For any of you that may have ever perused a pornography website, you may have noticed the scenarios getting increasingly preposterous over the years. Multiple partners and medically improbable appendages are the base case. I am cognizant that the situations presented are not representative of ‘real life’. They are not representative of typical sexual relations. I’m sure the scenarios presented on porn sites really do happen sometimes, but they’re highly exaggerated outliers.

I’ve been a tech platform cassandra for my non media+tech friends for a few years now, but trying to explain how ad-based business models and algorithms combine to create a completely distorted understanding of reality has been difficult. The one thing that almost instantly breaks through is to equate the reality presented in a social feed to porn. Yes, the things you are presented with are real and do exist, but they are not representative of the mundane nature of everyday life. Again, highly exaggerated outliers.

In the same way none of us are going to pornhub and searching “suburban pudgy 40something couple missionary” (maybe you are and kudos to you) the algorithm does not promote the uninteresting and the unstimulating. If there is any censorship on these platforms, it’s of the tedious and routine elements of life.

To look at your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed as representative of reality is to look at Pornhub and think “this is how most people have sex”.

Ranjan Roy on outliers.

Kind of an aside, but as someone who’s porn consumption is pretty much limited to fanfic, I would point out that “pudgy 40something couple missionary” is indeed very popular, and the only reason I’m removing the “suburban” part is that it’s difficult to apply when you’re dealing with, like. People on spaceships or imaginary military bases or fantasy medieval castles or whatever. There’s even an entire fic term for this genre; “established relationship”, particularly when coupled with other tags like “domestic fluff”. Possibly unsurprisingly, it seems—at least in the fandoms I’ve been reading—to’ve gotten a huge boot in popularity in 2020, along with all the other related “soft (◕ω◕✿)” tropes.

(Incidentally, this doesn’t even detract from Roy’s point, because one of the reasons I… don’t particularly gel with a lot of fic in this genre is even it tends to present weirdly unrealistic versions of its otherwise allegedly mundane scenarios. Ref. for e.g. the hugely popular “The Avengers cuddle and watch Disney movie marathons in Avengers Tower” genre which I just… I get the appeal of intellectually but as someone to whom this scenario is pretty much the antithesis of my id, I just cannot get over the fact that, like. Half these people are, like. Middle aged men, man. They just… are not. Doing that. Highly exaggerated outliers, indeed.)