Pornography, Male Anxieties, and Hegemonic Masculinity in Pornographic Material

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Yesterday I shared an excerpt from my senior paper on why theorists have voiced concern over the social phenomenon of hegemonic masculinity and the need for the engaging of the topic. This short excerpt is a follow on from that (just slightly broken up and headed differently), and hones in on another theme of my paper, namely, the relationship between pornography and hegemonic masculinity.

Mainstreaming of Pornography & Male Views

The internet has resulted in the “mainstreaming” of pornography and it now seems more acceptable than ever before to view such content (Cook, 2006). This is what one might refer to as the “pornification” of society and the public space (Johansson & Hammaren, 2007). Nonetheless, it remains important to avoid generalizing all men when it comes to their moral views and convictions concerning pornography (Brenner, 2016). As Brenner notes, male users of internet pornography possess various experiences with such content, and have various thoughts and feelings pertaining to their own and others use of it (Brenner, 2016). For many, toxic masculine traits present in the aggressive and degrading behaviours perpetrated against female actresses such as verbal abuse, slapping, spitting, and throttling, which are routinely employed in pornographic material, is criticized (Patrow, 2011). Moreover, most men find certain pornography morally unacceptable such as incest and underage child pornography (Akdeniz, 2008). Nonetheless, the moral views are more complex than just a surface reading might suggest.

However, generally viewers of pornography can be categorized into three groups: enthusiastic, ambivalent, and opponent (Johansson & Hammaren, 2007). Enthusiasts (mostly consisting of men) have positive attitudes and views of pornography, those who are ambivalent partly agree that pornography is degrading towards women, and opponents (mostly consisting of women) feel pornographic material is degrading and believe that it should be forbidden (Johansson & Hammaren, 2007)

Hegemonic Masculinity in Pornographic Material

Hegemonic masculinity is expressed in pornographic material via the presentation of men as hunters, the obsession with female genitalia, sexual conquest (the “money shot” in which male actors ejaculate on the faces of the female actresses), and the presentation of female actresses as objects worthy of little, if any, emotional attachment (Cook, 2006). The money shot is particularly full of meaning as Linda Williams explains, that “repeated ejaculations onto her face could… be read as visual proof of her objectification and humiliation” (Williams, 1989, p. 112). Moreover, many pornographic sites propose a narrative of men as conquerers who through having sex with many women demonstrate their manliness (Cook, 2006). Women become “trophies” for these men (Cook, 2006).

Pornography and Male Anxieties

As research suggests, pornographic material produces several gender based anxieties in men (Brod, 1988; Cook, 2006). For example, many men feel that their pornography preferences are evidence of an “abnormal” masculinity, and feel guilty having viewed such content (Cook, 2006). Some men feel guilt on their continued reliance of pornography for sexual pleasure (Cook, 2006). Further anxieties stem from men’s self image since many male porn actors are often atypical in several ways which includes penis size, body shape, and physical strength (Brod, 1988). These traits almost always exceed the average male characteristics, and suggest the narrative that average-sized penises cannot lead to female sexual satisfaction (Cook, 2006). Pornography sites ostensibly exploit these anxieties through the inclusion of many advertisements promoting penis enlargement drugs and techniques for male viewers who sign up with the site or supply their email address (Cook, 2006). The depiction of women in pornographic material is also a source of male anxiety for they are often presented as being available for sex (Brod, 1988). However, most women do not meet these expectations in the world outside of the pornographic enterprise, and can thus be a source of tension for many men (Brod, 1988). Further, viewing pornography results in men grading their own sexual performance during the act of intercourse which often leads them to distance and distract themselves from the actual encounter (Brod, 1988). The man can also feel that he underperforms or fails to perform as he should during intercourse (Brod, 1988). As Cook suggests, for many men this tends to make them feel that they are not “man enough” and that achieving this is becoming decreasingly possible for most men (Cook, 2006). Hegemonic masculinity and its expression in pornographic content is therefore a significant source of anxiety in men.


Akdeniz, Y. (2008). Internet child pornography and the law: national and international responses. Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing.

Brenner, H. (2016). It’s Good, I’m Straight, I’m Thinking About Girls, and I’m Masturbating. Heterosexual Masculinity, Pornography, and Doing Gender. Journal of Men’s Studies, 15(1), 57–70.

Cook, I. (2006). Western Heterosexual Masculinity, Anxiety, and Web Porn. Journal of Men’s Studies, 14(1), 47-63.

Brod, H. (1988). Pornography and the Alienation of Male Sexuality. Social Theory and Practice, 14(3), 265-284. doi:10.5840/soctheorpract198814312

Cook, I. (2006). Western Heterosexual Masculinity, Anxiety, and Web Porn. Journal of Men’s Studies, 14(1), 47-63.

Johansson, T., Hammaren, N. (2007). Hegemonic Masculinity and Pornography; Young People’s Attitudes Toward and Relations to Pornography. Journal of Men’s Studies, 15(1):57-70.

Patrow, K. (2011). The Whisper of Power: Masculinity and Porn Culture. Mutuality, 18(4), 10-12. Retrieved from

Williams, L. (1989). Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “frenzy of the Visible.” Berkley, U.S.A.: University of California Press.


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