Tag Archives: porn rights

The Future-Non-Future of the Adult Industry

2 Dec

image1In 2013, I wrote an essay (called “Facing the Torsos”) for The Stranger about hook-up apps (like Scruff, Grindr, etc) having the potential for becoming individuated pornographic experiences. Actually, let me restate that – these apps have already become our new porn, whether they claim to be or not. I’m presenting it again here because, porn companies have still failed to realize better models and structures for delivering erotic and arousing experiences to viewers. Basically, studios/producers are still doing the 1980s/1990s VHS model of things: Record a scene, deliver it to viewers, hope they’ll pay. What they don’t realize is that the potential for new realms is not in the platform or even the content, but the INTERFACE. This is why something like VR where you wear a giant occulus goggle thingy is still ultimately a boring extension of the VHS model: You’re still just watching it happen. Sure, it’s a different sort of watching, but the interface is essentially the same, panoramic or not.

I’m tired of constant complaints from producers in the porn industry about piracy and how people not paying for porn is why the industry is failing; ultimately using that as an excuse to justify docking performer pay.

No, it’s not piracy, it’s lack of innovation (or better said, lazy refusal to innovate) on multiple levels, and one of the big ones is interface.  

But producers won’t get this till they understand: porn is not a set “thing,” it’s not just a scene of people fucking on a website. It’s a set of aesthetic rules that inspire a way of watching by individuals.

I’ll write more on this later (I’ve given talks on this at a bunch of art schools now, so the essay is imminent). What might be “porn” for you may not be porn for me (for example, did you masturbate to the Macy’s underwear catalog when you were a kid like I did? Or The Real World Season 2 whenever that blonde surfer dude came on?).

Until people get a handle on this, porn payouts will continue to decline, decline, decline, and at the same time drag performer wages, quality of experience, and producer integrity down with them.

And let’s not forget that all the while, anti-sex bigots and internet censorship dressed up as anti-porn legislation will keep coming at us.

Innovate happily, adapt, or die.

If you’re a producer, feel free to hire me to consult on this.

Anyway, here’s the article again. Hope you enjoy it.

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fttFACING THE TORSOS

You’re at a gay bar with a group of searching, horny guys, and you’re talking to a bunch of them at once. “Pull your dick out,” you say to one of the cuter ones. He does, and it’s hard and good-looking. “Nice dick!” you say, naturally.

“Sup,” someone else says to you while you’re admiring it, but you don’t pay him much attention.

One of the guys in the group has been talking for a while, but he’s so boring that you turn your back on him mid-sentence and ignore him.

Just a few feet away is a guy who’s really attractive but doesn’t seem interested. You go up and say hello. When he doesn’t respond, you say hi again. Nothing. Well, you’ll see him again a few days later anyway, in the same spot, and you’ll say hello again.

But look, there’s that boring guy you turned your back on. Now that you know what it feels like to be ignored, you reluctantly say, “Sorry. I had a phone call.” Or whatever. Then you pick up the conversation right where you left off.

These are the absurd in-person equivalents of phone hookup apps like Scruff, Grindr, Mister, and Jack’d: brief hellos (“sup”), the trading of nude pics, the dance of expressing interest, dropping in and out of conversations, and picking up chats you abandoned days ago.

It’s obvious in the imagined bar above that our in-person behavior doesn’t mirror our behavior and expectations on the apps. But there’s a good deal more confusion as to how much of our behavior and expectations on the apps should mirror real life. This can be seen most clearly in the common declaration of many profiles: “I wouldn’t talk to someone without a head at a bar, so have a face pic.”

I don’t like when profiles don’t have face pics, and I wouldn’t talk to a headless person in life, either. But neither would I—at least for the most part—ask to see a guy’s dick at a bar and expect him to pull it out. And I wouldn’t suddenly stop talking to someone with no explanation. So there’s a tension and confusion between how much “real life” we’re supposed to enact on these apps. This is, in part, because when we download an app, we don’t just download the standard features, we download a narrative.

The narrative we’re sold is a nice one, and sometimes it plays out: You create a profile, you chat with guys, you meet in person and fuck or even go on a date. I’ve had the good fortune of having this happen, but that’s not what usually happens. Just last night I was on Scruff while in bed, facing the gay man’s dilemma of too-horny-to-sleep-but-too-tired-to-go-out-and-get-some. Typical. With my phone hand, I was scrolling through pics, and with my other hand, I was casually and lazily playing with myself. I talked to a few guys, unlocked my photos, jerked off, and called it a night. Also typical.

Masturbation cued me in, as it has more than a few times, to something valuable: These apps are geared not specifically toward sex but toward stimulation, masturbation, and desire. Put another way, hookup apps are pornography—individualized, participatory pornography.

As a porn actor, I’ve been hearing fearful noises from porn studios and misguided journalists for years now, bemoaning how porn isn’t as lucrative as it once was. While a lot of these concerns are aimed at the internet, what’s overlooked is that a lot of our sexual attention is being diverted to our devices and hookup apps. Instead of writing about how apps compete with bars, we should be looking at how apps are dovetailing with other forms of sexual imagery. Because the substance of these apps isn’t hooking up—it’s browsing. All the traditional elements of porn are there, and more. By creating a profile, we agree to put ourselves on display. Many of the photos we post are borderline pornographic, even if they’re “G-rated.” They’re chest pics or pics of us looking seductive, or they’re goofy because we’ve sexualized goofiness. Exhibitionism is part of the agreement of these apps. We turn ourselves into desirable objects for others to look at.

Meanwhile, we’re voyeurs, looking into everyone’s little windows. The interface is similar to the way we view porn now, not fixating on one scene until we come but flipping through scenes—bringing up the next and the next until we find the one we want to stick with. The ability to chat with the person whose image you’re getting off to amplifies the individualization of the experience. While I’m looking at someone’s dick, I’m also wondering: Is he a top or a bottom? Does he like the same sexual acts as me? But it goes further than that—everyone on the app has access to what turns them on about personalities, too. Does he like the same movies? Is he into comic books? Will he wear that Thor helmet in his pic when he fucks me?

And the best thing is—unlike porn on the computer—we get to be on the screen, too, displaying ourselves to the other player.

But these encounters often do not lead to meeting. When you get to the point of hooking up, the person you think you’re about to hook up with disappears. Or the person says, “I’m busy.” Or you call it off because you don’t feel like cleaning out your butt or going all the way over to that neighborhood because that’s like a 20- minute walk!

And of course, there’s the possibility that the person in the photo is not who he seems to be, that he’ll look different than his photos, or that maybe he’s expecting too much from you.

So instead of meeting up, the next step is turning the app off (or leaving it on) and masturbating. After the interaction has, um, come and gone, you “star” or “favorite” a guy’s profile and revisit the scene again—like a replay, only better.

With apps, we create living pornography on the spot; they embody exhibitionism and voyeurism par excellence. They’re portable, they’re accessible when we want them to be (in your office! In the Starbucks bathroom!), they’re not one-way like much live cam porn, they’re not expensive, and everyone who signs up is agreeing to the same basic premises.

Some features are even optimized for the pornographic experience. The Global feature on Scruff, for example, allows you to engage in chatting and pic sharing without the promise of an encounter. If the person you’re talking to lives in Papua New Guinea and you live in Chicago, you’re probably not getting it in anytime soon. In other words, the Global feature presents a more realistic expectation of what’s probably going to happen when we sign on.

This kind of realistic expectation can help save us from becoming dependent on these new technologies or trapped in the nervous energy that propels them. We’ve all seen people at bars staring into their phones, chatting up the very same sorts of guys they feel unable to approach in person. When we use the apps too frequently or depend on the narrative we’re sold—one of meeting rather than browsing—it can become a crutch and diminish our skill sets for approaching others. We all know someone (or may be someone) who checks his apps constantly or inappropriately. I’m guilty of saying hi to someone via app when he’s sitting four tables away from me at the coffee shop (embarrassingly, he didn’t respond even as I watched him check his phone).

If we can see most of our time on these apps for what it is, we can access the apps’ potential. Seeing the apps as pornographic allows us to interact with our desires rather than try to approximate in-person experiences. Engaging in—rather than just receiving—personalized sexual imagery can afford a degree of healthy detachment through which we can explore the contours of what gets us off. Right now, because the apps are clinging only to the prepackaged narrative, their potential isn’t yet realized. Not expecting our devices and apps to approximate the same experiences we have via in-person contact will let us drop real-time expectations for them. Then we can face the torsos, whether they have faces or not.

 

 

Just a few days left to sign up for Pornworld, my online course on why porn is good for us!

2 Jun

Sign up for my online course + Q&A, Pornworld: Why Pornography Is A Healthy Part of Our Culture! It’s on June 5 at 1PM PST, only $15.00! If you can’t attend the day of, no worries, you get exclusive access to a recording of the entire thing for 90 days!

SIGN UP HERE!

Event! Pornworld: Why Porn Is A Healthy Part of Our Culture

17 May

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On June 5, I’ll be giving a one-day-only live webinar with Q&A about why porn is good for you!

So take a break from watching porn and come hang out with me for  an afternoon. We’ll talk porn and hang out. And it’s only 15 bucks! If you can’t attend the day of, not to worry! Registration includes 90-day access to a recording of the course!

Sign up here!

Pornworld: Why Pornography Is A Healthy Part of Our Culture

People throughout the world have an uneasy relationship with pornography.

We love it! 

I mean, obviously we love it. With millions (billions?) of porn-content internet views per day, maybe some of you have even loved it today. Several times.

And we fear it. We hate it. It’s the subject of taboo, anxiety, and stigma. Porn is attacked regularly by legislators, religious fundamentalists, neuroscientists, and many feminists.

What that boils down to: Everyone is looking at porn, but not many people know how to stop feeling ashamed about their porn use, how to stop hiding it, or how to start enjoying something that brings them pleasure.

To bridge the gap between our porn use and our feelings about porn, we need to stop demonizing pornography and emphasize instead the positive functions porn serves in our culture. Why do we need porn? What’s it doing for us as viewers? What can it teach us about sex and sexuality, not to mention oppression, repression, and everyday life?

That’s why I’m offering this one-session live online course about what porn teaches us about sex, and the positive effects porn has had in my life as a viewer and my eight years of experience as a sexual rights activist and porn performer.  

In this course, you’ll learn:

  • What porn tells us about sex and sexuality.
  • How porn helps people in marginalized communities.
  • What makes porn porn, anyway?
  • How pornography can help us deprogram society’s harmful messages about sex and intimacy.
  • Why we need more open discussion about porn.
  • What being in porn is like, and why appearing in porn or doing sex work can be an act of positive civil disobedience.
  • And more!

The course starts with a live webcast lecture by me, and the second half is a Q&A, where I’ll engage with you and your questions.

Registration:

There are three kinds of registration:

INDIVIDUAL registration includes individual access to the course and the Q&A, as well as a link to a recording of the course for 90 days if you can’t attend. $15.00

PLUS registration includes the Individual registration, plus a 20 minute, one-on-one Skype (video or audio, you decide) follow-up meeting with me to talk more about the course topics, and ask to any questions you might have after the course is over (or that you feel may be more personal in nature). $65.00

GOLD registration includes everything in the Individual AND plus registration; as well as a list of Conner Habib quotes on sex; and a unique, personalized, short video sent from me to you. The Gold registration is limited to fifteen participants. $150.00

Practical stuff:

You must be at least 18 to sign up for this course. Signing up for this course indicates your statement of age.

When you sign up, you’ll receive a confirmation email. 24 hours before the course starts, you’ll receive an email from me with a link to the webinar and instrcutions on how to enter. The process is simple and easy. Just a few clicks.

For GROUP REGISTRATION (ie, more than one person in the room) please contact me at connerhabibsocial at gmail for a group rate.

If you can’t attend the day of the course, remember, you can always watch the course after. You don’t have to be able to attend the course to sign up or have access to the recording. And if you sign up for PLUS or GOLD registration, you’ll get all the follow-up perks as well!

WHEN

Sunday, June 5, 2016 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (PDT)

SIGN UP TODAY!

Consent and Porn

14 Apr

In the past few months, I’ve been contacted multiple times to discuss consent in porn, particularly in relation to the rape disclosures related to straight performer (and former chairperson of the organization I work for), James Deen.

I’m tired of it. The gesture is almost always framed as “what can porn performers and studios do better?”

The real question is, “What can non-performers learn about better consent practices from porn performers?”

Unfortunately, very few people are interested in that. Instead, performers are subjected to rescue pleas, when, largely, no rescue is needed.

To broaden and correct public discussion, I took part in a panel called “Consent in Porn: Debunking Myths & Managing Realities.” Also on the panel, adult film stars Mercedes Carrera, Nina Elle, and Mickey Mod, as well as talent agent Mark Schechter and Director Dee Severe. The panel was moderated by Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals.

In the talk, I try to move the discussion away from consent as a concern when it comes to bodies interacting with bodies and instead to deeper and more urgent questions of permission, like: Do we actually consent to having our images used by studios forever? Should we consent to lower wages? Why are we trying to get people to pay for our porn when performers don’t get royalties?

That’s when things get a weeeee bit contentious between myself and the production people.

Watch the entire video is below.

(Note: for some reason I can’t get the video to start at the beginning, so just click on the beginning.)

#TheSexRadicals, Part 4: Charles Fourier’s Impossible Pleasure

11 Aug

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week I offered up my portrait of genius/madman/lover/fighter and sexologist, Wilhelm Reich.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com.

CF

Charles Fourier

Impossible Pleasure: Charles Fourier’s Queer Theories

“Often when we are merely enjoying ourselves, we are involved in political processes of the highest importance.”

– Charles Fourier (1772 – 1837)

There are eight billion people on the planet, which means there are eight billion different sexualities.  The closer we get to understanding this, the better our sexual understanding will be.  One problem many thinkers have with sex, no matter how spiritually enlightened, scientifically educated, or logically disciplined they are, is that they constantly slip into sexual prescription without realization of this perspective. 

To make matters worse, since sex is always, in one way or another, part of being human, many people with extremely limited sexual experience feel entitled to talk about it authoritatively.  Whenever a guru, psychologist, or scientist starts telling you about how you should run your sex life or view the sex lives of others, the first question you should ask is, “So how much sex have you had?”

You may, then, see them flounder a bit, exposing their inability to address a simple question.

Then push even more.  Even if they’re able to express a general okay-ness about having plenty of sex, don’t let them off the hook.  Openness to more sex is a good start, but not enough.  If it were, ancient Greeks and Romans would have had it made.  But their societies, though more sexually permissive, were still riddled with their own versions of sexual oppression.  It’s not freedom to have more sex that matters so much as the encouragement of freedom and compassion that greets sex in general.

So follow up your first question, if they answer, with some more: What gender, racial, cultural diversity demographic do their partners represent?

Is it limited or broad in scope?

What kinds of sexual acts exactly? 

You’ll quickly get a sense of where their sexual ideas are coming from, and also a sense how little they apply to you.

Sex is the teacher of sexuality.  Sex teaches us about itself (among other things), when we listen.  Since all of us are bound to have limited sexual experiences and to have our own unique set of desires, we would do well to understand that everyone has their own singular teacher in their sex lives.

That doesn’t mean we can’t come up with general understandings of sex.  But when we create a moral framework around general ideas, demanding they be equally applicable to everyone, we lose our way and find ourselves on the path to fundamentalism.  Any given sexual act may be healthy for one person and damaging in another, even though it appears to us to be the exact same act.  For instance, one person may enjoy being flogged during sex and experience it as a cathartic and orgasmic pleasure.  Another, engaging in the same act, may experience it as an unhealthy reenactment of trauma.

Here’s an example of sexual fundamentalism in an unlikely place: The new age/self help movement’s prescription of karezza.  Karezza (or coitus reservatus) is the practice of orgasmic self-control. The idea — rumored to originate in ancient wisdom but essentially fleshed out by Alice Stockham, a late 19th/early 20th Century gynecologist — is that sex should not be about the orgasm.  Sounds good enough; we often overemphasize orgasm in our current cultural understanding of sex.  But then comes  the dogmatic karezza leap: men should not ejaculate.  Orgasm can lead to a loss of “vital energy,” whatever that means, and ejaculation is the worst culprit.  

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 12.39.31 AM

Typical fundamentalist moralizing masquerading as science.

Practicing karezza is certainly a worthwhile sexual experiment – understanding that sex is not simply gyrations leading to orgasm allows people to explore the other contours and feelings of sexual experience.  But many karezza practitioners make grand claims about its benefits, including its ability to improve mood, keep couples together, and lead to spiritual enlightenment.  This also isn’t so much of a problem; for some people karezza probably has contributed to these effects.  The real problem is when they commit the error of conflating possible effects for definite morals.  For many practitioners and authors, it’s not just that karezza can improve some people’s moods, it’s that orgasm will make you angry or frustrated.  It’s not just that a couple may find their bond strengthened by practicing karezza together, but that orgasm will drive them apart.  Suddenly, what was once a personal choice, up to the individual, becomes a grand statement about what kind of sex we all should be having. 

In spite of karezzean claims, the visual eroticization of ejaculation can be beneficial and create happiness.  The knowledge that your partner has had an orgasm (even if you haven’t) can bring a couple closer.  For some, having sex without orgasm is damaging and creates difficulty having healthy sexual relationships.  And of course, not all relationships should be sustained; sex and, yes, orgasm, is important for casual bonding where long-term commitment or deep bonding is inappropriate.

When arguments against the universal value of karezza show up, practitioners are apt to utilize all the phony pseudoscience they can muster (in a similar vein to phony sex-and-porn-addiction models and data). No surprise that many vocal defenders of the method are also anti-porn, strictly pro-monogamy, and homophobic.  Indeed, if you take into account the sexual-cultural value of ejaculation for gay men, karezza has a homophobic tendency to begin with.

I’m singling out karezza not because it’s inherently bad; it is beneficial for some people.  I’m singling it out because it’s an example of how simply being sex-being “okay” with sex does not mean you won’t demonize others.  Nor does claiming you are “sex positive” or talking about sex.  To see the teaching and human mystery of sex, we’ll have to do better than moral prescriptions dressed up as science or new age progress.

We’ll have to begin treating sex as a question of the individual.

Few people attempted this task in quite as much detail as social theorist and utopian thinker Charles Fourier.  Fourier was a sort of classical naturalist, but rather than naming plants and animals, he created a dizzying catalog of human behaviors, hopes, dreams, and above all, passions.  He was exhausted by passion.

Barthes-216x300

Roland Barthes (1915 – 1980)

His work is a frenzy of categorization and the invention of new terms, which led literary theorist Roland Barthes to lucidly dub him a “formulator.”

Fourier, like Wilhelm Reich over a century later, understood civilization wasn’t just filled with problems, but waiting to be totally remade.  Fourier believed that we’d been led astray by idiot philosophers, bamboozled into and stuck in a dead end corner of culture, with no room to move.  Guarding that corner, making sure no one could go anywhere, was the concept of the family, and especially the monogamous married couple.  Marriage, Fourier showed us, was what happened when two people merged to become one unhappy entropy.  Like the gay rights movement of the 1960s/1970s and the queer movement of today, Fourier saw the problems of monogamy and marriage as radiating out into society.

“Perpetual fidelity in love is contrary to human nature,” he wrote. “…marriage cannot offer a single chance of happiness which the couple could not find if they were completely free.”

Part of the problem was that marriage, even when it was a choice, was not a choice.  Culture compels us.  Fourier saw that women, in particular were so pressured to marry the right man, and that both were forever after bound to be faithful, even if they were unhappy.

Marriage was “reducing all women, without exception, to the chastity demanded of them, such that no women could make love before marriage, nor have any man after her marriage except her husband, with the result that, for the whole of his life, no man could have any woman except the housewife he had married.  What would men think about the prospect of being reduced, for their entire lifetime, to enjoying nobody save a wife whom they had stopped liking the day after their wedding?  Every single man would want to strangle the originator or discovery that threatened to abolish love affairs…”

And love affairs weren’t offering much solace either, since they were greeted with such taboo when discovered.

But Fourier’s deep contribution wasn’t his critique, it was his obsessively detailed solution.  He envisioned a world, a universe, even, centering on pleasure.  It was a world that was half-born, waiting for us to both discover its presence and to make it real.  In his vision, the planets are bisexual and make love to each other.  All the animals have a pleasurable purpose in the grand scheme of things.  The oceans taste like lemonade. 

The rhythmic crash of lemonade waves is what anyone knows of Fourier these days, if they know him at all.  It’s a point of absurdity used to dismiss him.  Oceans of lemonade? Ridiculous! But of course, ridiculous, grand ambition is his point. Read in the context of his work, oceans of lemonade still seems wistful, but not silly.  Fourier’s task was to envision. Envisioning was the imaginative first step to expanding our world.

“Our fault,” he wrote,  “is not, as has been believed, to desire overmuch, but to desire too little…”

Desire would drive us, if we let it, to imagine and create a new world.  Fourier’s imagination was a counterweight to the settling oppression of the day.  Don’t let any of it go, Fourier said, fight the probable with the impossible.  Imagine everything changing: changed for us, changed for pleasure.

In Fourier’s universe, the government would take a form that rendered it nearly unrecognizable by current thinking; it would be a

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One of many Fourier-inspired communities, or phalanxes, utopian mini-cultures founded on his ideas.

community that had the duty of promoting pleasure.  In other words, the organizing structures we live in would be there to give us what we need, not vice versa.  The state, whatever was left of it, anyway, would feel less like a boot on our necks and more like oral sex.  Except, of course, for those that enjoy the feeling of a boot on their necks.

Before leveling a psychological critique against Fourier — But do people know what they really want?  Maybe they want oppression?— you should know that he had an answer:  The more that pleasure is permitted, the less evil anyone will do.  Pleasure was a door to itself, or an unending clutch of nesting dolls.  Pleasure opened up to more pleasure.  And more pleasure.  And so forth.  Until the culture of repression fell away and all we were capable of was good.

Of particular interest, and why not?, was sexual pleasure.  There were other pleasures, to be sure, but they were all eroticized, as were whatever duties we had.  Work, for instance, would be communal, relational, and deeply sensual.  Is your job drudgery?  Well, make it pleasurable! Sexualize your strain and effort, and engage in it erotically with your co-workers!  This might sound like a capitalism gone wild, but remember that Fourier’s work was to envision the entire world: if pleasure led to more pleasure, and everyone and every aspect of life were included, we’re engaging with a vision far too vast to be compared with simplistic promises of “love what you do” capitalism.

Sexual pleasure was everywhere, and Fourier wanted us to discover it.  And not just one kind of sex.  He supported homosexual sex and many acts that were condemned in his time as perversions.  In fact, he constructed sexuality in a such a complex and complicated manner, that the Alfred Kinsey’s gay-straight scale seems offensively simplistic next to it.  Fourier knew that sex was so varied that it couldn’t be contained by one version of sex with one kind of partner.  “Sexual integrity brings the sexes closer to each other; if nothing is forbidden or suppressed anymore, there would be a bridging of sexual identities…”  Because Fourier truly cared about the individual nature of sexuality, all versions of sex need to be discovered.  It was a sentiment echoed almost a century later by magus Aleister Crowley, yet it is still not lived up to by Western culture:

“Every one should discover, by experience of every kind, the extent and intention of his own sexual Universe. He must be taught that all roads are equally royal, and that the only question for him is ‘Which road is mine?’ All details are equally likely to be of the essence of his personal plan, all equally ‘right’ in themselves, his own choice of the one as correct as, and independent of, his neighbor’s preference for the other. He must not be ashamed or afraid of being homosexual if he happens to be so at heart; he must not attempt to violate his own true nature because public opinion, or mediaeval morality, or religious prejudice would wish he were otherwise.”  (from Crowley’s The Book of the Law)

TOTFM

from Fourier’s ‘Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinees generales’

Because sex is part of being human, access to healthy and consensual sexual experiences is a human right.  To this end, Charles Fourier wrote about a “sexual minimum.”  Everyone should be assured sexual satisfaction in their lives to avoid corruption of everyday life and relationships.  Since so many people are afraid of not getting laid, so much time and so many words are spent seeking sex.  A culture that worked to guarantee a sexual minimum would remove many of the problems that arise in desperate pursuit.  Relationships would be purified and clear.  Countries wouldn’t go to war in a state of frustrated tension.  Fourier suggested that the beautiful would have sex with the less beautiful, and that the less beautiful would be sexually honored for their beautiful features and traits. 

If this sounds alarming, and your thoughts turn to sexual slavery or decadent privilege or societally-imposed standards of beauty here, remember the lovemaking planets and oceans of lemonade.  Fourier’s impossible aim was that everyone would feel, think, and act in an unending tide of sexual freedom.  Whenever we stumble on a point Fourier makes, we are generally confusing his vision with its implementation.  We don’t have to think of him as perfect, but our attention in Fourier should be on what is imagined, not what is “practical.”  If we think his vision includes pain and suffering, not pleasure, we can (at least generally) be sure that we’re desiring too little, not dreaming big enough, and ultimately misinterpreting his vision.

“This is what is truly remarkable about Fourier,” wrote cultural critic McKenzie Wark, “the ability to imagine a relational pornography, where all social contacts are pleasurable and engage as many of the passions as possible.”

Today, we encounter — through online pornography — a wish that Fourier made, still in progress.  We can see all manner of sexual acts online, some more performative than others, but we rarely envision our world as being constituted of such a diverse tapestry of sex and sexuality.  Critics of online porn would do well to read Fourier and see potential instead of a moral problem.  Diverse sexual imagery is a visual stepping stone to a more sexually open culture that supports individual and diverse desire.  If we think in Fourier’s terms, we recognize that we have yet to attain the radical acceptance of pleasure that would allow us to be as sexually free as what we see on our computers.

It requires a tremendous capacity to imagine such a world.  All the pleasures, all the time.  All the passions.

Until we imagine it, it’s less than impossible, it’s non-existent, even in the imagination.  Fourier pushed the boundaries of what could be imagined and desired.  The impossible landscape of total pleasure is still impossibly distant and strange, but thanks to Fourier, we have at least have an impossible map.

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Next Up: How To Defeat Shame with Vulnerability

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Sources

Barthes, Roland.  Sade/Fourier/Loyola.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Fourier, Charles.  The Hierarchies of Cuckoldry and Bankruptcy. Cambridge: Wakefield Press,  2011.

Fourier, Charles.  The Theory of the Four Movements.  Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Wark, Mckenzie.  The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages Out of the 20th CenturyNew York: Verso, 2013.

Larsen, Lars B.  Giraffe and Anti-Giraffe: Charles Fourier’s Artistic Thinking.” E-flux.  2011. Web.

#TheSexRadicals – A new blog series about sexual thinkers who can change our world.

20 Jul

IMG_1301 (1)Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers who have changed my perspective on sex, who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

The idea here is to cultivate new growth in our thinking about sex, by looking to people who have laid down some of the groundwork.  This first entry explains some of of current sexual climate, as well as my rationale for creating such an incomplete list, why names like Michel Foucault or Dr. Ruth don’t appear while others do. It explains why I stick primarily to Western thinkers, even though I draw heavily on non-Western thinkers for my perspectives as well.  Please comment with your own favorite Sex Radicals, I’d love to hear more.

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The Sex Radicals: Seven Thinkers Who Can Revolutionize Sex in Our Culture

Introduction:  Who Should We Invite to the Orgy?

Sex is everyone’s own creation story, everyone’s personal Big Bang.

Before you looked at this website, before you got up this morning or the day or year before, before you read or said your first word, two people you’d never met — couldn’t have met, since you weren’t a you yet —went through a series of intimate or strained or casual or confused or loving series of movements and gestures that created you.

That means that your being, along with everyone else’s, is literally composed of sexual motion and desire, because the cells that split and aggregated to make your body were set into motion by sex.  When people have sex, the laws of biology and form pay attention.  Sex weaves itself in and out of our daily thoughts, the art we encounter, the feelings we have for each other.  Is it any surprise that we think about sex so often? 

But if sex is a fact of life, the fact of life that life springs from, why is our culture so screwed up about it?  Why is sex so legislated, one might say legislated against, misunderstood, and confusing, culturally?  There are hundreds of laws set up by the state, regulating sexual content, sexual behavior, sexual freedom.  And there are the unspoken laws, often just as constricting, in every relationship we have.  Sex shame in our lives and sex shaming in our cultural sphere are intimately tangled.  Instead of telling you the right way to put a condom on or how to please your lover, this series will examine the lives and theories of thinkers who were interested in pushing sex forward in some cultural way, in bringing what they’d learned from the mystery of sex to the cultural sphere to transform both.

The good news: 

Brilliant people have been working on improving our sexual culture for a long time.  If we want to have a more thoughtful sexual culture, a healthier one that respects sex and sexuality in its infinite forms, we have some powerful, radical thinkers to choose from.  These are people who have led the way, pushed the boundaries, cared enough about the darkened realm of sex to illuminate it for us.

The bad news:

You probably haven’t heard of many of these thinkers.  And you probably haven’t heard of many of them because the powers that be discredited them or provided them with unpleasant ends.

The other bad news:

WR

Wilhelm Reich

Everyone, even the radical researchers and thinkers in this series, absorbs the sexual prejudices, shames, and confusions of their time and place.  They might deftly avoid one bias and passionately speak out against it, all the while carrying around a whole host of others that they’re totally blind to.  Of course, I’m guilty of this too.  Since the current conception of sex is contaminated, getting new seeds requires, at first, growing crooked plants from polluted ground.  It’s going to take some time.

The other other bad news:

Some of the most important thinkers are kind of crazy.

This, in fact, is a large part of what makes them important. To come up with new possibilities for the world, you have to hang out in the impossible and the imagined quite a bit.  You have to say outlandish things to see if they’re true.  To stand outside the depressing weight of our reality requires deep and intense encounters with your own imagination and seeing things that others don’t see.

But who to invite to this orgy of sexual/cultural renewal?

To explain why I’ve chosen these thinkers and stuck mostly to our culture, a digression:

Christine Helliwell, anthropologist, lived in Borneo with the native people of the region, the Dayak.  One morning, she heard a group of elderly women laughing outside of her apartment.  She found them reenacting a scene from the night before: A man had snuck into a woman’s bedroom through the window, and the woman woke to find him gripping her shoulder. 

“Be quiet,” he said to her. 

The woman sat up in bed and pushed him away.  He fell back and when she started to yelling at him, he escaped back through the window with his sarong falling down.

But why were the Dayak women laughing about it, Helliwell wondered; the woman had almost been raped!  This community of Dayak had no word for “rape,” so Helliwell tried to explain, “He was trying to hurt you.” 

The woman’s reply stunned the anthropologist. 

“It’s only a penis,” she said.  “How can a penis hurt anyone?”

Indigenous people, as well as anthropologists like Christine Helliwell have been reporting deep cultural differences like this to us for years.  In the case of the Dayak community, sexual assault was so far removed from the understanding of sex and gender roles that it was inconceivable, laughable.

In central Africa, the Aka and Ngandu people have sex two to five times every night, and view sex as work, not recreation.  There’s also no known homosexuality among the Aka, belying the commonly held Western truth that homosexuality is universal and inborn.  There’s simply no word or concept for it.

In Tibet, some villagers practice fraternal polyandry – brothers will share the same wife.

Many Native American nations have traditions of Two Spirited people who express cultural gender fluidity, living with the other members of the community in one form, but understood as another.

But a list of indigenous sexual practices, or people from non-Western cultures who uproot the foundations of our understanding does not figure into the selection here. There are blog posts, books, internet videos and TV shows that highlight modern-day sexual differences between Western and indigenous cultures.  Usually, they have a check-out-these-wacky-natives feeling.  Instead of helping us question our own sexual ideas, these news-of-the-weird soundbytes reinforce our prejudices at the expense of indigenous people.  It’s cultural appropriation, because it ignores that the entire cultural context of that practice is different.

For example, it’s not uncommon to find non-indigenous LGBT activists evoking Two Spirit people as poster children for LGBT political/cultural messages, since same sex relationships and gender change are not (at least traditionally) frowned upon in cultures with Two Spirit people.  But while there are similarities, the differences are deep.  It’s not about “gay” or “straight” or “gender fluidity” as we understand it, since the multiple roles — such as iskwehkhan (“fake woman”), ayahkwew (“man dressed/living/accepted as a woman”), and more — are varied, nuanced and more complex than that.  They’re embedded in a different understanding of spirituality, cause and effect, communal connection, and more.  What’s more, these roles are often chosen for members of the community by elders.

Usually, at best, indigenous sex and relationship traditions are appropriated by well-meaning activists.  At worst, they’re dismissed as oddities or demonized as backwards. 

There’s a lot to learn from other cultures’ approaches to sex. In fact, some of the thinkers mentioned in this

Amber Hollibaugh

Amber Hollibaugh

series have learned quite a bit from other cultures…or have made the mistakes I’ve just outlined.  But learning can’t take the form of cultural cherry-picking.  Both brilliant individuals from Western culture and indigenous practices can be inspirational for us, but the former allows for a presumed understanding that the latter does not.  The list of who we can learn from and listen to when it comes to sex and culture cannot be complete without the voices of people from other cultures.  But this series is in no way meant to be complete. So to avoid appropriation and to create a reasonably understood framework of thinking, I’ve chosen Western thinkers.

So who should we turn to?  It can’t be just anyone.  The Marquis de Sade, for example, will have to stay in his Chateau; for all the sexual spelunking he did, he came up with too much grime to be desirable.  Recognizable faces like Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault or pop culture reformers like Gloria Steinem aren’t adequate for our current situation precisely because they’ve had their ideas permeate our culture in a such profound way, but we’re still here, needing more.

So the strategy: Seek out thinkers on the margins of Western cultural consciousness (particularly US, since that is my vantage point, which explains Jacques Lacan’s inclusion, even though he is popular in select Western countries) who are leaning all their intellectual weight against our boundaries.  Express their radical ideas in an unfortunately incomplete but hopefully useful and understandable form.  Recognize that these they all have flaws.  Think about how they could intersect with our lives, including my own, so that they’re not just distant or academic.

Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter

And most importantly, perhaps, consider their work not as dogma, not as something we cannot be critical of or question,but rather, as a challenge.  What happens to our sexual consciousness and culture if we confront these thinkers with our intellect but also sit with a listening ear and open mind?

Next up:  The sexologist who married an angel and defended women’s right to pleasure.

Sources

Helliwell, Christine.  “‘It’s Only a Penis’: Rape, Feminism, and Difference.”  Signs 25:3

(2000):  789-816.

Wade, Lisa.  “Is the Penis Dangerous?”  Jezebel.  October 9, 2013.  Web.

Zevallos, Zuleyka.  “Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native

American ‘Two Spirit’ People.”  The Other Sociologist.  September 9, 2013.  Web.

They’re Not Here To Help: How Anti-Sex Work Activists Use the Tactics of Homophobes, Racists, and Islamophobes

24 Jun

bwMy latest essay, “If You’re Against Sex Work, You’re A Bigot” is up at The Stranger as part of their queer issue.  It’s the first (and hopefully only) fuck-you piece I’ve ever written.  The essay compares the tactics of anti-sex work activists (I refer to them more accurately as “anti-sex bigots” in the essay)  with the tactics of racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and misogynists.  It’s a pretty one-to-one comparison, and that they are in fact basically bigots was a sentiment that concretized over the writing of the essay.

I don’t generally like writing from a place of anger, but the overwhelming weight of discrimination and stigma, not to mention misguided legislation and confused conversations, that sex workers face every day inspires a lot of, well, rage in me.  I wanted to give sex workers and allies a toolbox to dismantle the anti-sex activists’ work.  Too often, we find ourselves enmeshed in debate with them, defending ourselves against phony facts, fabricated statistics, shallow ideologies, and more.  Really what we should see is they have nothing to their arguments but hatred.  So rather than respond, the essay urges readers to dismiss, protest, shun, and shutdown.  They don’t deserve debate anymore than the KKK, skinheads, or the Westboro Baptist Church.

Here are some excerpts, and you can read the whole essay by clicking here.

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I should start an essay like this by telling you about how great sex workers are, how important sex workers’ rights are. I should “create sympathy in the reader” for anyone who takes their clothes off and performs sexuality. I should show you porn stars saving cats stuck in trees, sex workers volunteering at soup kitchens, strippers just trying to make it work for their families.

I should tell you about how it feels to deal with anti-sex-work stigma every day.

But this essay isn’t about us.

It’s about the demand to prove we’re worth sympathy. It’s about how if that sympathy shows up, it’s wrapped up in deliberate misunderstandings. It’s about the people who make the demand. It’s about how “Show us your humanity!” is more belittling and damaging than “Show us your tits!”

It’s about the people we should no longer respond to with anything other than protest or dismissal.

In other words, it’s about bigotry. It’s about bigots.

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I’ll refer to anti-sex-work and anti-porn campaigners here for clarity and honesty as “anti-sex bigots.” When that word gets tiring, I’ll call them “anti-sex activists.”

Why? Because sex is what makes sex work so special for them. Sex makes this line of work a singular profession, mystically distinguished from other jobs. But their analyses and understandings of sex lack depth. There is no substance to their arguments. Their tactics are strung together not with understanding or data, but with hate. Their bigotry is visceral, and their goals are clear:

1. Distort and destroy consent.

2. Create a framework of good vs. evil.

3. Cherry-pick voices.

4. Play the victim while holding the power.

5. Create apocalyptic urgency.

This list might sound like an exaggeration to outsiders. To sex workers, it’s exhaustingly and overwhelmingly familiar.

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Wait a second, wait a second, I can hear the fumbling voices of protest. Stop talking about bigotry. I mean, after all, we’re not talking about race, right? We’re not talking about something people can’t change. That’s what makes speech against those groups hate speech. Sex workers, well, they…

What? Were you finally going to say we choose our careers?

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Does this rant from an anti-sex activist sound familiar?

“The insistence that there’s nothing unusual in ‘work’ that involves male strangers penetrating your body and ejaculating inside of you goes right along with the ‘sex positivity’ popular with young Leftists. Women are likely to sustain injury (vaginal tearing) during heterosexual intercourse if we are not genuinely aroused (rather than performing for an audience); we are more likely to contract infections and diseases than our male partners; we are more likely to be harmed by male sexual partners (who are almost always larger and stronger than we are); and we are 100% more likely than our male partners to face unwanted pregnancy.” —Anti-sex bigot (5)

Compare that to this, from a video called “Medical Dangers of Anal Sex” posted by Christofer L, an antigay Christian You-Tuber:

“Let’s look at some simple biological truths… The rectum… [is designed] strictly for the removal of waste, moving it outward away from the body. This is why the blood vessels in the rectum break when a phallic object goes against the natural flow of movement by its muscles. Believe it or not, this causes rectal/anal damage. Many sexual experts and medical personnel discourage anal sex because of the danger… Safe sex? Mechanical damage to the rectum will happen regardless of the safe-sex measures.”

Same gesture, same hate, same simplifications.

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What’s more dehumanizing: showing your butt cheeks to an audience or having someone tell you that you don’t blackoutexist?

We need a varied, active, and dynamic picture of sex workers, not a muffled, stunted one. I started porn after going to grad school for writing and biology and being a college English instructor. I know plenty of porn performers with other jobs: meteorology, fashion design, dairy farming, law, freelance writing, directing, nursing, nonprofit organizing. Those are just off the top of my head. Yes, there are porn performers who—like many writers, actors, etc.—have no other job and are struggling. And there are other sex workers working out of various causes of necessity. The point isn’t that doing sex work out of need doesn’t exist. Nor is the point that we have to absolutely love sex work to do it. Not everyone loves their job, and sex workers should not be singled out and forced to simply because of the “sex” in their work. The point is, your picture of who sex workers are must be multifaceted. It’s a picture that’s ineluctably complex, yet anti-sex activists want us to hear one voice and will symbolically kill the rest of us to achieve the effect.

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“Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like,” reads the title of one anti-porn rant.

Whose world is ending?

What world are they talking about?

Like almost everyone who wants to save the world, anti-sex bigots have to fabricate a fake world that’s being destroyed first. KKK members fabricate the idea of a pure white race that’s being destroyed, fundamentalist Christians fabricate pure heterosexuality corrupted by gays, US warmongers fabricate pure democracy threatened by Muslims, and so on.

The end is near! Anti-sex activists create a world in danger from sex work, though our world without sex work never existed. To make sure the end is always near, they shift the goalposts. It’s not the porn, goes one argument, it’s the distribution!

The 1965 anticommunist, antigay, anti-porn video Perversion for Profit states:

“Pornography and sex deviation have always been with mankind. This is true. But now consider another fact… High-speed presses, rapid transportation, mass distribution all have combined to put the vilest obscenities in the reach of every man, woman, and child in the country.”

In 2015, an anti-sex activist proclaimed with the certainty she was saying something new when she said that “porn 15 years ago is basically Playboy andPenthouse, which as sexist as it was… those are the good old days. Today pornography has shifted rapidly, and it’s shifted because of the internet… [the internet has made porn] affordable, accessible, and anonymous…” (9)

We must act urgently! To save our neuropathways from online porn! To save young men’s desires! To save women! To save anyone we want to control!

All—yes, all—of the adverse conditions sex workers face are created or exacerbated by anti-sex bigots who directly harm sex workers or indirectly harm them by silencing them, spreading misinformation, blocking paths to sexual health education, and cultivating stigma.

“We’re here to save you!” sounds promising, until the statement is completed honestly: “We’re here to save you… from the damaging conditions we’ve created and continue to perpetuate.”

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read the whole essay