Lesbian Exploitation in Heterosexual Porn

10 02 2009

If you google image search “lesbian,” you will most likely be barraged by an overwhelming amount of pornographic material geared toward heterosexual males.  Porn for lesbians by lesbians most likely will not show up in your search.  True lesbian-for-lesbian porn is much more difficult to find, and is hugely different from the “girl-on-girl” porn to which heterosexual men are being exposed.

Lesbian women have been especially exploited in heterosexual porn for male arousal.  Modern pornography for heterosexual males often contains at least one “lesbian” scene.  In some countries, girl-on-girl porn for heterosexual males is considered a “fetish,” and is for this reason not included in mainstream pornography.  But many straight porn actresses have performed in “lesbian” scenes.  Why, if it is not for lesbian arousal, are girl-on-girl scenes so prevalent in heterosexual pornography?

Studies have found that some straight men are more aroused by depictions of lesbian sex than heterosexual sex. For one such study, click here.  But we must also note that studies can conflict, and the “lesbians” pictured in hetero porn are highly feminine-looking, heavily made-up, large breasted, most often straight women.  Hetero “girl-on-girl” porn is geared toward the socialized heteronormative opinions of what is attractive in women.  The actresses often look at the camera more than in true lesbian pornography, concerned not with each others’ enjoyment of the experience, but with the male viewer’s enjoyment.  The sexual experience is in fact not just between two women.  The viewer is included in the action.  

Many activists have been increasingly uncomfortable or angry with the portrayals of women in pornography.  Both straight and lesbian heterosexual-geared pornography have been the subject of debate among feminists.  Whether or not pornography in itself can be reworked in a way that is less damaging to women or the entire concept must be thrown out the window is unclear.  Pornography can be used to encourage sex-positivity, but also can be used to reinforce gendered power-hierarchies and male-centered sexual behaviors.  A reworking of the heterosexual pornography industry would be necessary in order to create erotic material that expresses female desire accurately and encourages equality in enjoyment for both sexes.  

The exploitation of lesbian women in heterosexual porn is despicable.  The portrayal of “lesbians” in heteronormative ways spills over into pop culture, television, and advertising, where straight women are portrayed in girl-on-girl scenes for male arousal.  The idea of the “lesbian” as an erotic idea for straight men is not representative of a true lesbian sexual experience, and is used mainly to arouse the viewer based on socially constructed and hetero-male-centered ideas of what is erotic.  I want to make it clear that it is not the male desire to view girl-on-girl scenes that I view as especially problematic, but the way that the idea of “lesbian” has become improperly represented as a mechanism for heterosexual arousal.  At least the term “girl-on-girl” porn acknowledges that these women in the scenes most often are not lesbians.  But the truth is that this genre is often referred to informally as “lesbian” porn and the very idea of lesbian women has become eroticized for male pleasure in society as a whole. The idea of heterosexual girl-on-girl scenes also plays into the idea of women performing for male pleasure instead of for their own pleasure or mutual pleasure.  Reclaiming (or destroying) pornography via feminism must include discussion of the negative impacts of the current porn industry not only on straight women, but on the LGBT community as well.


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6 responses

11 02 2009
lesfriendly

they are not even called lesbian porn – they are actually girl-on-girl porn as they were never lesbians to start with.

sad fact but true – its a fetish in some way.

but then again, im also personally addicted to male-on-male porn.

go figure.

11 02 2009
feminist1

thanks! i will add that to the post.

25 03 2009
kristy

Such exploitation of Lesbian women is upsetting.

26 03 2009
Lorraine E.

I’m confused about why you have more of a problem with girl-on-girl porn than with other forms of mainstream porn. Yes, the overwhelming majority of girl-girl porn that exists is geared toward heterosexual males, but so is the overwhelming majority of total porn, so I’m not sure what your argument here is as to why girl-on-girl is especially offensive.

Your second paragraph appears to contradict itself–in one sentence, you say “pornography for heterosexual males often contains at least one lesbian scene”, and then in the very next sentence, you claim that “lesbianism is considered a ‘fetish’ and is typically not included in the most mainstream heterosexual porn…” Since girl-on-girl sex appears in much (in my limited experience, I’d say “most”) porn geared toward heterosexual males, it’s hardly a “fetish” in any meaningful sense of the word–if we’re going to call it a fetish, we should probably call breast implants and oral sex fetishes too, and then there’s really nothing in mainstream porn that isn’t a fetish. I can’t see any reason why this definition of fetish is any better than the common definition, which is roughly “sexual activity that does not occur in mainstream pornography.” (I would also argue that “fetish” is a neutral term; the fact that a sexual activity or interest is uncommon or unconventional does not make it bad.) I therefore fail to see how you support your claim that girl-on-girl porn exploits lesbian women.

In the third paragraph, you start out by citing studies which show that “some straight men are more aroused by depictions of lesbian sex than by heterosexual sex.” No doubt this is true, but some straight men are also more aroused by porn involving diapers, CBT (male genital torture), urine, or inflatable animals (I’m not joking) than they are by depictions of traditional penis-in-vagina sex. In fact, I think it would be hard to name any sexual activity which would not arouse some straight men more than one-male-penis-in-one-female-vagina sex. If the desire of some straight men to watch lesbian sex is what you find offensive, I don’t understand why.

I think what you meant to say is that the men who responded to those studies saying that they would rather watch lesbian sex than straight sex were thinking of the porn-star “lesbians” they’ve seen in mainstream pornography, and these women are not representative of (and probably are not even members of) the lesbian community. It’s true that these women do not represent actual lesbians, but I fail to see how the straight women depicted in porn are better representatives of actual straight women. I’m straight (for most practical purposes), and I do not resemble a porn star in any significant way: I lack breast implants, I don’t make extremely squeaky sounds when I’m having an orgasm, and I don’t particularly enjoy having semen in my mouth. Yes, girl-on-girl porn is not a real depiction of two women having sex, but straight porn isn’t a real depiction of a man and a woman having sex either. Why is it worse to depict two women having this kind of fake sex than it is to depict a man and a woman doing the same thing?

Finally, you argue that the mainstream porn industry needs to be reworked to depict women accurately. The problem with this idea is that the vast majority of people who buy porn are men. I’m not saying this should necessarily be the case (I don’t see why anyone “should” buy any more or less porn than he or she wants to), but it would be hard to argue that it isn’t the case. If feminists want to re-engineer the porn industry to cater to women (I think it already does cater to gay men), they’re going to have to create market demand, not whine about how unfair it is that porn isn’t made for them. Yelling at heterosexual men to change their sexual desires, even if these desires result from societal gender inequalities, is silly and futile.

I’m sorry to be so critical of this post, and I hope you understand that I’m not attacking you personally. However, I found this post to be poorly written (it lacked an obvious thesis and a clear organizational structure, and it contradicted itself) and your point to be unclear and badly argued. I’m unconvinced that there is any significant difference between girl-on-girl and heterosexual porn as far as their portrayals of women, and I’m even more unconvinced that the difference, were it to exist, would be significant enough to warrant action. To put it bluntly, this issue seems so minor in comparison with many of the other issues that have appeared on this blog that this issue seems ridiculous. If feminists really feel they can do more good for gender equality by complaining about the portrayal of “lesbians” in heterosexual pornography relative to the portrayal of straight women than by focusing on some other issue, then perhaps the feminist movement really is irrelevant.

26 03 2009
feminist1

Lorraine:

I do not argue that girl-on-girl porn is a fetish in any way. I do not believe it is a fetish. The definition of fetish that I have been accustomed to is: “a form of sexual desire in which gratification depends to an abnormal degree on some object or item of clothing or part of the body .” I’m not really sure where your definition came from, but I don’t think that that’s how most people define fetish. And I most certainly don’t think girl-on-girl porn qualifies as a fetish.

Most American porn DOES include girl-on-girl scenes, but since the global porn industry has often considered it to be a “fetish,” it is often not depicted in mainstream pornography in the world. I am sorry if I made this unclear in the post. What I meant to say is that many of the more successful porn companies have chosen not to include girl-on-girl action globally. I will update this in the post to make it more clear.

I do view this as a significant issue, because lesbian women are being incorrectly represented and portrayed.

This is not to say that I do not view heterosexual acts in pornography as damaging as well. I am not necessarily arguing that depiction of lesbian women is “worse,” but that it is simply a significant issue. This post was focused on lesbian women, not heterosexual pornography. I do not understand why you have a problem with this not including enough mention of heterosexual women.

I am not “yelling” at men to change their desires. I do not find their desires to be what is problematic. I do find the pervasive portrayals of “lesbian” women in heteronormative ways to be problematic. The term “girl-on-girl” porn at least acknowledges that these women are not real lesbians, but the truth is that this porn is often informally called “lesbian” pornography, which is an incorrect and problematic label. These depictions of girl-on-girl scenes are not limited to pornography, but can also be seen in television and advertising. Straight women are playing the “lesbian” role often, and this girl-on-girl action is sexualized with heterosexual male desires in mind.

I also believe that you are vastly underestimating my definition of “heterosexual sex” and “lesbian sex.” I cited the studies simply to acknowledge their existence. The studies simply underlines the fact that many heterosexual men are extremely aroused to watching girl-on-girl pornography, so it has a large market. People who enjoy CBT, etc. usually frame this is some type of sexual context involving others. Therefore, BDSM and other nontraditional sexual scenarios often fall into a “heterosexual” or “homosexual” context. I’m not sure I understand why you have concluded that I only meant one male one female intercourse in my definition of heterosexual sex.

I would argue that the vast number of males who buy porn probably has something to do with the fact that most porn is geared towards males. This feeds into the assumption that only men enjoy pornography, which is blatantly untrue. Since heterosexual men for the most part control the porn industry, it is extremely difficult to create a market demand where feminist and woman-geared pornography are few and far between. I am not “whining” or “complaining,” merely pointing out facts.

I’m insulted that you would suggest that the feminist movement is “irrelevant” because you do not consider this issue to be relevant.

9 04 2009
Lorraine E.

Sorry about that, please delete the last post and leave this one. I didn’t close the href tags…

I’ll start with the last paragraph:

Here’s what you said:

“I’m insulted that you would suggest that the feminist movement is “irrelevant” because you do not consider this issue to be relevant.”

Here’s what I said:

“If feminists really feel they can do more good for gender equality by complaining about the portrayal of “lesbians” in heterosexual pornography relative to the portrayal of straight women than by focusing on some other issue, then perhaps the feminist movement really is irrelevant.”

Note that this is an ‘if-then’ statement. I don’t believe the feminist movement is irrelevant; I just think this particular issue is minor and not worth mentioning. Your response strongly implies that I don’t think feminism is relevant, so therefore my opinion is wrong. (I might be wrong, but that’s not why.)

7th paragraph:

“I would argue that the vast number of males who buy porn probably has something to do with the fact that most porn is geared towards males.”

So… why is most porn geared toward males, if it’s not because more males buy porn?

“This feeds into the assumption that only men enjoy pornography, which is blatantly untrue.”

I don’t think you mean it feeds into the assumption. That would mean the assumption was caused by my statement. It might appear to result from that assumption.

Anyway, I don’t think that anyone argues only men like pornography. I do think men and women, on average, like different types of pornography. Several studies have shown differing patterns of arousal for women and men. You seem to cite this, as you state that most porn is geared toward men.

“Since heterosexual men for the most part control the porn industry, it is extremely difficult to create a market demand where feminist and woman-geared pornography are few and far between.”

I’m not sure why A implies B. I would think that the markets for feminist and traditional pornography would be rather different, so I’m not sure why the fact that traditional pornography is controlled by heterosexual men would necessarily have an effect on the market for alternative pornography.

6th paragraph:

“I’m not sure I understand why you have concluded that I only meant one male one female intercourse in my definition of heterosexual sex.”

The study you cited must be comparing girl-on-girl sex to something–in order to make any reasonable conclusions, the experiment would need some kind of positive control. I assume the study showed traditional pornography featuring one man and one woman alongside pornography showing two women. I wasn’t making an assumption about your definition of heterosexual sex, which I’m sure is modern, enlightened, and broad. I was making an assumption about the study.

5th paragraph:

“I am not “yelling” at men to change their desires. I do not find their desires to be what is problematic. I do find the pervasive portrayals of “lesbian” women in heteronormative ways to be problematic.”

I think the desire in question is the desire of men to watch traditionally feminine women having sex with each other. This desire is the cause of the media’s portrayal of lesbians. Therefore, I don’t think you can separate the desire from the problem–attacking the portrayal of lesbians in heternormative ways necessarily attacks the desires of heterosexual men.

“…the truth is that this porn is often informally called “lesbian” pornography, which is an incorrect and problematic label. ”

It’s incorrect, but I’m not really understanding why it’s problematic.

“…girl-on-girl action is sexualized with heterosexual male desires in mind.”

But why talk about just girl-on-girl sex? What is the purpose of the distinction between this and the feminist concerns about objectification of all women?

4th paragraph

“I do not understand why you have a problem with this not including enough mention of heterosexual women.”

The connotation of this sentence seems to be that I am a heterosexual woman, I see a minority issue, and I immediately scream “WHAT ABOUT ME? I’M OPPRESSED TOOOO!” I don’t think that’s a fair characterization, and I ask that, if you wish your commenters to refrain from attacking people’s personalities, you refrain as well.

“I am not necessarily arguing that depiction of lesbian women is “worse,” but that it is simply a significant issue. This post was focused on lesbian women, not heterosexual pornography.”

I saw that. But, again, what is the purpose of the division? Why do girl-on-girl scenes in pornography for straight men and man-on-girl scenes in pornography for straight men need to be dealt with separately? A piece on lesbian exploitation in heterosexual porn necessarily brings to mind the absence of a discussion about heterosexual scenes in heterosexual porn. I noticed this and commented on it not because I’m less enlightened than you or less aware of my heterosexual privelege, but because this was the entire purpose of your piece.

2nd and 3rd paragraphs:

“What I meant to say is that many of the more successful porn companies have chosen not to include girl-on-girl action globally.”

That makes more sense. I’m not sure what it has to do with your overall point though.

“I do view this as a significant issue, because lesbian women are being incorrectly represented and portrayed.”

So are heterosexual women and minorites. You haven’t established why this is a problem, or why the portrayal of lesbian women needs to be dealt with separately.

1st paragraph

“I’m not really sure where your definition came from, but I don’t think that that’s how most people define fetish.”

My definition was facetious; sorry if that wasn’t obvious. I do think it’s kind of true though.

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