1This Guy Gets Paid to Study Gay Porn
Joseph Brennan analyzes dick size and porn studio aesthetics for peer-
reviewed academic research. "Cultural studies" has never sounded so
The most recent research by Joseph Brennan, a media and communications
lecturer at the University of Sydney, takes a methodical look at how gay
porn studios advertise their performers' dicks. Published in the Journal
of Homosexuality, it's the kind of work you might glance over before
doing a double take, and realizing, yes, someone in a scholarly position
actually combed through 6,900 dick pics "for research."
Of course, Brennan had a legitimate excuse: He wanted to see how porn
performers were relegated to certain roles according to the size of their
penises, and he found that those who fell into the lower range were marketed
as bottoms. He also wanted to better understand how the marketing of donkey
-size dicks affected the mental well-being of porn consumers.
"Beyond talk of the 'pornification' of gay culture or the
mainstreaming of gay porn, I believe more simply that gay porn has played an
historically important part in our community," Brennan says.
This fascination is fully on display in Brennan's scholarly trove. In
addition to dick sizes, he's written about the gonzo aesthetic of gay
porn like that produced by the (famously envelope-pushing, links NSFW)
studio FraternityX. He's explored how performers who bareback have been
"discarded" by the industry, catalogued reactions to "abuse porn
" on the site Boys Halfway House, and looked at how porn sites like
Czech Hunters play on Western gay fantasies of desperate and horny Eastern
Brennan seems most intrigued by some gay porn consumers' darker impulses
. Why do sites with graphic rape simulations and themes of exploitation seem
to thrive online, and what, if anything, do they say about gay culture? In
his paper about Boys Halfway House, a porn series in which the viewer
sometimes assumes the identity of a predatory social worker, Brennan looks
at how viewers make distinctions between "good" (stylized) and "
bad" (uncomfortably realistic) abuse porn. There seems to be a fuzzy
line that, when crossed, makes viewers feel like they're participating
in rape culture. As one comment on a porn review blog reads, "It's
presenting rape as hot, when it completely isn't. It's a major
problem in society and things like this are basically okaying it."
"Boys Halfway House is an example that brings us closer, I think, to
what many might see as the limits of pornographic fantasy," says Brennan
Similarly, in analyzing Czech Hunters, a gay-for-pay series set in Eastern
Europe, he looked at another uncomfortably exploitative porn fantasy—that
of the desperate straight man willing to do anything for a fat wad of cash.
He argues that there's a kind of false nostalgia at play in the
particular strain of narrative that Czech Hunters lays out; people want to
believe that the Czech Republic had a thriving sex trade after the fall of
Communism, filled with straight guys eager to earn a quick buck. It's an
internationalization of the classic gay-for-pay scenario that relies on
stereotypes about Eastern Europe.
Peering at gay porn through a monocle might seem like a rather obvious
excuse to watch Sean Cody videos at the office, but there are plenty of
reasons to do it. For one, research has shown that gay and bisexual men
report greater body-related stress and anxiety, body dissatisfaction, eating
disorders, and overall poorer body image than heterosexual men, likely due
to the porn they consume. Other research has shown a correlation between
consuming bareback porn and one's predilection toward risky sex. Then
there are the untold masses of straight men and women who consume it, too.
Needless to say, there's a lot to untangle about gay porn.
But while porn is a popular realm of study, it's been controversial from
the get-go. Porn Studies only launched three years ago as the "first
dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal to critically explore those
cultural products and services designated as pornographic," and it was
near-instantly decried by anti-porn activists.
Today, though, Brennan says there's a greater understanding for the
value of the porn researcher. "I see the number of scholars working in
the gay porn area, and publishing on a regular basis, as a small-yet-devoted
collective of talented people who approach the field from a number of
disciplinary perspectives," he says. In 2015, for example, the journal
Psychology and Sexuality released its first special issue on the subject of
gay porn. Other publications, including Psychology & Sexuality, have also
played host to the burgeoning world of gay porn scholarship.
In our interview, Brennan could be frustratingly obtuse about his
motivations for studying porn, and you get the sense that this evasiveness
comes with being a self-appointed dispassionate observer. He's careful
not to judge the pornographic work itself but rather focus on the online
chatter surrounding it.
But it's also clear he sees how the porn world reinforces stereotypes;
in his piece on the penis sizes of performers, for example, he notes that
tops are frequently described as masculine, aggressive, and take-charge,
while bottoms are described as boyish, slutty, and even "hysterical."
It's good, he says, to question "the presentation of narrowly
defined sex roles within gay pornography."
"There's a privileged alignment that connects action, power, and
penetration with extraordinarily sized, masculine men." Could it really
hurt to ask for a "greater variation of fantasies"?
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