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Is There a Final Frontier for Porn?

At one point or another, almost everyone – excluding religious zealots – has either used pornography as a means of achieving orgasm or, at the very least, viewed pornographic materials. (There’s also a non-zero chance that there exists a fetish where people get off on showing other people porn for the first time). Porn has evolved from a fringe industry viewed as a last resort for the truly sexually needy to one of the biggest moneymakers in our country, to say nothing of the world at large.

Historically, porn has served (in part, at least) as a way for people to enjoy sexual experiences that might otherwise be considered sordid or embarrassing without ever having to actually, you know, perform them. It’s like watching a movie about a well-planned bank heist: you’d never dream of trying it, but it sure is fun to watch others pull it off. And for a long time, our so-called “polite society” looked askance at pornography, those who create it, and those who indulge in it.

Popular sentiment as it pertains to pornography has softened in recent years. It’s not uncommon for porn stars to make cameos on non-pornographic shows and movies (or, in the case of Sasha Grey, star in their own Very Serious Films). Being a porn actor is no longer the scarlet letter it once was, and these men and women have reaped the benefits of making their foray into mainstream television and cinema. And that’s a good thing; working in the adult film industry is a job, one that is not terribly dissimilar to any other, and those who make a living in sex work should not be automatically barred from doing so in other fields.

Additionally, the normalization — or, at least, the de-stigmatization —  of an increasing number of sex acts that were once confined to the realm of the pornographic is, on the whole, a good thing. We can’t help what turns us on, and pretending that there’s some sort of universal baseline for what’s considered erotic is folly. Missionary might be enough for some people, but for the rest of us, it’s just a form of foreplay.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a “weird” sex act. Not every act will put the wind in everyone’s sails, and that’s fine too; as long as the act in question is legal, have a blast. Let your freak flag fly. This is quickly becoming the standard attitude, and it’s due in large part to the role porn has played in exposing individuals to new sex acts and, by extension, making those acts comparatively routine.

What was once considered risqué in pornography is now rote for any sexually-active person under the age of 40. Consequently, porn has been forced to adapt and evolve to stay ahead of the curve; the value of porn is in its ability to redefine and explore the outer reaches of human sexuality. But when modern porn is all about double penetration, gangbangs, and salad tossing, it begs the inevitable question: where can the industry go from here? What happens when porn is no longer able to offer the escape that made it so popular in the first place?

Watching porn from, say, the ’70s is like watching someone take extra change from the “Take A Penny, Leave A Penny” tray at the store — not only is it not groundbreaking, but it’s completely common. Handjobs? Sure, if you’re in middle school. Oral sex? Sure, if you’re in middle school. Missionary position? Sure, if you’re in middle school.

I read somewhere that if you park a tank in the parking lot of an office building, people will take notice, but after 3 days, it’s just another car. The same principle applies to sex: oral and anal sex might have gotten one’s nether regions all aflutter back in the ‘70s, but eventually they made their way off the screen and into the bedroom. Gone are the days when blowjob was thought to be some mythical adventure that could only be experienced secondhand with the guidance of the good folks at the Spice Channel — you can catch at least a passable simulacra for it in the wee hours of the night on regular-ass TV. And if that’s not an option (cord-cutters unite!), the internet offers an entire library of whatever you need to accommodate your deepest sexual thrills and get your rocks off. (Note: Please do not use the internet at your local library to perform your research.)

The larger question lingers: What does this mean for the future of our collective attitude towards sex; for that matter, what does it augur for the future of sex itself? We could be on the way to a new sexual revolution, one where no sex act is considered taboo. With this comes the possibility that absolutely nothing is too lewd, where even our most base and perverse sexual whims are displayed on-screen in non-pornographic settings or carried out in everyday life with nary a second thought. If the evolution of our sexual enlightenment is any indication, it’s possible that nearly every kind of “weird” or “kinky” sex act that exists today could eventually become commonplace; ho-hum, even.

On the other hand, it could simply mean that porn will eventually outlive its usefulness. That there is a final frontier of sorts that will be reached by pornography and, once society catches up to it, will mean the end of sexually explicit materials as a means of stimulation.

I believe — and the barons of the porn industry hope — there will always be a market for pornography. At its very core, unless you’re Patrick Bateman, sex in our private lives is a display of mutual attraction and affection. Though it may be far more common today than it was in the 1950s, sex for many of us still bears some emotional significance. While the act itself can be replicated on a studio lot, the emotion behind it sure as hell cannot. And for this reason, porn will never be a replacement for real sex, for a real human connection.

In fact, porn is the opposite; it is a means of stimulation for those who don’t want to bother making that connection. Simply put, it’s the easy way out. There’s no emotional connection that comes with masturbation, and for that reason, it’s much easier to use porn as a means to an end rather than go through all the effort of making a meaningful enough connection with someone to make them want to sleep with you. (Gross, right guys?)

So long as people are just looking for a quick orgasm before going about their days, porn will always have a purpose. Adding to that is the simple fact that some sex acts or fetishes have a larger audience, while others remain relegated to the darker corners of the internet. Which means that if you’re into something that hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, you have two options: wait until it does, or continue to use porn to scratch that secret itch. Or you can use Craigslist, if the idea of being murdered by a stranger revs your engine (otherwise known as autassassinophilia, if you were wondering).

If you’re into BDSM or foot worship, the odds are pretty good that you’ll find someone out there who shares the same interests. On the other hand, for those with an exclusive interest in formicophilia or frottage, the pool of people with whom you might establish a real human connection is significantly more limited. So while porn may be reaching the outer limits of its imagination and, at the same time, its appeal to non-fetishists, it’s unlikely that it will ever grow stale to the majority of those who consume it.

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