On Porn, In Text and Image

On Porn, In Text and Image

I just finished reading some novelporn (AKA ‘romance’) and it was a bust for me personally.

First, the Man kept using a term of endearment for The Woman that grated on me.

Second, there was too much elaborate dirty talk (who speaks in whole paragraphs when they have sex?)

Third, the Woman was always wearing matching bras and undies – AS IF – and had a Brazilian, which just, no. Ingrown hairs aren’t sexy. Plus it’s boring.

And finally, there was a threesome…with a dude who had a ponytail. Bleeccchhh.

The worst part was there was a rape theme that kept twining its way through the story and it distracted me.

‘Distracted’ isn’t a strong enough word. Unnerved. Unsettled. BOTHERED. The rape wasn’t sexualized, mind you, but its presence darkened the whole set-up, though this book had a bit of the crime/thriller aspect to it, to be fair. I don’t like crime/thriller junk in the novelporn form (it seems quite popular, nonetheless) so putting rape in there repetitively is a cold shower move for me. Gets me thinking about nothing good or leisurely, for starters.

More importantly, though, setting rape beside lavish scenes of consensual sex seems like the worst kind of elevation. Rape doesn’t get to share the stage with pleasure.

The whole thing made me think of image porn, the kind we’re used to online – videos and naked pictures – and all the things that bug me about it.

Like, what’s the deal with everyone doing their sex business on THE SAME CHEAP IKEA COUCH? Do I have to keep searching through all the porn in the world to find another one? (That nasty saggy-leather black couch doesn’t count.)

Also, let’s not shave men’s parts. Please. That’s just madness. I’d ask the same for women but that train’s already left the station. I get why people want shaved ladies – they want to SEE everything and what is image porn if not about the visuals? But for dudes, that’s not really an issue – is it?

I’m also weary of the aesthetics of the bodies involved. The pierced belly button and tongue. The lame-o tattoos. The goddamn spray-tan. And, really, do people seriously let women with fakey fingernails put those plastic claws anywhere near their nethers? It just seems like a vector for infection and laceration.

Is it asking too much that we can just watch two regular people go at it…Why is it only just the view of one body and not both? Like disembodied hands and genitalia and stuff like that. It makes me wonder what the other person looks like and if they’re gross or have warts on their nose or something. Why can’t we see both of them? Is one of them working the camera? Who all is really in that room, anyway? Is that someone’s house or a movie set or what? Did they break for lunch? Is there a costumer or do they own those crazy outfits? Didn’t I just see that same bedspread at Target last week?

…people that are old enough to have voted in more than one election, at least?If the people involved look really young, then I just wonder if their parents know they do this or if they’re orphans so it’s okay. Because if they’re not orphans, I wonder what their parents think of them writhing away on that cheap Ikea couch on the internet and then I get really sad. Do they have another job besides blowing some disembodied penis? Were they hoping to be ballerinas or cowboys when they were little? Do their moms just sit at home and cry?

All those questions up there? NOT SEXY.

Yes, I know that men are the main consumers of porn and they want to see a perspective that matches up with the usually-solitary situation in which they find themselves with respect to porn. (No judgment, either; I’m all for Masturbation, being The Greatest Love Of All and everything.)

I’m sure some people would respond that the answer to all these quibbles is WATCH MORE PORN IDIOT. There’s ignorance here on my part, yes.

Meanwhile, this is kind of an obstacle when it comes to the point of the whole medium. I have problems willingly suspending my disbelief when it comes to porn in text and image. I’d like to believe the fault’s not mine, however. Apparently, I have some model of what ‘real sex’ should look like and when it knocks up to these depictions, I get all annoyed. I’m supposed to be seduced and I’m all finicky and whatever. Why can’t I accept other people’s versions/visions of sex?

BUT. How is anyone ever supposed to know what ‘real sex’ looks like? If you’re not currently doing it, in any case? If you film or write something down meant to seduce and arouse, isn’t it by definition ‘unreal?’ So then how is it that people succeed at pornographic portrayals? How is it that some things work and others don’t? Is that why there’s so much of both forms, romance novels and visual porn? Is it a good thing to be flooded with so many choices? How does anyone ever sit down to work on such endeavors? With people like me on hand to mock them ceaselessly? What a goddamn crazy messy gamble it all is.

4 Comments

  • Carrie on Oct 02, 2012 Reply

    Yeah, in this instance there wasn’t any rape fantasy. It was just clogging up the narrative. A character had been raped and another character’s relative was a convicted rapist and then there was an attempted rape and Jesus, man. I understand some people use s/m as a healing methodology with respect to their own rape (enacting the situation, but having control – key difference) but I just wanted it outta my face.

    I think 9/10ths of most rape fantasies are rooted in the ideas that a) it’s appealing being such an object of desire that someone else loses control b) the other person does all the work/action, thus sparing the damsel from having to own her sexual agency.

    B is gross. A is understandable, sorta.

    And shaving! God, I’m glad I’m old. Apparently this is de rigueur among the generation below us! They’ll be shamed if they’re not bare? I just don’t have time for all the inflammation and extra appointments, see.

  • Meagan Mac on Oct 02, 2012 Reply

    Wish I had more to add to this conversation, other than just to say I love it. And that I totally agree with your criticisms, Carrie. I’m not feeling the rape themes. I don’t want to be “seduced” into thinking that a guy forcing himself on an unwilling girl is in any way sexy. Also shaving is overrated, but you probably knew my stance on that one.

  • Carrie on Oct 02, 2012 Reply

    How much of a goocher is it, Ela, that I have The Other Side of Pleasure on my desk RIGHT THIS SECOND?

    I understand the rape fantasy thing is huge, if the Ye Olde Nancy Friday books are any metric of its popularity. I realize that there are people whose sensation is heightened by the thrill of danger/exposure but I’m not one of them. I need to relax more than anything to think along these lines (clearly, as I’m doing home decor critique on porn videos…)

  • Ela on Oct 02, 2012 Reply

    Sounds like you get to do some more research so that you can quibble, mock and thus transform into expert.

    Your sentence “rape doesn’t get to share the stage with pleasure” put me in mind of Maggie Nelson’s _Cruelty: A History_ (recommended me by Meghan M). Sounds like it might be an interesting read for you, depending how far you want to go down this rabbit hole. A lot of very close calls between pleasure and rape/pain. Also an essay on S&M in a book called “The other side of pleasure” (can’t remember the author’s name but the other essays also focused on very odd/unusual/aberrant sexual fetishes–for feet, for kids, for paralyzed people…)

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