Better than actual porn!

Boom in X-rated animated photos and GIFs may evidence shrinking attention spans, but they're unlikely to take over

Topics: Sex, Sex and love, Pornography,

Better than actual porn!

I knew that X-rated GIFs had truly come of age when porn star Kimberly Kane tweeted earlier this week that they were “better than actual porn.” I’d heard similar proclamations from pornoisseur friends, but a celebrated adult performer calling it the pinnacle of smut? Now that is something.

For those of you who are visiting the World Wide Web for the first time ever, a GIF is a static or animated, looped image that’s been compressed for quick loading. The rest of you have probably come across your fair share of GIFs showing dramatic reactions, catly shenanigans, dancing politicians or Ryan Gosling doing any number of things. Most GIFs are meant for laughs, but, increasingly, they’re being designed to tickle a different bone.

Lux Alptraum, CEO of the porn blog Fleshbot, which now features a “GIF of the day,” says that these X-rated animated images, which typically feature a few key climactic moments from a mainstream adult movie, “became popular around the time high-quality GIFs, in general, became more of a thing,” which is to say within the past two years. “Reddit and Tumblr definitely helped to make them more of a phenomenon, as they made distribution easier,” she said in an email.

Nowadays, you can find porn sites that consist of a seemingly neverending wall of GIFs, sometimes with high-quality motionless photos thrown in the mix. Just as with the glut of image-driven Tumblr blogs devoted to sexy still photos, these sites curate a particular aesthetic, sometimes focusing on a specific sex act. These sites, many of them Tumblrs, are the artisinal version of the ubiquitous tube site (although, there are certainly GIF-porn tube sites, as well). And they are multiplying like rabbits on a GIF-loop.

It’s hard not to see this phenomenon as yet more evidence of shrinking attention spans. When you gaze upon a wall of hundreds of different girls giving endless blow jobs, it seems like an especially poignant representation of modern overstimulation and never-ending consumption. It should come as no surprise, I suppose, that as our thoughts are distilled into 140 characters, our porn is similarly reduced to 256 colors. That’s how Kane, herself, see it: “I think people, me included, have shorter attention spans because of the 24-hour information overload we are subjected to every time we turn on the TV or go online,” she told me in an email. “GIFs boil sexuality down into a visual tweet, focusing on the exact moments of sex I want to see on repeat.”

GIFs might seem like a piece of porn’s larger trajectory: from story-driven, feature-length adult films to gonzo porn to tube sites to two-second animated images. But Alptraum doesn’t see it so bleakly: “For me, GIFs aren’t so much briefer videos as they are enhanced photographs,” she told me.

When I took to Twitter to ask fans of porno-GIFs to explain themselves, several echoed this idea. One, a photographer, tweeted, “GIFs are like a long-form version of the still photo. One exquisite moment. It’s how I see the hot memories in my mind.” Another tweeter wrote, “The good GIFs capture a moment that [is] almost tangible, almost a fantasy within the larger fantasy of the porn.” And another: “For me, 98% of porn is BORING but there are particular, specific moments that are hot beyond reason.” Traditionally, you would have to rewind to that particular moment or repeatedly click that sweet spot on the progress bar over and over again — but GIFs do the work for you.

As a male friend who is an occasional porno-GIFer told me, “The repetition clearly appeals to our simple little brains.” He continued, “Sex, being often an inherently repetitive exercise, is especially well-served by the format. It’s almost literally like scratching an itch: ‘Oh that feels good, do the same exact thing again.’”

Despite their popularity, Alptraum hardly expects dirty GIFs to take the place of lengthier video clips. “There’s a lot that makes a video hotter than a GIF: sound, for one, and the fact that it can be multiple hot moments and not just a few seconds,” she says. “I think that, given the choice, most people would prefer to masturbate to a video over a GIF.” That said, “if you’re not looking to settle in for a serious session of erotic appreciation, a GIF can be a really compelling taste of the action.” Our Internet porn is just so darn accommodating these days!

It’s also the case that the vast majority of GIF porn is free. So, GIFs may not be the future of porn — but they do hint at something of which the adult industry is all too painfully aware: People love free smut.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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