Heteronormal histories have been shaped by a recurring set of debates about what kinds of explicit sexual expression and representation are publicly allowed, structured by a form of line-drawing that sanctions certain forms of public heterosexual practice in popular culture and representation. While depictions of heterosexual activity in popular cultural representations are tolerated within certain parameters, and while such parameters around what is possible and acceptable have shifted over time in Anglophone discourses of sexuality, overtly pornographic depictions are consistently cast as a non-normative, deviant form of heterosexual expression. Over the past decade, the emergence of ‘pornified’ culture prompts us to ask new kinds of questions about heterosexual practice, pointing to some interesting transgressive potentials. What happens when a historically non-normative form of public sexual expression attains a measure of social acceptability? Does this challenge the historical signifiers of good heterosex? To explore these questions, this article draws on a study with young people aged 12–16 in South Australian schools who have some interesting things to say about the ‘explicit’ in public. They describe an alteration to the historical relegation of explicit porn sex to secret private spaces, and articulate how pornified culture works as moments for curious exploration: a fun, fleshy spectacle. However, in making this claim, I (and they) walk a careful line. The extent to which heterosexual porn can be a matter of ‘fun’ and experimentation is simultaneously moderated by historically persistent signifiers of classed and gendered respectability. While the repertoire for open acknowledgment of certain forms of play and pleasure may be opening up (perhaps disrupting existing orthodoxies of heteronormativity in some key ways), heteronormal conventions simultaneously constrain these possibilities.
- Gender resistance
- young people