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Let's Talk About Porn, Baby

Liz Jones

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The Stranger's amateur porn festival logo
(The Stranger)
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We should alert parents out there, this story deals with the subject of P-O-R-N. Adjust your radio dials and computer audio streams accordingly. It's the talk of the town in Seattle this weekend. Thousands of people are attending an amateur porn festival there. It's called Hump.
But it's a tricky subject. What some people find enjoyable or stimulating, other people find off-putting, uncomfortable, even gross. Reporter Liz Jones lives in Seattle and falls into that latter camp. But she has a connection with this film festival that was not of her choosing.

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All my life I've made a point to avoid watching porn, but recently it's been thrust upon me. My fiance, Anthony, works for The Stranger, the newsweekly that puts on Seattle's amateur porn festival. Anthony helps pick which films get in.

Every October, Anthony excitedly gears up for a porn-watching party with his co-workers. And each time, I try to pretend like I don't care. This has been going on for three years. I figured it was time to confront the issue.

At home in our living room one evening, I ask Anthony, "Does it bother you that I don't like porn?"

Anthony looks at me suspiciously. "Well, I don't think it's true," he chuckles. "It would bother me if it were true." I return his suspicious look and ask what he means. He says I don't have enough information to know whether or not I like porn. Anthony points out I've only seen porn a couple of times. He believes if I just gave porn a chance, maybe I'd like it.

My fears of porn go way back. I was raised in a strict Christian home, and certain ideas about good and evil have been hard to shake. The childhood me believes porn is evil. But I wondered if maybe Anthony was right. Maybe the adult me would see things differently if I just gave porn a chance.

This year, Anthony's co-workers planned to screen the films at our house. "This is an opportunity," I thought. An opportunity to see if I could come to actually like porn.

Anthony and eight of his co-workers cram into our compact living room. They eat hot dogs and cookies, eyes fixed on the big-screen TV. I quietly take a seat in the corner, next to Anthony. I find myself mainly watching the group - partly because I'm squeamish about the action on screen, and partly just to see their reactions. Everyone's having a way better time than I am.

They shriek with laughter, crack jokes and groan with exaggerated disgust as the images roll by. Anthony gives me a comforting look, and I shrug back, trying to play it cool. But really, I'm feeling pretty grossed out. I sit through a few short films with names like "Bored in Bellevue' and "The Ethics of…." I can't actually write the other titles here.

After a little while, I'm surprised to find a lot of these films are actually sort of funny. There's an animated short featuring a cop with an unconventional weapon. Then another one where two zombies negotiate a romantic liaison, using only awkward grunts and stiff gestures.

I start laughing a little, but then a really bad one comes on. Bad like naughty-bad and also just "low-budget movie" bad. It's exactly what I've come to expect of porn: Trashy movies with no plot. I put a fresh plate of wholesome veggies and hummus on the table and head upstairs.

The next day, I feel a little shell-shocked. Dirty images bombard my brain and I feel guilty. I decide to seek out some help.

I head to Toys in Babeland, a woman-friendly sex-toy shop. That's where I meet Audrey McManus. She teaches classes about sex and porn and all things related. Apparently a lot of women come to her with porn issues.

"You know, it's not for everyone, for sure," Audrey says. "There are people who are just opposed to it and think it shouldn't be allowed at all. And there are people who are like, 'I love it, I love it, I love it!'"

I ask her what advice she has for people like me, who can't get past some sort of religious guilt.

"I guess I would just show them anatomy books and talk about pleasure-based anatomy and talk about stimulation," Audrey explains. "And then I would say, find porn that's made by women for women. I would imagine you've seen some pretty crappy porn. And if you're interested in exploring more, I could recommend some titles."

Audrey gave me three rentals to take home and try. After two days, I return them unwatched.

"Is it OK if I don't like porn?" I ask shyly.

"Yeah, it's totally fine if you don't like it for yourself personally," Audrey assures me. "I think that's fine." A porn expert says it's OK if porn's just not my thing. I feel validated.

But Anthony thinks I didn't give porn enough of a chance. And he's still convinced I secretly like it. His evidence is that one time, at a hotel in Slovenia, I didn't immediately turn it off.

I ask Anthony if he thinks I'm a prude. He mulls it over, then slowly answers, "Uh, no. I would imagine those childhood taboos are really difficult to overcome. And that's something that I've learned by knowing you. It's something that's really not familiar to me."

I wonder out loud, "Is that something that maybe you like about me?"

Anthony chokes with laugher. "I guess it's a challenge," he finally says. "Yeah, well, I like everything about you."

We'll be out of town during this weekend's porn festival. So, luckily, the choice of whether to go is out of our hands. Lucky for me, anyways. As for Anthony, maybe he'll get lucky next year.

  • Music Bridge:
    Dr. X
    Artist: Mike Shannon
    CD: Memory Tree (Plus 8)

Comments

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  • By abdulcabbar penguen

    From DC, 02/07/2012

    godoşluğu bak arkadaş ya. yuhhh

    By adrianna laska

    From Tampa, FL, 01/10/2012

    the auto fill feature was turned on and my friend submit the comment. can you please delete it? it was an accident and when ever i get googled this comes up : /

    By Adrianna Laska

    From NYC, NY, 06/07/2009

    This is funny. Many men watch porn while their wife's complain how grosses it is, sorry to brake all the uptight people's bubble(mainly the women)... most men want women to stop being so uptight and boring in bed and with their sexuality in general, catholic or not, don't even get me started on the crap that's written in the bible, most of the bible is truth has been literally lost in translation. I am young married women who's sex life is not going to drive my husband to chat. I know hes not going to because I keep him entertained and compelled in bed. I'm open minded and not a prude. Yes something aren't for me but if it makes him happy and I can deal with it than hey..plus he does the same for me. While most women think they shouldn't or don't have to do unconventional sexual things to keep their man happy sexually. Women usually think sex is less important than it actually is in a relationship and once the sex is the problem in the relationship, it's hard to fix. Men lie or sugar coat thing to their wife's to avoid conflict all the time. Most of the stuff they glaze with an answer like "I guess it's a challenge," he finally say "Yeah, well, I like everything about you." hahahahaa. Why didn't he say it right away? Because he doesn't really mean it and he just doesn't want to start an argument he knows he can't win. My husband doesn't lie to me because I'm not like most women and he not like most men. This a perfect example of men settling and then it just all falls apart. I'll pray for you prude people but I don't think it will help much. People need to be more open about their sexual needs because that the root of the relationship sex problems. People don't want to really talk about sex and what they need to be satisfied, not what they need as a bear minimum. Sorry for the typo's I've been up working and awake for the last 40 hours.

    By mary mermaid

    From New York City, NY, 10/31/2008

    When I saw the article I had hoped for something profound about pornography, but instead it was boring, for me, although I am grateful for the comments.

    The problem with porn is its anonymity, which happens to be its appeal. You have these nameless females with busy mouths and body parts, and you know how sick it is to copulate with strangers and how sad it is to do it for money on film--to want that is less than what we would want for anybody, no? Children learn about porn from their parents; & all the Catholics out there have their partners to teach them. But in real life porn ends up with the little kiddies, viewing and starring, and for us to deny our irresponsibility sucks.
    Little boys in grammar school should not stare at tits, they should see people,little girls, no? They should not think it's okay to take their wand out, two on one at time if they feel like it, and do some poor person just because she has the orfices to suffice their fantasies.

    It's less than what is real, and people are too sloppy for it to be permitted.
    Gross, Catholic or not. What this girl needs (the author) is her husband leaving his dvds around for the kiddies.

    By Bob Morehead

    From Barberton, OH, 10/27/2008

    What bothered me most about this piece was the pervasive subtext that the "Christian upbringing" that reared the reporter had somehow damaged her; that the culture that enjoys porn was the healthy one. The difference is not between restriction and freedom, but between an attitude that reveres sex as the ultimate expression of a sacramental union and one that debases it. Viewed through that prism, which one is the healthy attitude?

    By joyce davis

    From harrisburg, PA, 10/27/2008

    While driving with my son and husband, this story came on the radio. This is really sad when with so many important issues to discuss, Weekend America decides this is worth covering and worth offending millions of people who have higher values than to dwell on such subjects. We immediately changed the channel. AT the very least there should have been some warning that this topic would be taken up. It is infuriating that there is no respect for families or for children.

    By Panfilo Rodriguez

    From Durham, NC, 10/25/2008

    I find this story very interesting, because Ms. Jones reflects on the subject of her distaste for pornography without the apparent ideological filters through which many Americans express their views on this subject.

    What stands out in particular for me is that she assumes that it is only her religious upbringing that stands between her and "enjoying" pornography as her partner and his friends apparently do. I wish that she had reflected at greater length on what she saw on the faces gathered to watch the entries for the festival, and the raucous, group-think laughter that emanated from those in the room. I would encourage her to reflect on the powerful, unexpressed emotions hidden by that laughter, and how they might connect with her partner's insistent wish that she would join in with the crowd. Might there not be some other reasons besides religious moralism that lie behind her gut rejection of pornographic imagery?

    It's up to her how she answers that question. I suspect, however, that however much she feels validated by the "porn[ography] expert" letting her off the hook, deep down, Ms. Jones might well be uncomfortable with that imagery because she sees the women in the films and can identify with them--and the identification makes her queasy, because she sees them being treated like inferiors, like lumps of meet to be taken and used, to satisfy the urges that lie behind that group-think laughter. Those urges aren't simply sexual: they are also political in the sense that the so-called "battle of the sexes" is political. Nearly forty years ago, radical feminist Kate Millett identified that sexual politics as a politics of domination and inequality. I would hazard to guess that reporter Jones's queasiness derives not only from vestigial religious training, but also from the effort that it takes not to think about the fact that her partner takes pleasure in such sexuo-political images: and what does that mean for her, and her relationship to him? What does it mean that she feels herself in a decided minority--that most men, and nowadays, many women, have decided to join in with that raucous, group-think laughter? Where can she find a sexuality grounded in equality and free of objectification?

    I find this story compelling because even though the author doesn't explore these questions, the tone of the piece--the fact that these questions are not confronted--tells us so much about our culture. The pornographers won the so-called "sexual revolution," and now, women like Ms. Jones (and some more conscious men) are dealing with the consequences as best they can.

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