I recently spoke to Hayley MacMillen at Cosmopolitan magazine. She wanted to know something longitudinal, cultural, and historical — How has porn changed since the ’90s? Love it!

Hayley compiled answers re high-end vs DIY; viewer demographics on the rise; condoms in porn; piracy and income; feminist, queer, and indie porn; and a shifting perceived porno aesthetic. Though some of the answers/figures she reported from other sources are a bit dubious and muddied (that same old “what is gonzo?” confusion again, holy christ), it’s nice to see an article that addresses evolution and development in porn. It’s always been happening, but people rarely discuss it.

You can read Hayley’s full piece here — “6 Ways Porn Is Different Now Than in the ’90s” (January 30, 2017) — and check out our full correspondence below.

HM: How have the most popular sex acts featured in porn/porn genres that are the most popular evolved over the past ~20 years? Would you say we’re seeing more of an appetite for “fringe” forms of sexual expression like bestiality and fauxcest because people have “seen it all” and it’s harder to get their attention/shock them — or would you attribute the rising visibility of more niche genres to the fact that since there is so much more porn in the internet age, there are more opportunities for people to create/find exactly what they like? Not that these are mutually exclusive!

DrCT: In terms of sex acts and genre in porn, there isn’t really much new under the sun. Taboo (1979) is considered the original family role play film, there’s is a pegging scene in The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975), and a double penetration scene in The Devil in Miss Jones (1973). (There’s also an erotic sequence featuring a live snake on screen with the lead in Miss Jones, something that would never happen in professional porn today.) What has changed and continues to evolve is genre popularity – genres rise and fall and reemerge as highly sought after, just like any other trend – and technology, which includes production value/techniques and accessibility via the interwebs.

 

HM: What is the effect of the rise of feminist and indie porn on viewership? Are filmmakers who identify themselves and their work as feminist driving up female viewership of porn overall?

DrCT: Many (relatively) new women and men viewers can be attributed to feminist and indie porn. New technology and content delivery/form, as well as new ways of conceptualizing adult content, definitely bring in new consumers that didn’t necessarily connect with erotic media before, and the work of new performers, directors, and producers may resonate with people who didn’t previously feel stimulated by adult content.

 

HM: In mainstream heterosexual porn, how has the ideal aesthetic for women changed since the 90s — do women have less hair / thinner bodies / more plastic surgery, for example? What would you say is the relationship between broader societal beauty standards and the most desired “look”/body type in the mainstream film industry?

DrCT: There was never necessarily an “ideal aesthetic” for women in porn. If you do rigorous and representative content analysis, you can actually see all sorts of women in porn, since the ‘70s – this is because both content creators and consumers are interested in a wide array of representations. The public perception of an “ideal aesthetic” is, however, both very real and very limited. This is deeply connected to wider social discomforts with porn specifically and sex overall. If you look in industry spaces, you see very significant diversity that is ever evolving and expanding. If you look at mainstream coverage, you see the “ideal aesthetic.”

 

HM: I’m also wondering if you [have] any insight on how pay has evolved over the past couple of decades — I know that the idea that all porn performers are making bank is a myth, and I found the example you mentioned in this article about a prominent performer working as an assistant to supplement their income really compelling. I know exact salaries and thus salary changes are next to impossible to come by, but any statement on how the going rates for performers have shifted since the heyday of feature films to now would be super helpful.

DrCT: Since porn’s most recent “heyday,” going rates for scene work have certainly shifted. Due almost entirely to piracy-based tube sites, as producers and studios are less and less able to recoup the money they invest in production (much less make a profit), there is less content being created. Less content being produced means less work, and the available work is also increasingly competitive. As is the case with any other job/industry where there are fewer work opportunities available for a large labor pool, this drives worker remuneration rates down.

(pictured: ’90s vs. today, per Cosmo)

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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com.

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