The incest taboo is alive and well in Western culture. My evidence? Today marks the second time an interview I conducted about the topic of faux-cest porn has made it into the media – but in a rather different context than what I delivered.
Here are responses I gave OZY’s Laura Secorun Palet on April 24, 2015 via email/written response (reprinted in full):
OZY: It seems that “faux-cest” porn is on the rise – have you come across this trend in your research?
DrCT: Absolutely. Though you can find adult content that dances around these themes across eras, 2012 marked a big change. One or two key studios began exploring faux-cest in a concerted way, and consumers responded. As such, many major content producers have followed suit, putting out content that explores faux-cest in various ways.
OZY: What could help explain this growing demand?
Faux-cest is an interesting grey area in terms of cultural taboo. It’s important to remember that the “faux” aspect in porn is generally established in at least one of three ways: 1) in titling (e.g. My Stepmom’s Such and Such), 2) in written disclaimers at the beginning of films/scenes, and/or 3) via the dialogue and plot. As such, we’re not dealing with the incest taboo here, per se.
At the same time though, from lusting after one’s step-family member (which is not incest, but it’s also definitely not not taboo) to titling that suggests we may in fact be looking at our mother’s big tits (though we never actually are), it would seem that lines around the incest taboo are shifting, at least in terms of fantasy and/or narrative.
But the same thing seems to be happening in mainstream! Consider for example HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is basically the biggest television program ever created. Though we know the actors are not actual siblings (which is akin to a psychological form of the “disclaimer” I mentioned before – to my knowledge, HBO never explicitly states the actors are not siblings, whereas porn often does), since 2011, viewers have been presented with an elaborate tale of outright incest. Not faux-cest. Incest. Though this is something you never seen in porn, viewers consume this sexual-romantic relationship with ease. There is no data to explain this, but clearly something is happening in our wider culture.
OZY: What does watching faux-cest porn indicate about people’s behavior “offline”?
Watching faux-cest porn may indicate any number of things “offline.” It could be that people are consuming a certain type of porn out of fantasy or curiosity or that they’re into a particular performer, meeting of performers, or act conveyed in a scene, the faux-cest aspect notwithstanding. It could also be that consumers are looking to “exorcise” taboo desires via masturbation within the context of a specific narrative. Or, it could be something else entirely. Without a rigorous study of consumer psychology, there’s no way to really know.
I would expect that the pattern shakes out in a way that resembles other popular forms of “taboo” content though – content that focuses on “older-younger” couplings between women and men, men and men, and women and women, for example.
OZY: Do you think the trend will continue, or will people move on to something else? Though, after all… what’s more taboo than incest?
DrCT: Incest is one of the few examples I can think of that approaches a universal cultural taboo (though, not entirely). Since porn hasn’t quite gotten to the place Game of Thrones, for example, is at though, I guess it stands to reason that there’s more space to explore this taboo in adult content.
In terms of trend though, I would expect that for the vast majority of consumers, this content will crest and ebb, as we’ve seen in many other genres. Porn parodies were so hot, now they’re less so. Pegging content was so hot, now it’s less so. BDSM is currently also so hot, and I expect it will eventually be less so. This is not to suggest there won’t always be a core consumer base for well-done parodies and pegging content and authentic BDSM. But it is to suggest that consumer curiosity about different porn genres comes in waves – just like it does with everything else.
And here is how my words appeared in the final piece, “Kissing Cousins… and Sisters and Brothers” (published May 22, 2015 here):
It wasn’t that long ago when homosexuality and sadomasochism were also considered taboo. These days, though, Hollywood’s offerings are packed with homoerotic imagery and commuters are happy to crack open a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey on the morning train to the office. So if pop culture is anything to go by (and when isn’t it?), there are some signs that romantic love between family members is slowly becoming less socially outrageous. Look no further than HBO’s Game of Thrones — which explicitly portrays sex between a brother and sister — or scenes of a mother and son going at it in Boardwalk Empire.
Then there’s the growing demand, adult industry experts say, for incest porn — aka “fauxcest.” According to the site Pornhub, “step-mom” was the fourth-most searched term in 2014, while “step-sister” has climbed 53 places year on year to the 13th spot. “It would seem that lines around the incest taboo are shifting,” says Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist and author of the forthcoming book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment.
It could be that our fascination with incest as a cultural taboo caused the piece to change focus – more on incest as it may occur in today’s changing world (??). Or, it could be that unpacking notions of taboo, fantasy, and media consumption as they relate to “real” life is just less compelling. Either way, though I am very familiar with the editorial process in today’s online media, it is still frustrating to have one’s words be used out of context (to any degree).
What do you think?
Read the full piece on OZY here.
Read about my saga with lubes, editorial, and Men’s Health here.
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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.