10.07.2021, Kultur

Let’s talk about sex, baby!

Sex is and always has been a polarizing topic. A topic that you can’t talk about openly with everyone and a topic that (despite frequent shame) appears in so many facets of our lives – also in the fashion industry, by the way. And it is precisely for this reason that Numéro Berlin dedicated their latest issue “SEXXX“ to this topic. So, let’s talk about it – and more specifically, talk about sex (and the industry behind it) itself. And how Cheex, the newest kid on the block, pushes the entire business towards an ethical future. 

As said, sex is in the middle of our society and has been since the beginning of time. And the sexual wellness industry has been growing exponentially for years, from sex toys to tantra courses to sex podcasts: everyone is talking about dealing with one’s own desire and the positive effects on health and well-being. However, related topics such as pornography are still heavily stigmatized and afflicted with shame. Most of us are ashamed of watching porn. But why actually? Because, if we are being honest: Millions of people watch porn on a daily basis. It is estimated that 12 percent (approximately 4.2 million) of the entire online content is dedicated to pornographic material. There are an average of 68 million searches a day and the Pornhub platform also reported 42 billion visits in 2019 – that’s around 115 million visits daily. More precisely, this means that a total of 6.63 million videos with content for 1.36 million hours were uploaded. 

Of course, just because pornography is widespread doesn’t mean that everyone is healthy about it. Sex workers are stigmatized by the „dark side“ of industry. Someone who visibly enjoys sex – and takes money for it – quickly falls into the “dirty” category. And despite the fact that billions of people actively consume porn and thus sex work every year. Just so we are clear: Sex Work is work! So let’s start with a little history lesson about the profession and the industry itself, shall we? 

Sex Work and the industry – A small history lesson

It is not without reason that sex work is considered to be the oldest profession in the world. So why do we still stigmatize it so relentlessly? Before the 18th century we seem to have been a lot more appreciative, open and respectful towards sex workers. For example Hetaerae, high-class prostitutes of ancient Greece, were known to not only pleasure the physical body, but to stimulate the mind and soul. Oirans – a term that originated in Japan in 1750 and applied to all ranks of high-level courtesans – were expected to be well versed in the performative arts including the ability to converse with clients in the upper class. Tullia d’Aragona was one of the most celebrated female Renaissance poet-courtesans. With her intellect, literary abilities and social graces, she not only entertained powerful men, she shaped many acclaimed male philosophers and raised the status of women to be on an equal footing as men. As highly educated, influential women, all of them led relatively independent lives. Though being a courtesan, prostitute, escort, exotic dancer meant to have a special place in society, it wasn’t always a bad one. In the eyes of most, the modern sex worker is often reduced to being merely a victim of circumstance or a product of poor lifestyle choices. And the conventional adult content industry certainly does its part. Which sounds bizarre, because like the practice of sex workers, the adult content industry has always been around. Since the dawn of mankind, we have had a weakness for the representation of naked bodies doing sexy things. Some of the earliest art objects made by human hand are the small carvings of plump and strikingly detailed female bodies known as “Venus figurines”, dating from the Paleolithic age some 35,000 years ago. In ancient cave paintings around the world one can find sexual representations that range from stylized genitals to clearly recognizable orgies. Erotic works of art, inscriptions and amorous wall paintings were just as omnipresent in pre-volcanic Pompeii as provocative literature in ancient Egypt. The Moche people from what is now Peru painted anal sex scenes on their pottery in the 1st century AD. 10th century temples in India have very graphic carvings depicting orgies. And in Japan too, wood block prints showed explicit sexual acts in the thirteenth century. In the fifteenth century, the newly invented printing press had barely finished printing the Bible when people began to devote themselves to porn. Technical innovations would also encourage the development of pronographic content.

Technical progress, the internet and the problems behind it

So it’s also no wonder that with the invention of photography in the 1840s, pornographic content experienced a real boom. The first porn films were shot in the mid-1890s, more or less simultaneously with the advent of the moving image. By the way: The term “pornography” only slowly found its way into the United States in the late 19th century. 

“Stag Films”, as they were called at the time, were a true institution that were shown to small groups of men at stag parties or in brothels well into the 20th century. In the 1960s, the supply of hardcore porn material from Europe in magazines and on 8mm film, which was often shown in so-called peep shows in bookstores exclusively for adults, increased. American filmmakers soon followed, and a thriving porn industry developed in the United States as well.  

In the 80s, California became the stronghold of the first large and explicitly legal porn, so that the industry grew significantly until well into the 90s. With the rise of the internet, porn sites were among the first to make money selling products online, revolutionizing the way people shop and masturbate. The sexual content industry also laid the foundations for film and television in other ways. HD videos were popularized by the porn industry, as were 3D movies. Further, virtual reality was used by porn studios long before mainstream producers even ventured into the technology. The rapid increase in pornographic content on the Internet cannot be denied – and the trend is rising. And while we are openly in favor of sex work, one should not forget the negative characteristics of the industry. Because the rapid increase in pornographic content on the World Wide Web favors another factor: which is easy access. For most of us, the days of sheepishly asking for a dirty magazine at the newspaper stand or sneaking into a dodgy sex cinema are a thing of the past. Nowadays we may find (almost) everything online, 24/7, and most of the time for free and just a click away. For some people it may sound progressive, others find it dangerous. Only three percent of all amorous content online requires proof of age. This means that anyone who has Internet access can see as much and as unusual pornography as they want without any special effort. That in turn leads to the next factor, which is habituation. As with many things, pornography tends to get addictive over time. Meaning that for example „Soft porn“ – the simple representation of naked people – is no longer sufficient after a while, so people switch to more hardcore content (explicit representation of sexual intercourse) and from there sometimes to violence – or other special porn. 

However, not only is the porn industry influenced by society, it in turn influences society and our sexual behavior and quite a bit. In order to understand the real effects and dangers, however, one has to deal with the statistics: The average age at which boys see pornography for the first time is now at eleven years. This is an age at which most of the people have not yet had any active contact with sexuality, and information lessons have not yet taken place. However, not only male adolescents come into contact with pornography. The sex films can have both direct and indirect effects on the sexuality of women: Direct effects when young girls in particular see these images and – like young men – assume that this reflects normal sexuality. Unfortunately, none of these consequences are exceptions, they are omnipresent. But even more innocuous problems occur all the time within the industry. Common platforms rely on mass, frighten off many users with their appearance and advertising measures and, above all, are strongly masculine. And the prejudice still persists that women are not interested in pornography.

This can be explained by the fact that the porn industry is not a closed system but part of our society. It is based on capitalist standards, tries to serve markets but above all to expand them and also to create new markets. But when it comes to porn (and above all consumption), discussions quickly panic and, for example, individual pages are requested to be switched off. But that’s not the problem at all, it’s how we deal with porn itself. A step in the right direction would be to reflect on your own porn consumption. This is where Cheex comes in.

Ethical Porn: Cheex does it better

The Sexual Wellness Platform is dedicated to the problems of pornography and through the modern and aesthetic curation of pornographic content, CHEEX creates a place for sexual stimulation far away from the traditional „dirty image“. In addition, Cheex skillfully closes the gap between the usual adult content on the Internet and female pleasure, which is often neglected. Because despite the widespread stigma that women are fundamentally not interested in pornography or would systematically reject it (as long as they are not active in the industry themselves), the numbers say otherwise. Every third woman searches for erotic films online, and the number is rising. The erotic industry is booming, but there is a lack of suitable offers that appeal to all genders equally. According to the cheex-founders “the whole topic of pornography is still associated with a lot of shame for many. It is time that sexual stimulation is fun for everyone and at the same time feels comfortable and safe.” As a sexual wellness platform, Cheex focuses on dealing positively with one’s own sexuality and removes the taboo from stimulation and masturbation. But Cheex is not only concerned with the female gaze in matters of pornography and sexual pleasure. In general, the online platform contributes a lot to a morally justifiable industry. Keyword: Ethical Porn.

Sure, quite some people might be wondering what ethical porn is and how it benefits the porn industry and all people involved. So, let’s unpack the concept a little bit. Ethical porn is not a genre. Ethical porn productions of intimate scenes focuses on certain values such as respect, diversity and transparency. Porn should be respectful toward the performers, crew and consumer and Cheex shows that with every production. Cheex makes porn that is inclusive and diverse in portraying pleasure, other than conventional platforms.They create a new, fresh approach to pornography. The curated selection of content presents sexuality as it is actually lived: Diverse, pleasurable and consensual. All content on Cheex is produced fairly, only performers of legal age are shown and license partners are selected according to strict ethical criteria. Plus: Cheex is also aware of its responsibility when dealing with pornography. The provided content can inspire your own sex life, not replace it. In addition Cheex also attaches great importance to transparency, appropriate pay for work and a safe sex environment. Meaning as early as possible in the process, the performers (and the crew) know how much they will get paid for their time and their emotional investment at work. There is always an agreement that clearly defines the pay and reimbursement conditions. And most important, the pay is not be dependent on gender, skin colour, age, or body type.

Since pleasure is individual and different for each of us, the production of intimate scenes should reflect that generally. The times in which porn was mainly about the “patriarchal power of heterosexual pleasure” are a thing of the past. At present times pornographic content has the potential to offer a new dimension to intimacy, the one that is respectful, inclusive and diverse. Cheex has made it its business to achieve this – with great success. Plus: Cheex sees itself more as a platform that offers a space for exchange, learning and authenticity. In the accompanying magazine, sex workers, experts and branch insiders report on experience, facts and also dispel prejudices.

Of course: It’s hard to pinpoint which platforms actually practice ethical porn. Ideally, one day, there will be a quality mark for porn to ensure if elements, such as equal pay, diversity and consent are truly met. But it’s not about policing or restricting porn, it’s about ensuring that we act morally and with respect toward others. That porn grows as a safe work environment. In this regard, Cheex is definitely taking a huge step in the right direction, influencing consumers and other platforms to do the same and and become more ethical in the future.

Got curious? Check out Cheex here.

All images: Curtesy of Cheex
Words by: Annika Duda

Artist to watch: Esben Weile Kjær

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