation I am desiring. Queer Sex Ed Curriculum ,founded by Heather Welty and Al Albertson, displays how easy it is to create and use words that position sex education positively under the domain of pleasure, consent – and sex ed. topics. This is important to understand, as the biggest of the biggest adult entertainment companies should be capable of providing positive language on the subject from which they profit most. When entering Queersexedcc site, you are greeted by the intentions of the curriculum as it was “created out of the need for a sexual health curriculum that is: accessible, accurate, and accountable” because “they believe that everyone has a right to access and take part in building a curriculum that centers on consent, pleasure, and authenticity.” This is so wonderfully set up compared to what it is that a porn company has when you enter the site, but I will note I had to search the website's name to find it. Scrolling on, you begin to understand what kind of work can be done to push sex education outside of the classroom via zines, posters, curriculums, and articles that are free to download. I also get a little smile when I see their image descriptions because sometimes companies wonderfully set the tone for what the bare minimum should be. They “disrupt the traditional hierarchy of knowledge by validating and publishing the perspectives of anyone within our community” because they understand what it looks like to unify and teach sex education. Queersexedcc knows sex education demands “collaborations” and “depends on the community.”
In their curriculum is an entire list of close to 30 sex education topics ranging from “medicalization of Queer Individuals” and “Queer Youth and the Child Welfare System” to a pleasure based “Yes, No, Maybe: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist” of desires and ways to communicate them. You can learn that “a transphobic and homophobic society views nonconforming gender identities and sexualities through a ‘lens of deviance and social danger’” where porn is a representation of the danger on a societal and physical level as “pathologization impedes health outcomes for queer people. Moreover, “Boundaries 101” talks about how “a boundary is a personal limit that is communicated to the other people to clearly delineate comfort or discomfort” and can be “strong” or “malleable” as boundaries are capable of changing all the time. You are taught how to “identify,” “begin a conversation,” and “state your boundary while also being given examples of what it could look like. In the end, Queesexedcc settles on the idea that boundaries are beyond “important to have conversations about” because it is “helpful for everyone.” This highlights that boundaries, an extensive part of what frames the conversation around consent, can be used as an opportunity to talk about what consent looks like. Their piece on “Community and Healing” which centers the societal issues related to consent and sexual violence does this.
They discuss “What is Harm Reduction” in sex-ed and then put their work into practice with articles on “what does queer mean,” “What Does Consent Mean,” and “Queering Consent.” Harm reduction, or the idea that “risk is subjective” and it is “our responsibility to provide people with tools and resources to accurately gage and reduce harm whenever possible,” situates talking about consent as a “practice” where we must “ask instead of assume” things with “regular honest check-ins” to “identify and break down power dynamics.” Not only does Queer Sex Ed. Community Curriculum platform have the information and knowledge, but they are turning it into praxis.
Expanding on consent, the Community Curriculum discusses how a queered consent exists with the understanding that “consent will look different depending on the relationships and power dynamics at play” – and must go “beyond the binary of giving and getting.” This brings us back to the “Yes, No, Maybe” list as consent surrounding intimacy, pleasure, sex, and sexuality is a practice that requires ongoing communication. It makes for the perfect example of what one conversation can look like surrounding pleasure while simultaneously being sex educational. To provide emphasis, they do all this while providing information about “Anti-Fat Bias and the Queer Community” and how the porn industry “fetishizes the size of bodies” under a “heteronormative lens.” Not only are they providing information about sex education, but they are consistently bringing in topics on what it looks like to address pornography without pushing adult content themselves.
While you can also find information related to “Deconstructing the Biological Gender Binary” and get more of an idea on how “gender is a social construct, but sex is not biologically determined” Queer Sex Ed. Community Curriculum plays a pivotal role in situating what sex education is capable of looking like outside of school curriculums and in another setting. This setting is significantly more like adult film platforms and what they could create in tandem with content. Topics that stand out to me, that porn companies could have any kind of information on at the bare minimum, would be 1) consent and 2) pleasure. Consent has been one of the biggest problems in the industry and the repercussions of this takes on many masks as highlighted by Hillinger (2023) and Kristof (2020). To not address this topic would be to forget the history that they are firmly tied to and would be a definitively terrific example of what lack of accountability looks like. To address pleasure as a topic is also relatively simple for a porn company to do as it is what the content often prides itself on bringing. While other topics, if addressed or blatantly ignored, would be necessary in noting, Queer Sex Ed. Community Curriculum situates the kinds of themes that porn and adult film companies can address in relation to a comprehensive sex education curriculum.
Pornhub: Male Narrative Mainstream Heteronormative Pornogrpahy and Sex Educaiton
The first adult content platform I find necessary to analyze is Pornhub as it exists on such a large scale in society and functions as a stand-in for the entire conversation that is pornography. Hillinger (2023) said that Pornhub was equivalent to napster as it was “part of a movement” in its creation. This was something like a pleasure revolution, but for the male narrative mainstream viewer. The dominating male audience gave MindGeek's Pornhub an ego Kristof (2020) was referring to when he said “Pornhub prides itself on being the cheery, winking face of naughty.” Men were the ones writing naughty in this case, and you can tell from before you even enter the website – and upon searching for porn.
Once someone has searched for the words, they learn that “Pornhub is the world’s leading free porn site” and that they can “choose from millions of hardcore videos that stream quickly and high quality” and include “VR Porn.” I really want to hone in on what is already interesting as it is like Pornhub is playing into the taboo of its own subject rather than trying to normalize it. However, it uses terms like “VR Porn” to stay just as relevant as it is taboo. While still not even setting eyes on the site, Pornhub is advertised with links to porn videos, categories, popular pages, and “Teen (18+) Porn Videos.” In conversation with Hillinger (2023), we know that pornhub is using language that is reaffirming petite bodies as adolescent barely legal subjects of sex – more often objects of pleasure with hints of subjective pleasure sprinkled throughout content. What this perpetuates are ideals surrounding bodies, sex, sexuality, and the performances that go with it.
While you get to see Pornhub’s twitter closely linked to the search results of “porn,” entering the site is like getting your retinas soaked and stained by advertisements mixed with orange and black colors and a handful of content. You have the ability to search for a real number of porn videos, categories, live camera sessions where you can watch sex workers perform, porn star catelogs, and the option of meeting up to “fuck” someone via a link. That link brings you to the platform for Adult Friend Finder which could be an entire topic alone on what it looks like to create a community where talking about sex and sexuality is safe.
You can continue on the first page to see how they use diction and create their own syntax with titles of porn videos and content. TRIGGER WARNING: “Milking My Bound Step Son’s Big Cock” appeared as a title during my research which is absurd as it mixes oedipus with legalities, male praise, and male pleasure all in one. Morals are put into place with titles like “I seduced my friend's boyfriend” and “step mom caught step son with his girlfriend,” but “Back in Vietnam” with the categorization as “fetish” creates a new conversation. The kinds of power that these words transfer to sex, sexuality, and intimacy are found in Anne Korfmacher’s podcast (2020) and situate how mainstream male narrative porn created by companies like Pornhub suppress female desire and fetishize identities and acts – where forceful submission of marginalized bodies is implicit. These words normalize unhealthy standards, blatant acts of aggression, and place bodies in harm’s way of racism, ableism, pedophilic tropes, and makes porn ubiquitous. One could talk for a while about the audience that pornhub is trying to appeal to, but the home page screams heteronormative and patriarchically influenced.
As you scroll to the bottom, you can find a content removal link which is wonderful as this allows for people to “report abusive or illegal content,” but only “non-consensual productions,” “personally identifiable information,” “content that violates our Child Sexual Abuse Materail Policy, or “otherwise abusive and/or illegal content.” It is clear that they are catering to fantasy and pleasure as the broadest of these values leaves room for all the subjectivity that porn perpetuates outside of these four categories to exist. It is catering to the male gaze and defining what can be fantasy in sex, sexuality, and intimacy for a mainstream population.
Just when I was losing all hope in searching for anything besides a biased “how to” video where only niche versions of what the home page offered would have shown up, I found “Pornhub Sexual Wellness” – and my mind was blown. Their motto is “real talk about sex from those who know it best” – but then again, this is still Pornhub. Upon entering the site, you can see clearly that Pornhub is attached to a comprehensive sex education curriculum that is more suitable than many. There is information related to getting healthy, content in basic sexual anatomy, different sexually transmitted disease, and general reproductive health. Under the sexuality tab related to getting healthy are links on how to navigate and build relationships as well as a weekly question and answer session with Dr. Laurie Betito, a clinical psychologist specializing in sexuality and sex therapy as well as the director of the wellness center.
While the “get healthy” tab made me wonder about the present status of hysterectomies in our society as “what to expect when having sex after a hysterectomy” was a leading article, I also found it wonderful that someone was talking about it. Pornhub Sexual Wellness is situating conversations on “how do I respond when they tell me they have herpes,” to understanding premature ejaculation. The sexuality tab discusses birth control, resolving differences in sexual desire, lube, and more.
It is beyond clear from Pornhub’s site that their first priority is to push adult content that is male narrative and mainstream approved. While it garners attention from a male dominated, patriarchally influenced, and heteronormative audience more often than not, it is clear that it is focused on pleasure. While consent is a category that they have in their wellness information subjects, it is not entirely obvious when entering the site other than the ability one has to report non-consensual content. That being said, they cover the majority of what I believed a porn company would address with regards to sex education content and expanded on it. Their content reaches a vast amount of categories; however, in comparison to the control that is the Queer Sex Ed. Community Curriculum, Pornhub Sexual Wellness Center touches on subjects that take root in the same language they perpetuate on their site. Some examples: “Aging,” “Cheating,” “Erectile Dysfunction,” “Female Orgasm,” “Fetishes,” “Penis Size.” While they are addressing topics that their own content undoes at times, they cap off their comprehensive curriculum with “safer sex,” “sex toys,” “virginity,” and “your body.” Pornhub has comprehensive sex education motives that are backed by doctors and degrees, but their motives to put their pornographic content first seems to bolster arguments like Echols (1983), Brennan (2017), Prause (2019), and Korfmacher (2020). Moreover, it gives Pornhub even more of a reason than other companies to attach comprehensive sex education curricula and becomes its own cyclical process of educating on violence and reifying the powers that created by pushing the same male narrative mainstream content.
Brazzers: Male Narrative Mainstream Heteronormative Pornogrpahy and Sex Educaiton
As Hillinger (2023) filled us in on a lot of information related to Pornhub through their documentary, one of the topics sprinkled in was Pornhub’s production company Brazzers. Searching for Brazzers must be done using its namesake or the production company explicitly. With the top result, one must enter with affirmative consent by clicking that you are above the age of consent. This was something I found that other companies lacked when handing out licensed and free material. Meaning when you enter the site – you are immediately given adult content in images, words, and moving pictures.
While brazzer’s refrained from doing this by prefacing with terms and conditions to deny authorization to those under age of majority, the reason why is clear as the language they are using is one that is rooted in heteronormative patriarchal systems of misogyny and male gaze. “Looking for the hottest busty pornstars around, Brazzers.com is the only place to be” with“hardcore scenes full of big boobs, round butts, and luscious lips being put to good use,” are words that cater to one audience. While it might be a cater full of shit, some people are drawn to the misogyny, r•ape culture, and patriarchal way of doing things because it is comfortable and privileges them. As Kirby (2006) and Echols (1983) allude to in tandem with one another, the patriarchal fantasy is one that deals with power on a subject and one can find pleasure in the recreation of tropes that seem violent when a voyeur – but are actually a sign of how safe they are in performing their gender and sexuality no matter if it is heteronormative.
Something that was incredibly unique to me was what it looked like to view Brazzers required you to become a member and pay a membership fee. This is incredibly important to do when watching porn as your money is directly responsible for making sure that people are paid, and people can struggle to do so if all content is free like their parent company. However, Brazzers is attached to the same violence that Pornhub is pushing with its titles and fetishizations of sex acts and identities. They advertise their “blondes, naughty brunettes, fiery redheads to phat booty Latina and Black goddesses” mentioning there is “something for everyone.” In reality, there is something for the male narrative mainstream porn viewer who enjoys the fetishized language of identities as a sexual category where they are the character with sexual agency.
Brazzers seems to have an ego just as large as Pornhub calling themselves the “number one name in adult entertainment period. Recognizable worldwide.” With their “universe” of content, a viewer is only aware of Brazzers’ ethics based on assumptions, ignorance, or by reading. Brazzers offer their workers a “comfortable satisfying on-set experience that lets the world’s top performers do what they do best,” and I am all for the sound of these words because it is the bare minimum. Between every word to convince you of their mission is a link to join with a membership – so there is no escaping the fact that you must pay to view all of this. In many ways, ethics within the porn company have always been tied to fair pay and Brazzers seems to be engaging in that despite ignoring other facets of ethics.
You learn that Brazzers “Do Milfs Best” referring to intimacy with more mature women; however, they imply that one needs their content to satisfy a “quick fix of the most alluring experienced pornstars around.” While the word “quick” could explain theories behind the orgasm gap and lack of female pleasure, in establishing members, they are eager to give content to those who pay in order to be a speedy resource for people to experience male narrative mainstream content. They sexualize caregiver roles which can create dangerous norms while simultaneously fetishizing sexual acts. With categories labeled “Gangbang,” “teen 18+,” “gloryhole,” “trans,” “big dick worship,” and more, when Brazzers says “we’re pretty sure you’ll learn a thing or two, so who says anal porn can’t be educational” – the sex educator in me dies at the thought of who is teaching it
While Brazzers is pushing comprehensive sex education concepts of pleasure and consent through a heteronormative lens that has be reified by massive amounts of content depicting the same kinds of intimacy styles and sexual acts, it severely lacks an unbiased perspective and represents a product of its own perversion. I am also frustrated by how simple it is to attach Pornhub’s Sexual Wellness information page to Brazzers in order to change the level of sex education they provide with the click of a button. This is an example of the work that an adult production or film company can do pertaining to sex education, or rather how easy it is for one to discount it in their own field as a necessary part of their product. Sex educators like Brazzers think their content speaks for itself, but have been creating discourse – pushing the same problematic understandings of sex, sexuality, and intimacy that helped it to prosper.
Bellesa: Ethical Feminist Porn and Sex Education
While not as large scale as the prevailing Pornhub due to their dominance in search engine optimization over at Mindgeek, Bellesa takes up the niche of ethical feminist content that center “free porn videos for her” – or “porn for women.” If Pornhub was catering to men, Bellesa is catering to women and those who have a more feminine gaze on sex, sexuality, and intimacy. The site's pink and white colors add to the search engine results of “best free female friendly HD porn videos and erotic stories” with “hot guys” and “natural bodies” at center screen.
While quick links can send you to “passionate” or “girl on girl” categories, they are catering to a lightly heteronormative audience with a female gaze. Sex toys “for women” can be found which are most certainly associated with pleasure activism, yet rooted in capitalist ways of indulging in it. While Bellesa is free and makes money off of selling sex toys on their boutique website, they offer a pay what you can model subscription. This is really intriguing because it holds people accountable for paying for the content they watch, but understands not everyone has the money to indulge in it. It also should make someone question what enables a company like Bellesa to lower their prices for some and not for others?
However, Bellesa being the “premier destination for all things female sexuality,” what they are asking to be paid for is much less male narrative centered and money upends a different framework for adult film and the pleasure it can bring. The Titles of films and videos such as “Turning Me On,” “Pure Perfection,” “Erogenous,” and “Pleasure Seekers” in comparison to Pornhub and Brazzers, center female sexuality and create room for fantasy. With no blunt titles based in sex acts, their erotica section adds to the fantasy while simultaneously bringing in a different medium for sex education related to erotica, fan fiction, and words that bring pleasure.
Visibly on their website is a sex education tab with a lot of articles that skew what a school curriculum would call sex education, are sources for the conversations they can start. With knowledge about one’s pelvic floor or Cardi B showing off her sex toys from Bellesa Boutique, it is clear that their sex education is rooted in female pleasure. This is because male narrative mainstream porn has neglected this lens and “politics of cunnilingus: the oral sex gap” explains another niche of the repercussions of heteronormative porn. While there are more articles on reproductive rights, abortion, “policing of Black Women’s Pussies” and 28 pages of written content under the sex education tab, there is a lot of self advertising occurring.
It is expected that a company like Bellesa, in creating a sex education facet similar to Pornhub Sex Wellness, would advertise their own content and not shy away from doing so. However, the “About” Bellesa section solidifies their mission as an adult film company and sex educator. Wondering “what would adult entertainment look like if it was created in the vision of a woman since day 1, ” Bellesa wants to shift “portrayals of women from objects of conquest to subjects of their own pleasure.” If Pornhub bent the wire all the way to one side, Bellesa is most certainly bending it the other way as “the continued climb towards extremism, the type of sex that can be found on the internet today is a twisted, unrecognizable representation of sexual reality.” People are confronted with whether or not to “embrace a culture of sexuality that feels wrong on a personal level, or exclude yourself from watching porn” – and Bellesa wants everyone to watch. They push content that exists at the “intersection of fantasy and reality” that feels “authentic.” Moreover, viewers can “empathize” with the fact that they capture “real, unscripted sex.” Excluding fake orgasms and encouraging communication, what feels good, and the freedom for performers to take it wherever they like, Bellesa is pushing content that situates healthier communication in intimacy.
While their search engine results call it porn for women, the mission statement says that “Bellesa films is not ‘porn for women,’ it’s porn by women. It's porn for everyone who wants something real.” They really understand that male narrative mainstream content is not for everyone, and are attempting to provide content to a range of audiences where women are “calling the shots at every step of the way” and offering a “safety/support for performers that unfortunately isn’t always granted in the porn industry (Brennan, 2017; Echols, 1983; Korfmacher, 2020; Prause, 2019). You can firmly tell that they “believe the porn we watch has real societal implications” and so Bellesa “weaves critical concepts thoughtfully into its scenes - notions like equal pleasure, consent, and navigating power dynamics.” Bellesa hopes to “open larger conversations about sex, consent, and real pleasure – answering quite explicitly that they understand their content is able to provide a comprehensive sex education.
Whether it's through articles, visuals, videos, or another medium, Bellesa is an ethical feminist porn company that is working to provide comprehensive sex education curriculums with its content. Hoffnung (2017) reminds us that sex education takes root in challenging double standards, but simultaneously, the separation of man and woman has the ability to assert emphasis on the gender binary and could lead to tailoring sex education according to stereotypes of masculine and feminine. The difference here is that we are in a time where education on any body that is not male is more uncommon than the other. By Bellesa focusing on vulva owners mainly and appealing to those who identify as women, their work in sex education is pivotal as it is providing female centered understandings that were neglected by our society. Regardless, their advocacy for the pleasure and sex education of non-men is enough to situate an understanding of their mission in adult content.
Blue Artichoke Films: Ethical, Feminist, and Queer Adult Film and Sex Education
While Bellesa represents the mainstream ethical feminist adult film lens, Blue Artichoke, adds a queered lens to what it looks like to produce adult content. In Jennifer Lyon Bell’s (2020) work titled “Engaging the Body,” an understanding of the film theory that Blue Artichoke takes foundation in can be confronted. Jennifer adds a queered lens to adult film by understanding how empathy and sympathy play a role in desire and arousal through central imagining of fantasies and the right character arc (2020).
When explicitly searching for Blue Artichoke Films from the beginning, it is clear their intent is not to provide a comprehensive sex education explicitly, but rather implicitly as its focus is content. Creating “erotic film for people who like film,” Blue Artichoke affirms consent on entering into the site and refrains from bombarding you with their “award-winning, creative erotic films that portray sexuality in an emotionally realistic way.” Unlike the other companies who throw their content in front of you, Bell wants audiences who are eager to “learn about a person when you get sexually intimate with them,” and understand that “power shifts' ' between agents during intimacy. With mainstream porn feeling “tedious” as “a lot is happening, yet nothing really happens” Blue artichoke wants to bring content that is both “realistic and fun to watch”
Their vision explicitly argues that “sex is a giant, beautiful, strange, messy, fascinating, fun, and thrilling force of nature. It doesn’t usually look that way in movies.” Through their film production process, “actors and actresses honestly explore the psychology of characters’ sexual boundaries” sometimes by “being brave enough to take emotional risks” in the safe setting they create. Their queered lens understands that “warm people are sexy” and they are “uninterested in cold mechanical fucking” that comes with scripted male narrative mainstream heterosexual content. Sex is often a creative outlet for people and the freedom given to performers by Blue Artichoke states that pleasure and consent is written into the people who are being filmed agreeing on the fantasy they want to create.
Because fantasy is a massive part of adult film, and Blue Artichoke mainly does film production, they understand that part of sex education is stigmatization. People reject “crappy porn that misrepresents our anatomy, the kinds of things that get us off, or the kinds of beauty that appeal;” and Blue Artichoke wants to capture those desires by trying to “appeal to people of all genders.” With the idea that “feminism makes good porn” as women are also everywhere on Blue Artichokes set in juxtaposition to Bellesa and MNMH companies, in contrast to popular belief, Blue Artichoke believes that the “rose petals” associated with women writing content is “silly.”
In other words, while modern women may enjoy watching romantic sex, they also might like seeing something alternative to the “knight-in-shining-armor” trope. Bell understands that “pop culture is rife with messages for women that sex is only awesome once they’ve found true love,” and while “love is lovely” – meaningful sex can be captured on film between two “total strangers” and be just as good. Bell tries to capture emotions in the face as filming that face is a site where “sex becomes emotionally realistic.” In providing words to describe the themes of their content, Blue Artichoke tries to “transcend labels.”
With the understanding that Blue Artichoke wants its audience to relax and know that they enjoy the process of filming, the last thing they assure audiences on before providing any content is casting ethics. Here, “real chemistry,” “pleasure,” “personal expression,” “safer sex,” “time to rest,” and “freedom” for those involved to participate to whatever extent they desire, Blue Artichoke’s mission to create adult films is clear. While a comprehensive sex education is addressed with its content and the idea of what it looks like for pornography to assist in pleasure, Blue Artichoke has no explicit sex education curriculum attached to its productions. This is because Jennifer Lyon Bell is focused on the intrinsic role that fantasy plays in adult film and feels that – while sex education is necessary, producing fantastical content that speaks to empathy and non-heteronormative values in sex, sexuality, and intimacy in a healthy way commits to a different kind of work in sex education. In other words, pleasure, consent, and any sex education topic that relates to what Blue Artichoke is doing is implicitly a part of the film production process that is creating an intimate fantasy and not a mission of its own for Jennifer Lyon Bell.
Sex School Hub: Ethical, Feminist, and Queer Pornographic Sex Education Curriculums
If under the umbrella of a comprehensive sex education curriculum is ethical feminist and/or queer pornography, I was curious to find a specific platform. Because we know that increasing presence of pornography in media and culture means that pornography often serves as a source of sex education (Orenstein, 2016) – is there a platform that missions to provide comprehensive sex education through solely adult pornographic content?
In my research, I stumbled upon Sex School Hub’s instagram for “inclusive & affirming X Ed uncensored & Fun Tutorials Segggs Ed.” While it might feel like any other male mainstream title being used to lure you in with intentional spelling errors and diction, a google search shows you their list of films, linkedIn – and then their website. Hint: they are not just mimicking the trope of the sexualized teacher.
When you enter the website, you want to enroll as “Sex School is committed to normalizing our right to access, honest, unbiased sex education with resources that are accurate and trustworthy.” With their simple mission sprawled out like a renaissance nude, you can rest assured that porn will not be shoved in your face. The sex education “you wish you had” is not one that gives you no choice on when to begin, but offers you “uncensored and fun videos by real sex professionals. No condoms on bananas here.” While mocking past prevention and comprehensive attempts of sex education, Sex School Hub is intriguing because of the professionals with whom they are working.
Intimate lectures are used to “lift the taboo around sex and sexuality” – and there is an extensive collection that includes many categories of content – including consent. Explicit tutorials show intimate videos “the way it happens in real life.” By demonstrating “how to do hot stuff, and navigate the not so sexy bits and tricky moments,” Sex School Hub is using, at first, slightly uncomfortable words to describe their work. However, the fact that they are including the moments where sex and intimacy are bumpy as well as the communication necessary for these moments is positive advancement in comprehensive curriculums. By not editing their content and having the words to back it up, comprehensive sex education can be found in the moments that are left out of edited attempts – because it is raw. It is the pornographic extent of Halberstam’s Low Theory (2011).
In being a small company that asks people to pay for the consumption of their porn aside from subscribing to get one free video, Sex School Hub does their best to “promote pleasure and equity” in capital settings. They “understand many people want to pay for their explicit content, but they lack “the means,” and “ask people with honesty, to pay less until they can meet our rates.” Sex School explains that they are unique though because their company is a collective of people with facets relating to comprehensive sex education: Performers, Directors, Sex Workers, Sex Coaches, BDSM Coaches, Activists, Writers, and Educators.
Sex School Hub’s explore page exemplifies all of the previous labels as consent not only is the very first topic addressed, but there is an entire comprehensive catalog at your fingertips. You can “explore the many layers of sex health and its most important aspects” while learning the questions to ask about sexual identities and social situations. If BDSM is on your mind, they have your back. If you are curious about how to view pornography from an unbiased perspective, as well as what audiences can learn from porn and the fantasy it brings – Sex School Hub has two sources for you.
Their explicit demos on “erectile dysfunction,” explain the term, its stigma, and help to create space for conversations on the topic. “How to talk dirty” or "How to Engage in “Pleasure Mapping” to enhance “self-awareness, clear roles, and “improve communication between couples” are two pieces directed by Sex School Hub. They explain the concept of “squirting,” the shame associated with it, and learn with “active instructions” how to do it for vulva owners.
Because these subjects can seem overwhelming and words sprinkled through the website explaining their mission only do so much, I decided to look at their values page. In attempting to normalize “our right to access honest, unbiased sex education resources,” Sex School set out to deliver understandings that are “approachable, relatable, and celebrate diversity as a fundamental value for a healthy, pleasurable, true to oneself sex life.” This is praxis as “ethical practices are a fundamental part of our work and part of our education mission” according to Sex School Hub and then they proceed to list a bunch of their values. In summary:
- Explicit sex education
- Fair pay all around
- Safe sex environment
- Connection between performers
- Affirmed consent with performers and crew
- Relaxed environment: breaks as needed.
I find this to be a wonderful example of what it looks like to embrace comprehensive sex education methodologies of teaching and filming as it requires we consider the ways we can focus on helping our community and celebrating and assisting in diversity (Baams et al., 2017). In trying to foster such a place, they ask for the same efforts from their audience with a spiel on how they are (all in capital letters) A SMALL COMPANY WITH REAL PEOPLE WHO WORK HARD EVERY DAY TO PROVIDE INNOVATIVE CONTENT – PLEASE KEEP THAT IN MIND WHEN ENROLLING AND WRITING US.”
Despite having “plenty of experience” at Sex School Hub, they are not of the scale of other companies reviewed prior. That being said, this does not stop them from providing comprehensive content that is rooted in consent, pleasure, and general sex education topics better than other companies. With general, explicit, and community based adult content, their sex education is producing discourse on many subjects that are critical to engaging in an agent's identities and relationship to sex, sexuality, and intimacy.
Closing Thoughts: Accountability of Adult Content as a Sex Educator
This piece sought after understanding the extent that a comprehensive sex education curriculum could be developed in tandem with adult pornographic content. By looking at Queer Sex Ed Curriculum in conversation with the porn companies Pornhub, Brazzers, Bellesa, Blue Artichoke, and Sex School Hub, analysis on the positioning question was done.
With sex education having been an issue for many years and abstinence only methodologies being the source of present problems, communities, parents, adolescents, and schools have been pushing for more comprehensive sex education curriculums for years because their educators have been insufficient in providing. (Connell, 2009; Malfetti & Rubin, 1968). Because of the insufficiency highlighted by Hoffnung and the interlocking systems of oppression Pardini (1998) mentions, the easily accessible internet as a source of sex education fills the void of missing sex educators and becomes a dominant force (Echols, 1983; Orenstein, 2016). Ethical feminist pornography rises from the violence that adult content creates itself to provide content that engages away from male narrative mainstream porn by altering the lens filming as well as the gaze of the audience to which it caters (Smith, 2015).
Porhub might be the main source of porn on the internet as well as be attached to all the violence it monopolized on (Hillinger, 2023; Kristoph, 2020), but their new found effort in comprehensive sex education deserves to be recognized. Compared to their production company, which could easily attach themselves to Pornhub Sexual Wellness, Brazzers is a prime example of what it looks like to solely focus on male hardcore fantasy versus Pornhub promoting the same thing – but providing sex educational tools as well.
While Bellesa was a great example of what it looks like for adult entertainment and porn companies like Pornhub to shift their audiences to the other side of the binary, Blue Artichoke posits a queered feminist approach. By focusing on what it looks like to make good adult film as an artistic discipline, Jennifer Lyon Bell provides primarily fantastical adult films with the understanding that their work is possibly being used as an educational source. Within that acknowledgement is the decision to not focus on creating sex educational content, but to create windows into others intimacies that can teach one about their own pleasure and fantasy.
While all the companies prior related to sex education with complete absence of it or light missions in comparison to their heavily fortified porn archives, Sex School Hub played a pivotal role in formulating what comprehensive sex education could look like when truly woven together with adult content. While they are unable to reach a vast audience, their approach to discussing gender, sexuality, sex, intimacy, pleasure, consent, and many more topics within the domain of a comprehensive sex education is obvious when navigating their site.
Overall, there is a real capacity for porn to be considered a positive source of sex education, but the extent that they are rooted in comprehensive sex education curricula positions how beneficial their mission can be. With the literature review to help establish an understanding of sex education curriculums and mainstream ethical, feminist, and/or queer pornography, the present piece offers understanding of how to navigate the internet in a world where sex education falls short. Because it is a tool at our disposal, it is incredibly important to think critically about the content we consume. Turning to pornography to answer some of our most intimate questions must be done with larger intentions of gaining a comprehensive understanding of sex, sexuality, intimacy, and lenses removed of heteronormativity and patriarchal portrayals. The research further develops an understanding on the kinds of powers that are related to adult content and help to propose ways of understanding what is capable of bringing pleasure as well as what pleasure is deserving of an education.
While someone can walk away with a vast amount of information and tools to navigate the internet for adult porn and sex education topics, there were a few limitations to my research. To begin, my experience as a sex educator via many mediums makes me biased towards comprehensive methods. While my literature review considered abstinence only sex education approaches and prevention methods, my understanding of where sex education needs to go does not. Having worked in the adult entertainment industry briefly for a company not addressed, I firmly believe that porn is capable of teaching positive values related to a comprehensive sex education. While it would have been helpful to discuss the ethics of the production process of adult entertainment further by researching film sets, I felt that the mission of a company should be visible to audiences who are consuming their content. In trying to create discourse around sex, sexuality, intimacy, and how it pertains to comprehensive adult film, leaving out what the production environments look like creates the space for people to neglect practicing what they preach. While I did my best to be critical of this during my research, my understanding of whether missions align with praxis, or putting knowledge to practice, is limited.
Broader limitations to my research come from lacking deeper explicit analysis related to comprehensive sex education and marginalized bodies. Whether it is the schooling system or somewhere else that one is getting a sex education, to look critically at how the pervasive powers of porn act on bodies and minds of all people always deserves more space; however, I felt it necessary to focus on a little more of what porn can bring rather than what it has historically lacked. Despite the piece being limited in addressing all the foundations related to sex education and pornography as there is an abundance of discourse on these subjects, a strength comes out of addressing internet behaviors because of how easily accessible it is.
Most people in the present have access to the internet within arms reach and surfing it peaks their interest – especially when they have questions. When wondering about sex, sexuality, intimacy, and anything sex educationally related, porn is one of the first resources to reveal itself. With an understanding of comprehensive sex education models situated in the present article as well as what it looks like on a real adult content platform, one is able to freely indulge in porn as fantasy and education. Because comprehensive sex education leaves room for porn to teach consent, pleasure, and topics related to sex, porn companies are capable of becoming one of the most prominent sex educators in society.
However, we must continue to be critical and hold porn companies accountable for their tropes, audiences, modes and means of production, and overall missions because if we neglect to do so – we will continue to reify the same powers that pornographic content created today. This piece serves as a reminder that deeming porn as negative sources of sex education demands that we hold it accountable – while simultaneously creating room for it to be the sex educator we need at any given moment.
Keywords and Definitions in Brief:
While it was not part of the project, I found it to be beneficial that I provide unbiased definitions for some of the concepts and themes I am discussing. While I would have loved to contribute more time to this as it is foundational to sex education, I was able to add terms and definitions in brief.
- Abstinence only sex education: A sex ed agenda dedicated to teaching agents how to refrain from sexual behaviors that include vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Can be individually defined by many other people.
- Adult content: any kind of material, whether audio or visual, that contains porn, nudity, explicit sexual material that goes beyond what is generally broadcasted
- Cisnormativity: A system of power that generally assumes individuals to be cisgender, or a person who identifies as their assigned sex and corresponding gender, and favors resources and power solely in the hands of cisgender people
- Comprehensive sex education: A sexual education agenda that is inclusive of all identities in order to provide an age appropriate, sufficient, equitable education on biology, gender, sexuality, pleasure, contraceptives, and social pressures
- Ethical Porn: porn created consensually and built around respect for all agents involved as well as treats with respect through their practices of paying people involved fairly for their work.
- Fantasy: the imagining of impossible, improbable, or in this case – desired things and events
- Mainstream Pornography: adult film and content that is produced and distributed in mass by leading porn production companies and delineates norms within sex, sexuality, and intimacy.
- Pornography: material of any medium that contains explicit descriptions or displays of sex, sexual activity, sexuality, all with the intention of creating arousal.
- Pleasure: The feeling of satisfaction derived from both physical and psychological pursuits
- Sex education: The teaching of sex, sexuality, and intimacy as it relates to bodily development, sex, sexuality, relationships, and the societal implications and systems at play .
- Heteropatriarchy: A system of power in which cisgender males and heterosexual people possess resources and influence, exercised over and against those who do not define themselves as such.
Baams, L., Dubas, J. S., van Aken, M. A., & , G. (2017). Comprehensive Sexuality Education as a Longitudinal Predictor of LGBTQ Name Calling and Perceived Willingness to Intervene in School. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(5), 931-942. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0638-z.
Bell, Jennifer L. (2001). Engaging the Body: The Possibilities and Limitations of Character-Based Theory in Explaining Pornography.Department of Film and television Studies, University of Amsterdam.
Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. (1973). Our Bodies, Ourselves. In E. B. Freedman (Ed.), The Essential Feminist Reader (pp. 295-299). Modern Library.
Brennan, Joseph. “Abuse Porn: Reading Reactions to Boys Halfway House.” Sexuality &
Culture, vol. 21, no. 2, Springer Nature B.V., June 2017, pp. 423–40. ProQuest
Brian Mustanski, George J. Greene, Daniel Ryan & Sarah W. Whitton (2015) Feasibility,
Acceptability, and Initial Efficacy of an Online Sexual Health Promotion Program for LGBTYyouth: the Queer Sex Ed Intervention, The Journal of Sex Research, 52:2, 220-230.
Carrion, M. L., & Jensen, R. E. (2014). Curricular Decision Making Among Public Sex Educators. Sex Education, 14(6), 623-634. doi:10.1080/14681811.2014.919444
Connell, E. (2009). Sex Education. In J. O'Brien (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Gender and Society (pp. 746-748). SAGE Publications, Inc., https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781412964517.n377
Dobson, A. S., & Ringrose, J. (2016). Sext Education: Pedagogies of Sex, Gender and Shame in the Schoolyards of Tagged and Exposed. Sex Education, 16(1), 8–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2015.1050486
Echols, Alice. “Cultural Feminism: Feminist Capitalism and the Anti-Pornography Movement.”
Social Text, no. 7, Duke University Press, 1983, pp. 34–53. JSTOR
Goldstein, T. (2019). Letter 14: Sex Education. In Teaching Gender and Sexuality at School: Letters to Teachers (pp. 90-95). Taylor & Francis. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429426421 (Secondary Source)
Hoffnung, M. (2017). Separate is Never Equal: The Repackaging of Single Sex Education. Sex Roles, 76(9–10), 635–636. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0736-0
Korfmacher, Anne. “Reviewing Pornography: Asserting Sexual Agency on Girls on Porn.”
Gender Forum, no. 77, Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier, 2020, p. 13.
Kristof, N. (2020, December 4). Opinion | The Children of Pornhub. The New York Times.
Massey, Kristina, et al. “Young People, Sexuality and the Age of Pornography.” Sexuality &
Culture, vol. 25, no. 1, Feb. 2021, pp. 318–36. DOI.org (Crossref) https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09771-z.
Marques, Olga, “Women’s ‘Ethical’ Pornographic Spectatorship.” Sexuality & Culture, vol. 22,
no. 3, Springer Nature B.V., Sept. 2018, pp. 778–95. ProQuest http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12119-017-9489-8.
Orenstein, P. (2016, March 19). When Did Porn Become Sex Ed? New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/opinion/sunday/when-did-porn-become-sex-ed.htl
Pardini, P. (1998). Federal Law Mandates ‘Abstinence Only Sex Ed: Fundamentalists Successfully Pushed Stealth Legislation. Rethinking Schools, 12(4), 16-18. https://rethinkingschools.org/articles/feds-mandate-abstinence-only-sex-ed/
Prause, Nicole, “Porn Is for Masturbation.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 48, no. 8, Springer
Nature B.V., Nov. 2019, pp. 2271–77. ProQuest http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-1397-6.
Rosoff, J. (1989). Sex Education in the Schools: Policies and Practice. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2714425
Slominski, K. (2021). Teaching Moral Sex: A History of Religion and Sex Education in the United States. Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190842178.001.0001
Smith, Allegra W. “Whose Porn Is It Anyway: Rhetorically Exploring the Differences between
Mainstream and Feminist Internet Pornography.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Michigan State University, 2015. ProQuest
Strong, B. (1972). Ideas of the Early Sex Education Movement in America, 1890-1920. History of
Education Quarterly, 12(2), 129-161. doi:10.2307/366974
Tremblay, Lisa. “Porn Again: Why It’s Time to Take Another Look at a Divisive Issue.”
Herizons, vol. 24, no. 3, Herizons Magazine, Inc., Winter 2011, pp. 29–31.