Porn Lied To Me

Porn and Co-dependency

Bill Hayward (Column 5)Porn and I go way back. It started out as an innocent flirtation, a schoolboy’s first crush. But it didn’t stay that way.  At some point, porn and I started lying to each other, and our relationship became a form of co-dependency. In my defense, porn lied to me first.

I came to porn looking for answers to the questions my parents should have answered.  My father’s sexual advice to me was “Son, never marry a thin-lipped woman.” My mother was mum on the subject. Porn was my first sex teacher, starting with a deck of “Wolf Cards” in my father’s top drawer that I discovered when I was about nine or ten. There was also the copy of Playboy my dad brought home from a convention when I was in the seventh grade, and the “Split-beaver” mags my senior year of high school.

I was both fascinated with and terrified of girls. As a defense against them, I used sarcasm and putdowns to keep them at arm’s length. I was awkward and filled with shame about things I had no way to understand. I was considered good-looking but had no idea. I wore glasses and hated them. I had a pocket protector and a holster for my slide rule. I was the editor of my high school’s literary magazine and the feature editor for the school newspaper. Captain of the debate team, too. I could have been voted Least Likely to Get Laid. The fact that I did eventually acquire a serious girlfriend (and a hot one at that!) with whom I spent many happy hours making out, was probably something of a miracle. But my ignorance was boundless and my tongue sharp; being a great kisser didn’t completely compensate for my deficiencies.

So at first, porn was my friend:

“Sure, kid, I’ll tell you all about what’s between a woman’s legs. See? Look at that. Your penis goes there. But, it can also go there and even there. Your tongue? See that little button at the top of that slit? Yup, that’s the mother lode. Next question?”

I was grateful to porn for providing the guidance that the responsible adults in my life couldn’t or wouldn’t. Then I went to college, where I saw my first adult movie. It was Swedish; I think it was “I am Curious Yellow.” Later I saw “Deep Throat,” but in between, I started paying regular visits to the local Adult Book Store, with its rows of glossy color and black & white magazines, shelves of exotic sex toys, and most importantly, the arcade in the back.

The arcade was a dark maze that stank of old semen, piss, and tobacco products. It had small booths with dirty Plexiglas windows, curtains for doors, and coin slots. Each booth showed a different grainy 8-mm movie, and a quarter got you about two or three minutes of actual XXX film– no soundtrack, but there were occasional subtitles. Swedish Erotica, Color Climax, and other brands now lost and forgotten played on repeat, almost all from Europe — then the worldwide headquarters of all things debauched. After all, the Marquis de Sade came from France and Don Juan from Spain. And let’s not forget all those Victorian novels from England. I rest my case. And so, porn simultaneously educated and addicted me. I saved quarters. I went without beer (remember, I was in college) so that I would have money for regular visits to the Wabasha Book Store. I didn’t own a car, so I took the bus or hitchhiked (it was 1971 and still reasonably safe). At first the novelty of seeing naked people cavorting and witnessing actual penetration was enough to practically make me ejaculate in my pants. The first time I saw anal sex I nearly fainted. When I saw my first double penetration scene my brain almost exploded.

I had an on-again-off-again relationship with porn for the next forty years. Mostly “off” during the early years of my marriage, but definitely “on” since the ‘80’s and the advent of technologies like VHS, DVD, and the internet. I could rent videos and watch them in the privacy of my home or office. This was a big dang deal. But like any addiction, I found that the high diminished over time and I needed more and more stimulation. I got bored. And then I discovered amateur porn. Whoa! Real people were doing the nasty in front of VHS camcorders in badly lit bedrooms, hotel rooms and living rooms. No edits, just straight up action and, gasp, actual passion. But, over time, amateurs started to imitate what they saw in mainstream porn. Authenticity took a back seat to seeing how many positions a couple could twist themselves into in twenty minutes.

Authenticity– that’s what I was looking for. I wanted to see men and women at their most open and vulnerable moments. I was looking for glimpses of those times when everything was stripped away except raw, uncontrolled emotion. Most of all, I wanted to see real female orgasms. That’s all.

Male orgasms I could see anytime, as a male. I wanted to see women in the throes of passion. Porn promised to give me this. It lied. But in truth, now that I think about it, it lied because what I wanted from it was virtually impossible to deliver.

I believed the promises on the box covers and marquees, even though every time I walked out of an arcade or adult theater, or finished watching an adult video in my living room, office or hotel room, I felt the shame and disappointment of the cuckold. Not only was porn lying to me, but I got the feeling that the industry actually despised me and others like me the way a con artist despises a mark.

“Sure, kid, we have what you want. Just give us your money and step right through that door over there– you’ll see it, we promise.”

Charlie Brown always tries to kick the football, knowing full well that Lucy will pull it away at the last minute. He can’t help himself. He keeps on doing it because he wants to believe that this time, Lucy won’t pull the ball away. But she always does, and then she laughs at him, calling him a blockhead. The women on the screen hated me for watching them. They despised my weakness, my lack of a ten-inch penis, and the fact that I was paying to watch them have sex. When they looked into the camera, it was the look of someone just discovering something really unpleasant on the bottom of their shoe. They weren’t alone. I began to despise myself as well.

Porn lied to me. Box covers promised things that the movies inside rarely, if ever, delivered. There were exceptions, however. AVN Hall of Fame director, Anthony Spinelli’s, Reel People series, which laid the groundwork for many imitators right up to the present day (even if the imitators don’t realize it), showed me a glimpse of what I wanted, at least in the first two volumes. I saw average women turned to orgasmic jelly by male porn stars. I saw non-porn stars having sex with each other and experiencing real passion on the screen– or at least authentic lust. It was a revelation. Some of the moments were tragically comic. I think Volume Three had a scene featuring a young Nina Hartley (already an adult superstar) and a gob-smacked amateur guy who just could NOT get it up. They included the scene anyway. I really felt for the guy and my respect for male performers went way up. If you ever get a chance to see volumes one and two of this series, by all means do so.

But for the most part, porn lied and continued to lie. I was aware of the lies. But it takes one to know one. I lied too. I lied right back to porn. Broadband internet and video capture technology gave me access to porn that I couldn’t find in the local video stores. I still rented or (rarely) bought videos, but I’ll admit that I also downloaded a fair amount of porn for free (mostly low-resolution homemade compilations ripped from VHS tapes), justifying it as payback for all the years I’d been getting conned out of my hard-earned cash by an industry that despised me and others like me, all the while taking our money and daring us to complain.

One of the benefits (and banes) of the Net has been the ability to find like-minded folks. This was how I discovered porn producer/directors like Nica Noelle, people who seemed to share my fetish for real passion in porn. There were others. I sought them. I supported their products. I wrote glowing reviews. But what I eventually realized was that the process of producing porn made it nearly impossible to achieve on screen what I wanted to see.

My (albeit limited) association with industry insiders gave me a glimpse behind the scenes at the sausage factory, and what I found there made me understand that what I had been asking of porn was actually (nearly) impossible. Think about it– a porn set isn’t just two (or more) people having sex. That’s what we see. But if you step back and see the whole room, not just the surface where people are coupling, you’ll discover multiple camera operators, mic handlers, lighting people, someone doing continuity, someone shooting stills, a director, and occasionally, several hangers-on. So, the people inside the camera frame are supposed to achieve intimacy in front of a crowd like that? Fat chance.

Some of my favorite adult videos have been from those directors who use a single camera, natural light, and the shooter/director is the only other person in the room. You can see the difference in the way the performers interact. But the word “performer” lurks in the back of my mind casting doubt as to whether or not it’s real. I have serious trust issues with porn (thank you, Meg Ryan). How can I trust an industry that has systematically lied to me for forty years? How can I believe what I’m seeing on the screen, even if it looks completely real? And now, we have performers who go on camera and say things like, “I won’t perform. If I have sex on camera, it’s only with someone I’d go with in real life, and it’s not a performance.” This person could, in fact, be telling the truth – I have no evidence upon which to base any doubts, and when I see her on the screen her passion seems very convincing. But the fact is that this type of declaration has become something of a fad in porn. And then, there are performers who openly talk about how much they despise the men (and some of the women) they work with. What’s the basis for trust here? None.

This process of inquiry becomes self-defeating. I’ll give some directors props for trying though. And there are performers who manage to bring authenticity to their scenes (or at least they make me believe their passion is real). But, by and large, it’s still just as big a lie as it ever was, and porn continues to promise what it can never deliver, knowing all the while that the promises are false.

When I find something approaching what I want, I write a glowing review, hoping that positive reinforcement will encourage the industry to give me more. But I’ve found that what I’ll call the ‘Realist Movement’ in porn has itself become a genre. Each week new companies pop up with promises to, at last, show me real people having real sex with real orgasms.

But the truth is: They can’t.

And not only that, they have no intention of delivering on the promise. Spotting a trend and an opportunity, they lie to me while reaching into my wallet with both hands. And, I lie to them, occasionally shoplifting their product via the Net to even the score. We’re co-dependent. It’s a cycle that continues to repeat itself over and over. I don’t know how to break it. I stopped trying a while ago.

And so, like Charlie Brown, I continue to run at the ball, knowing this time Lucy will hold it for me and I’ll kick it a mile. I can’t help myself.

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