Why I Keep Watching Porn: Jenna Loves Pain

Jlp_front_coverYet another attempt to keep this sex-writer’s blog at least occasionally focused on sex. Here’s another porn review I wrote for Adult Friend Finder and Alt.com. It’s one of my trademark blends of a smut review and a meditation on what does and doesn’t work in porn. Only this time, for a change, I get to use a piece of good porn as my example — including a scene that’s among the best I’ve seen. And I get to ponder why I keep sitting through mediocre porn in order to get to the good stuff (aside from the fact that I get paid to do it, that is). Enjoy!

Why I Keep Watching Porn
by Greta Christina

Jenna Loves Pain
Starring Jenna Jameson, Amber Michaels, Ava Vincent, Emily Marilyn, Dru Berrymore, Fujiko Kano, and Nina Hartley. Written and directed by Ernest Greene. Club Jenna Productions. 80 minutes, plus DVD extras. Available at Good Vibrations and at Extreme Restraints.

I’m so glad it turned out this way.

It could have gone either way. An SM/fetish video with mainstream porn stars and style? It could easily have been the worst of both worlds — the rote, plastic, fuck-by-numbers sexual energy of so many mainstream videos, combined with the clumsy, inept, “some guy in a basement with a camera” filmmaking technique of so many fetish flicks. Porn stars prancing around in fetish gear, giving each other a few half-hearted swats on the butt in between the standard fucking and sucking. Corporate kink. Andrew Blake on an off-day. That sort of thing.

But it’s not. It’s the best of both worlds. (Mostly, anyway.) “Jenna Loves Pain” gives you authentic, heartfelt, high-energy SM sex — with the production values of a top-level mainstream porno.

Which I have to say is a nice change.

And there’s this one scene… but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Jlp1There’s no real plot to this one. The setup is that Jenna Jameson is in some sort of secret society or private club or something, dedicated to dominance and submission. Jenna doms in a couple of scenes, subs in another, and muses to herself about “the allure of erotic servitude” and how “each of us has a dark side and a light side.” (This voiceover is one of the few real flies in the ointment — it’s insipid and dorky, and it creates an annoying distraction at some lovely times when it really shouldn’t. Fortunately, there’s not much of it.)

So it’s a plotless wonder. That’s actually fine with me. Pornos with plot are fine when they’re done well, but they aren’t very often, and a stupid porn plot is much worse than no plot at all. What I do care about in porn videos is (a) sex that looks enthusiastic and real and like the performers are into it, and (b) a filmmaking style that enhances this realness and enthusiasm — or at least doesn’t get in its way.

And “Jenna Loves Pain” gives you both.

The main thing, of course, is the sex. And the main thing about the sex in “Jenna Loves Pain” is that the performers are having a wildly good time having it. They look transported. Whether they’re being bound and displayed, or spanked and whipped, whether they’re spreading their pussies for a riding crop or offering their breasts up for clamps, whether they’re licking their mistress’s pussy or licking her feet — or whether they’re dishing out the binding and spanking and getting their assorted parts licked — they look excited, and energized, and intensely focused. And they look like they’re *there* — like they’re actually in the moment, experiencing what’s happening, instead of being a million miles off. It’s pathetic to realize how rare all this is in porn, but it is.

Plus they have orgasms. Vivid, thrashing, screaming, unmistakable female orgasms. And lots of ‘em. Again, it’s unbelievably depressing to realize how uncommon this is in video porn — but oh my God, is it beautiful to see it here.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been crazy about Jenna Jameson. She always seemed like the epitome of the generic blonde porn star to me. But she does a fine job in this video. She’s not the best thing about it — the best thing by far about this video is the scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels, which I’ll get to in a bit. But this is clearly Jenna’s video — she’s in three scenes of the four — and she more than holds her own. The enthusiasm, the energy, the feeling of focus and presence and connection in the video… a lot of it comes from Jenna, and I have to give her props for it.

What’s more, the sex is a lot more creative than you usually get in mainstream porn. You’ve got all the kink, of course… but you’ve also got frottage, and foot play, and ass licking, and a clever and sexy use of a ball gag for cunnilingus, and more. I get so sick of porn videos that run through the same five or six sex acts over and over, as if human beings hadn’t spent thousands of years coming up with thousands of variations on the classics. But “Jenna Loves Pain” has a lovely sense of freedom about it — the sense that the actors are having the kinds of sex they want to be having, instead of the kinds of sex that the marketing department told the director to tell the actors to have.

And it’s nice to see a video that freely mixes both hardcore SM and hardcore genital sex. I realize that this is more common than it used to be… but I came into porn in the ’80s and ’90s, when there was a huge Berlin Wall between sex videos and kink videos, and I still get excited about it when they mesh.

Plus there’s this scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels… but I’ll get to that in a moment. Promise.

Jlp_back_coverAs for the filmmaking style… well, it’s no “Citizen Kane,” but it more than does the job. The camerawork and editing were clearly done by people who gave a damn — not just about flashy technical tricks, but about how style can add to the sexual heat. The best example of this is how the movie uses flashbacks and flash-forwards, with quick, teasing flashes of the nastiest images — Jenna’s mouth held open wide with a metal gag, Amber Michaels writhing face down with her hands bound behind her back, a hairbrush landing on Fujiko Kano’s upturned bottom, and so on — cut in periodically throughout the movie.

Partly this is hot simply because it keeps your attention. It definitely kept my clit sitting up straight, even during stretches that weren’t quite doing it for me. But it’s also hot because that’s what sex feels like a lot of the time. When you’re fucking, you’re not just thinking of all the great stuff you’re doing right this minute — you’ve got memories of things you did a few minutes ago, and fantasies of things you hope you’ll be doing soon, all flashing in your mind like a slideshow. I do, anyway. That’s a huge amount of what keeps my libido worked up and interested. And the quick, dirty flashes in the video are a great example of how a simple stylistic technique can work to make porn feel more immediate, more urgent, more like sex.

It does overdo the technique sometimes — as well as some other tricks and effects — and sometimes it’s distracting. But I can live with that. I’d rather have someone at the editing board who’s over-enthusiastic than someone who’s just going through the motions.

And I love that the video spends time on the performers’ faces, and their whole bodies, instead of just showing you hands and toys on flesh. When a whip lands on a back or a hairbrush lands on an ass, you get plenty of images of the impact — but you also get to see the women’s faces cringing in ecstatic pain, their hands tightening into fists, their torsos contracting in shock and then opening up again to welcome the next blow. This is the stuff that actually conveys the energy of a sex scene — the stuff that shows you how the performers are, you know, feeling. And way too many porn videos forget about it entirely.

The video is somewhat uneven. Like I said, the voiceover is dippy and annoying, and the camera tricks and effects are sometimes overdone and distracting. And the scenes themselves vary in quality and heat. The last scene in particular is somewhat disappointing — Ava Vincent and Emily Marilyn just don’t seem as excited or connected as the women in the other scenes (although they do have their moments, and their scene does pick up near the end when Jenna shows up to play). Jenna’s submissive scene with Dru Berrymore is a lot stronger, and her dominant scene with Fujiko Kano is stronger still, and one heckuva lot of fun.

Jlp2And then there’s this scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels…

… which may be one of the best porn performances I’ve seen.

Ever.

No kidding. This scene is one of the most staggeringly beautiful things I’ve seen in porn, and I’ve been watching porn for years. Nina and Amber just seem so happy to be there, and so intensely focused on each other, that it made me want to cry. And it made me scramble for my vibrator — again and again and again. There’s a moment when Nina takes the gag out of Amber’s mouth, and Amber smiles — a sweet smile of wicked delight, a smile that radiates pure, spontaneous sexual joy. And when Nina’s beating her, Amber rocks her hips frantically and bucks her torso like she’s an animal in heat, like she’s getting fucked by God. It’s completely gorgeous… so gorgeous that it’s almost hard to watch. There’s a rawness to it, a nakedness that’s as much emotional as it is physical. They look transcendent. They look like they forgot the camera was on.

Of course they didn’t forget about the camera. They’re professionals. But this is an example of porn professionalism at its best. This isn’t the kind of porn professionalism that makes sure the pussy is in the shot, no matter what. This is the kind of porn professionalism that knows how to keep the pussy in the shot — and then knows how to forget about it, and just blissfully fuck.

And this is the reason I keep watching dirty videos, the reason I’m willing to sit through hours and hours of mediocre porn — because I know that scenes like this are out there. I know that this is what porn is capable of. Even when it’s not aspiring to profound insight or staggering technical skill or other qualities of Great Art, porn at its best can do this. It can give you a vision of sex at its best, at its most beautiful and most touching and most ecstatic, and make you feel it down to your bones.

It doesn’t get there very often. Even without the commercial pressures and limitations of the modern porn industry, moments of complete sexual rapture are hard to come by, and even harder to capture on film. But when it gets there, there’s no other art form that comes close. And when it gets there, it reminds you of why porn is worth making — and why it’s worth watching.

Why Are We Here? One Agnostic’s Half-Baked Philosophy

Grave_2A friend of mine recently read my essay, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, and she had an interesting criticism of it.

Well, not a criticism exactly. What she said was that it didn’t address her own existential crises. Her non-believer crises aren’t about “What happens when we die?” She’s not troubled by that. Death isn’t the problem for her.

Da_vinci_man_3Life is. The non-believer question that keeps her up at night is, “Why am I here?”

So I want to talk about an atheist/agnostic answer to the question, “Why are we here?”

*****

Question_mark_3Let’s make it more general. Let’s not ask why we, human beings, are here. Let’s ask why anything is here.

When you ask why something is here, the question can have two completely different meanings. The first is, “How did it get here? What caused it to be here?” The second meaning — often totally different from the first — is, “What is its purpose?”

Tv_2Example. If you ask, “Why is the television in the living room?”, you could answer by saying, “It’s there because I put it there.” That’s the first kind of answer — “What caused it to be here?” Or you could say, “It’s there so we can watch ‘The Simpsons,’ and the living room is where the sofas are.” That’s the second kind of answer — “What is its purpose?”

So what does this have to with God, and why we’re here?

I think the problem with the famously big philosophical question “Why are we here?” comes, to a great extent, from a confusion of these two meanings of the question.

Python_god_1I mean, if you do believe in God, the answer to both versions of the question is the same. The answer is God. God is the cause of us being here — and God is our purpose for being here.

Two_question_marks_1But if you don’t believe in God, then those two versions of “Why are we here?” become very different questions — with completely opposite answers.

DnaThe “what caused us to be here?” version of the question has a very straightforward, physical answer. We are here because of evolution and natural selection
 and in a larger sense, because of the laws of biology and chemistry and physics. We are here because this planet supports life, and life happened to evolve in a certain way, and our ancestors — and their ancestors, and theirs, and theirs before them, ad infinitum — were successful in surviving and reproducing. It’s spectacular, it’s wicked cool, there’s huge amounts of detail about it that we don’t understand — but it’s not conceptually difficult, or philosophically traumatic. It’s physical cause and effect. It doesn’t keep anyone up at night.

Big_bang_1Of course, like any other “How did it get here?” type question, any answer to the question “What caused us to be here?” just begs the new question of what caused the cause to be there… and so on, ad infinitum. Once you answer the question of how you personally got here, you then have the question of how humans got here. When you answer the question of how humans got here, you then have the question of how life started at all. When you answer the question of how life started… you get my point. But even when you reach a place in the cause-and-effect chain that’s currently mysterious and unanswered, the basic concept of physical cause-and-effect isn’t mysterious at all.

But let’s look at the other version of the question.

Blake_god_1When you don’t believe in God, the question “What purpose do we serve?” is as elusive as “What caused us to be here?” is solid. It isn’t simply mysterious. It’s unanswerable. Or at least, it has no objective, external answer. There’s no-one who put the TV in the living room. There’s no creator or designer with any job for us to do.

But I don’t think that means we have no purpose. I think it means we get to make up our purpose for ourselves.

I think it means we’re free.

Spore_1And I much, much prefer that. I don’t want my entire reason for existing decided by someone else’s design, like I’m a memory chip in some cosmic video game. I want my place in the world decided by me, based on my own values and ideas and experiences. It’s a huge responsibility — it sometimes feels like I’m carrying a sixteen-ton weight on my shoulders — but I want to decide my own purpose in life. (Lately I’m leaning towards some combination of “Connect with other people and other living things,” “Work on making the world more like you’d like it to be,” ‘Be a strong, interesting link in the chain of history,” and “Get as much joy as you can out of this very short life that you were unbelievably lucky to get”… but it’s still evolving.)

Lathe_of_heaven_1There’s a passage from “The Lathe of Heaven” by Ursula K. LeGuin that says part of what I want to say better than I can, so I’ll just quote it: The hero, George Orr, has been asked what he thinks man’s purpose on Earth is. This is his reply:

Grass“I don’t know. Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

Of course, we aren’t quite like grass or a galaxy. We have consciousness, and conscience, both of which make everything less simple. But conscience and consciousness don’t hand us any external purpose. They’re tools we use to help us create our own.

Religious_books_1The thing is… believers in God have this exact same freedom as well. Even if you believe that there is a God and we’re here to fulfill his or her divine plan, you still have to choose which of your religion’s specific teachings you should follow, and what to do when different teachings conflict — and of course, which basic religion to follow in the first place, and indeed whether to believe in God at all.

Far_side_god_1So it’s not as if believing in God gets you off the “What is my purpose?” hook (although many believers do act as if it does). All of us — believers, non-believers, doubters, everyone — we all have the same freedom, and the same responsibility, to decide what our purpose is, and to act on it.

Happy Anniversary to Us, or, An Absolutely Fun Thing We’ll Never Do Again

I swear to God, we’ll put a more complete set of these on Ophoto or something soon. But today is our wedding anniversary, and I wanted to get the best of these on the blog. Thanks eight million times to everyone who made this such a magnificent, goofy, fabulously fun event. We love you all.

Portrait
The best formal portrait.
Aisle
Walking down the aisle. We are, at this point, completely insane.Chip_speech
Chip (one of my two best men), reading a piece he wrote just for us.Cynthia_et_al_song
Ingrid’s sister Cynthia, her partner Dusty, and mom-in-law Lori, singing “The Book of Love.” (The Magnetic Fields one, not the doo-wop one.)Laura_speech
One of Ingrid’s two maids of honor, Laura, reading the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.Rick_song
My brother Rick, singing “O Mistress Mine.”Vows
Vows. Eep!Ring_1
Ring.Ring_2
Ring.Kiss
Kiss. Very happy now.Sword_arch_1
Sword_arch_2
Recessing through my longsword dance team’s sword arch.Right_after

Right after the ceremony. Totally manic.Gi_after_posed
No words are necessary.Gi_rebecca_big_chair
With our officiant Rebecca (the friend who introduced us), in the Stonecutter’s chair.Dinner_line
In line for dinner. Everyone looks so colorful! We told our guests to wear glamorous and festive attire, and they came through in trumps.Kids
Awwww… (The adults are Jenine and Kristine; the moppets are Katy, Lexy, and Seneca.)Mark_tom_big_chair
Mark and Tom, patriarchs of The Fez Family.Nilos_chris
Nilos and Kris.Russ_toast
Russ (Ingrid’s Dad), giving his toast.Dick_toast
Dick (my dad) and his toast.Judy_and_lori_toast
Ingrid’s mom Judy and her partner Lori, also known as the co-madres or the “mothers-in-love,” and their toast.Rick_toastbags
My brother Rick’s toast, which involved giving us Chicago White Sox World Series Champion T-shirts.Chip_toast
Chip’s toast.Gi_being_toasted
Us being toasted. Also a really good shot of Ingrid’s hair.
Corrie
Ingrid’s cousin Corrie, and our volunteer wedding co-ordinator. No possible way we could have done this without her.Princess_royal_men
Berkeley Morris (Ingrid’s dance team) doing Princess Royal, traditionally done at weddings.Princess_royal_women
More Princess Royal.Sword
My sword dance team, Stinging Nettle Longsword, dancing “Bryde of Entropie.”Morris
Berkeley Morris, dancing “Four Lane End.” Those are axe handles.Julia_after_morris
Julia, the Morris dancer.Cake
The wedding cake. Lemon meringue. I want some now.Cutting_cake
Cutting the cake. One of the few things we did just because it’s traditional.Day_of_dead_cake_toppers
Our Day of the Dead cake toppers.
1st_waltz_1
The first dance. (Not counting the Morris and sword dancing, of course…) We danced it to a waltz tune our friend Tim wrote for us for the wedding, called “Newsom’s Twosome.”1st_waltz_2
More 1st waltz.
Ecd1
English country dancing.Ecd2
More English country dancing.Ecd4
And still more English country dancing. I wrote this dance for the wedding, as a wedding gift to Ingrid. It’s called “With Whom To Dance,” danced to the tune of the Magnetic Fields song of the same name.
Ecd3
The last waltz.Alan_and_naomi_waltz
Alan and Naomi.Ben_robert_waltz
Ben and Robert.James_cathleen_waltz
James and Cathleen.Jocelyn_and_peter_waltz
Jocelyn and Peter.Jonathan_and_jenny_waltz
Jonathan and Jenny. (Jonathan is wearing his Willie Wonka costume.)Kalia_victoria_waltz
Kalia and Victoria.Mark_ton_waltz
Mark and Tom.Nilos_and_anita_waltz
Nilos and Anita.Rob_marian_waltz
Rob and Marian.Ruth_lise_waltz
Ruth and Lise.Steve_jen_waltz
Steve and Jen.The_very_last_photo
The very last wedding photo of the evening. We have never been more exhausted in our lives.

The Aging Slut

FishnetsIt’s not just about clothes.

Although a lot of it is about clothes.

Here’s what I want to know: How do you dress like, act like, be like, a sexy slut, when you’re in your mid-forties? What about in your fifties? Your sixties?

SelmaThe sexy slutty clothes I used to love so much just don’t look good on me now. I don’t know if it’s that my body’s different, or my personality, or what. But ripped fishnets and miniskirts and skimpy tops don’t make me look like a punk rock waif any more. They make me look like an aging tramp.

And I don’t know why that is — or whether I’m okay with it.

Beauty_mythIs it just cultural standards, mainstream perceptions of what makes women sexy, blah blah blah? Because if it is, then fuck that. I didn’t pay attention to the beauty myth when it told me that fat women weren’t sexy, or that dykey women weren’t sexy – so why should I pay attention when it tells me that middle-aged women aren’t sexy, and I should just shroud myself in Land’s End and call it a day?

But what if it’s something else? What if it’s me that’s a different person — with a different character and different ways of seeing my sexuality — and the old ways of displaying my sexuality don’t actually represent who I am now?

I think it might be. At least partly.

Which brings me to my next question: What represents my sexuality now? How is my sexuality different at 44 than it was at 25 or 32 – and how do I dress and act in a way that’s authentic to who I am now?

FishingSome of it is that I’m married now, and while I’m in a non-monogamous marriage and thus theoretically still available for a fling, in practice I’m not chasing tail with nearly the same verve I did when I was younger. So even though I still want to dress with sex in mind, it’s because I’m a very sexual person and I want to be true to that – not because I’m trying to bait the hook.

Snape_1Some of it is that I’ve been on a downward slide on the Kinsey scale lately. Ingrid apart, I’ve been in a phase where I’m paying more attention to guys than to women. (And before you ask, the Alan Rickman/Snape fetish is only part of that
) And while I feel pretty confident about my attractiveness to other dykes, my experience has been that men tend to be, not more picky exactly, but less likely to be attracted to unconventionally attractive women – and so as I get older, I feel a lot less sexually confident with them. (That actually makes me feel better about this whole question, since a downward slide on the Kinsey scale is almost certainly a phase that’ll pass.)

ElbowAnd some of it is that I don’t feel the same about my body as I did when I was younger. My body is crankier, harder to take care of, both more fragile and more demanding. When I’m feeling my never-quite healed elbow and my bad knee, my allergies and my asthma, when I’m watching my cholesterol or scheduling a colonoscopy, it’s harder to feel like my body is a gorgeous, well-oiled machine that I want to parade all over town.

Sarah_wiggumBut some of it is more complicated than that, more fucked-up. I don’t feel the same now about my body, not just because of how it feels, but because of how other people see it. I hate that that’s true, but it is. When I see myself through my own eyes, I see a smart, sexy, fun, adventurous bi-dyke slut who can bench press 60 pounds. But when I see myself through the eyes of the world as a whole, I see a chubby middle-aged lady.

I want to dress in a way that challenges that. I want to dress in a way that reclaims my sexual power. But I want to do it in a way that doesn’t make me look, or feel, pathetic and desperate.

And I’m not sure how to do that.

Any thoughts? How do you age gracefully without giving up on sex and sexiness? If you’re dealing with this and have ideas about it; if you have lovers or sex partners who are dealing with this and you have ideas about it; or if you just have opinions about it; I want to hear about it.