Stairs and Pornography: Unlikely Bedfellows

A creative staircase

Clara recently found this very cool post (with hilarious title) on Tumblr and knew I would love it (she was right, obviously). While the concept is pretty good and the photos are quite cool it’s actually the title of the post that caught my eye. No, not just because it has the word “porn” in it. In fact, you might be surprised to find out that stairs and pornography actually have something in common–you just have to consider the origin of stairs. Please note that there isn’t any pornographic content in this blog so if you came here looking for that, we’re sorry to disappoint.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty it’s fairly safe to say a heavy element of pornography is that of power, or so I’ve been led to believe by the Women’s Studies classes I took in my undergrad. I’m sure there are some who would debate this but it’s hard to deny that the porn industry is heavily dominated by men, both as producers and consumers, and as such, a power imbalance occurs. Beyond that, there is the fundamental reality that pornography literally converts female sexuality into a product that can be sold to the male consuming audience. We in the business (academics…not porn…) call this “commodification.” This is a generalization but I think it’s a fair analysis of the bulk of the pornographic industry. If you don’t agree with me on this point, suspend your disbelief for a few minutes and let me tell you a bit about stairs.

The true origins of stairs is far more sinister than you could imagine (duhn duhn duuuuhn). You see, in the early days stairs weren’t just about access. They were actually a sign of power. In ancient civilization, one way to determine how powerful someone was, whether it be by class or wealth, was to see how high their house was, and the higher it was, the better. Of course, the higher you build your house the more stairs you need to reach the front door. Therefore, stairs became an indicator of status and were forever bound in our subconscious to power and prestige. Ever notice how government buildings have a TON of stairs out front? Case in point. As time has gone on, though, and as design aesthetic has evolved, few would now look at stairs as an indicator of power…they are just a necessary design element to get access to a building. What’s interesting, though, is that the staircase’s ability to separate the haves from the have-nots continues, but now it’s about disability. For those of us who are disabled, stairs are a sign of where we’re not able to go. They’re a proverbial “Not Welcome” sign hung upon the front of many public places in our community. While stairs in the past were renowned for their ability to indicate power, now they are grotesque monuments to the lack of power (or status, perhaps) that people with physical disabilities have in modern western society.

So the next time someone asks you what stairs and pornography have in common you can now proudly say “They’re both all about power, of course! Also, they are both sexy.”

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.