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Old sex, fat sex and the popularity of porn taboos

Fat people having sex, ugly people having sex, old people having sex. All too readily our culture cringes, shudders, if not gags at the thought. After all, if film and television have taught us anything…

Taboos in porn can be shocking, but they can also be very revealing about our sexual apetites. Flickr/billypalooza

Fat people having sex, ugly people having sex, old people having sex. All too readily our culture cringes, shudders, if not gags at the thought. After all, if film and television have taught us anything, only young and beautiful people have sex. In good lighting, on clean sheets, and always to satisfying ends.

For all its faults, one thing pornography is fantastically good at is showcasing the diversity of erotic couplings. While critics play up the waxed, the plucked, the surgically enhanced and the histrionic sexual theatrics so common in the medium, lost in these generalisations are all the very many other things we see.

In the United States, one of the chunkiest sections of the porn market is fat porn. In Japan, the genre of elderly porn is booming.

As relevant to both fat and elderly porn, there’s a simple comment to be made: erotic material reflects our desires. Such porn would not get produced if people didn’t want to watch it, and thus, its popularity serves as a good insight into the diversity of arousal.

While it’s very easy to assume that a porn audience adopts the role of voyeur and is turned on simply by sexual images, the way porn actually gets used varies markedly. For some people, sexual sights and sounds are intrinsically arousing – that sex is sexy and exposure to it is a turn on. For others however, the desire is pretending that it is them in the film; the popularity of point-of-view porn highlights this.

In the US, that fat porn constitutes a sizeable part of the market and with elderly porn flourishing in Japan, it could be speculated that an appetite for images of sex with people like us is highlighted. That rather than looking at explicit imagery of the young and beautiful, instead, in our overweight and ageing societies, we seek out images of people who actually look like us. Whose bodies more closely resemble our own.

While there are absolutely fat audiences seeking out fat porn, and elderly audiences seeking out elderly porn, it would be erroneous to assume that such genres exclusively appeal to their assumed base. Just as the way people watch porn varies, so too does the motivation for genre selection.

For some, part of the turn on from porn is watching naughty material. For some people, the entire medium is a taboo and therefore any porn is thrilling. For others, however, the arousal comes from material that we should not be turned on by. That it is humiliating to be turned on by.

Fat porn, ugly porn, elderly porn, along with porn featuring urine or excrement or vomit or menstruation or sadomasochism or humiliation, are each variously offensive. Each are widely considered kinky, disgusting and frequently anything but sexy.

And yet the audiences for such material are substantial. People are watching the grotesque, the icky and the vile. They are watching, they are getting turned on and they are stimulating the market.

Sometimes arousal is born from that which should turn us off; that something can become fetishised primarily because it is perceived as so very wrong to watch. For others, the motivations are more complicated.

For elderly porn, part of the thrill may come from peeking in on the sex lives of people who seem familiar to us – our parents, our grandparents, our neighbours. The thrill comes from watching the sex that we are normally shielded from, that we’re taught we should not see and the sex which we most certainly shouldn’t find arousing.

Our culture mandates all too many “shoulds” when it comes to sex and sex appeal. We’re supposed to find George Clooney and Beyoncé attractive, we’re supposed to find it loathsome to imagine stereotypically unattractive people desirable. A less discussed reality is that sex appeal is complicated, changeable and ceaselessly surprising.