Translating Pornography: Dubbing or Subtitles?

Similar to what happens with comic strips, literature and cinema that is suitable for all audiences, pornography (whether illustrated, written or filmed) resorts to translation to broaden the horizons of its audience. Since porn films constitute a genre that is very much oriented toward the effect it produces in the viewer, the specific localization of the contents doesn’t end up being so crucial. And despite the fact that dubbing is substantially more expensive than subtitling, the predominance of the latter form of adaptation can be explained both because of the reduced relevance of the dialogue as well as the fundamentally visual content of the activities being narrated.

In comparative terms, audiovisual pornography has always been more translated than literary pornography, though certainly the launch of the Fifty Shades trilogy has led to an uptick in romantic-erotic translations. On the other hand, the rise of e-books led to a boom in the consumption of erotic-pornographic literature since, as is pointed out by the portable reading device industry, prior to the appearance of these devices, many people were embarrassed to read these works in public and the arrival of tablets removed the problem of covers that gave you away.

In historical terms, we can identify several events that created a before and an after for the entire genre and for the translation industry applied to it in particular. On the one hand, the appearance of VHS at the end of the ‘70s was a ground-shaking event for the industry because even though it opened up new commercial options based on the rental and sale of video tapes, it negatively affected the sale of admissions, once the main revenue source for cinema in general. On the other hand, the beginning of household consumption of pornographic film also meant a broadening of the horizons of localization, and along with it, a new challenge for the translation industry.

Approximately at the same time, cable TV appeared throughout most of the West, a medium in which pornography was not going to be left on the sidelines, and transnational multimedia groups made space for it on the grids of practically every cable TV system, leading to an increase in translators’ workloads due to adapting and localizing the full range of new productions created directly for television.

Lastly we would need to mention internet pornography, which, though it represents the final stop in the evolution of the support media, on the one hand it marks the maximum reach that the industry has ever experienced in terms of distribution and expansion, and on the other hand it has broken the upward curve observed in translations of the genre. A brief overview of the main internet pornography sites confirms that the vast majority of productions are neither subtitled nor dubbed and that foreign content (which in this case means anything not spoken in English) constitutes a subcategory of its own within the genre.

Therefore, how do you prefer porn films: dubbed or subtitled?