Stories from Sex Advice

Porn Is a Lot More Inclusive Than It Used to Be—but Does It Have an Accessibility Problem?

Gabrielle Kassel

Gabrielle KasselApril 8, 2020

Thumbnail for Porn Is a Lot More Inclusive Than It Used to Be—but Does It Have an Accessibility Problem?
Pin It
Graphic: W+G Creative

With all the body shapes, genders, races, sexualities, and relationship dynamics depicted in much contemporary porn, it’s undeniable that the industry has grown a whole lot more inclusive in recent years. And while this inclusivity marks great progress in representing broader depictions of pleasure and catering to more diverse erotic preferences, it’s not an end point. That’s because the landscape still excludes swaths of sexual beings, unintentionally sending the message that pleasure isn’t a right for all people. To be sure, that message is wrong, and to stop it, we need to fix a problem: Porn is not accessible to all.

Earlier this year, a hearing-impaired man in Brooklyn sued Pornhub for a lack of subtitles on the platform’s videos because he claimed the lapse precluded deaf and hearing impaired viewers from having equal access. And this issue extends to vision-impaired porn patrons as well. Though one of pornography’s classic defining features is that it’s a visual medium, that very classic definition is unfairly exclusive. Sex educator and accessibility and disability consultant Laura Millar assures that blind- and vision-impaired folks absolutely can enjoy pornographic videos—so long as they’re made accessible. So, what are we waiting for, exactly?

What does accessible porn look like exactly?

The short answer is that it depends. For hearing-impaired folks, that may entail adding closed captions that are accurate, well-spelled, and comprehensive. For those who are vision-impaired, Millar says solutions may include written descriptions that explain exactly what happens in the film that a screen reader (which reads meta-data of digital files so that a visually impaired person can hear an audio description) can read aloud to the viewer, narration overlaid on the video, more dialogue between performers, more moaning and sounds of gratification, and/or music.

“A tag system that allows blind and hearing-impaired folks to search a porn platform based on their accessibility-feature preferences is crucial.” —Laura Millar, sex educator

One of the most important notes about porn accessibility, though, is what should absolutely not be done. That is, not to group all accessible pornography videos together as a single category, thus implying all people who benefit from any number of these features are all looking for the same material.

Instead, distributors and platforms should use a comprehensive tagging system to show which clips offer which specific accessible features. “Some blind folks find the narrative overlays distracting, others find them helpful. Some blind folks think music adds to the scene, others find it distracts from it,” Millar says. “A tag system that allows blind and hearing-impaired folks to search a porn platform based on their accessibility-feature preferences is crucial.”

Carol Queen, PhD, sexologist for Good Vibrations, agrees that a tagging system would grant people who want to consume accessible porn the ability to find exactly what they want to watch with more ease. “There’s a ton of porn out there—mainstream, feminist, queer, fetish, etc.,” she says. “But how do people find what they want? When porn becomes more accessible, that same question stands about how the folks looking for [accessible features] will find what they want.”

Good news: The future of porn does look more accessible

Or, at least, that’s what sex educators predict, and what certain purveyors are slowly beginning to work toward. Pornhub, for instance, launched a “Described Video Category” in 2016, which features audio descriptions of the site’s top performing videos geared toward the visually impaired. And in 2018, the platform began to add closed captioning to some videos in its expansive library. In fact, in response to the aforementioned lawsuit against Pornhub, Corey Price, the company’s vice president, told TMZ, “While we do not generally comment on active lawsuits, we’d like to take this opportunity to point out that we do have a closed captions category.” Yet, at the time of publish, Pornhub had not responded to an inquiry for this article about whether it plans to extend closed captioning to all videos (as opposed to just a selection), or to make its content more accessible to those with visual impairments.

While Pornhub could certainly stand to expand its accessible horizons, earlier this year, Adult Time, a streaming service exclusively for, you guessed it, adults, announced plans to roll out subtitles to better serve its members’ accessibility needs. Now, all new releases will feature subtitles and translations. “Adult Time’s objective is to make our story-driven content more enjoyable on devices with the sound turned off, as well as for hearing-impaired and non-English native subscribers,” Karl Bernard, president of Gamma Entertainment (which owns and operates Adult Time), said to AVN about the update. And to add, Bree Mills, chief creative officer of Adult Time, tells me, “the visually impaired can also listen to the full audio of episodes on Adult Time.”

PSA: All porn needs to be accessible

Though Pornhub certainly has room for improvement in its porn accessibility offerings, given that it’s the 10th most-trafficked site globally, even its lackluster efforts set a precedent for other major platforms that have even slimmer accessibility features. Adult Time’s push for accessibility suggests that smaller sites are taking note, and hopefully the producers and platforms that are lauded for their inclusivity (like Bellesa, CrashPadSeries, and Lust Cinema) tackle accessibility next—for all the reasons previously mentioned, and also because their story lines are often less predictable, and thus, less simple for someone to follow along on autopilot.

“Most old-school porn follows the same sequence of events to get to P-in-V intercourse,” says blind sex educator, disability and accessibility advocate, and creator of the sex-positive blog Helen’s Toybox, who goes by Bianca. “So as a blind person, even when a film doesn’t have accessibility features, I’m able to take auditory cues and understand what’s happening.”

Newer, more alternative porn with more character development, gender and sexuality play, and a less straightforward P-in-V focus isn’t always as simple for someone with sensory impairments to follow. “Recently I was asked to review CrashPadSeries, and while I wanted to like it, I found it incredibly confusing. I wasn’t able to make out what was being done to whom, what the bodies onscreen were doing, or really appreciate the gender [dynamics].” Essentially, the film was inclusive, but not currently accessible.

The bottom line: This is not an either/or situation. Porn cannot be either inclusive or accessible. It needs to be both. As queer sex and relationship expert Jamie LeClaire says, “the goal is that porn films will star folks who are hearing and visually impaired, be accessible to folks who are hearing and visually impaired, and be easy to find and access.”

Curious if watching porn counts as cheating? Read this. Always wondered what other real womxn think about watching porn? Find out

Loading More Posts...