“Our world is becoming increasingly visual. Yet, when it comes to the visual expression around sexual subjects, we’re limited to medical diagrams and porn.” So writes Mikael Cho, Founder/CEO of the excellent free stock photo website Unsplash, as he announces a new style of safe-sex photography: unporn.
Unporn consists of non-sexual images that suggest a variety of sexual body parts or activities. Fruit and vegetables are the mainstay of the unporn oeuvre. Melons, aubergines, sweetcorn, grapefruit, pomegranates and cucumbers are all pressed into portraying body parts in various action poses, right up to a banana dripping with white chocolate sauce. Sausages, hotdogs and other meat products unsurprisingly portray the male ‘meat’. Tall cacti also fill this role—presumably if you want to suggest the male of the species is somewhat prickly. Inanimate objects feature little, aside from the odd mannequin’s hand, though a pair of interlaced zips proves, on close inspection, to represent the Tantric sex position known as Janujugmâsana.
The idea is that unporn images can be used to safely illustrate inherently unsafe topics. Cho continues: “Today, many sexual subjects considered ‘off-limits’ have a growing need to be communicated. Unsplash is a place for enabling creative expression. At the same time, Unsplash is a safe space for all creators.” Cho’s desire to increase discussion around previously taboo subjects sings from his quotes, yet the undertow of shame remains. By not being willing to show human sexuality as it is, we continue to reinforce the notion that it is shameful.
I have written elsewhere how the rise of patriarchy around 6,000 years ago created inherently sex-negative societies, which became the world’s dominant social model. This led to an institutionalised, unconscious sense of shame around all things sexual that we are only now beginning to confront.
Sweetcorn penises? Buttock-shaped peaches? Breasts formed by a halved grapefruit? A prized-open sliced cold ham for a vagina being fingered? Really? Is that how immature our society is when it comes to portraying the sexual parts of our anatomies, and the joyful experiences they are capable of giving us?
Is unporn how immature our society is when it comes to portraying the sexual parts of our anatomies, and the joyful experiences they are capable of giving us?
Only when we are completely comfortable with our bodies and the process by which we reproduce—and images of the same—will we truly create a safe space for all creators—and all creation.