Porno Makes My Heart Warm

Carol Queen’s Sex & Culture Commentary Spot.

(Yes, that makes it the C-Spot, doesn’t it?)

Porno Makes My Heart Warm.

That’s a line from the Alien Sex Party movie soundtrack. It’s a lovely song… continues, “It’s more than just an art form.” Isn’t that the truth! And it’s a fraught one at that. I spent several hours last week being interviewed for a documentary about sex in America; several earnest guys were clearly grappling with the effects of porn, and clearly influenced by, among other things, feminist critiques of pornography, “pornified” culture, and so on.

Now, all porn is hardly created equal. From the days of my misspent youth, when I sniffed, “Pornography insults either my intelligence, my politics, or my sense of the erotic,” to the present day — and through several years of exhibitionism, some on camera — I’ve had quite a journey with this ubiquitous art form. I STILL think plenty of porn insults my intelligence, my politics, or my sense of the erotic, and I think our culture needs much better porn. But I no longer think my sniffy attitude (or anyone else’s, no matter how they dress up their freak-out or discomfort or lack of erotic/aesthetic engagement in someone else’s porn vision) is a reason to be anti-porn, certainly not to ban it or hound it back into the shadows. I also think I was a nervous young person who hadn’t discovered porn she liked, much less loved, and that much has certainly changed in my life — and I hope yours, too.

People with a crappy sense of the erotic, sexual politics, and aesthetics get to make porn — as long as it features adults who want to be there, it’s not a worse influence on our environment, as far as I’m concerned, than sexy TV commercials, “reality” shows, rom-coms and chick flicks, and Fox News. All those media have something in common, in fact, and this is what I tried to tell my interviewers: all viewers, young and old, need to be able to take in these disparate things through the lens of media literacy. That means that you consider who made the media; with what sort of backing; with what sort of attitudes; bringing us what sort of message. Do the filmmakers WANT us to learn, think, believe anything in particular? Do we have other sources of knowledge or perspective on those things coming from another source? Do we have any idea whose expertise to trust?

Awww, cmon, that’ll only make you want to stop masturbating for a few minutes. Conduct your media literacy assessment, then get back to it.

Fortunately, even if you too sometimes quail at the sight of ejaculate in some lovely woman’s eye, wish that Pizza Delivery Boy had not been made such an attractive-looking career option by certain pornos, or wish there were way more explicit Shakespeare  remember that porn ITSELF is the first source of a dialogue about questions of eroticism, aesthetics, gender politics, and so much more. Consider just two new releases that help me make my point.

First is The Feminist Porn Book: the Politics of Producing Pleasure, edited by Constance Penley along with her UC Santa Barbara colleagues Dr. Mireille Miller-Young and Celine Parrenas-Shimizu (brainy doctors all!) and a name that will be familiar to any alt-porn fan, Tristan Taormino. I recommend it unreservedly. It helps not only illuminate what women are doing with porn as a medium when they get their hands on the means of production and distribution, but also how academics are parsing it and how its performers feel about it. It also helps us look at porn as a whole really intelligently, which is not something I always feel porn critics have managed to do. All its editors live outside of San Francisco, but if I can get some contributors together, you can bet I’ll do it.

Then there’s the porn that already exists that by anyone’s reckoning creates a notable, sexy exception to the rule, if there IS a rule about porn, which there isn’t — it’s so diverse a medium (as sexuality itself is so diverse) that any generalization about it is likely to be pretty flawed, or at least incomplete. Anyhow, here’s what I mean: the fabulous high-falutin’ work of the Golden Age, when porn filmmakers thought they were about to cross over to mainstream acceptance and porn was shown at midnight movie art houses all across North America. And the pinnacle of that time might just be the delightful Opening of Misty Beethoven by Radley Metzger, aka Henry Paris. Metzger made several great, great porn films, each with as much plot and character as you’d ever want, with terrific performances, hot sex, fancy sets. And Misty Beethoven is a riff on Pygmalion! George Bernard Shaw quite possibly has been wanking in his grave for 35 years.

We showed the newly re-mastered and re-released movie — which featured a VERY ahead-of-its-time pegging scene, starred a Mills College alumna whose nom de porn is Constance Money, and the late, great Jamie Gillis in one of his best-ever roles. Yes, you can donate or sign up for membership right there! And we’ll screen it again later for the public, in case you weren’t able to join.

I also want to acknowledge Susie Bright and Jim Holliday — his Only the Best book of reviews is a great place to follow Golden Age directors and stars, once you get into them (if you’re not already), and these are the two people who turned me on to Radley Metzger in the first place, lo these many years ago.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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1 Response

  1. luv2sex.info says:

    Porn makes whole of my body warm too, not just the heart !