In 2013, porn star James Deen made a masterful move on Twitter to capitalize on his everyman status: He invited amateur girls to fuck him on camera. Multiple accounts of Deen spending time with his new costars surfaced online, including a story on Jezebel in which he and comedian Jenn Tisdale watched a John Mulaney special between several rounds of banging each other’s brains out. It was Deens casual approachability, paired with his signature pin-the-girl-on-the-bed move, that worked like catnip on female viewers. And his fandom only grew from there.
For more than five years, he was the most popular male porn star. There was an intangible sense of humanity that permeated Deen’s work, even way back in 2004. Deen laughs on camera. He loses his balance on set. He posts pictures of his cat to Instagram and maintains eye contact with his co-stars while plowing his average-sized penis into them. He looks like a guy any woman would plausibly date. And he was definitely the first male porn star women have wanted to fuck.
In recent years, though, he’s fallen out of favor with female fansand for good reason. In 2015, Deens ex-girlfriend, another porn performer named Stoya, accused Deen of raping her. Other alleged victims came forward using the hashtag #SolidaritywithStoya, including fellow porn performers Joanna Angel and Tori Lux. Deens public image took a fatal hit among women who couldnt, and didnt want to, separate the alleged rapist from the performer and certainly didnt want to support his work.
While the industry hasnt turned its back on Deen despite the allegationshe appeared in 32 porn films in 2016the most fanatical slice of his fandom is perhaps gone. Entire subreddits once devoted to cataloging and admiring Deens work have shifted toward independently made, arthouse, or DIY porn clips. A nation of people who just want to watch porn stars lovingly fucked into oblivion are still searching for the ineffable constellation of moments he always seemed to deliver.
While a few performers have bubbled up, their agents insisting that they are the “next James Deen,” the crowd that once loved him isn’t looking for a star. They’re hoping to feel human while masturbating to porn again.
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The majority of videos uploaded to the most popular porn sites like RedTube and YouPorn, or aggregating services like Porn MD, tend to follow a tried-and-true formula: Online porn curators cut specific shots from feature-length movies, always in the same order. We see a smiling girl who talks to an unseen cameraman. She gets up, takes her clothes off, and is joined onscreen by a man. She goes down on him for a while until shes told to stand. Sometimes, the man performs oral sex on her. Sometimes. Intercourse happens in three or four positions in which the mans face isnt visible. The man doesnt usually say much, but the girl talks and moans constantly. The camera focuses tightly on the female performers body, and the last shot in the sequence sees the man ejaculating onto the girls face, hair, and into her mouth. This is the money shot. That is mainstream porn.
Then there are the online communities that engage with porn creatively. They tend to function in two ways: First, there are the many amateur porn creators who host images and videos of themselves, getting off alone or with partners. The couples who make amateur porn typically promote their content as a unit; the fact that they care about each other is part of the appeal, and you can see it onscreen. A girl turns her body while taking it doggy style to kiss her partner, and they laugh a lot more often than professionals would. Pets wander in and out of the bedroom, and videos include shots of the man placing his camera on the bedside table. It mirrors the casual tone in many of Deens prior porn appearances, though these loving embraces have the authenticity of occurring between actual couples and not a performer accused of raping several of his co-stars. Deen might be great at performing passion, but watching real couples experience it is undoubtedly more genuine.
Second, there is the marketplace in which no money is exchanged, on NSFW Reddit forums like r/tipofmypenis and r/chickflixxx. Some users request certain things from porn videos, while others suggest relevant clips they’ve watched. When I made my own request on r/chickflixxxfor a black-and-white video of a man kissing a womans neck set to sexy music, I got a response in less than 30 minutes.
On female-led porn boards, most users are begging for clips of vocal men.” They are not interested in the male gaze of a male porn directortheyre looking for the female perspective. Or at least in performances where the men pretend to care a tad about what women experience.
Redditors on female-led porn boards are often pointed by other users to clips featuring guys who speak to their partnersor moan audibly. Fans of vocal male porn stars often watch post-orgasm torture videos, wherein a guys partner just keeps stimulating his penis after hes ejaculated, resulting in higher-pitched moaning that sounds desperate. Some guys even whimper.
This could be why many users are avoiding porn videos altogether. When I asked nearly 50 regular members and moderators of porn-curating subreddits what they preferred to look at when watching porn, many said they stick to erotic writing or audio clips (which are rising in popularity on Reddit). One user, a female college student, told me, Audio porn is the only place I consistently find performers addressing me, as a female viewer, so I can put myself in the story. Most porn videos, I cant really imagine myself in the place of the girl, so Im weirdly playing the part of the straight guy instead, which isnt an experience I know or enjoy.
The listener in this clips has always “been naughty,” or shes had a hard day at work and needs a massage. Shes good at sex, these voices tell her, and shes doing so well at “taking it.” Audio porn performers are encouraging, comforting, and affectionate in a way thats absent from most mainstream porn. Listening to Reddits favorite performances recalls every time Deen kisses his co-stars on their foreheads or noses, usually while hes still inside them. There’s an intimate familiarity hinted at, one that experts in sexual technologies say we haven’t recreated yet.
This theme runs through another preference of women: gay porn. For whatever reason, female-identifying viewers said gay male actors tend to appear happier and more carefree on camera. “Its easier,” a mod tells me, “to find clips of men kissing each other before, during, and after they fuck.”
Of course, there’s always going to be something alienating about watching others have sex on camera. There’s the voyeurism angle, and the disconnect between images many of us seek out to arouse us, and the sexual acts we’d actually be interested in experiencing. Deen being an alleged serial rapist put a particularly disturbing crack in the screen separating porn viewers from porn stars, and that rupture really hasn’t been mended yet.
Even r/chickflixxx hasn’t ever fully recovered from Deens fall from glory; the top two posts in the subreddits history are still Deen-related, though one celebrates his videos and the other reports on Stoyas rape accusation.
“I still watch him, sometimes,” one user tells me in a Reddit private message. “You can pretend you don’t know too much about him when you’re in that animal space, looking for porn that will get you off.”
Another user tells me in a private message that she isnt so sure. Theres more out there to watch, she says vaguely, perhaps because “watch” isn’t the aptest word.
For now, women will continue to do what theyve always donecarve a hole for themselves in a male-centric market and take their pleasure into their own hands. Its no surprise that a single man wasnt going to save them.