Sex is shrouded in so much mystery and secrecy. It is considered so personal that it’s a wonder we can ever have an honest conversation about it. But if we could talk freely and openly with each other, we would discover that sex means something different to everyone, often something far from the ideas that Hollywood and Madison Avenue feed us; and even farther from the sex scenes in our favorite porn.
Some of us think of sex as a simple act of physical pleasure, while for others it’s a way of communicating deep feelings. Still others see sex as a spiritual experience. The definition of sexual activity also differs from person to person. It can be kissing, touching, intercourse, bondage, oral, conversational, punishing, dominating, wrapped in leather, romantic, observing, disciplining, and much, much more. It is as varied as our individual personalities.
Whatever our way of expressing it, sex creates a moment of extreme intensity in which our entire inner life — our history and imagination — is expressed in actions. It is an altered state of consciousness in which the past and the present, the body, mind and spirit, all merge to form a new reality unlike any other experience in our lives.
Why is it then that sex is so often physically and mentally ungratifying? Why does it often alienate us from ourselves and our partners when it should bring feelings of closeness and intimacy?
To answer this, we first need to understand the impact that social and cultural institutions have on how we think and feel about sex. Much of the way we each experience sex is shaped by what we learn through family attiudes and religious associations. Often, our true sexual desires conflict with these teachings, leading us to deny or surpress whole parts of ourselves.
As Americans, we have a complicated relationship with sex, simultaneously promoting “sexy” images in popular culture to sell products while demonizing those of us who enjoy it. Sometimes sex is portrayed as a romantic seduction in which it’s used to win the man. Other times partners are shown tearing each other’s clothes off and engaging in ravenous behavior, giving the impression that sex is primitive and instinctual and requires no thought.
Pornography, because it is so massively viewed, also plays a significant role in how we experience sex. Most pornography negatively objectifies female sexuality, perpetuating cultural notions of female desire driven by the need to gratify men. Men too are objectified. They are shown as always erect and ready to go. Porn promotes caricatures: Women with enormous breasts and men with big dicks, reducing sexual interaction to a form of adult cartoon. The object in current porn is the “money” shot — unenlightened consumption with no positive emotional interaction.
Our ideas about sex are also enshrined in our language. In English, for instance, the most commonly used verb denoting sexual intercourse is fuck. The word fuck shares roots with the German verb ficken, meaning “to rub harshly; scratch; itch; strike.” It also shares roots with the Dutch verb fokken, meaning “to thrust,” as well as the Swedish focka, meaning “to strike; kick; push.” Unlike euphemisms such as “sex,” “coitus,” “make love,” “copulate” and “lie with,” fuck gets right to the conceptual point; it does not shy from the meaning of the activity it describes. Also ensconced in language are pernicious gender stereotypes, power inequality and violence. Those who freely engage in sex are labeled “whores,” “sluts,” and “players.”
Attitudes toward sex change slowly over time, but not without political and social intervention. Building on the sexual revolution of the 1960’s which first brought sex into the national conversation, the feminist movements have redefined notions of female desire, correcting gender sterotypres and reinforcing pro-female principles of sexual entitlement and female-centric pleasure.
Feminism has not only pushed us to think more deeply about sexual objectification and exploitation; it has begun to help us to parse out individualized ideas of sexuality. But even new labels that have emerged to describe sexuality as a result of social change, such as “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgenedered,” typically fall short of encompassing the complexity of our true sexuality.
For most of us, the specifics of what we eroticize, that is, the thoughts, images or sensations that trigger a climax, still remain barely understood. Re-imagining sex in a new light requires us to not only grapple with the language, the popular images, and the politics of sex stereotyping, but it helps each of us to more deeply understand our specific desires, what they mean, and how to honor them. By recognizing the individual psychology behind our desires, namely, the individual expression of subjective desire — we can invent democratic models for sex that are based on authenticity, sensitivity, respect, and generosity. This next wave must wash away all negative conceptual relics that force us to define ourselves by mass-marketed labels.
Sexual politics has made few inroads into the powerful world of pornography. A billion dollar industry with cutting edge technology, pornography continues to perpetuate negative images of sex as violence and possession. Past startegies of condeming, censoring or ignoring have failed, and now they must be replaced by ones that aggressively appropriate porn as an instrument for positive change.
Some radical women including Candida Royale, Anna Span, Petra Joy and Tristan Taormino, and also a few men, are already creating a new kind of pornography that places sexual pleasure in a meaningful context. Ben Peck — whose essay From Ivy League Lawyer to Porn Star appeared in this magazine — is attempting to do that and more.
After performing in porn for a few years, Peck has begun to produce, write and appear in films that represent a total re-envisioning of the traditional form. “Let’s face it,” Peck says, “Porn is among the most successful financial industries. We have to use its vast power to produce sexual healing and transformation. Porn should be liberating and inspiring rather than oppressive.”
Concerned over its effects, he seeks to offer a counterpoint to the depiction of male dominance as an acceptable form of “sexy sexism.” Peck’s porn presents an alternative to hard core “fuck films.” “Typically, men appear always hard and women ever ready to please them.” Instead, Peck’s men aim to satisfy their partner’s desires rather than to simply get off; women expect to receive pleasure just as much as men.
Where most pornography creates an unreal universe, Peck’s videos are closer to real situations, striking a visceral chord of recognition, while introducing new, exciting, or surprising possibilities for sexual engagement never seen in conventional porn. While all pornography is fantasy in the place of reality, Peck’s work is nearer to documentary in that it seeks to educate and nourish rather than addict. They translate people’s true fantasies into honest, authentic scenarios on screen.
Peck turns porn on its head, creating relationships in which women are empowered sexually, and men are engaged and not threatened. “The fact is that men as much as women hunger for intimacy,” says Peck. “Affirmation and intimacy are human needs. I want to provide the link between hot sex and intimacy that will satisfy both desires.” Without sacrificing intensity or passion, Peck is more concerned with respect, mutual affirmation and generosity than control and domination. Partners actually care for and adore each other. If domination is involved, it is based on mutual desire rather than oppression.
In contrast to one-dimensional themes and characters found in most porno, Peck’s scripts have complex themes that allow viewers to identify, understand and honor unexplored aspects of their sexuality, deepening their self-knowledge. By identifying with specific images, characters and their actions, viewers can pinpoint exactly what turns them on and what leads to climax. Do we identify with the character who is being admired, the one who is fucking or getting fucked, acts of tenderness, aggression, passion, or body contact? Peck’s videos help us explore and define our sexuality for ourselves. When there is not a single image shoved down our throats, or no one shaming or judging us, that is what truly expresses us. Peck’s videos help us to intelligently explore and define our sexuality for ourselves, not according to one-dimensional stereotypes.
As a sexual radical, Peck thinks beyond traditional notions of sexual identity. He is equally erotically charged performing solo as he is with same- or opposite-sex partners. “Good sex requires the ability to be completely present in moments of tenderness, submission, romance, domination, intimacy, abandon and self-adulation, connecting deeply with the self and with our partners, regardless of their gender. Breaking down sexual roles, categories and myths is a path to finding authenticity and wholeness. Young people are increasingly more fluid in their sexuality, which lays the groundwork for our re-imagined porn. I want to help viewers identify their true sexual desires, transcending socially constructed expectations.”
Sex based on cultural stereotypes and mass-marketed images is alienating and unsatisfying because it supplants individual desire. The next revolution promises smarter, hotter sex based upon mutual affirmation, positive objectification, and an equal commitment to pleasure for all parties.
Because Peck’s ideas and my own are so closely aligned, I have teamed with him as a consultant and producer. We will release the first in a series of positive porn in late summer 2013.