I came to the startling realization the other day that a good percentage of the conversations I have with friends begin with the same opening sentence: “I was watching this porno the other day…” My friends, thank god, are used to it and don’t judge me. They know I review porn, interview porn performers and directors, write about porn, and think about porn a lot. So when I start trying to relate someone’s boob job or someone else’s oddly shaped member to the nature documentary we’re watching, my confidants hardly bat an eye.
I’m used to it, too. It’s work, after all, and everyone talks more than they should about their job. But other day when I was trying to write an article on a non-porn topic, I realized that it’s not just my conversations that start that way. I sat in front of my computer, helpless to stop myself from typing lead-ins like: “I saw a porno the other day that made me think…”; “My favorite kind of porn is the kind that…”; or, as I got more desperate, “Sally’s boobs are so big…” I was astonished to face the fact that my brain these days can only connect to the world via the segue of smut, in speech and in writing. It was an upsetting revelation. When, I wondered, did my writing ability turn the corner from a talent into an outlet for perversion? Is this the normal result of almost three years’ involvement in the porn industry? Or am I just, deep down, a pervert?
This is a question that must have been worrying my subconscious for a while, because as soon as I consciously asked myself what I thought about it, a dizzying array of answers popped up, courtesy of the many parts of my boob-ridden brain. On the one hand, my linguistic, English major self and my Aquarian, out-of-the-box self teamed up to say that, for someone who watches graphic sex on a regular basis, writes about it, and interviews the people who perform it, the question of perversion is pretty much moot. What does “pervert” even really mean? Nothing worth worrying about, especially not in the context of my porn-addled life. It’s just an outdated concept based on millennia of repression and shame that have no place in the modern, sex-positive feminist’s worldview. So I’m overly concerned with the topic of sex as performance. So what? Other people are concerned with the economy or politics or the environment or whatever. I just happen to be interested in sex, and if that means I’m a “pervert,” well then so be it. It’s just a word.
And then my relativistic philosophical self took up the cause: So maybe I am a perv who spends all her time watching, thinking, writing, and talking about people boning on camera. So, to your average PTO mom, of course I’m a pervert. But then, to many other people in the sex industry who either have sex for money or film other people doing it or promote the people who do it, I’m actually not much of a pervert. Sure I spend a disproportionate amount of my time on sex, but I also tend to be more conflicted and conservative about it than many of the other people who populate the adult industry’s underbelly. Hence the column. So I’m not really that much of a pervert. My moralistic and linguistic selves teamed up to poke in for a moment: And what about all those people who use sex in unpleasant ways? What about people who have sex to assert their power or to make themselves feel loved? If you think of “pervert” as meaning someone who distorts something’s true purpose into something twisted and sick, then I’m not nearly as much of a pervert as some of those people.
Maybe I’m not really a pervert at all, my career self ventured. I just tend to think about these things a lot more than your average Joe because it’s my job. I get paid to think and write and talk about porn. I got into writing for porn because it was the first paid gig I was offered when I moved to New York. So what? That makes me focused, not immoral. But, then again, needing money doesn’t explain why, after landing a full-time day job that offered a modest but livable salary and outstanding benefits and which had nothing to do with sex, I kept writing for girlie magazines. Hmm… my moralistic, strict-upbringing self had a point.
But then again, my rational self had to mention, not only do I practically live, breathe, eat, and sleep pornography, but I also happen to think it’s pretty great. I think porn is a valuable part of our society, and all the numbers—usually in the millions (of people) and billions (of dollars)—back me up. But not just porn: sex itself is fantastic. I have a good amount of sex in between all the thinking and talking and writing, and I do tend to think that sex, whether it’s on camera or for money or just for fun, is a beautiful and really important part of our lives. I love it, and I think it can tell us so much about ourselves if we’d just be willing to spend some more time assuaging our curiosity about it!
So, maybe I am a pervert by conventional standards, whether I choose to acknowledge them or not (my progressive self had to add). I’ve certainly been interested in sex from a very early age—it was one of the principal issues that We Didn’t Talk About in my family, so naturally I wanted to know more about it. Because I’d always been harshly shamed for my curiosity about sex, I began to think I was a pervert who came by the title naturally, and I enjoyed it for a while. I loved freaking out my parents and teachers and classmates by talking loudly about the sex I wasn’t even having yet. As I got older, though, I calmed down about my perversion. I’m certain that anyone who’s gone through a residential American college experience stops thinking he or she is the biggest degenerate on the block after a month or two of dorm life. My own perversion was still deep, but I started realizing that everyone else’s was, too.
Then, of course, my dorky science-y self had to remind me that sex is the most basic of all human activities. From a biological standpoint, passing on our DNA legacy through our children is the main goal of all sexually reproducing living organisms, and we’re one of them. Sex is why we’re here. Even non-procreative sex keeps our bodies primed for the relatively few times when fertilization may actually take place. (No, really. The regular evacuation of sperm from the testes keeps the gametes healthy, and the female reproductive system is more likely to successfully play its complicated part in the process if it’s being regularly sexed. Don’t take my word for it; there are volumes of scholarly research out there backing me up.) We arguably only eat, sleep, and perform our social functions because they are stepping stones on the path to sex. Without food we’d be too malnourished and without sleep we’d be too exhausted to have the sex we’re supposed to have. Without social networks we’d not be as good at picking out the best DNA carriers with which to couple. Sex is the basic center around which our lives revolve, even in today’s sophisticated societies. It’s not even up for debate among scientists. That’s just the damn truth.
So then it seems to my geeky self that my curiosity about sex and my interest in porn is only natural. All the parts of my aggregated whole self agree: What could be more natural than an interest in the thing drives us? Really, when you look at it that way, anyone who’s not interested in sex is a weirdo. The rest of us “perverts,” as we’ve come to understand the term, are just normal. Maybe we’re all just trying to get off and enjoy it, but we’re so programmed to feel bad about our natural curiosity that we pretend we’re not interested to preserve our dignity. Thousands of years of societies’ attempts to police our most basic of functions have convinced us that our inquisitiveness about sex is an unnatural bent, that our desire for sex is a perversion of our higher natures. (And, it must be said, who can blame the powers that be for wanting to control sex? As the basic building block of society sex is the most difficult thing to police, but once it’s been contained, people are much closer to sheep than they’d be otherwise. The powers that be, it must be said, really like sheep.) And now we call those who unabashedly enjoy the topic of sex “perverts” to make ourselves feel better about our “immoral” curiosity.
But, you know, I think we’re finally getting back around to a point in our evolution where we’re almost ready to talk about the things we’ve always pondered. Thousands of us are talking already. Billions are having sex and millions are using porn to explore new territory in a safe environment where they’re not perverts, but human beings with an inclination to seek out sexual adventure. And maybe I’m just glory-seeking here, but oh well: I think that what I’m doing, from reviewing mind-numbingly gratuitous sex scenes, to lauding lady’s big boobies in dirty magazines, to conducting countless interviews with porn stars, to writing about all of it more seriously in this column for the past year… it’s all pretty damn important. If sex is (and make no mistake, it is) the most important part of our biological lives, then we should talk about it and write about it and think about it, not leave it in the dark to collect meaningless epithets and gather dusty fears. Something this important, which carries with it the possibilities of disease, pregnancy, and immense pleasure, should be something we strive to understand better. To experience more fully, responsibly, and openly. To treat with respect as a building block of the lives we make for ourselves. It shouldn’t be something we make fun of each other for wondering about, and it shouldn’t be relegated to the dark, shady corner where the “perverts” like me congregate.
So “perversion” be damned. I don’t care if I am or if I’m not. I’m here, and I’m enjoying myself, and dammit, I’m ok with that. I hope you guys have enjoyed yourselves, too.