Let's Talk About Porn, BabyOCTOBER 25, 2008
- The Stranger's amateur porn festival logo
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More From Liz Jones
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.
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)