Porn. While we may be hesitant to admit it, we know everyone watches it. Once deemed as taboo and immoral, pornography is now accepted as a natural part of growing up and the medium of choice in assisting us to explore our bodies (because no one wants that awkward talk with the parentals). Whether out of boredom, hormonal urge, or loneliness, pornography helps people to fulfill biological needs. One of America’s biggest secrets, the porn industry has generated a massive revenue of approximately $8 billion. There are over 68 million daily searches for pornography in the United States alone. That accounts for 25% of all daily searches. Bondage, choking, orgies, webcams..there are videos catered to every fantasy imaginable. Interested in same-sex scripts? How about live sex performed on a stage with an audience to go with it? Do you like the use of foreign objects? Don’t worry, there are videos for those too. While everyone has their preference, society has made us to think that even for pornography, there are some categories too abnormal, deviant, or extreme.
Ever heard of Hentai? This Japanese term describes any type of perverse or abnormal sexual desire or act. With the word’s broad international usage however, it has become a catch-all term for the genre of pornography characterized by anime and manga elements. During the Meiji period (1857-1912), the word referred to a branch of Japanese sexology. It then became connected to works that contained bizarre sexual content from 1912-1925. Before then, any such literature relating to manga was labeled as “erotic, grotesque nonsense.”
Often overlooked and ridiculed, Hentai is notorious for depicting “tentacle sex,” or scenes leading up to intercourse where octopus tentacles randomly reach out from under a girl’s skirt. Censorship rules drove manga to get creative. Thus, the tentacle became a phallic symbol. Did you know, that one of the most famous artists of Japan, Hokusai Katsushika (e.g. internationally recognized painting of Mount Fuji on right) drew the first image of tentacle porn (e.g. image on left). Interestingly enough you can find Hentai almost anywhere in any form. Media stores, sex shops, even airports carry Hentai in DVDs, comic books, magazines, and computer downloads. Combining cartoons, gaming, and pornography, consumers are subjected to a unique experience. The main demographic for Hentai is men.
While research tells us that pornography in general carries negative consequences on a person’s approach to sexual activities and sexual partners (listed below), there have not been many studies on the subcategory of cartoon porn. Does Hentai illicit the same response from viewers as “reality” porn? Does it have the same effect on our brain and behavior? Are there costs or benefits to hentai?
Studies show that after viewing pornography men are more likely to:
- report decreased empathy for rape victims
- have increasingly aggressive behavioral tendencies
- report believing that a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be raped
- report anger at women who flirt but then refuse to have sex
- report decreased sexual interest in their girlfriends or wives
- report increased interest in coercing partners into unwanted sex acts (Bridges, 2006) (Yang, Gahyun, 2012).
Why Watch Cartoons When You Can Watch the Real Thing?
So Many Possibilities
Well for one, anime and cartoon illustrations allow for unlimited possibilities. You can procure up any scenario imaginable. There is no such thing as “weird” in Hentai. You want furries, demons, bizarre partners, or all three combined? Why not? Hentai is made to fulfill your desires.
Hentai also creates fantasies we can’t otherwise live and carry out in reality. I’m sure J.K. Rowling would die if some of her fans dreamt of Harry Potter hooking up with Snape. But in Hentai, that has happened. Favorite characters in unworldly scenarios create a new definition of fun and excitement. Looking through some forums, I noticed that a lot of responders didn’t like how real porn had the same script over and over again. It made things get boring and predictable. However, Hentai carries with it the unexpected.
“Animators make new games because there is a demand for them, and because they depict things that the gamers do not have the courage to do in real life, or that might just be illegal, these games are an outlet for suppressed desire.”-Dr. Narayan Reddy, sexologist
Hentai also leaves out bodily imperfections and insecurities. Gone are scars, bad dye jobs, stretch marks, and regrettable tattoos. The performers have perfect fetishized bodies that are not subject to the effects of life and gravity. This goes for all genders. There is no “golden ratio” and symmetry” that guide attraction as in real life (RL). Reactions are also dramaticized for a bigger and more stimulating effect for viewers. In Hentai, your kind of perfection and my type of perfection exists. But the “perfection” coind by society doesn’t.
“Because toons are a kind of final fantasy, you can make the person look the way you want him or her to look. Every fetish can be fulfilled.”-Dr. Megha Hazuria Gorem, clinical psychologist
Another thing with Hentai is that consumers can genuinely enjoy it is a guiltless pleasure. Since it is animation, no one is getting forced to doing something they don’t like. No one gets hurt emotionally or physically. Actors were not subjected to unideal working conditions for low pay. In essence, there is only pleasure derived from such media. It lacks personable qualities thereby creating a barrier between viewer and scenes. Hentai provides an outlet that explores the darker, odder regions of the human mind.
There is also a unique visual language in anime that has the ability to convey feelings and thoughts without words. This is hard to depict in RL. Lines, colors, symbols represent common emotions. For example, speed lines such as the ones illustrated in the picture below are understood as speed or to accent an intense action sequence.
Eyes are the window to the soul. That is why eye symbols are another prevalent visual depiction of emotion. Just like through the texts we send using emoticons, animated eyes show emotions clearly. Most tend to be self-explanatory and obvious from experience. The most common ones that you may recognize are:
- ^_^ very happy
- -_- apathetic or irritated
- O_O afraid. very awake, surprised
- O_o confused and mildly disturbed by something
- @_@ confused, dizzy or overwhelmed – in anime these are spirals
- X_X dead figuratively or literally
A bleeding nose represents perverseness. There is debate as to how this particular symbol came about, but censorship laws may play a part. Another explanation is that mothers would tell their children when growing up that “If you have dirty thoughts you will get a bloody nose.”
Similar to Art in History
Hentai has many characteristics similar to European art of the 17th and 18th century. Mannerisms and styles used illustrate exaggerated motion and ornate detail to produce the drama and grandeur of Baroque art. Some familiar work and names during this time include the Palace of Versailles, Vivaldi, Bach, and Bernini. The sculpture of The Ecstasy of Saint Therese shows the scene of an angel just about to pierce the saint with an arrow. Her expression has caused a bit of controversy since it looks like one of pleasure and ecstasy instead off fear and pain. Could this have been a metaphor perhaps?
I think this genre of porn is particularly intriguing. While I am not experienced in this category, the reasonings for it make sense. I especially like that no one gets hurt because it is just a cartoon. I never thought of that before. The history and linkage to older art is something that would be interesting to study further.
But, it does make me wonder if there is something deeper behind choosing to watch this subcategory. Of course as is with RL pornography, we can try and find meaning behind watching Hentai. Were there awkward and embarrassing situations in reality that caused a viewer to prefer toons over real people? Do the viewers of Hentai possess a higher sexual drive that attracts them to enjoy crazy scenarios that don’t otherwise exist to match their libido? Are consumers shy and socially underdeveloped to where this fantasy world is the only place they are comfortable in? Or maybe there are some Oedipus and Elektra complexes at play. Perhaps our Phallic stage of development was never resolved and fully developed. However, that can only go so far before the tentacles come in and complicate things.
As is with everything in life, to each’s own.
What is your take on Hentai? Are you a fan of it? Or do you see it as the extreme in pornography?