Porn: it almost seems innocent these days. Through sheer quotidian ubiquity, the sinfulness of sleaze has ceded to a quaint universality. And yet, to those who look beyond the scintillating flickers that titillate from the screen – to those who realize that there is almost always more to sex than simply skin on skin – there is an underlying politics to filth that can’t be ignored.

Feminists have been the forerunners in the cerebral examination of an otherwise carnal experience, doing a commendable job of bringing the surrounding issues of exploitation, hypersexualization, body image distortion, perpetuation of rape culture, servility, and degradation to light. Self-proclaimed sex positive adult actresses and directors such as Nina Hartley and Candida Royalle have also enriched the dialogue by providing alternate perspectives to what one could call the classic Feminist distaste for porn –a distaste that anyone who has actually watched straight porn can hardly argue is unjustified. Without delving into too much of the nuance of these arguments, the key takeaway is clear: patriarchy is very much alive, its ramifications extend to – and are frequently illustrated in – pornography, and anyone who views that material, or is enamored by the fantasies so often depicted therein, should give at least a little thought to what that says about his or her world view.

It’s in that spirit that I've recently begun thinking about my own viewing habits, but in a twist that will shock exactly no one who’s ever read anything I've written here, I’m gay, and consequently, so are my choices in visual fap fodder. Unsurprisingly then, what I've recently been contemplating is the unexplored – yet very real – politics of gay porn.

(Fair disclosure: I have a limited amount of experience with straight porn; I have absolutely none with the lesbian genre. My only knowledge of it is from this funny reaction video that – spoiler alert – makes it clear that lesbian porn is made by men for men. The focus of the remainder of this discussion is on gay male porn since I’m wholly unqualified to speak to what I can only imagine is an utter dearth of quality material for my lesbian sisters. Lesbians, please opine in the comments below! )

At first blush, an examination of politics in gay porn may seem rather superfluous. Unlike the majority of straight porn, arguably everyone participating in the creation and consumption of its gay counterpart has an equal amount of agency in the transaction. While this may be true in many cases, the prevalence of homelessness and the corresponding sexual victimization of gay youth are often gateways to (an almost involuntary) induction into sex work. To suggest that porn is included among those “options” isn't particularly far-fetched, though research I performed in an effort to substantiate that claim yielded very few results (as did most of my searches for any substantive discussion of the politics of gay porn.)

But, much like straight porn, the exploitation doesn't stop with actor recruitment. Even if most gay porn is made by gay men for gay men, the output still frequently adheres to a decidedly hetero paradigm. We’re certainly not above objectifying our porn stars while simultaneously slut shaming them. Exotification of ethnic minorities is also, sadly, still a thing in gay porn, and we’re hardly immune to trading in stereotypes to sell a few more videos or site memberships. Perhaps most surprisingly – while we may hate being asked “who’s the woman” in our real relationships – we have no qualms assigning de facto traditional gender roles in our porn, receptive partners frequently being treated with the same rough disdain as women in straight skin flicks. In fact, the power dynamic you might expect to see evaporate when you have two men on film instead of a woman and a man is oddly persistent. And nowhere is it most at play as in the insidious “gay for pay” genre.

For those unfamiliar with this brand of smut, its premise is an ostensibly straight guy being paid to engage in sexual activity with either another ostensibly straight guy or a gay man. While this may seem a bit peculiar on its face, it becomes downright confounding when you realize how absolutely abundant it is. This is not a niche genre, rather it’s become entirely mainstream in gay porn. A disproportionately significant number of the most frequently visited gay subscription sites (by Alexa rankings) are entirely devoted to this formula. Here are a few examples and a little something about what they have to say for themselves:

  • Sean Cody: “Most of our models are straight…”
  • Corbin Fisher: “… mostly STRAIGHT GUYS in hardcore, all-male action!” (emphasis not added)
  • Active Duty: “…best selection of army porn pictures [and] straight guy gay porn”
  • Broke Straight Boys: “Straight guys doing gay porn for money.” “#1 gay for pay website.”
  • Chaos Men: “… for the most part, the guys are straight”

I could go on: Fratmen, Southern Strokes, Next Door Male, Next Door Buddies, Next Door Hookups, College Dudes 247, Jake Cruise, Bait Buddies, Dirty Tony, Straight Guys for Gay Eyes, Amateur College Sex, Military Classified, etc., are some of the most lucrative, top ranking gay porn subscription sites, and they all trade in the stable of straight studs theme.

Now I’m no prude and I've entertained a number of interesting fantasies in my lifetime. Some I've played out and some are things I would never actually want to experience in real life. Certainly it’s perfectly healthy to explore your less conventional desires in a way you feel is safe and comfortable, whether that be through consensual play with a willing partner, or pornography, or simply via a vivid imagination. But when a trend that nearly deifies the majority becomes so ingrained in the collective psyche of a minority that we're getting off on the subjugation of our own, then perhaps it’s time for us to look in the mirror and ask what’s up with all the straight boy worship?

Surely it’s no coincidence that society’s overt favoritism of the hetero cis white male seems to permeate gay porn. The indoctrination of straight boy superiority starts young: it’s the norm to which we’re earliest exposed, the one to which our own families typically expect us to adhere, and the one that plays out in the schoolyard hierarchy day after day. It’s both the written and unwritten rule; it’s openly verbalized and tacitly inferred – conformance is rewarded and deviation decisively damned. It is ever pervasive, yet its dominating omnipresence is everything gay men have struggled and fought against. Why are we now ejaculating to it?

And yet, you still might ask, “if it’s just a fantasy – if it’s just porn, then what’s the harm?” The harm is that this isn't limited to porn at all. Any of the following prized traits will likely sound all too familiar to every gay man: str8 acting, not femme, masc, or –worst of all – “normal.” I won’t suggest causality; I don’t think porn companies are giving us anything other than what we apparently want. I will, however, suggest perpetuation. In the same way Feminists have long posited that straight porn feeds the depths of misogyny, I’d argue that the recurring portrayal of a weak, effeminate gay boy begging for it from some hypermasculine caricature of the straight man reinforces the internalized homophobia that remains rampantly unchecked in the gay community – a poisonous mixture of self-loathing and minority stress that continues to wreak immeasurable destruction, manifesting itself in addiction, risky sexual practices, and higher than average suicide rates. Gay for pay does nothing but perpetuate the myth of straight boy superiority, and yet we’re gladly handing over our money to have this bullshit marketed to us. We’re fighting for equality in the streets each day and masturbating to inequality behind our laptops every night. This is not how it get's better.

If you’re a gay man reading this, the next time you come across a scene where the presumably straight actor calls his screen partner a “faggot,” and snarls at him “this is what you want, isn't it?” I implore you to answer “No!” No, this is not what I want: it’s not what we've fought for, it’s not what we’re still fighting for, and it’s not what’s going to make it better for the next generation. Enough of us have actually experienced being treated like shit by straight guys in real life; let’s have a little more pride than paying for the privilege of watching porn that features the same script with a different cast.

Of Porn and Pride