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Girls Like Me













By Erica Leslie Weidner

Copyright ©2024


Go on any porn website and look at the women.[1] You’ll find rail-thin young women portraying barely-legal teens and slightly-older women portraying stepmothers, teachers, and MILFs. If you type in the right search terms, you may happen upon plus-size women in a variety of roles in fetish videos. 


What you won’t find—most likely—are women who are the same size and shape as me. 

Being between rail-thin and plus-size means that I am not represented by commercial pornography.[2] (This is not to say that rail-thin and plus-size women are represented well in porn—the fetishization of “women with teen bodies” and “big beautiful women” presents challenges for women whose bodies exist outside of porn. I discuss this further down.) The lack of representation of my body is interesting, as I’m a size 10, a couple sizes below the average U.S. woman, who wears a size 14. Why doesn’t porn represent what most women really look like? 


In this essay, I argue that porn wasn’t made for girls like me. Porn was made for the extremes: the hardest of hardcore, the smallest of the small, the largest of the large. Further, porn was not made for our peace of mind; aftercare and consent are difficult finds. I contend that this pornographic mindset damages all of us emotionally and sexually. 


Extremes in porn present themselves everywhere. Think about the search terms porn viewers use to find a video—like “big tits.” A fascination with having a “big dick,” both in pornography and the ads accompanying it, presents a male corollary to this. There is a focus on a specific body part being larger than average.[3] Both of these search terms can be inverted into “small tits” and “small dick” for viewers with fetishes for prepubescent bodies and micropenises. 


Once again, though, the middle ground is erased—you won’t see someone search for C cup breasts or average-sized penises. While videos may well have porn actors with those physical features, they won’t be tagged or titled as such. Why? Well, it’s pornography, and extremes rule the game when getting a viewer to click on a video. Do viewers really go to a porn website to see average-looking folks, or do they expect to see something extraordinary?

The lack of representation of my body type in porn harms women. Personally, it places unrealistic expectations on me, on what I should look like in a sexual context. I vividly recall watching a video featuring an average-sized woman—actually, she was thinner than me—and seeing the comments call her a “chubby bitch.” I’m lucky I read the comment as an adult and not as a child, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me.


Thus far I’ve located this essay in my lived experience as a roughly average-sized woman. But I must insist that the overrepresentation of smaller and larger women harms them, too; that it harms all of us. Placing rail-thin bodies on a pedestal does nothing to help women with that body type—all it does is reinforce that staying that thin is a priority. And plus-sized women are the objects of fetishization by so-called “chubby chasers.” Women’s everyday lives and movements are already sexualized, and confirming that this sexualization is okay—perhaps even good—in pornography damages us. Emphasizing the extremes of the female form ostracizes the women who live that form, day in and day out.


Another case of extremes, and one I’ve struggled with as a porn viewer, is pornography’s treatment of BDSM. (BDSM encompasses, generally, bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. A BDSM porn video may feature any of those six elements, and they may or may not be explicitly stated in the video’s title or tags.) In real life, BDSM sex exists on a scale from 0 to 100, from totally vanilla to totally kinky. Sexual partners negotiate a comfortable place on that scale where desires are met and boundaries are respected. 


Two problems are present when translating this 0 to 100 scale to pornography. First—as should be obvious by now—videos are going to tend toward 0 or tend toward 100. Videos with no kinky elements abound, videos with one or two BDSM elements (for instance, light choking) are relatively common, and videos featuring heavy BDSM (for instance, whips and chains) are prolific. It’s the middle ground of that 0 to 100 scale that gets lost in translation to pornography. 


I’ll illustrate this problem with an example: myself. I appreciate a good BDSM video, but I have limits on what turns me on and what I’m comfortable viewing. Most of the time, I can tell by the title, tags, and thumbnail whether or not I’m interested in a video. (Is she suspended in the air in a latex suit? I’m probably not interested.) However, there are plenty of times where a video looks like it checks the right boxes but actually crosses into less comfortable territory. In the incident that led me to write this essay, I was enjoying a video right up until the man slapped the woman across the face. 


I’ve spoken to others on the need for middle-ground BDSM in the porn industry, and it seems my experience is not an isolated episode. One friend commented on his inability to filter out degrading language in BDSM videos, a particular problem since some gay porn videos often feature homophobic slurs. In his words, “why can’t there be ‘more dominant in the bedroom’ without ‘calling the partner degrading things that make me sad’?” 


Finding porn that fits one’s specific niche of BDSM—again, a multifaceted acronym with six elements—is a challenge when extremes rule the algorithm. This is something I believe pornography can address—and redress—if it abandons its pursuit of the kinkiest of kink. Making middle-ground BDSM isn’t any easier or any harder than making hardcore kink videos, and I believe there’s an untapped market that the porn industry is missing out on. 

The second problem with BDSM pornography is that it is borderline impossible to find a video where the negotiation of desires and boundaries takes place on screen. As a viewer, I often find myself left with concerns that the actors and director haven’t communicated beforehand. Is she really enjoying being slapped like that, or is she pretending to like it while silently praying for the shoot to be over? Is she afraid of using her safeword in fear that it’ll ruin the scene? Does she have a safeword at all?


Related to this is the concept of consent. Quick, another exercise: Have you seen a porn video where someone asks for, and receives, consent?[4] Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re wondering what counts as consent. Speaking from personal experience, I’d say “are you ready to have some fun?” and an enthusiastic nod are the most common form of consent in pornography. For most videos, though, there’s nothing at all that indicates consent beyond the assumption that they’ve agreed to the terms of the contract.

This creates an obvious problem, and one that’s been written about quite a bit already. If a young viewer is introduced to the concept of sex through porn, they might think that these things—asking for consent, discussing boundaries—aren’t necessary. Most writing on this focuses on the danger this poses for young male viewers, but I argue it damages young female viewers as well. 


Speaking from very personal experience, I encountered pornography before I knew what sex really was. I assumed, at roughly the age of 9, that the women in porn were not enjoying themselves but rather were in horrific pain. I developed a fear of sexual activity that lasted into my teenage years. I wonder, if more videos featured consent and communication, if I would’ve had the same experience.


Communication and care have an important place at the beginning of the video; they also have a role at the end, especially for a BDSM video. The small number of commercial porn videos that show aftercare is another factor that makes me, as a viewer, question the respect that underlies the BDSM content of the scene. Most videos don’t feature aftercare—many bondage videos won’t even show someone undoing the restraints. In my mind, if a porn actor is crying at the end of a video, the viewer should at least see them get handed a box of tissues.


The lack of communication—of boundaries, of expectations, of consent—in porn is once again due to the fact that porn wasn’t made for girls like me. Communication and care bring me peace of mind, and that’s not what pornography is about. Porn is about extremes, excitement, bending the rules of reality to fit ultimate fantasies. Call me vanilla if you want, but that’s not me.


Pornography is not real life. I do not believe it should be—fantasy has a place, too—but I will not stop arguing that porn ought to represent all of our desires, not just those who fetishize the extremes. 


Notes:

[1]  For this essay, I am using “women” to refer primarily to cisgender women. This is not to exclude transgender women, whose womanhood I affirm; it is because pornography does not treat cis and trans women the same way. There is a great essay to be written on transgender pornography and the porn industry’s treatment of trans women—however, this is not that essay.

[2]  I am referring primarily to commercial pornography. Amateur content is widespread these days, and deserves a nod for portraying a wider variety of body types. And erotic literature does a great job of bridging gaps. However, I don’t see these trends spreading to commercial porn, to which I direct my attention in this essay.

[3]  An interesting fact to note here is that the average U.S. woman wears a size 34DD bra. So “big tits” may actually be the average.

[4] For this, we can ignore videos that fall under the umbrella of CNC, or consensual nonconsent; that’s a whole different beast that I cannot attempt to tackle with this essay. Know that CNC videos raise my eyebrows, even ones that are clearly porn actors playing pretend with each other.



About Erica Leslie Weidner:

Erica Leslie Weidner is based in New York. Her work has appeared most recently in nightshade litJAKE, and fifth wheel press. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of underscore_magazine. When she's not writing, she's studying for her master's degree in library science.

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