Straight Porn Is Full of “Lesbians.” So Why Is Lesbian Porn So Uninspiring?

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

There’s a pornography crisis in the lesbian community. All the lesbians I asked about their porn preferences agreed that the genre known as “lesbian porn,” long enjoyed by heterosexual men and widely available on a variety of websites that aggregate such content, does not depict us, nor does it serve our needs as consumers of porn. The lesbians I know have largely turned their backs on girl-on-girl action, seeking instead to scratch that most personal of itches with just about anything else. Is this an inevitable consequence of female sexual fluidity, or do we secretly yearn for a higher caliber of lesbian pornography? Spurred by intense personal curiosity about this issue, I decided to investigate further.

In order to form a clearer picture of the current state of affairs, I looked to the research on lesbians’ pornographic preferences and could find no such research. However fascinating I may find the topic, it seems social science doesn’t share my curiosity. Undeterred, I made up an entirely unscientific survey of my own, and sent it out to whatever friends and friends-of-friends happened to be hanging out on Facebook. Seven lesbians and five bisexual ladies answered the call. All but one admitted to watching porn, at least occasionally, and to a woman they had some pretty scathing things to say about the unrealistic nature of the lesbian-themed offerings. “Women with extra long fingernails and fried blonde hair looking bored while idly thumbing one another’s [privates],” was how one respondent put it, summing up the prevailing opinion.

When asked what sort of porn they did enjoy, the women’s answers diverged wildly. Three participants apparently agreed with the protagonists of The Kids Are All Right in preferring sex scenes featuring gay men. Other genres of interest included group sex, public sex, BDSM or kink, solo male, chubby girls, pants wetting, and standard heterosexual fare. Only one respondent indicated a primary interest in watching two women together.

An explanation for these diverse tastes in smut may be hinted at in the research on female arousal. While men tend to be specialists, becoming aroused only by videos depicting the objects of their sexual interest, women display signs of arousal at almost anything. Still, this doesn’t explain why most of the queer girls in my sample avoided watching depictions of sex between two women. (Intriguingly, the one respondent who did watch ladies going at it reported watching queer porn, a genre created for the queer community, particularly queer women, using queer performers.) Eager to learn more, and because I enjoy inflicting as much awkwardness as possible on our friends, my fiancée and I invited a small group of lesbian and bisexual women in their 20s and 30s over to our place for some informal market research.

For comparison purposes, we started with some free online content labeled as “lesbian” on a site aimed at heterosexual men. From the moment the skinny, feminine, blonde “lesbians” with vast, implanted chests appeared, the group was critical. “Who finds these women attractive?” one attendee asked. Once the activities commenced, our conversation ranged from whether breast implants were vulnerable to spontaneous explosion to which luncheon meat shaved female genitalia most closely resembled. In short, my research subjects were as bored by the performance as the two stars appeared to be, and we soon decided to move on to other offerings.

Next up was a scene called “There’s Something About Nadya,” described as “feminist porn” on Good Vibrations, the female-friendly site I got it from. The story followed three thin, feminine women who found adult-novelty-store clerk Nadya so irresistible that they did things like stare longingly at the ocean while thinking of her, visit her store multiple times making unwise purchases of adult novelties merely to see her, and follow her home from the subway. Eventually, Nadya and one of the three women had very gentle sex in a poorly lit room, to music everyone agreed was “not too terrible.” This was, at best, a minimal improvement. Although the actresses looked a bit more natural, they lacked any sense of passion or urgency for one another, and they spent more time talking about their attractions than acting on them.

But would queer pornography, starring and designed and directed by women who were themselves queer be any better? I clicked Play on a scene from the Crashpad Series, which I’d heard was the gold standard of the queer porn genre. Dispensing with any storyline or awkward dialogue, the scene from Crashpad featured tattooed women sporting alternative lifestyle haircuts getting right to business.

As the trio of shorthaired women began kissing—before they’d even begun the spankings or brought out their strap-ons—the responses from my little focus group were already far more positive. The variations in the performers’ body size, and their queerer, less traditionally feminine presentations (which ranged from punk-rock femininity to very masculine indeed) was met with widespread approval, as was the much more passionate and fast-paced action. The presence of pubic hair on one actress also brought great joy to all assembled. “It’s like sighting a whale on a whale watch!” one friend exclaimed at the sight of it.

Content-wise, the queer porn people clearly knew their audience. But, when informed of the $22-per-month subscription fee, few of my guinea pigs evinced any interest in paying for it. “I might give some money to their Kickstarter. You know, to support them in the good work they’re doing,” one guest offered, somewhat hesitantly. (A notable exception to all this hedging was my own fiancée, who has come up with some quite convincing redrafts of our family budget in an attempt to find the extra 22 bucks per month.)

While the Crashpad content, and the reaction to it, persuaded me that sexier, more authentic lesbian porn is possible, I found little evidence that queer women would ever form a particularly lucrative market for makers of pornography. Only one of the 12 people I asked reported buying porn, other than as a joke. And while many watched the free stuff occasionally, they seemed to be a pretty tough audience. Asked to explain what they found “unrealistic” in mainstream porn, one answered that she liked watching scenes with scissoring but found any toy use unrealistic, while the next said she liked strap-ons and toys but thought scissoring had been created for a male audience. Other reported examples of unreality included performers being too rough, performers being too gentle, too much tongue kissing, and not enough kissing or foreplay. Apparently, even lesbians have no idea how real lesbians have sex. But in spite of all this criticism of mainstream offerings, it didn’t seem that my respondents were poised to become paying customers for a superior product.

There’s a reason most pornography is geared toward men, and that is that men are the ones who watch it in huge numbers. (A researcher from the University of Montreal once attempted to find men in their 20s who didn’t watch porn and was unable to locate any.) So unless heterosexual male consumers rise up and join with us in demanding better, hotter, more realistic lesbian content, it seems unlikely that the sad state of lesbian pornography will see much improvement anytime soon.