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How Hentai Awakened an Entire Generation of Pubescent Girls

Wait, why do girls like hentai, anyway?

[Editorial advisory: This feature has NSFW content! Please partake of reputable search engines in appropriate environments if you want to pursue research into related materials.]

I still remember my first time.

It was just me and four of my best girl friends, sitting in a living room with all the lights dimmed. One friend sat at one end of the couch, hugging her knees, positioning herself as far from the TV as possible without leaving the room. Three of us were huddled together, breaking into fits of embarrassed yet amused giggles from time to time as our most experienced friend–the one who brought the hentai VCD to the sleepover in the first place–explained that the penis we were seeing on-screen was uncircumcised.

I don’t even remember what we watching, but it was most likely La Blue Girl or Twin Angels. If you’re in your 30s and dabbled in hentai as a young adult, you’ll probably recognize both titles, as they were especially popular among the local comic book and anime stores that sold pirated hentai VCDs under the table.

Of course, now I’m no stranger to pornography with real people in it, but my first brush with pornographic material was through the hentai VCDs we watched during those sleepovers. We didn’t do pillow fights or gossiping or DIY manicures; we just played video games, geeked out over anime and comics, and snuck in some hentai viewing when we could.

A Brief Ero-History Lesson

Hentai is not actually a genre in Japan. What most people call hentai is simply ero-anime or ero-manga, with ero coming from the word erotic. Japan has a long tradition of erotic art or shunga, which was already popular during the Heian period (794-1185). Most of the shunga that exist to this day are primarily from the Edo period (1603-1867), when artists used woodblock printing to produce shunga prints and art books by the thousands.

One of the most popular shunga work is The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by none other than Katsushika Hokusai (yes, the guy behind the iconic print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa). It’s the piece that most people associate with hentai—particularly the tentacle porn subgenre.

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Hokusai, 1814

Shunga was apparently enjoyed by both men and women from all walks of life. Samurai carried prints and books with them as amulets against death, while merchants displayed shunga in their homes as protection against fire (though both seem like flimsy excuses to have porn readily available for consumption as needed). Erotic ukiyo-e (Japanese art depicting subjects from everyday life) prints were popular wedding gifts for brides, and there are even records of women obtaining shunga prints from booklenders themselves.

Japanese erotic art was a medium artists and their patrons used to explore their sexual fantasies and fetishes. Many shunga pieces are hardly instructional, often depicting positions and scenarios that are almost impossible to replicate. They also lacked any instructional or educational text. For example: the text you see in Hokusai’s piece is just lewd dialogue between the woman and the two octopi. In what realm of reality would octopi talk while giving head to a woman?

It’s this nature of exploring fetish, no matter how ridiculous or impossible, that spawned hentai as we know it today.

Most people think of tentacle porn and lolita girls when anyone mentions hentai, but there are many more subgenres that appeal to every taste and fetish. There are the popular homosexual genres yaoi (boy on boy) and yuri (girl on girl), but you’ve also got crazier genres like futanari (which involves females with penises) and bakunyu (which literally translates to “exploding breasts”, but is just hentai involving inhumanly large breasts). There’s also what’s popularly known as ecchi—the hentai equivalent of softcore porn.

Despite the variety of hentai genres, people still tend to be surprised when they hear about girls who are into it.

See Also

Why hentai?

It wasn’t just me and my geeky anime-loving friends who snuck around watching and reading hentai. Even the “it girls” at our school—who were quite vocal about hating anime—knew what hentai was, and some had even seen their fair share. For many of us who grew up in the late 90s to early 2000s, hentai was shockingly easy to acquire. Aside from the local comic book and anime shops that discreetly sold hentai VCDs, some of my friends actually had “suppliers” who would burn hentai VCDs for reasonable prices. Hentai fanfiction, comics, and artwork were fairly easy to download, print, and photocopy. A lot of us learned about hentai from each other – there was always that one friend in every all-girl barkada (gang) who had hentai VCDs hidden in her bedroom, or snuck them out of a careless older sibling’s bedroom.

Aside from that, a lot of us, especially when we were younger, felt (or still feel) some degree of discomfort while seeing real people in pornographic material. This manifests in many ways: Some feel guilt, not just for the act of watching porn, but also for using other people–real people–for our own sexual gratification. Some feel angry about how women in porn are used and objectified through the male gaze. Some feel disgust upon considering how the entire performance is so unsafe and unhygienic.

According to some psychological studies, women are empathetic viewers when it comes to porn. That means that when we watch porn, we tend to consider the performers’ feelings and their actual experience while filming. And that’s probably the core of the discomfort we feel.

But when you’re watching hentai, it’s easier to set all that aside because you know it’s not real. Sure, there are real people involved in the production of any hentai material, but they’re far removed from the animated characters we see in hentai videos or the illustrations we see in hentai comics. At worst, you think about the voice actors making all those sexual sounds in a soundbooth, trying not to crack up in between their lines.

Hentai is still growing strong

In the age of streaming videos, faster (better than dial-up, at least) internet, and a society that has made some progress in terms of being more open and accepting of women’s sexuality, it’s really no surprise that hentai is still popular—at least, according to Pornhub. Based on their 2018 data, hentai was the most viewed category throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia (including the Philippines). Hentai is also #3 under both Men’s and Women’s Most Searched for Terms. And interestingly, women aged 18 to 24 are 81% more into hentai videos compared to women in older age groups.

Does that mean hentai is helping a new generation of young, inexperienced girls explore their sexuality? If it does, then to these girls I say: Have fun, stay safe, and welcome to the hentai club!

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