"Porn: A Review", by Sam West

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Photograph by James Joel.

 

I’m flattered to have been considered enough of an authority on furtive masturbation to be approached as a porn reviewer. I guess I must be. I certainly have the experience. I remember watching Basic Instinct for the first time with my mates as a young teenager and conspicuously disappearing to the bathroom halfway through. I almost masturbated during a trig test once. Those sines, cosines and tangents can really cause your thoughts to wander.

Back then I was pretty cutting edge when it came to porn. I had decent internet connection at home before a lot of my friends, so I took it upon myself to burn disks of the stuff and distribute them around the schoolyard (sorry Dad). I was considered a bit of a hero. Responsible for the deaths of teenage sperm in their trillions.

This reviewing gig couldn’t have come at a better time either. I’m going through a break-up and, consequently, am watching even more porn than usual. Real sex isn’t a viable option for me right now. After spending most of my adult life in long-term relationships, I feel like attempting a one-night stand would baffle and terrify me. I tried masturbating using only my imagination last night (there’s still no internet connection at my new house) and the most powerful images I could conjure were of ex-lovers. It was a sad, sad orgasm indeed. So porn is my best option. Porn is my only option.

Reviewing porn is a challenge though; the stuff just seems way too subjective and private to write about. I stopped being a fan of the joyless, hairless images that pervade most sites a while ago. But if a ten-minute close up of a bald scrotum slapping a vagina turns you on, then who am I to judge?

So how do you review something as weighed down with dubious cultural baggage as porn? First you find out what people are watching. I put the call out to Facebook for some ideas and it says a lot about the normalisation of porn that my feed was running hot all day with publicly broadcasted suggestions. A lot of it I’ve never delved into before. Maybe this new porn wouldn’t leave me with that brief feeling of inevitable shame after I’ve come into a handful of hastily torn toilet paper. Maybe no one has to feel like that these days? Or maybe porn has perverted a sacred act into a limitless, spiritually void and faceless flesh circus after all? The only way to find out is to watch dick-chafing amounts of it with an open mind. So that’s what I did.   

 

efuct.com

This was the only suggestion that was sent to me privately. It arrived with the disclaimer “not so good for feminists”. The link looks like it’s going to a porn site but actually just takes you to a single Tumblr page declaring “if you are here, you’re an asshole.” Seems like an anti-porn gag to me.

There is a lot of anti-porn sentiment out there: ‘Porn contributes to rape culture.’ ‘Porn is helping normalise unprotected sex.’ ‘Porn gives everyone unrealistic ideas about sex and body image, especially kids.’

Well yes. These arguments are all valid but I also like to think pubescent kids aren’t idiots – I mean, I started my own schoolyard porn distribution service at that age. If they’ve already learnt general empathy and respect then it stands to reason they can make judgments about which porn is wrong and which isn’t; what’s appreciated in the bedroom and what isn’t. Kids start learning life skills well before they have any interest in porn. Puberty totally changes the way kids act but it shouldn’t turn their values upside down. 

I’m not saying giving kids the impression anal and blowjobs are to be expected is fine. Or that porn’s often skewed power dynamics aren’t dubious. We learn nearly as much from the media as we do from authority figures in our day-to-day lives, so this stuff does affect the way we act. But the flesh circus isn’t packing down its tent pole any time soon. The numbers are a bit hazy—The New York Times ran a story estimating porn was worth 10 to 14 billion dollars annually, Forbes reckons it’s more like 2.6 to 3.9 billion— but it’s indisputable the industry is way too big to be changed overnight. The culture came first, the porn came later, and the kids came in their bedrooms even later than that. Condemning the people making a living from the most popular porn out there isn’t helpful. (And it is the most popular stuff out there. Top Canadian porn-mongers Porn Hub released some stats recently and, predictably enough, ‘teen’, ‘MILF’, and ‘amateur’ were the most searched for items worldwide. The often violent and male pleasure-centric tone of lots of this stuff is the thing most anti-porn activists want to see changed.) Sex educators should be brave and frank enough to say, look, if you want a healthy and awesome sex life then you need to know your partner’s pleasure is just as important as yours, which usually involves some trial and error and some talking – not just imitating what you see online. 

The argument gets murkier when it comes to safe sex practices and the condom thing. Condoms don’t really seem to be in vogue at the moment and porn could have something to do with that (the fact sex feels better without a condom on might have something to do with that also). But shit, it comes down to common sense doesn’t it? Most people have been made aware that risking lifelong health problems or an unwanted infant for a few blissful muscle convulsions is idiotic. The onus is on us, not porn.

The problem does get shit-thick with murk when it comes to porn and body image though. You already have to worry about all the bits of yourself people see down the street, we really don’t need porn contributing to the worry about what’s in our underpants too. I defy anyone to watch ABC2’s The Vagina Dairies about the rise of labiaplasty surgery in Australia and not be moved. Fucking ouch.

This is one of the few areas where I don’t think males have it easier. Imagine you’re an averaged-sized guy wanting to have sex for the first time. Your only detailed reference to sex is footage of huge dicks and hour-long rooting sessions. Disappointment and insecurity are pretty much guaranteed.

But is porn inherently bad? I don’t think so. Voyeurism has always existed. A generation ago there was no freely available porn, but it’s not like word-of-mouth gave everyone realistic expectations of sex either. It’s always going to be this infuriatingly mysterious thing until you do it, then you’re like ‘aah I see…cool.’

So if I’m aware of all the politics and issues and have sad solo orgasms, am I really an asshole for watching porn, efuct.com? Screw this, I’m going deeper into the suggestion list.

 

Beautiful Agony (beautifulagony.com)

Named after the strangely pained expression on an ‘O face’, this one’s hot. There’s nothing more erotic than a genuine orgasm. And you know it’s real because these people are mainly getting themselves off. The catch is, while you can hear what’s going on, you can only see what’s happening from the shoulders up. Your imagination has to do the rest. They’re all pretty normal-looking people too, which is nice. It’s funny that they’re described on the site as “artists” though. On the ‘porn-art spectrum’, I’m pretty sure masturbating on screen for money is porn. Classy porn but porn nonetheless.

See also ifeelmyself.com for the same kind of thing but with all the bits on full display. It’s a pretty crucial conceptual difference but will probably lead you to the same end result. 

 

MNP aka Make Love Not Porn (makelovenotporn.com)

In 2009, sex positivity crusader Cindy Gallop gave a TED talk where she detailed her experiences as an older woman dating and having sex with younger men. She told her audience how she had experienced—first hand—how a mainstream porn sex education was skewing the way young men act in bed in unhealthy ways. She found it bizarre that so many men assumed women would love getting their face and hair splattered with semen, or how men were under the very wrong assumption that women cum all the time in positions where nothing is going anywhere near the clit. She started makelovenotporn.com to try “reframe an open and healthy conversation around sex in order to help and facilitate, open, healthy and better sexual relationships.” So basically it’s just a site dedicated to showing real couples having a real good time (makelovenotporn.tv). It’s also a forum for people to have frank discussions about issues to do with porn (talkabout.makelovenotporn.tv). Most of all, it’s very sexy indeed.

 

efuct.com

Wait… I clicked on efuct.com a second time and it’s not an anti porn gag at all! It features porn bloopers, a man with two fully functioning dicks and a story about ‘the worst tits in porn.’ Even their owl logo has a little human-like dick… wait… it just called me an asshole again. What the hell?

 

Final Flesh

“My head’s a dream in a pillow! The bones of the air are breaking!” This is dialogue from Final Flesh. Seriously. On the ‘porn-art spectrum’ Final Flesh lands on art. On the ‘art sub-spectrum’ it lands on fucking bananas. On the ‘fucking bananas art sub-sub-spectrum’ it’s a warm smoothie with a smirk.

Comedy writer/producer Vernon Chatman (who I respect because he voices Towelie from South Park) wrote a deliberately pretentious and insane script about a family hiding from the apocalypse, divided the script into quarters, and then paid four porn studios to film it independently of each other.

There’s a little nudity but no actual sex. You do get to see a woman give birth to some steak and a grown man in a baby suit crawl back into the womb though. Unless you’re baked, I feel like the concept for Final Flesh is way more awesome than the finished product. That said I really like the idea that all these porn actors got to spend a shoot making a weird, unsexy art film instead of being penetrated for a change.

 

Bing (bing.com)

This one perplexed me. Bing isn’t a porn site at all – it’s Microsoft’s failed answer to Google. But I discovered that while Google disabled video for specific porn searches, Bing (I think deliberately) never got round to it. So if you have a specific thing in mind, Bing is a great search shortcut.

 

Reddit (reddit.com/r/pornvids)

Turns out Reddit has a porn sub-section. Who knew? So it’s basically an aggregated aggregation of the world’s most popular porn. I gotta say, sometimes there’s some serious strength in numbers and if the onscreen chemistry is right then mainstream porn will get the job done every time. See ‘Almost Famous Girl Fucking Boy Friend’ for a specific example of well-shot, lovingly faked mainstream pornography.

 

Gengoroh Tagame

Gengoroh Tagame is a Japanese artist whose specialty is gay BDSM manga. Not really my thing. On an aesthetic level the stuff is really incredible though. The man can draw samurai fisting like no one else on the planet. Each sweat bead and whip mark drills into your eyeballs.

In general, erotic manga and hentai can be really hot but it does make me slightly uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. I get crushes on animated characters all the time: Daria and Jane, Tank Girl, Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Enid from Ghost World, pretty much everyone on Archer. But there’s something about Japanese animations—with comically proportioned bodies having very intense sex—that weirds me out. Maybe it’s because I used to watch a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender while I babysat my little sister, so I associate manga with wholesomeness. In any case, Gengoroh Tagame really goes there, you know? Got to respect that because what’s the point of animating porn if you could achieve the same scenarios in a studio? 

 

Tom of Finland

The same guy who suggested Gengoroh Tagame, also suggested I check out another gay fetish artist called Tom of Finland who draws mind-poppingly detailed drawings of muscly gay scenarios too. Only they’re generally more romantic (in the traditional sense) than Gengoroh’s (no one is getting their butthole fucked by a bolt of lightning, for example).

It’s interesting to see how Scandinavian illustration and manga traditions differ. There’s a rendered smoothness to Tom of Finland’s work that Gengoroh isn’t interested in, which really helps get the tenderness vibe across. You also have to admire the man’s art cred; back in the seventies Tom of Finland, along with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, were brave enough to bring gay sadomasochistic sex to the art world. His stuff hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which must make it art right? Or at least more on the art side of the ‘porn-art spectrum’ I’ve been encountering?

But then again Rob Meijer—notable leather shop and art gallery owner from Amsterdam—has been quoted as saying “these works are not conversation pieces. They’re masturbation pieces.” I feel like that guy would know. 

 

Scrubs: an XXX parody

You know your favourite PG-rated TV show or movie with an attractive cast you wish you could watch bonk? Chances are someone’s made a high budget, terribly-acted porn parody of it. It’s no surprise this stuff is a huge deal in the porn world: Pirates of the Caribbean porn (got “two thumbs, and a candle stick way up” on IMDB), Sex Wars (the unimaginatively named porn version of Star Wars), Throbbin Hood, San Fernando Jones and the Temple of Poon, Foreskin Gump, Caddy Shack Up, you name it. I chose Scrubs: an XXX parody to review because I loved the show’s first few seasons (before it jumped the shark and kept repeating itself too much). Also, I had a thing for Elliot, and I just think the series got so stupid it’s ripe for porn parody treatment. (I was thinking of downloading Seinfeld: an XXX parody, produced by the same studio, then I remembered no one wants to see George Costanza naked.)

I have to say the attention to detail in the Scrubs parody is pretty impressive: JD’s (sorry I mean ‘DJ’s’) internal monologue is there, the characters are true to form, and they’ve even kept in all the annoying little editorial quirks (like that swoop noise when they cut to a new scene). The only thing that doesn’t add up is the fact that the most heated sexual tension in the whole show—between JD and Turk—is still never resolved, even in the porn version! Heteronormativity wins again.

Scrubs: an XXX parody stars James Deen, the world’s most watched male porn star, and as Deen told GQ a few years back, one of the few things he won’t do on camera is men (and clowns apparently). His GQ interview was actually a pretty insightful look at porn from the perspective of a male star. Turns out having sex with beautiful women “about 360 days a year” appears to be as exhausting and depressing as any other job. After a week following Deen from set to set journalist Wells Tower concludes in all honesty:

“At this point, in answer to the query I posed at the start of our voyage, I can sincerely say that I would rather drink a mugful of live ticks than switch places with James Deen.

You’re shittin’ me! you say. Why? Well, not only because being impelled to couple every day with a stranger before a room of onlookers seems like an experiment dreamed up by Martian scientists. And not only because the Groundhog Day-ish sameness would, I think, accumulate to a monotony akin to a career in oyster shucking. Ultimately, for this reporter, I would be frightened that if I weren’t able to recall the names of sexual partners beyond the previous two weeks, ideals like intimacy and love would begin to seem gooey and absurd, and a terrible unexamined loneliness would become the natural condition of my life. I do not voice this sentiment to Deen. It would offend him. It would come across as prudishly un-‘sex-positive’ and critical of Deen and the industry he holds dear.” 

 

More and more and more  

Other great porn suggestions I received include: indiepornrevolution.com and feck.com.au (for some more sex positive porn), critiquemydickpic.tumblr.com which is a good resource for dick variety and sensate films.com is great if arty, sex positive slowmo porn is your thing.

But whatever your thing is, it’s out there – just keep it positive, keep it frank, keep it inclusive, keep it safe, and keep it sexy, I reckon. Happy wanking, rubbing and fucking everybody. 

 

This piece originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #21: The Sex Issue. Buy your copy now!