Readers of this blog will be familiar with our penchant for wordsmith-ing (here and here, for instance). In today’s post, our semantic impulse fires once again to make another plaint. And it’s this: please, oh please, can writers stop using the word “porn” to describe, well, everything? Real estate porn, poverty porn, food porn, puppy porn. It goes on and on.
Look here. Porn (a.k.a. “pornography”, a.k.a. “wank mags”, a.k.a. “the internet” [just kidding!]) is a product principally designed to elicit a sexual response, most often for the purpose of aiding masturbation. Yes, we’re aware of the argument that porn constitutes a form of creative, even artistic, expression. Yes, we recognize some believe porn can be a therapeutic tool for (re)igniting passion in intimate relationships. And, yes, we know there are genres of porn that may not elicit the slightest sexual arousal in any but the most niche communities of consumers.
But to paraphrase Potter Stewart’s classic observation, we know porn when we see it, and it ain’t pictures of grilled summer squash, five-bedroom townhouses, or baby Weimaraners.
Don’t get us wrong. We have no quarrel with using figurative language. We are, after all, word geeks. Our beef with the over-use of the “porn” trope is that it’s hackneyed, and, in this increasingly omnisexual culture, fraught with potential misunderstanding. After all, there are plenty of folks for whom food porn is a real thing. That is (and forgive us if you’re triggered here), they have a sexual interest in food-oriented erotica - movies of foreplay involving chocolate sauce, for example. Likewise, one might reasonably refer to some types of BDSM content as “torture porn.” And, though we’d prefer not to dwell on it, straight-up “puppy porn” almost certainly exists out there in the deepest recesses of the inter-webs.
We get why writers choose the word “porn” to describe content their readers might linger over obsessively. “Ooh, look at that kitchen island!” “Ahh, what a searing image of urban decay!” But that’s lazy and cynical wordplay. It leverages our innate response to titillation in order to communicate non-erotic ideas. Surely, there are better ways to call attention to your snapshots of a mountainous cheeseburger dripping with savory fat than “Burger Porn”. How about “Grass-fed Glory”, or “Your Next Heart Attack”?
We admit, we’re being a little tongue in cheek. But, we’re also serious. Calling anything visually stimulating a form of “porn” trivializes eroticism. And it minimizes the significance of the deeply sexual, occasionally problematic, desire to consume actual pornography that so many of us feel. Maybe we’re stretching here, but we wonder whether teasing the collective sex drive with non-porn “porn” again and again could even have a dampening effect on people’s innate response to erotic material, and whether that effect can be accounted for in vital research being done in the realm of human sexual response. Similar to our observation about the word “addiction”, if “porn” describes almost anything, then it means almost nothing.
So, here’s to letting porn be porn, and to writers everywhere showing a little more creativity in their word choices when they want us to click on their favorite puppy pics. That is, unless, you know…yeah. We’ll just leave it at that.
In honor of the beginning of playoff baseball, here’s a true story:
Longer-form writing from the PornHelp team on current topics relating to problem porn use and recovery.