Living for the Revel (catvalente) wrote,
Living for the Revel
catvalente

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Things I Learned from Porn

This is an entry about porn. If that bothers you, or you're going to get all "Icky! Don't post about icky, wrong things!" on me, skip it now.

I thought about not writing it, because I feel a little weird discussing it online, but I figured--boys do it, so if I feel weird because it's not something girls do, that's Reason #1 to write about it.

Up until about a week ago, my exposure to porn in my lifetime was limited to furtive glimpses on this or that television, out of the corner of my eye. Once, while in a hotel room after a regatta, I and the other upstanding young men and women of the UCSD sailing team watched about half of one vignette before an BIG SCARY ACTUAL PENIS was shown, and the men in the room cried out in horror and disgust and demanded it be turned off. I've never forgotten the sound of eleven men gasping in revulsion at an image of their own anatomy. This left me with a pretty dim idea of male psychology on the one hand, and not much interest in porn on the other. Written erotica, sure. I've been reading Nin since I was a teenager, after all. But porn? Meh. Also I hate shaved bits and blondes are functionally sexually invisible to me, on top of which one of my personal pet peeves is frosted pink lipstick with dark brown lip liner, so what, exactly, was there to draw me?

Which brings us up to Thomas Pynchon. What's that, you say? Author of such classics as I was forced to pretend I read in college? (Just kidding, I did Classics, I was never forced to pretend I'd read a postmodernist.) Yes, that Pynchon. You see, justbeast finished The Crying of Lot 49 in San Diego, and while looking up biographical flotsam and jetsam about the famous recluse, somehow, I'm still not clear how, followed a wiki-chain to classic 70's porn. Specifically, that brief sweet spot when the X rated film was a mainstream commodity, and there was this dim dream that serious films with actual sex in would be released in neighborhood theaters, as a film could simply elect to be rated X and avoid the standard rating practice entirely. The MPAA crapped all over that parade pretty quickly, helped by the fact that pretty much the only X rated films to make it into theaters were, you guessed it, porn. The difference, I suppose, is merely plot and quality, but that is a debate for another time.

Now, some of you know justbeast, and I'm going to give you a minute here to visualize what you all know as the totally adorable, unrefusable "Do this thing because it will be SO GREAT" face he makes when trying to talk anyone into something he's decided falls into the "awesome" category. Got it?

So I let myself be talked into some truly dubious pornography. The first one we watched was Behind the Green Door, which was so cute with its "artistic" touches that I could just see the director grumbling: "I got a degree in film from USC see and I am going to use it, motherfuckers. Look at how I frame my shots! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT THE SEVEN MINUTE PSYCHEDELIC COLOR CEL MONEY SHOT! LOOK AT IT OVER AND OVER!"

Seriously, that went on a little long. We started up a conversation about second wave feminism during the fourth slow-mo replay of the neon orange fountain of love. I admit I was a little squeamish about some of this stuff, having had all of one male partner that didn't fiercely hate his own body, there is a lot of sex I just haven't actually seen, with my years of fumbling in the dark. And Behind the Green Door is essentially an extended orgy, so there's a lot to see. But about halfway through it, somewhere around the trapeze thing, I began to notice something.

There were fat girls there. And black girls. And old women. And asian girls. And transgendered men, together. And everyone had normal breasts, and normal hair. It was so egalitarian--the fat girl was so totally awesome in her silver wig justbeast and I both called her out as the best one there within about two seconds. The women in this film were pretty much totally in control of their sexuality, and enjoying the hell out of it, and it's pretty strongly implied that the whole scenario was set up by the main female character in the first place. How can this be? How can totally mainstream porn during the era when feminists most railed against it be so much more egalitarian and feminist than the current crop? What the hell is going on? Fat and old and even multiracial, to some extent, are niche markets now. Jenna Jameson (before she became an anorexic radioactive anteater from Mars) is mainstream.

Next, we watched The Opening of Misty Beethoven. With a title like that, I was against watching it for awhile. But...look, this is actually a pretty awesome movie. It's based on Pygmalion. I am not joking. It is full of really clever dialogue, occasionally rising to Kevin Smith style laughs, good acting, Dickens and Shakespeare references, and at the end, the Henry Higgins character is cheerfully reading a paper on his knees in a collar and chains while Misty teaches other women to enjoy sex. I can't really think of a character more deserving of a slave collar than 'Enry 'Iggins, so I was damn pleased. But again, I noticed, Misty was a regular girl with mousy brown hair and a character arc. The whole film was about her pleasure, and her learning to experience it. She got men off through the whole film, but it was only when she got off (and, for the first time on camera, fucked a guy and his much older wife with a strap on) that her transformation was complete. Why aren't there more movies like this? What happened that this strand of porn dwindled away and Ms. Jameson became the default?

We've yet to watch Deep Throat, but it's, er, coming. And I still can't really figure when it changed, when anything that had a whiff of older than 18 or heavier than 100 pounds without the gigantic breasts became verboten. I understand that it is changing again now, with the advent of the internet and things like Suicide Girls and amateur sites, but the big name, mainstream titles are still pretty much blond girl with balloons nailed to her chest on her knees. Let's not even get into the acting. We watched some later 80s porn and it was all bad production values, standard-looking girls flirting with the age of consent, date rape, inflat-o-boobs, and disappointing scenes where men were sitting around naked with each other but not having sex. Although one "fantasy genre" piece was so retarded as to become awesome: Barbara the Barbarian. The evil wizard has a huge sparkly hat.  It's...hysterical. Clearly the MPAA is to blame, somehow.

So here's the thing: I have discovered that I actually like porn. I know that the internets do not consider this very interesting--everyone loves porn, right? But the thing is, I was never taught that self-pleasure was remotely ok, so seeking out porn was a totally alien thing to me. I didn't have an orgasm until I was 21 years old. I listened when I was told that porn was anti-feminist and wrong and that I certainly, as a woman, shouldn't be watching it. (To some extent I still think a lot of porn is anti-feminist and anti-female, but it pretty much all comes down to intent, like any art.) So this was quite a revelation to me, even if it's not to you, oh ye intarwebs!

So that you can laugh at my relative innocence, here are some things I learned from porn:

1. Not to be squeamish at body things. Though I still find the face shots a little gross. But they're just bodies, and no matter how my Christian Science upbringing would like to deny they exist completely, our bodies do fun things, which are occasionally ridiculous and occasionally beautiful.

2. What many different girls look like. Having only had one girlfriend, I just plain didn't know. I was nineteen before I realized that not all girls have brown nipples like the women in my Italian family. I had no way of knowing or understanding how women can be different from each other, and as stupid as that sounds, it's really quite wonderful to start to realize in exact ways what one's preferences are. There is almost always one girl I like, though usually not the lead. Oddly enough, the only lesbian scene I actually believed in everything we watched was in Misty Beethoven, which included none of the main cast.

3. Some penises are just really unattractive. *shudder*

4. Ok, this one is really dumb. But secretly, I've sort of learned that it's ok to like sex and have a high sex drive. Again, obvious, but not so much for those of us with wacky upbringings. But some of these old movies, especially Misty, are just so playful and sweet about the whole thing, and watching the little Pygmalion story I recognized my own, that I used to be like that, perfectly willing to have sex but not enjoying it. There aren't a lot of places where a girl can go to be told it's ok to be a sexual being, and I somehow never really got that message.

5. I am not betraying the feminist cause by watching or enjoying porn. This is a tough one, and there are an enormous amount of issues about sex work in Western culture right now, issues of exploitation and consent, of pay and respect, all of which upset me greatly, and on top of that the extent to which expectations born in airbrushed porn trickle down to the rest of us are extremely unhealthy. I still think The Sadeian Woman is a must-read, but desire is desire, and to tell us we can't watch the monkeys doing what monkeys do is ridiculous. We're all monkeys. You cannot escape your monkey nature by pretending no one fucks but you, Senator.

I still feel a little lame about it, since I could be watching Bergman or My Dinner with Andre or something, but my little tour through classic porn, still ongoing, has been incredibly thought-provoking, and though I realize this post is laughable in its naivete, and probably not the best thing to feed through my authorial site, I have often wished more people on LJ would talk honestly about sex, not through grandstanding or jaded snarking, but in genuine and close-to-the-bone ways, and if I'm not willing, I can't expect you to be.

I feel like I should curtsey. This summer I learned about porn and this is my report, Mr. Frank.
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