Porn, Heteronormativity and Patriarchy

“Heteronormativity” is the underlying assumption in our society that being heterosexual — or straight — is normal and natural. This is closely tied up with notions of “normal” gender identities, since “normal,” feminine women are supposed to desire being pursued by men, and “normal” men are supposed to desire actively pursuing women.

These ideas are deeply entrenched in our society, and it is no surprise that, as discussed above, much of the porn on the Internet shows straight couples engaging in male-dominant/female-submissive sexual escapades. But porn did not create these ideas. Even media aimed at children, such as Disney films, reinforces ideas about what men and women should be and how they should act.

Now, there is quite a bit of gay porn on the Internet as well — estimates range from 5-15% of the total.* However, most of this porn exists on niche, or gay-specific websites, suggesting that gay and straight identities are polar opposites and that one must be either/or, but never somewhere in between, or interested in both.

Yet while gay porn is rather normalized (at least on the Internet), lesbian porn is a different story altogether. Much of the “lesbian” porn that exists is  found on websites aimed at and designed by straight men. It could be said, then, that porn is a patriarchal space — it is controlled by and centered around the desires of men, and women exist in these spaces only as fantasies of male desires, not as active participants.

Lesbian sex represented by women pleasing one another for each other, rather than for a male viewer, is often difficult to find in mainstream pornography. In a patriarchal world, women exist for men. And, as we’ve discussed previously, this is not an idea that pornography invented, but is one that exists implicitly within many of its representations.

You don’t have to look to pornography to see heteronormativity and patriarchy in action. This scene from the teen comedy American Pie 2 demonstrates the “reality” that all males are straight (kissing a dude, gross!) and that lesbian sex only exists to turn men on.

Go to next page: Porn and Beauty Ideals

* Gaddam, S. and Ogas, O. A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human DesirePlume Books: 2012.

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