Open ArmsThe Fantastical Pull of Tentacle Porn

Illustration by Carolina Grandinetti

This article was published in Fantasy Issue #87 | Summer 2020

Does a movement about sexual liberation leave room for all people to toy around with fantasy and play? In many ways, sex is still a taboo topic—something most of us do and rarely speak about—even though the sex-positivity movement has been encouraging people not only to unashamedly embrace pleasure but also to fearlessly share their desires since at least the 1960s. But even as sex has become more accessible in pop culture—including TV shows, movies, books, and pornography—our cultural imagination about sex has remained heteronormative, white, and focused on couples, making it more difficult for those who don’t tick those particular boxes to be adequately educated. And even with the proliferation of more sex-related imagery, there still aren’t enough spaces to discuss how ethics shape the sanitation of our individual sexuality, guiding us away from what actually turns us on and pushing us to fit into what’s socially acceptable.

When I had my sexual awakening in the early 2000s, Real Sex, Sex and the City, and my mother’s collection of Zane novels piqued my curiosity about my own sex life, helping me understand what sexual experiences could look like. Because these pop culture products influenced some of my sex education, it took me a long time to recognize that there’s more to sex than the missionary position, being abstinent until entering into a heterosexual marriage, and just being penetrated by a cisgender man. It’s stressful to unlearn what many of us are taught about the limiting norms of sex and sexuality, especially in the United States where most children are indoctrinated in abstinence-only sex education that doesn’t address consent, pleasure, or even safety, leading to lingering sexual shame and trauma. As a result, some people turn to less expected places to learn about sexuality, boundaries, and what gives them pleasure.

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Enter tentacle porn, a subset of the Japanese anime porn known as hentai. Tentacle porn typically focuses on women characters having sex with alien or nonhuman entities who use their tentacles during the encounter. The experiences of those who embrace tentacle porn—either because it’s a personal fantasy or because they’re fascinated by the sensationalism and absurdity of the scenario—offer a larger lesson about how we come to understand our own sexual nuances and how we can approach redefining what pleasure, sex, and even sexual liberation are within our individual lives. The earliest known instance of tentacle porn originated in shunga, an erotic form of Japanese woodblock carving. Shunga was popularized by 18th- and 19th-century artist Katsushika Hokusai and others during the same era, such as Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and later in the 20th century, Masami Teraoka. The artform has become increasingly popular in recent years due to female artists working to subvert the gaze of shunga, centering more on the exploration of pleasure than in depictions of violence. Similarly, queer and female artists are moving tentacle porn away from women just being passive participants and toward a genre where nontraditional sex acts are approached with enthusiasm.

According to a 2017 article in Glamour, the current iteration of tentacle porn has something for everyone: Some of it is animated or hentai while other videos use 2D illustrations via tentai (a portmanteau of “tentacle” and “hentai”). Tentacle hentai can feature sea creatures, aliens, robots, or “really anything else that could conceivably have slithering appendages,” writes Cady Drell in Glamour. “There’s also a genre of live-action tentacle porn, which often features slimy puppet tentacles getting all 20,000 leagues up in a real person.” There’s even a growing market for companies that make sex toys specifically for those with this interest: Primal Hardwere, a small specialty sex-toy company, caters to customers searching for dildos inspired by nonhuman entities, such as tentacles and insertable ovipositors (a sex-toy replica of the tubelike organ that some animals use to lay eggs). “Many like to envision an alien creature that wants its eggs inside you,” LoneWolf, the Native American owner of Primal Hardwere, told Vice in 2015. “It can be a little intimidating or off-putting to those who do not fantasize about being the willing or unwilling host of alien beings inside them. It blurs the line of our own humanity to find sexual pleasure with something that is so far from human, and for some, just talking about it gets them wet.”

The freedom to uninhibitedly and unashamedly explore sexual fantasy is not one often afforded to people from marginalized communities, which is the reason subcultures such as hentai or tentacle porn are so vital.

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So what draws people to tentacle sex? Some folks find it appealing to immerse themselves in a purely imagined scenario. Others have a desire to play with sensations or certain experiences. “People get into tentacles because they stumble on it online, and find it fascinating,” says Daily Dot reporter Ana Valens. “They can play with sexual desire that plays with fantasy and cope with it without getting stuck in the fact that it’s a man’s penis. Tentacles can be interesting because they can be helpful if you’re coping with certain things, like trauma.” Valens is on to something. I’m a sex educator, and my work explores the ways people can embody sexual liberation while also overcoming trauma. I’ve learned that sex should be individualized for each of us, and we have to shake off shame to truly lean into pleasure. It would be irresponsible to suggest that fantasy exists in a vacuum: The freedom to uninhibitedly and unashamedly explore sexual fantasy is not one often afforded to people from marginalized communities, which is the reason subcultures such as hentai or tentacle porn are so vital. “The reality is that there are so many queer women that create porn and content about tentacles because, for them, the idea of being queer and playing with that power on someone—with all of its monstrousness and weirdness—can be really empowering,” says Valens.

As with much pornography, tentacle porn also brings up ethical dilemmas about consumption and the connection between fantasy and reality. But the dilemma of requiring fantasy to be perfectly aligned with cultural messaging reinforces the limitations of how we’re taught to regard sexuality in the first place. Sexuality is both political and individual—and it’s the space in between that makes it worth learning to embrace on our own terms. Unpacking the parts of porn—tentai or not—that differ from or align with our ethical stances outside of the bedroom is only one part of the work. Each of us must individually decide where that line falls, and once we better understand our own connection to morality and fantasy, we can begin redefining sex positivity in a way that encourages nuance. Tentacle porn encourages us to tap into and play in our individual sexual desires. Applying that to how we claim ownership over ourselves and move throughout the world can become part of the lifelong journey of embracing—or being embraced by—our sexuality.

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by Cameron Glover
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Cameron Glover is a sex educator, business coach, and writer, who uses the pronouns she/her. In addition to coaching and teaching, Cameron is the host of the Sex Ed in Color podcast, which centers the stories and experiences of sexuality professionals of color. You can connect with Cameron on Twitter and Instagram @BlkGirlManifest.