Intimacy in Isolation
Pornceptual's new project documenting our sex lives in quarantine times
Main Image: Betty Fvck
As lockdown measures have been enforced around the world to stop the spread of COVID 19, millions of people have spent the last few months confined to their homes. But in the race to restrict contact with one another, opposing our primal urge to touch and be touched, we continue to find ways to feel intimate.
Pornceptual has launched a new project, Isolation Porn: Sex, Self-pleasure and Fetish during Social Isolation, documenting how quarantine is affecting our sex lives. Compiling submissions from amateur and professional artists from around the world, the project examines what it means to be intimate in times of isolation and crisis.
Many of the submissions are portraits of solo-isolation and self-pleasure. Some portraits are melancholic, frustrated, and sad, while others are playful, zany and kinky; many are a combination of these things. There are a lot of snapshots of couples isolating together. Some feel deeply intimate, as if we are intruding on private moments: baths in milky half-lit rooms; bodies pushed against kitchen counters, tangled in bedsheets, splintered by light. Yet the experience of quarantining with a partner can also be claustrophobic, just as the experience of being isolated apart can be liberating. Phones and laptops frequently appear throughout the project, as artists examine communication through screens: how bodies are held apart and how they fuse across virtual boundaries, how nudes and video sex can offer new forms of closeness and pleasure.
We spoke to co-founders of the project, Raquel, Chris and Eric about what Isolation Porn means to them and what we can learn from it.
How are you? How have you been feeling through lockdown?
Raquel: Lockdown has been a defiant yet interesting experience. Business-wise the pandemic has affected us massively, so we were challenged creatively to come up with new ways to engage with our audience from home. Keeping in touch with our community and Pornceptual, in general, has certainly helped me to better cope with having to stay at home.
Eric: Many ups and downs, but a good time to pause and reflect. Trying to focus on creative projects and look forward to the end of the crisis.
Who have you been quarantining with? How’s that been?
Eric: I’m isolating with my partner and a flatmate. We also have a little Frenchie called Oscar. My partner normally travels a lot for work so it’s been great to have more time together. And the dog makes life a lot more bearable.
Raquel: I spent quarantine with my partner and it is hard to tell what is best in this situation, spending so much time alone or being with someone 24/7. We went through both ups and downs like everyone in this quarantine. And learned a lot about ourselves and figured out ways how we can help each other through this difficult time.
What inspired you to start the Isolation Porn project?
Eric: We didn’t think isolation policies should get in the way of anyone having a fun and exciting sex life. So we wanted to celebrate the creativity of people who have used this time to innovate sexually. We hoped this message would inspire others to stay at home too.
Chris: Staying connected and celebrating sexual freedom are possible while still respecting social distancing measurements. So it was a good way to motivate people to use their time of home to do something creative.
How do you distinguish between porn and art? Is there anything you wouldn’t accept?
Raquel: It depends on which kind of pornography you are referring to. You can easily distinguish between mainstream pornography and art. As for the content we produce with Pornceptual, which is thoughtful and inclusive, I see no distinction between both. Our focus is exactly to question the boundaries between pornography and art and prove that explicit content can be considered art.
Eric: Porn has real artistic merit when it challenges oppressive cultural norms and subverts power relations. It’s exploitative when it reinforces these same norms. This is where we draw the line.
Pornceptual aims to produce pornographic art that is “queer,
diverse and inclusive.” How do the artists involved in the project explore this specific link between isolation and marginalised groups?
Eric: Strengthening the voice of any marginalised sexual identity is one of our main objectives always. We know this time has been particularly hard for queer people who might not have been able to freely express their sexually if they found themselves isolaing in an unsafe space. Also the economical impact of lockdown would have affected marginalised groups disproportionately. We know a lot of artists and sex workers have turned to the internet as an important source of income. So we were happy to give them a platform too.
Chris: Marginalised groups often have no voice and this is especially true when it comes to them expressing their sexuality. The fact that most social media platforms censor any form of sexual content is very troubling because it silences a whole community. So Porceptual wants to offer an alternative and inspire people to talk more openly about sex, celebrating diversity and offering different types of representation.
What surprised you most about the submissions?
Raquel: I was honestly surprised about the high engagement and excited response from the artists. At the beginning, I was skeptical people wouldn’t feel inspired given the circumstances. But it was quite the opposite. We have never received so many submissions for a project before.
Chris: To see how people were dealing with the topic in such a varied way. Also to acknowledge that some of my favourite submissions were actually from non-professional artists.
Many of the artists in the project explore what it is like to be self-isolating alone. How is the pandemic affecting our relationship with our own bodies?
Raquel: During the self-isolation period, we have been given a unique chance to take a closer look at our lives. This certainly has a massive impact on our relationship with our bodies.
Eric: We asked our community how they were feeling and we will be publishing the results of this research soon. One of our key findings is that people isolating alone were feeling hornier overall and were able to use this time to experiment with their bodies and dedicate a lot of time to pleasure themselves. However, it’s been a more challenging time for couples. Most people isolating with their partners told us they had been having less sex.
It goes without saying that lockdown is restricting our ability to be close to one another, but people are finding new ways to be intimate. How does the project explore this?
Eric: A lot of people have turned to online sex in a surprising way. We featured a video of a couple who engaged in online sex with each other from the same house. It’s been interesting to also see the creativity of making the most of their home resources to pleasure themselves.
Chris: Intimacy is more than skin contact. Although I appreciate the fact that I was isolating with a partner and I think that this has made the whole situation easier, it has been fascinating to see other forms of staying connecting other than physical touch.
A lot of the submissions explore digitally mediated contacts like sexting or video sex. Can we have sex when we are apart?
Raquel: Navigating pleasure in isolation can be challenging, but I do believe physical intimacy can also happen online. Cybersex is nothing new, and videos and pictures can be an exciting way to explore your own body and fantasies.
Chris: Sex is not defined by exchanging body fluids, it’s so much more than that. Sex is about interaction and communication, and this can easily happen virtually. Although I don’t believe that digitally-mediated contact replaces offline sex, it definitely can be exiting.
What about after lockdown? Do you think this period of social isolation has the potential to destigmatize these forms of sexual communication?Raquel: Sexual exploration during the quarantine has in general been a big topic and people have been challenged to experiment with new tools because of social distancing. This all makes us reconsider what has previously been perceived as “normal”. So I would say this moment does have the potential to help with the destigmatization of certain sexual practices.
Whilst technology has been the bedrock of social support for many during the pandemic, it has also led to concerns that our privacy is being intruded, with numerous reports of ‘zoom bombing’ and non-consensual data collection. Does the project respond to these anxieties in any way?
Eric: Yes sadly this has also been a period where revenge porn and ransomware have thrived. But it’s important to fight the stigma of nudes being shared online by giving people agency over the distribution of their own nudes. In a world where no one cares about their nudes being online, no one can be blackmailed over them. The more people do this freely, the less powerful these tactics become.
Chris: One of our missions is to validate porn as artistic media to encourage people to be in control of their own sexual images and how they distribute it. That means that we believe that people should produce their own porn and be proud of having sexual images of themselves. But of course, only when they have agreed to it. So we are clearly against anything that violates someone’s privacy. Consent has been one of our main topics and we always try to communicate this to our crowd.
Isolation has lead to a boom in porn consumption (as well as sex toy sales). Is the public perception of the industry-changing?
Chris: Probably not. While we could observe a boom on mainstream porn platforms and commercial sex toy companies, this is still related to a traditional form of consuming pornography and sex-related products. Ironically, this industry is still dominated by rich conservative men. There has to be a proper rupture.
The photos are going to be published in print when isolation is over. How do you think we will remember this period and how it affected ourselves and our relationships?
Raquel: Social isolation makes us rethink and value even more human interaction. But we will also remember this as a time in which technology and creativity helped us to keep connected. This is also what we intend to revisit with the magazine.