Porn Talk: A Conversation

BLUE BUST - faux fur, paint, taxidermy bird eyes, cardboard, paper air-dry clay 18 x 30 x 12  2009[Psychology Tomorrow Magazine presents the first in a series of conversations between Nica Noelle, porn director, actor, and media journalist and Benjamin Peck, attorney, porn actor and frequent contributor to Psychology Tomorrow Magazine. Here, Nica and Ben discuss feminist porn, sexual identity, gender roles and women’s desires in relation to porn.]

June 2013

BP: Do you consider yourself a feminist porn creator? In your view, what are the most salient characteristics of feminist porn? Do you think feminist porn suffers from any conceptual flaws? If you do, in what ways do you think they could be remedied?

NN: I think the term “feminist porn” is both inaccurate and unfortunate, but I can see why the mainstream media latched onto it: it’s catchy, and when used in a headline it has traction. But no, I don’t consider myself a “feminist porn creator.”

First of all, the word “feminism” has far too many political connotations, many which are negative or alienating to men (and to women, for that matter) to be useful in this context. That aside, it’s my understanding that originally “feminist porn” was meant to describe erotic films created by women who were taking a more sensitive and thoughtful approach to their work than the average (male) porn producer. The implication being this was “good” porn, not “sleazy” porn. Also that it was “ethical” porn, though I’m not sure why that assumption should follow. The notion that porn is somehow better or more ethical just because a woman is behind the camera is complete nonsense and understandably insulting to men.

What we’re seeing in porn right now is a changing of the guard and a new, emerging sensibility, but it has nothing to do with feminism. Feminists didn’t come in and take over – fans just started demanding better porn, because the Internet has allowed them a safe way to do it. Now fans can anonymously voice their pleasure and displeasure about a movie, which they could never do before the Internet. Fans can write film reviews and blogs and generate “buzz” for certain titles. Also, now we have access to market research because of VOD (video on demand), when for so long there was no market research in porn. All of that has resulted in fans being able to demand a higher quality product and reward filmmakers who give it to them.

But feminists didn’t come in and revolutionize anything. Male consumers are still the backbone of the adult industry, and men were the first to ask for and reward better story lines, more realistic sex and higher production values. So, while it’s wonderful that so many women have become more vocal about what they want to see and are openly identifying as “porn fans,” we certainly don’t need to give the credit for “better porn” to the feminist community. We don’t need to attach gender politics to it at all.

Like most industries, adult film has been forced to evolve to survive in the changing economical and technical landscape. That meant providing fans with a better product and responding to their needs. And as a result of those increased standards, people who would have never considered a career in adult films ten years ago are now coming here with artistic agendas – both behind and in front of the camera. There’s a growing perception that adult film has become a legitimate medium for artistic expression and it’s attracting more serious-minded people.

BP: As a man, I feel like it’s somehow politically incorrect to criticize anything about feminism. Yet it’s clear that feminism – like any political doctrine – suffers from conceptual flaws, particularly in its approach to porn. I’ve been intrigued by feminist porn for quite a while now, both because it looks different than “traditional” straight porn and because it attempts to account for female desire, which I find vital. I’ve even read a couple feminist books which recount the story of feminist porn, list representative films and explain their significance.

But I didn’t get a balanced view: When you read a feminist review, you’re going to get the feminist perspective and nothing else. I mention this because your experience clearly contradicts what many feminist authors say. I have read, for instance, that mainstream porn must go “all-feminist” because women comprise 30% of porn consumers, and that number is inexorably rising. And as you observe, many feminist writers condemn all non-feminist-porn as demeaning to women. They also give credit to the feminist movement for “transforming” porn and making it “good” solely because women – with the right sense of gender political engagement – make it. The implication here is that all porn is “bad” and “inartful,” but as soon as a feminist steps in, it becomes “good” and “artistic.”

It is refreshing to see that you do not ascribe to these talismanic political dogmas. You recognize that there are no magical, reflexive solutions to these questions. Your experience shows that the orthodox feminist view of porn is incorrect. In fact, I don’t think it’s a good idea to use porn as a vehicle for gender-political bombshells. It’s possible to be progressive about gender without clubbing an audience over the head that just wants to see interesting, alluring sexual connections onscreen.

I find it interesting that you trace the “sea change” in porn not to feminism, but to engaged fans who have a forum to ask for what they want. That is a compelling explanation. Even in my experience as a solo performer on Xtube, I tailored my performances directly to fan input, and my fan base grew accordingly. As you say, in earlier times, porn consumers had no way to give feedback on a particular concept. Now that they can, porn creators can listen to their ideas, see what drives them and make porn that addresses those desires.

Porn today, then, is now more “targeted.” It gives more people more of what they really want to see. It is quite a fantastical jump to suggest that this change owes its existence to feminist gender-political struggle-mongering.

BP: I am very intrigued by your gay male porn work. As a woman, how do you feel about filming scenes intended to appeal to gay men’s desires? Do you believe it is possible to apply the principles of feminist porn to gay male porn? Why do you think the annual Feminist Porn Awards did not feature an award for Best Gay Scene?

NN: I approach all of my studios (lesbian, gay, straight and trans) with the same philosophy. Hot sex is hot sex. My boilerplate is that no matter what your sexual orientation, no matter what your personal taste might be in terms of a performer’s age or looks, you want to see them having hot sex. And hot sex means believable sex. Believable sex means passion and fire and urgency and conveying some kind of emotion. And by “emotion” I don’t necessarily mean “romance.” Emotional content can be many things, from love to lust to hate and all the nuances in between. But an emotional/psychological component is going to add to the sex scene, because we all know that sex is better when your mind is involved along with your body. Why should that be any different for gay men, or for lesbians, or for straight people? It’s the same for everyone.

My gay studio, Rock Candy Films, is my favorite studio – I’ll just say it. I love shooting gay porn. I love writing it. I love being given the opportunity to tell men’s love stories. I find relationships between men so compelling and it’s such an untapped area in porn. And gay love stories are far more interesting to me than straight ones, because in straight movies the man and the woman are inevitably going to assume certain gender roles. She’s either going to be the wife or the girlfriend or the bad girl or the good girl, and he’s either going to be the bored husband, or the young guy with a crush, and so on. And I hate to say it but to some extent I’ve observed this to be the case in real life, too. Straight couples often fall into traditional, established roles when they pair bond, and it can be a little startling. But with gay porn I can develop the characters any way I want to, and I much prefer that. For me, male homosexuality is just very artistically inspiring.

As for why the Feminist Porn Awards don’t recognize all-male cinema, I don’t know. I think originally the FPA’s were meant to honor women for their artistic contributions to porn, and gay cinema didn’t qualify. But now that the feminist porn movement is trying to reinvent itself as “inclusive of all genders and sexualities,” many people have started asking why gay porn is still excluded.

I tried to urge the FPAs to include gay porn at this year’s awards by submitting my first gay film (a period piece feature called “His Mother’s Lover”) for award consideration, along with my other lesbian, trans and straight submissions. They acknowledged it by listing the title as a nominated film on their site, but it was otherwise ignored, even though I think it’s probably the most innovative film I’ve ever made. This suggests to me that there are still some gender politics driving “feminist porn,” despite assertions to the contrary. Male sexuality in porn seems to be largely ignored by the FPAs, and their focus continues to be on lesbian and trans/queer porn, and female producers.

BP: Your answers here really moved me. We share so many views on these topics. It really is astounding.

First, I couldn’t agree more that the hottest porn successfully conveys emotion – and not just romance. I have experienced so many different emotions in my sexual expression, and I do my best to assimilate those emotions into my performances. What’s interesting to me, though, is that romance is rarely an emotion I express, despite the social expectation to portray it in an “erotic” scene. My emotional expression is usually quite carnal and sometimes even vicious, though always in a loving, respectful way. I have had sex with both men and women that is tender and loving. But I have also had sex that is flat-out violent, and wildly exhilarating. For instance, I recently filmed a friend who enjoys it when I put on boxing gloves and beat his body in a brutal, balletic display. Then I soften the intensity, embrace him, he tells me he loves me, and I resume the violence. There are so many complex emotions there, and it is unquestionably hot and believable.

Second, your views about male/female pair bonding mirror mine exactly. In fact, the tiresome, stereotypical roles that men and women feel bound to play in their relationships are one of the things that drove my same-sex explorations as a young man. I could see from an early age that men and women played predictable roles in their interchanges, and I found them boring. And it seemed to me, too, that male affection toward women was calculated solely to get sexual access, rendering their affection dishonest and desperate. I simply did not understand women’s affection, since I never sought it (apart from my mother’s!). I was extremely sexually attracted to women, but I was afraid of them because I felt they had the power to say yes or no. After a few crushing rejections in early adolescence, I turned away from the whole “male/female” game.

I turned away from heterosexual discourse for the same reasons you feel inspired by gay men’s stories. I wanted the freedom to define a relationship any way I wanted, unburdened by social conventions or gender expectations. I thought this revolutionary, and for years in early adulthood I saw my burgeoning homosexual desires as a badge of honor, not a disability. I saw myself as a rebel, a man who deliberately rejected the path set before him, and who had the freedom to choose creativity over compliance.

I have always related to men on deeply emotional levels. I think all men relate to each other this way; they simply face tremendous social pressure not to show it. I have always known, however, that I could only truly love another man. I never felt I had anything in common with women, and I never felt I could communicate with a woman in the same way I could communicate with a man. After all, I am a man, so I could reasonably expect a man to have similar emotional responses to things that I had. In college, I read Anna Kareninaand thought it bordered on hubris for Tolstoy to have presumed to write a whole novel from a woman’s perspective. I thought: What the hell does he know about how a woman thinks?

I choked up when you acknowledged how artistically inspiring gay men’s relationships can be.  To openly express same-sex desire requires you to be extremely aware of dominant social expectations – like marriage, children, the “bourgeois life” – and to be critical of them. To be critical leads to an inclination for artistic expression, a deep sense of irony, and a positive hyper-awareness about the world. Stanley’s book, Uncharted Lives, is all about the intrinsic relationship between homosexuality and artistic inclination.

Finally – and to get back to porn 🙂 – I found it troubling that the Feminist Porn Awards did not acknowledge gay male porn. In reading feminist discussions about porn, I came to the conclusion that the term “feminist porn” did not just mean “porn made by women.” It was about believable storylines, respect for both men’s and women’s pleasure and an honest exploration of desire. It even espoused a principle of inclusion for all genders and sexualities.  Those principles can – and should – apply to porn involving any gender or any sexual taste.  Why then, did feminists not recognize gay male porn shot with these principles in mind? It is unfortunate.

Thankfully, though, you do not subscribe to the same mentality. You see the value in applying progressive principles to gay male porn, and you see the fantastic potential for amazing new work in this genre. Gay male relationships often do not follow the same traditional patterns as straight ones. And that natural freedom allows for limitless creative exploration. Thank you for what you’ve done in this area.

BP: As a follow-up to the previous question, what is your view about women’s desire to watch gay male porn? It is well-known that many men like watching women have sex with each other. Does the same principle apply with regard to women watching men have sex with each other? What dynamic is at work here, and what do women like to see in a male/male encounter?

NN: It’s interesting, people assume that the type of porn someone likes to watch reflects what would turn them on in a real life encounter, or who they want to have sex with, and from what I can tell it’s simply not true. Masturbatory fantasies are often fueled by ideas and imagery we’d never want to do in real life. We may fantasize about gay sex without being gay ourselves, or we might prefer to watch straight porn even though we’re gay.

When I first started making straight porn, I got a fan letter from a gay viewer that was a real eye-opener for me. He said that even though he was a gay man in real life, that when it came to porn he preferred “straight” scenes because he enjoyed seeing men relating to women in a sexual way. He was still more interested in watching the man in the scene – he wasn’t turned on by the female performer – but for him there was something sexy about watching a man with a woman and it got him off. So he was writing to thank me for allowing the male performers equal camera time and focusing as much on their faces and bodies as on their female costars. He said he’d had a hard time finding that in straight porn, which tended to focus only on the female’s body and facial expressions.

It’s just another indication that sexuality is complex and fluid and you can’t keep it in a neat little box, as much as we all might want to try. We like what we like, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what drives our individual sexual proclivities. But this idea that straight people watch straight porn, lesbians watch lesbian porn, and gay men watch gay porn – the reality is far more interesting and baroque.

BP: It’s fascinating – and sometimes disheartening–to see sexual labels at work. For the last few years, I’ve worked tirelessly to convince people that these neat little categories – “straight,” “gay,” “bi” – do far more harm than good to our sense of identity.

As you say, sexual desire defies categorization. It moves and changes with time. To pigeon-hole it, categorize it and slap it onto someone both demeans the person and turns sexuality into just another political affiliation. It’s untrue to the way sexual desire functions, and it causes people to doubt whether they “fit” a category, even when the category means nothing at all.

Does “gay” not only mean a man gets a hard-on from seeing another naked man, but also that he must wear a rainbow flag stickpin, listen to Lady Gaga and talk with a lisp? These are the problems with sexual labels: They import too much collateral cultural “baggage.”

I can tell you from experience that men who identify as gay love watching straight porn. I have conversations with male fans all the time about how they love watching men in straight porn, their facial expressions, their energy, their sense of urgency. I have even performed in sex parties in New York where gay men hire me to fuck women so they can watch me. “Gay” Xtube fans love it when I say I’m sucking pussy while fucking a fleshlight. This defies the whole notion of sexual categorization.

As far as men watching lesbian porn, I can tell you it’s very common. If a man finds women’s bodies attractive, then he will find the idea of two women having sex attractive, too. I think the fantasy for men often drifts to “getting in between” the two women, enjoying them both.

I’m going on a limb here, but I would argue that the same basic principle applies to women watching gay male sex. If a woman finds a two particular men’s bodies attractive, why wouldn’t she find it hot to watch those men having sex? I don’t have personal knowledge on this, but if attraction works the way I’ve experienced it, then I think it makes sense.

I watch tons of straight porn. I identify myself as “omnisexual” because I don’t subscribe to any sexual label. I get hard looking at both men’s and women’s bodies. My favorite porn shows both the male and female form in equal measure; it does not obscure, accentuate or downplay any one body part. Rather, it shows the total sexual interaction between everyone involved. And because all aspects of sex turn me on – involving both genders – I love straight porn that shows bodies intertwining, the pleasure on both faces, the swirling, democratic dynamic of lust.

Sadly, a lot of mainstream straight porn does not show the images I really like. That is why I’ve committed myself to performing and creating porn that appeals to the “omnisexual” in all of us.

Ben Peck

Born in 1977 in New London, Connecticut, Benjamin Peck is a literature major, licensed attorney, blogger, writer and porn performer. He attended Columbia University, where he studied German and Russian literature, then obtained a law degree at Loyola University in Chicago. He found practicing law inconsistent with his moral and ethical values, however, and became a sex worker. He escorted extensively for several years beginning in 2010. He also began working as a porn performer that year, charting a new career course in his career. He lives in New York City , where he continues to care for his disabled partner of 13 years, as well as forge ahead with his career in progressive adult entertainment. Benjamin does not label himself straight, gay or bisexual, choosing instead to call himself "omnisexual," committed to sexuality in all its beautiful, life-affirming forms.

About Ben Peck 8 Articles
Born in 1977 in New London, Connecticut, Benjamin Peck is a literature major, licensed attorney, blogger, writer and porn performer. He attended Columbia University, where he studied German and Russian literature, then obtained a law degree at Loyola University in Chicago. He found practicing law inconsistent with his moral and ethical values, however, and became a sex worker. He escorted extensively for several years beginning in 2010. He also began working as a porn performer that year, charting a new career course in his career. He lives in New York City , where he continues to care for his disabled partner of 13 years, as well as forge ahead with his career in progressive adult entertainment. Benjamin does not label himself straight, gay or bisexual, choosing instead to call himself "omnisexual," committed to sexuality in all its beautiful, life-affirming forms.

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  1. New interview with Nica in Psychology Tomorrow! – Nica Noelle
  2. Porn Talk, A Conversation: Part II of Interview with Nica Noelle in Psychology Tomorrow – Nica Noelle
  3. Porn Talk: A Conversation, Part II - Psychology Tomorrow Magazine

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