Tom Hickman argues in The Sexual Century (1999) that sexuality in the 20th century has gone from “private passion [to]… public obsession”, and is what Susan Sontag refers to as “one of the demonic forces in human consciousness – pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires” (1982: 103). With sex and sexuality therefore erroneously considered taboo and dangerous, when these topics are highlighted in animation, due to the perception that animation is for children, the discussion tends to focus on the negative impacts of their representation. To link pornography to animation is even more threatening, where the sex act is no longer implied or suggested, or coyly circumvented, but boldly displayed.
While there is writing on the topic of pornography in animation (see Capino, 2004, or Kleinhans, 2004), the discussion tends towards the ‘other’, such as pornography within non-western animation traditions (see Lamarre, 2006 and 2007, and Ortega-Brena, 2008). More recent literature on gaming (see Wysocki and Lauteria, 2015) shows a more unbiased approach to the topic and its application. This emphasis on the negative and ‘othering’ tends to stigmatise and obfuscate the social implications of pornography and its place in contemporary western society. How society reads animation adds another level of complexity to understanding the relationship between these topics.
It was on seeing an advert for two films by Adult Source Media (ASM), namely Pirate’s Booty (dir/Wendy Crawford, 2009) and Tales from the gods (dir/Wendy Crawford, 2010) both full length, animated pornographic films, that the question came to mind: Why pornography as animation? Richard Dyer asserts that pornography is exciting both on the level of taboo (the unseen, the illegal or immoral, or the unobtainable), as well as the more basic level of constructing sexual excitement and the expectation of sexual excitement (1994:49). Linda Williams (1989) refers to the “principle of maximum visibility”, where porn is driven by the urgent desire to witness not only the act itself, but the sex organs and ejaculations in more detail. Williams maintains that all porn is visually constructed around this visibility. One of the central arguments of Dyer’s paper is that pornography excites through its realism and the construction of that realism through classical cinema conventions. So why use animation with all the issues that remove such images from “the real”? For example Wells (1998) notes that animation enunciates its constructed-ness, Plantec (2008) discusses the diverse aspects that impact on the uncanny-ness of the animated image, and Manovich (2001) notes the cognitive dissonance that arises as animation moves towards the hyper-real. Why choose animation, which announces itself as not real, if as Dyer states for porn, the real-ness of the image is paramount in achieving its goal?
It is in films like Pirate’s Booty that we see evidence of the above referred to by Dyer and Williams. Animation can achieve in visuals what traditional cinema cannot do by showing the very act of Dyer’s “desire”, the moment of ejaculation, within the body, during the sex act. Sex as it is meant to be, without the affectation of stance or posture and erection withdrawal that live action pornography must do for Williams’ “maximum visibility”. Animation allows us to see what traditional cinema technically cannot achieve. In Pirate’s Booty it is during the process of ejaculation that the body turns transparent, to allow the audience to witness what is in reality a hidden moment. Whilst the sex act in animation is anything but “real” it is in fact “more real” than the constructed reality of live action pornographic sex.
Animated pornography therefore allows for a visual representation that more closely mimics the “real” sex act, bringing animated porn closer to porn’s ultimate goal of realism. Whilst there is a documented loss of realism in animation, its transformative abilities subvert reality to counter-intuitively give animated pornography a real-ness that live action cannot.
Booker MK (2006) Drawn to television: Primetime animation from the Flintstones to Family Guy. Conneticut: Praeger.
Capino, Jose, B. (2004) Filthy Funnies: Notes on the body in animated pornography, Animation Journal, Vol 12. Pgs 53 – 71
Creeber G (2008) The Television Genre Book. Hampshire: BFI Palgrave Macmillan.
Dyer, Richard (1994) Idol thoughts, orgasm and self reflexivity in gay porn in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 36 no. 1 Blackwell Publishing pp. 48 – 62
Hickman, T. (1999) The Sexual Century. London: Carlton Books.
Kleinhans, Chuck (2004) Virtual Child Porn: The Law and the Semiotics of the Image, in Journal of Visual Culture, Vol 3, Issue 1: pgs 17-34, SAGE Publications
Lamarre, Thomas (2006) Platonic Sex: Perversion and Shôjo Anime (Part One)
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Lamarre, Thomas (2007) Platonic Sex: Perversion and Shôjo Anime (Part Two)
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Manovich, Lev (2001) The language of New Media The MIT Press: Massachusetts
Ortega-Brena, Mariana (2008) Peek-a-boo, I See You: Watching Japanese Hard-core Animation in Sexuality & Culture (2009) 13:17–31 Springer Science and Business Media, LLC
Plantec, P. (2008) Crossing the great uncanny valley Available: http://vfxworld.com/?atype=articles&id=3494 [accessed 10 July 2008]
Sontag, S. (1982) The Pornographic Imagination in Bataille, G. Story of the Eye by Lord Auch (trans. J. Neugroschal). United Kingdom: Penguin Books.
Wells P (1998) Understanding Animation. London: Routledge.
Wells P (2008) Adult Animation. In Creeber G The Television Genre Book. Hampshire: BFI Palgrave Macmillan.
Williams, Linda (1989) Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy of the Visible” University of California Press, California
Wysocki, Matthew and Lauteria, Evan W. (Eds) (2015) Rated M for Mature. Sex and Sexuality in Video Games. Bloomsbury Academic
Adam de Beer is Head of Academics and Head of Department: Animation and Visual Effects at the SAE Institute South Africa (Pty) Ltd, in Cape Town, South Africa. His research studies the intersection of television, gender (sexuality), and animation while developing an understanding of animation as transgression and manifestation of a social need to violate and thereby interrogate aspects of contemporary heteronormativity. This blog post was originally presented as a thought piece on 9 July 2010, at the 22nd Annual Society for Animation Studies Conference: Animation Evolution (9 – 11 July 2010), Edinburgh College for Art, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. A shorter version was presented on 28 October 2010, at the annual Current Research in the Humanities Conference (28 – 29 October 2010), University of Cape Town (UCT).
 This notion has been repeatedly been taken to task in recent years by numerous authors to show this is indeed not always the case (see Booker 2006, Creeber 2008, Wells 1998, and Wells 2008).