I’ve been thinking about facials. Not the kind you get in a spa (at least not most spas), but the kind that ends almost every scene in the pornos I watch—you know the type. They are a fascinating phenomenon on a number of levels. For instance: Who came up with this idea? When, in the annals of porn history, did someone decide that not only should the ejaculation be shown, but that it should almost exclusively happen in close proximity to a woman’s face? As recently as the ‘80s and early ’90s, facials weren’t all that common, but to look at porn today you’d think some Porn Pope had issued a Pop-Shot Bull decreeing that facials were the only proper type of cumshot and must be used in Blue Films unto boredom. Somewhere in there, too, it seems somebody of importance decided that, once said facial has been deposited, it must be mostly, or at least partly, consumed. Why? Why the focus on the mouth? Where is the logical basis for all this spewing?

It doesn’t make sense evolutionarily—wouldn’t it seem sexier, from the point of view of our DNA, for the seed to make it into the more, um, fertile territory? I suppose from a filmography stance there’s an argument to be made for external spewage: at the moment of the viewer’s climax (if timed correctly), it may add to his or her pleasure to be able to physically view the climax of the performer. But why must it happen on the face? And why must it end up in the mouth?

A very good friend from my undergrad days wrote a term paper in which her thesis was that the “money shot” as we know it could be viewed as concrete proof of female empowerment. After all, a woman who swallows a load isn’t likely to get pregnant, and therefore is more than just a baby-making machine. I personally like this idea, perhaps because it distracts from the more depressing option: that the only thing more demeaning than being treated like a conduit for infants would be to be treated like a useless depository for semen. Or that the only thing more embarrassing than having ejaculate sprayed onto you would be to have it sprayed onto your face or into your mouth.

But the relative demeaning-ness of splooge placement isn’t the point here. The point is that in examining the rationale, or lack thereof, behind the facial, I had to come to terms with just how omnipresent it has become. I can’t help but think that whoever came up with the idea should have copyrighted it, because that person would be set for several lifetimes by now. Almost every porn I’ve ever seen (and they are legion) would be a source of income, several times over. And not just porn, either; real life, in my own experience and those of friends, has become almost as thick with shots to the face as pornography. This can be unfortunate, because whereas porn performers are paid to enjoy, or at to least to pretend to enjoy the money shot, real life women often do not like it one little bit. Things can go all wrong. Eyes and nostrils can be clogged. Nice pieces of furniture and bedding can be soiled. Hair can be seriously mussed. And yet men keep doing it, and I’m willing to bet that they learned that the facial was a proper way to finish up from—you guessed it—pornography.

The degree to which the facial has, happily or unhappily, invaded the bedrooms of many got me to thinking even more about just how much pornography may have affected our sex lives. Really, I wonder where we might be sexually without porn. The money shot might not have occurred to that many of us, for one thing. And I’m sure few of us would have come up with very athletic sexual positions without some encouragement from smutty movies and magazines. I wonder: Would we as a society be anywhere near as comfortable with anal sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, if not for our heavy consumption of pornography? Would as many of us feel comfortable experimenting with bondage? How dirty would our pillow talk be? How would the idea of erotic asphyxiation have spread, if not through watching porn? Sure, some people might have shared the idea with others, but would “pulling a David Carradine” have any meaning to us if so many of our numbers hadn’t seen porn performers choke each other at climax? I kind of doubt it.

I don’t think this is the time or place to try to judge whether we’re better or worse off for our education via pornography—there are masses of arguments to be made on both sides, and I really don’t know where I stand on the issue. I do, however, feel comfortable mentioning that while porn certainly can teach us some irresponsible stereotypes about what men and women want in the bedroom (for instance: jackhammer sex may seem manly when Lexington Steel is pounding away on Alexandra Nice, but it’s not that pleasurable in real life, am I right girls?), it has also opened our minds and loins to a wider range of sexual practices. As such, pornography has performed a valuable service by showing us that we are not freaks for wanting more adventure or pain or pleasure out of our sex lives. It effectively says, “Hey, look, all these people are doing it already! Why not try it yourself?” With the easy access of internet porn, which can bring to one’s fingertips volumes of instructive entertainment on the most out-there sexual practices (just try Googling “sex + vacuum cleaner” and see what you get; or for the more adventurous, “sex + belt sander”), those among us with wild desires or heightened curiosity levels can learn about things that might have gotten us sent to jail a few decades ago. (And, it bears mentioning, many of which still can land us in the slammer—John Stagliano’s obscenity trial was just dismissed on grounds of too little evidence, but Max Hardcore is behind bars currently for producing “obscene” pornography, and some anal and oral sex practices are still technically illegal in plenty of American states.)

For better or worse, I think that porn has affected our sex lives in a big way, but then again, maybe we’d be almost where we are now without it. Modern smut isn’t the only source of information on freaky sex; the Greeks and Romans had some crazy fetishes, and the Chinese particularly were writing volumes upon volumes on sexual practices and positions way back in antiquity. Some of the oldest art in the world, found on cave walls and sculpted out of clay, is overtly sexual. Many pagan fertility celebrations encompassed not just the virility of the land, but also of the tribal people who celebrated them. It seems redundant to say it, but humans have been having sex since the beginning of, well, humanity. Pretty much everything has already been tried and perfected by someone, somewhere. I don’t think the things today’s porn stars are doing on my TV are all that novel. But I do think that, in a country like this one, where sex is at once an obsession and a terrifying taboo, pile-driving wouldn’t seem as blasé to many of us if it weren’t for porn’s ubiquity. Deep throating might not even exist. In Inside Deep Throat, a documentary about the ground-breaking porno of 1972, it’s stated that before Linda Lovelace opened up her throat, most people had never seen anything like her oral stylings before. But now, if you watch porn at all, deep throating is apparently the only way to give oral sex to a man, period. And I mean, hell, giving a blowjob at all used to be considered the ultimate humiliation here in the US of A, acceptable only for self-abasing, “professional” women. And since the “free love” of the hippie movement and mainstream pornography got popular right around the same time, it may be impossible to tell whether porn was the major factor in popularizing oral sex, but I’m sure it helped. And thank goodness for that, because you’d be hard pressed to find an American today who doesn’t love oral sex. And we’ve got Linda Lovelace to thank, in large part, for getting what we love.

Even regardless of how much porn has popularized certain sex acts, consider the normalization of how to perform sex. I may be something of a dweeb, but I remember when I was young and starting to get my first horny impulses, I spent hours agonizing over the details of how to actually have sex. I knew the basics from the romance novels a friend stole from her mom—the p goes in the v, and there’s some back-and-forth motion. But I was terrified that when it came to actually doing it, I’d do it wrong. For instance, was the back-and-forth supposed to happen in tandem? Were the bodies supposed to move together as one unit? Or apart, then back together? Was the p supposed to come back out of the v, or stay inside it, or kind of both? I was mystified, but it seemed like social death to ask any of my peers such a stupid question. As it was, I was terrified that when the time came, I’d make an ass of myself. Thank god I discovered porn before the big day; I was able to see sex in action first and perform better when the time came.

And that’s where I think Nina Hartley is right, as are most other sex-positive pro-porn activists: porn is educational. It teaches us about sex in a way that books, fantasies, and even honest discussions sometimes can’t. Not always in reassuring, healthy ways, or using honest depictions of adult sexual response, true, but porn isn’t usually made as an explicitly education tool (with the notable exceptions of a few excellent lines of how-to films from the likes of Tristan Taormino, Seymore Butts, and others). Porn is made with entertainment and titillation in mind, but that doesn’t mean that its educational value should be underestimated. How many of us laymen (heh, lay men), for instance, could have figured out the logistics of the DP if we hadn’t seen it on screen? How many would have thought out "the shocker? I’m sure some would have sufficient imagination on their own, but not all that many. And how many of us would have been too afraid to try things we dreamed up, like rough sex, S&M, power play, deep throating, etc., if we’d never seen other people doing it? That’s an almost impossible question to answer, but I think it’s important to consider. The value of normalizing fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable sex acts for the rest of us to experiment with is, if you ask me, just as incalculable as the good or bad effect it’s had on our morals.