Does The Cage Disappear?

PleasurepainWe saw this play about S/M at the Magic Theater on Friday, called “Pleasure + Pain.” Despite the somewhat obvious title, it wasn’t half bad; at times on the obvious and overwritten side, and definitely in the “plea for understanding” vein… but with complicated and nuanced characters, and some genuinely interesting ideas.

And one of the most interesting ideas was one that wound up bugging me the most at the end… and it’s what I want to talk about here. (Warning: Big time “giving away the whole dramatic ending” spoiler alert.)

Pleasurepain_cage_2The device I found so interesting was this: To represent the fantasy life of the main character Peggy, they had a hunky man in a cage, with whom she was playing in various kinky ways. Or at least, he was in the cage at the beginning of the play. As her fantasy life began intruding more and more into her real life, the man in the cage escaped, and kept showing up at inopportune moments, refusing to go quietly back into the cage and trying to get her to come into the cage with him… and he switched from being a submissive to an increasingly insistent top. It was a surprisingly effective way to express the experience of having your fantasies becoming harder to ignore, and more demanding of your attention — to have them made into a physical presence, both in the form of the man and the form of the cage itself.

And now comes the spoiler. At the end of the play, Peggy finally allows herself to experience and explore her submissive fantasies. At the end of this scene, she finally steps into the cage — and the bars of the cage dramatically fly apart, and go clang in pieces on the floor.

Broken_chainNow, this bugged me for two reasons. Partly, I thought it was just really bad theater. So obvious, so heavy-handed, so unoriginal. Yes, yes, when you finally allow yourself to be who you are, the bars of the prison fly open and you’re free. Thank you for sharing.

But what really bugged me wasn’t that the symbolism was so obvious.

What bugged me was that it was wrong.

CageIf the cage represents the place that her sexual fantasies have in her life… well, you know, when you come out in some sexual way, it’s not as if the divide between fantasy and reality disappears. It’s not as if your fantasies suddenly become reality. One of the hardest, most complicated lessons that adults have to learn is that acting out fantasies is NEVER the same as the fantasy itself. Sometimes the acting out is disappointing; sometimes it wildly exceeds your expectations; sometimes it goes off in some totally other direction that you would never in a million years have expected.

HarlequinBut it’s not the same. When you come out — as queer or kinky or a fetishist or whatever, but let’s say kinky for the moment — you still have the cage in the corner, with all your fantasy characters in it. You still have the cage, with the adoring and perfectly compliant submissive beauty… or the cruel but loving master/mistress who’s completely fascinated with you and always knows exactly how much you can take… or the cruel and heartless tyrant who doesn’t give a damn how much you can take… or the wide-eyed innocent weeping and struggling over their defilement… or the wide-eyed innocent gasping with joy over their defilement…

Snape(Or Alan Rickman as Snape. Boy, folks, that one is just not going away…)

And you still have your life, and your partner or partners, who have their own cages with their own characters that hopefully overlap yours… not 100%, but enough.

The bars of the cage don’t fly apart. They just get tangled up in your life: sometimes in a complicated and beautiful weave, sometimes in a hopeless mess, and hopefully in a way that’s interesting and fulfilling and satisfying. But the cage in the corner of your life — and the people in it — are not going anywhere.

I Got Yer Intelligent Design Right Here, Baby…

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. (And it’s about both sex and atheism, which makes it an extra-special treat.)

No, it’s not the video. Although the video is hilarious, in an appalling “Holy crap, do people really believe this?” sort of way. But you have to watch the video to get the joke. (It’s only about a minute, and it really is quite entertaining. Video below the fold.)

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Come For the Atheism, Stay For the Sex! (Or Come For the Sex, Stay For the Atheism!)

FishnetsGod_delusion_2Or come for the atheism AND the sex, and stay for the politics! Or the weird dreams, or the pop culture analysis, or the arcane discussion of the finer points of grammar, or the recipe for grilled peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwiches

We were talking about my blog at a party a couple of weeks ago, and someone suggested that I split my blog up into two blogs: one about atheism, and one about sex. They said that single-issue blogs are easier to market and publicize, and that I might get more traffic and keep more readers if I had different blogs devoted to my different interests.

Religious_symbolsEcstasy1It’s an idea I’ve considered before. I sometimes worry that people who find my blog through the porn reviews and blowjob discussions get put off by the lengthy faith/evidence conversations. And vice versa.

But I also think this blog’s eclecticism is one of its strengths. I personally enjoy blogs that are largely focused on one or two topics I’m interested in — sex and politics, politics and literature, science and culture — but that also surprise me with facts and ideas and news stories I might not have run into.

WritingAnd even from a purely marketing/publicity standpoint, I think keeping it all together might be a good idea. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just a sex writer, or just an atheism writer, or just an anything writer. I’d like to be recognized as, you know, a writer, who can get her brain and her fingers around a wide variety of topics.

Besides, if I split this into a Sex blog and an Atheism blog, where would I put the political rants? The movie reviews? The dream journal? The grammar debates? The recipes?

Dirty_found_1Julia_sweeney_2So I’m taking a reader poll. Not that it’s necessarily going to affect what I do — I’m probably just going to keep on doing what I want to do — but I’m curious. What do y’all think? Do you think this blog would be better if it were two blogs, one on Sex and some other stuff and one on Atheism and some other stuff? Or do you like it better the way it is? Inquiring minds want to know.

When Art Porn Works: “Ecstasy in Berlin 1926”

Ecstasy1Once again, I’m trying to inject a little sex into this increasingly less sex-oriented sex writer’s blog, and am posting one of my Adult FriendFinder magazine porn reviews. This is one of my rare straight-up raves — and as is so often the case with my porn reviews, it’s simultaneously a review and an analysis of what makes porn work. Enjoy!


Ecstasy in Berlin 1926, DVD
Produced, directed, and edited by Maria Beatty
Available at Bleu Productions and at Last Gasp.

Yes. Oh, dear Lord, yes. This is what I’ve been waiting for, what I’m always waiting for and so rarely get. “Ecstasy in Berlin 1926” is art porn that’s actually both artistic and pornographic. It’s smut that’s exquisitely framed and impeccably timed and created with a passionate creative vision… and that is, at the same time, filthy and nasty and explicit, catering to my most perverted and degenerate voyeuristic lusts.

Ecstasy2The movie is set in Berlin in 1926. A blonde beauty, sensual and delicate and a bit like Jean Harlow, injects herself with an unnamed drug, and slips into a fantasy about a dashing brunette woman who appears from nowhere and kisses her passionately, a gloved hand at her throat. The fantasy lover takes control with an increasingly firm hand, slicing the blonde’s lingerie off with a straight razor, and caressing her breasts with a touch that’s both sensual and sadistic.

Ecstasy3As the blonde woman sinks deeper into the drug, the fantasy changes scene. Her lover is now clad in a corset and severely high laced leather boots — boots for the blonde to grovel at and worship with her lovely mouth. At this point, the fantasies become increasingly intense and perverse, as the submissive girl is bound with ropes, flogged, spanked, paddled, caned, whipped, chained up, and more — all flawlessly pictured in her mind’s eye.

Black_gloveThe film is the love child of Maria Beatty. Beatty has produced and directed a number of erotic videos for her company Bleu Productions: most of them featuring lesbian SM, and many of them quite extreme. I’ve been a fan of Beatty’s for years, and her kink videos The Black Glove and The Elegant Spanking are among my favorites. She has an eye for the perfect moment, the pose that perfectly captures the moment of submission or pain or taking control. “Ecstasy in Berlin 1926” is a beautiful example. When the blonde is bent over her mistress’s lap, or on all fours in front of a mirror, or on her knees with her face on the floor and her ass in the air, the position is always classic, an iconic example of that pose, perfectly blocked and framed to make a delicious picture for the viewer.

Ecstasy4But unlike many other “perfect moment, perfectly framed” porn directors (like, oh, say, Andrew Blake), the performers in Beatty’s movies aren’t merely standing and modeling. They seem like they’re really there. The tongue on the boot, the paddle on the bottom, the lash on the back, the look of concentration on the dominant’s face, the look of fear and bliss on the submissive’s — all of these feel genuine. The performers aren’t thrashing and screaming, to be sure, but they seem very much intent on what they’re doing, and deeply satisfied by it. Maria Beatty is herself a lifestyle submissive, and she’s clearly devoted to making videos that capture both the intensity of her fantasies and the truth of real SM play. And when she’s at her best, her videos are an exceptional blend of artistry and authenticity.

Metropolis2And “Ecstasy in Berlin 1926” is definitely one of her best. Filmed mostly in black-and-white and sepia-tone with only occasional color, the movie’s perverse pleasures are expertly filmed and deftly framed, giving it an air of luxurious decadence. Watching it made me feel like a wealthy sybarite in an elegant bordello, with lovely and expensive girls performing a series of degenerate sex acts carefully staged for my benefit. It looks like a German art film of the 1920s, like a dirty movie by Murnau or Fritz Lang, or like vintage porn photographs come to life. (“Ecstasy in Berlin 1926” was, in fact, inspired by a series of vintage girl-girl kink photos, and one of the extras on the DVD is a gallery of those photos.)

Ecstasy5There are a few things you need to be prepared for. One of them is the slow pace of the film, the long, lingering buildup before you get to the “good parts.” Personally, I think this is one of the movie’s strong points: I think foreplay and teasing and excruciating anticipation are “good parts,” some of the yummiest good parts, and one of my biggest complaints about mainstream porn is that it rushes straight to the fucking or the whipping without giving me time to get excited about it. But even if you do get impatient with the teasy buildup (which you can, of course, fast-forward through), I think you’ll appreciate the movie’s patience. Because once it gets to the juicy bits, it stays with them. It doesn’t jump from fetish to fetish or from shot to shot like a music video on speed; it finds a groove and stays with it, letting your eyes linger on the leather boots being lovingly tongued, the chains being carefully wrapped around the naked torso, the bare bottom being paddled again and again. When you come to a bit that you really like, you can relax and trust that you’ll be able to watch it for a little while.

Ecstasy6You also need to be prepared for the complete lack of dialog. The movie is silent: there’s music, but no conversation at all. Again, I personally think this is a huge plus; most porn actors can’t act for beans, and most porn dialog makes me want to crawl under the sofa and die from embarrassment. In “Ecstasy in Berlin 1926,” there are no awkward, wooden, ineptly written, clumsily memorized speeches to distract you — the focus is entirely on the image. If what you like in an adult video is the image, this movie will come as a huge relief — but if you’re a fan of dirty talk, it may be a bit disappointing.

Ecstasy7Finally, you should be prepared for the somewhat abrupt finish. This is my only actual complaint about the film. The blonde girl’s fantasy scenes follow on one another with grace and heat, expertly edited and overlaid, building from firm but gentle dominance to increasingly intense scenarios of blissful pain and submission. But then they just kind of stop. There’s nothing to mark the last scene as the last scene — nothing but the credits. I don’t insist on a classic Big Porn Finish, a final orgy scene with six guys shooting on the star’s face and boobs. But I do like some sense of closure, something to give shape and context to all those beautiful dirty images, something that tells me to breathe again, or to come. This video doesn’t have it, and it’s a bit… well, anticlimactic.

Ecstasy1_1But this is a minor nitpick, really, like ragging on Dickens for having a spelling error. I love this film, and I recommend it passionately. “Ecstasy in Berlin 1926” is that rarest of all rare creatures: art porn that works, where the filthiness makes the art more beautiful, and the art makes the sex more hot.

Copyright 2005 Greta Christina. Originally published in Adult FriendFinder magazine.

Define Your Terms, Dammit! Teens and the Emotional Consequences of Oral Sex

Mouth3How do you do a study on the emotional consequences of oral sex, and not distinguish between blowjobs and muffdiving?

There’s this study by UCSF on teens and sex, focusing not on pregnancy and STDs and stuff, but on teenagers’ emotional reactions to sex. Specifically, it focuses on how teenagers react differently to intercourse and oral sex.

Mouth1A lot of things about this study are interesting — including the fact (overlooked or minimized by several news sources) that overall, teens report positive consequences from sex of all kinds. But more relevantly to my rant, the study found that teens’ reactions to sex, both positive and negative, varied depending on whether they were having intercourse or oral sex. And most relevantly to my rant of all, girls who had oral sex were twice as likely as boys to feel bad about themselves, and three times as likely to feel used.

Why is this important?

Because in none of the stories I read about it (by Reuters, SF Gate, and WebMD) did they mention whether the oral sex was fellatio, cunnilingus, or both.

Which is a pretty big issue, don’t you think?

I don’t know if this is bad reporting by the media, or bad science by UCSF. But whichever it is, it’s bad.

Mouth6See, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the “oral sex” we’re talking about is fellatio. A lot of blowjobs for the boys, not much muffdiving for the girls. And if I’m right — if girls are giving oral sex to boys and not getting it in return — then it’s no fucking wonder that girls feel more used than boys. They are being used.

Mouth4A lot of how the news media is running with this story is “all teen sex is bad” (not what the study shows at all, really), and “parents need to warn their kids that oral sex can be as bad as intercourse” (also not what the study shows). But I’d bet you many dollars to many donuts indeed that, if you did another study comparing teenagers who had fellatio only, cunnilingus only, or both, the girls would be a lot less likely to feel used and/or bad about themselves if their oral sex lives were reciprocal.

In which case, the lesson we need to be teaching teenage girls isn’t “Sex is bad,” but “Your sexual pleasure matters as much as your partners’.”

Brain, Brain, What Is Brain? or, Is Gender Hard-Wired?

FacesI read over on the ScienceToLife blog (a cool blog about science news affecting people’s lives) a piece on a BBC science program regarding differences between male and female brains. And on the BBC website, you can take the tests that they used in the series, and see whether you have a male or a female brain. (Fun test, although it does take some time.)

MarsNot too surprisingly, I scored more male than female on their test. On a spectrum from 100% typically female, to evenly balanced between the two, to 100% typically male, I scored significantly more male than female — 25% on the male side of neutral. (For point of comparison, the men they tested averaged 50% on the male side of the spectrum.) Among other things, I’m better at spatial relationships than I’d expected, worse at identifying facial expressions, and I apparently tend to make decisions more rationally than intuitively.

Obviously, I’m not going to change my philosophies about life and gender based on pop-culture TV psychology (although this piece of it seems more based in real science than, say, your average Cosmo personality quiz). But it reminded me of a rant I’ve been wanting to make on a rather large question:

Is gender born, or learned, or some combination of the two? And if it’s a combination, what combination?

Question_mark_1Now, I’m hardly going to be able to answer this question once and for all. Smarter people than me who actually do research in this area have been trying to answer this question for decades But I do have some thoughts on the subject that I’ve been mulling over for many years, and this seems like a good excuse to blather on about them.


InfantOne: No matter what, nurture is definitely part of the picture. A big part. If nothing else, the fact that gender roles have been changing and are different in different cultures and historical periods is proof enough of that. What’s more, I’ve seen research showing that people treat infants they think are male and infants they think are female significantly differently — in ways they’re not even aware of, and will even deny. (Specifically, people encourage physicality and assertiveness in infants they think are boys, sweetness and sociability in infants they think are female.)

So when people say, “Of course gender is hard-wired, look how different my five-year-old boy and my six-year-old girl act,” my reaction is, “Well, yes — they’ve been getting intensive gender-role training for five/six years. That proves exactly nothing.”

Brain_1Two: If research does show that male and female brains tend on average to be different, that doesn’t prove nature over nurture. My understanding is that the brain is shaped — literally, physically — by experience as well as by genetics. The differences could easily be learned.

And both Thought One and Thought Two point up the difficulty of coming to any final conclusion on this subject. Given what a huge part nurture clearly plays — and from the day we’re born, no less — it may prove damn near impossible to tease out the learned behaviors from the hard-wired ones (if there are any).

All that being said

EvolutionThree: We tend to forget that people are animals. We are not separate from nature: we are a species of life, in the animal kingdom, in the mammalian class. And most animal species have some sort of gender-differentiated behavior that, as far as we can tell, is genetically based. This obviously doesn’t prove that human gender differences are hard-wired — we could certainly be one of the exceptions — but it wouldn’t completely surprise me to learn that they were.

CreationismFour: I think it’s a very bad idea to critique a scientific theory on the basis of its political implications. A theory is either true or it isn’t. It either describes reality or it doesn’t. A theory or a study may be flawed because of political prejudices and biases, and that’s certainly worth looking at. But the fact that we may not want a theory to be true doesn’t make it not true. That’s the kind of bullshit the creationists pull — I really don’t think feminists should be pulling it.

I remember reading/hearing about/participating in the “constructionism/essentialism” debates back in my early queer-theory days, and while in my heady youth I was very taken with strict constructionism, I became more frustrated with it as time went on. The theory didn’t really seem to based on anything — not research, not neurology, not logic, nothing except the fact that people who held it wanted it to be true (or, more accurately, didn’t want essentialism to be true). And that is really not okay.

Now, all THAT being said

SpectraFive: Even if there is a genetic component to gender differences, it’s clear that it’s true only as a generalization, and a pretty gross generalization at that. There are tons of exceptions, and huge areas of overlap on the scales. Just look at my “25% more male” score on the silly BBC brain-sex test. (And if you take the test yourself, do post your scores in the comments here!)

SpeakPlus, there are dozens of different types of behavior that are commonly believed to be gender-based, and individual men and women are all going to rank differently on all of them. (I scored male in my spatial relation ability, female in my verbal ability, neutral on some other scales that I can’t remember now.)

ChooseSix: Humans seem to have a unique ability to transcend our genetic programming and choose our own behavior. Our ability to do so is almost certainly limited, but it doesn’t seem to be nonexistent. (Example: Given my genealogy of alcoholism all over both sides of my family tree, it’s a fucking miracle that I’m not an alcoholic. And I’m not an alcoholic, at least in part, because I know that it could be a problem and choose to be very careful about my alcohol use.)

Dna_1My point? Even if there is some basis for believing that some gender differences are hard-wired, that’s no excuse for sexist behavior or policy. Even if it’s true that men are, on the whole, better at spatial relations, and women are, on the whole, better at verbal skills, we still have to treat people as individuals, and assess them as individuals.

BergstromIn a perfectly non-sexist society, it’s possible that we might still have more male engineers than female, more female teachers than male. I don’t know. I don’t think any of us knows. But we sure as hell would have more female engineers and male teachers than we do now. Good ones. Ones who now aren’t living up to their potential.

Broccoli or Tofu? Sexual Differences in Relationships

Dansavage_1Dan Savage has written yet another in his brilliant series of columns about couples with different kinks trying to negotiate a sex life that makes them both happy. In this case, the woman is fairly vanilla, and the man is into transvestite adult baby/diaper play. She’s been good about playing along with his kink, but he’s become uninterested in having vanilla sex, the kind of sex she wants — ever.

Something about this one really jumped out at me. There’s a pattern in a lot of these letters that’s really prominent in this one: it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, so I’m making it the subject of today’s sermon. (BTW, I think Dan’s advice — essentially “If you think you’re going to find another girlfriend who’s as willing to go along with your rather out-there kink, you’re high” — was dead-on. I just want to expand on it.)


When it comes to sex, I think a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing between things that really upset them or gross them out, and things that just aren’t their favorite. And I think this difficulty is what causes so much of the stress and frustration in these sexual negotiations.

BroccoliLet me make a quick analogy. I really, really despise broccoli. The presence of it in any food, even in small amounts, makes a dish completely inedible to me. I can barely stand to be in the room while it’s being cooked.

TofuTofu, on the other hand, isn’t my personal favorite thing to eat. I certainly won’t go out of my way to buy it and cook it. But if it’s cooked right, in a dish with a good sauce and tasty tidbits, I can eat it with no problem, and even enjoy it.

SouffleI think when a couple is trying to negotiate sexual likes and dislikes, they need to figure out which of their dislikes are broccoli, and which ones are tofu. And if there’s a sex act that’s tofu to you — and it’s a Scharffenberger chocolate souffle to your partner — then by gum, you should bloody well be giving them their chocolate souffle. At least some of the time.

VanillaThe adult baby guy is a perfect example. I find it hard to believe that he’s actually revolted by vanilla sex. I think he just doesn’t like it all that much. It’s not broccoli — it’s tofu.

But he still won’t eat it.

Of course this is selfish. That’s obvious. I think there’s a more serious problem than him being selfish. I think he has a seriously troubling sexual/romantic disconnection.

Here’s what I mean. When I have sex, I don’t just get off on my own kinks and my own pleasure. I also get off on my partner’s pleasure. The sight, the sound, the feel, of someone in my bed who’s getting excited and getting off… that’s hot. It’s not particularly selfless or noble of me — it’s just hot. (I wrote about this a little in A Dyke’s Defense of Blowjobs.) The more I care about someone, the more true that is. And I think that’s true for most people.

And if you can’t get off on the sight and sound and feel of your partner’s pleasure — even if what you’re doing isn’t your particular favorite thing — then what the hell are you doing in a sexual/romantic relationship?

Well, It Beats A Nice Hot Bath: Ted Haggard and the Straight Man’s Cure for Stress

Ted_haggard_1So of course I’m all over the “Ted Haggard now says he’s straight” story. But what I’m really interested in is how many people are getting it wrong.

If I read the pertinent quote correctly, then despite what you may have read or heard, Haggard isn’t saying that his homosexuality has been cured, and that after three weeks (!) of intensive therapy, he has now become heterosexual.

No. What he said (or what his church overseer the Rev. Tim Ralph said on his behalf) is, if possible, even more preposterous.

What he said was that he’s always been straight. He didn’t become heterosexual in therapy — he “discovered” his heterosexuality.

Ted_haggard_3“He is completely heterosexual,” Ralph said. “That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place.”

Right. Because straight men “act out” by sucking cock all the time.

No, really. It’s a natural stress response. Long hours, money problems, illness in the family, trouble at home? Every straight guy I know would be running to the nearest male prostitute to suck his cock. It’s a perfectly normal reaction. Very common.

My question: Just exactly how stupid do these people think we are?

Dan_savageBTW: My favorite writing so far about the Ted Haggard kerfuffle has been by sex columnist Dan Savage, who pointed out that the Haggard story competely gives the lie to ex-gay movement. The pertinent passage:

“Describing a lifelong battle against temptations that were contrary to his teachings,” says the Denver Post, “[Haggard] had sought assistance ‘in a variety of ways,’ and while he had stretches of ‘freedom,’ nothing proved effective. ‘There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life,’ Haggard wrote.”

If you believe that Jesus Christ can change the sexual orientation of a believer, why on earth did he refuse to cure Haggard? He founded a church that has 14,000 members! Thousands were brought to Christ by Haggard’s preaching. Mixed in with Ted’s meth-fueled gay sex romps and hypocritical gay bashings were, without a doubt, thousands of good works.

JesusDid Jesus help Haggard out? No. Haggard tried to battle off his “dark” desires, but nothing proved effective. There was no cure for Haggard, no miracle. No matter how long he struggled, no matter how much faith he had, Haggard’s sexual orientation remained unchanged. Nothing helped.

If giving his heart to Jesus couldn’t cure Haggard, what hope is there for the likes of me? If Jesus can’t be bothered to work a miracle for the most powerful evangelical minister in the country, what “hope” is there for the average dyke?

Oh, and in case you haven’t seen it yet: Here’s a video clip of Richard Dawkins interviewing Ted Haggard (pre-kerfuffle, of course), in which Haggard admonishes Dawkins “don’t be arrogant.” (The clip is all good, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole six minutes, the really good stuff comes about three minutes in. Video below the fold.)

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Children Become Adults — Stop the Presses!

Daniel_radcliffe_1As you may have heard, Daniel Radcliffe, the 17-year-old actor who’s been playing Harry Potter in the movies, is about to do a London stage production of Equus (the psychodrama about a young man who has a sexual obsession with horses), and he’ll have some nude scenes and sexual scenes in the play.

I’m not going to talk about the actual news, which I find only mildly interesting in a “What a smart career move” way. What I find more interesting is the reaction to this news in the media and the public.

Daniel_radcliffe_2So far, much of the reaction I’ve seen has fallen into two camps. One is the juvenile snickering and nitwit penis joke category. (Even Keith Olberman, who I usually like a lot, was falling into this, with stupid jokes about magic wands and broomsticks.)

The other is the shock/horror/dismay category: “But… but… he’s Harry Potter! He can’t be naked! Won’t someone please think of the children?”

And I think both these reactions come from the same place — a discomfort with the fact that children become adults, with adult sexuality.

Young_daniel_radcliffeWe know Radcliffe primarily — and quite famously — as a child and a young adolescent. He is now becoming an adult (if I’m not mistaken, 17 is the age of adulthood and consent in England). And this rather obvious fact of life makes many people extremely uncomfortable.

There’s a strong taboo in our society against thinking of children as sexual — a taboo that in many ways is very understandable. But it’s a taboo that we go seriously overboard with. It’s a taboo that twists our experience and blots out our reality. It makes us refuse to acknowledge that children have any kind of sexuality of their own. And it makes us have conniptions over the transition between childhood and adulthood… and the ripening of sexuality that this transition involves.

Daniel_radcliffe_3And I think that’s what the snickering and horror over a naked Daniel Radcliffe is about — the transition, and people’s discomfort with it. When a young person, one who we’re most familiar with as a child and who’s still fairly close to childhood, begins to claim their adult sexuality, I think it makes people feel like pedophiles. This person is still in our minds as a child, but now they’re also in our minds as a sexual adult — and that’s a category error that can cause some serious short-circuiting.

Lindsay_lohanI think this discomfort is aggravated by the fact that, while our society sees childhood as a time of complete asexual purity, it also sees young adulthood as the pinnacle of sexuality and sexual desirability. Children are supposed to somehow magically transform from innocent sexless sugar-babies into ripe, dishy sex bombs — and they’re supposed to do it overnight, with no awkward transitional stage in between to make us feel like creeps.

In a way, I get it. I’ve had crushes on teenage actors before they were legal (Christina Ricci comes to mind), and it made me pretty damned uncomfortable. It gives me the willies to have the hots for people who I think it would be unethical for me to actually have sex with. And it gave me the willies to be having impure thoughts about this dishy teenage goth chick who I first got to know as Wednesday Addams.

Daniel_radcliffe_4But I also think we need to chill the fuck out about it. Children become adults. Childhood sexuality becomes adult sexuality. It’s not news. As Ingrid said when we were talking about this, “What did they THINK was going to happen?”

(P.S. To be completely fair, the reaction to this news hasn’t been entirely snickering and conniptions. A fair number of people are responding much the way I am, with a combination of “Hm, interesting career move” and “Will you all please relax and let this kid grow up?”)

Cheese Factory: Dream Quest

Dreamquest1_1It’s been a little while since I’ve posted one of my porn reviews here. And for an assortment of reasons that I don’t feel like going into right now, this isn’t a great time for me to be writing new stuff. So here’s an entertainingly bitchy porn video review I did for Adult Friend Finder magazine, with some commentary at the end about why it’s so much harder to make seriously good porn videos than it is to make good porn in other forms, like writing or photography. Enjoy!

CheeseCheese Factory
by Greta Christina

Dream Quest
Directed by Brad Armstrong. Starring Jenna Jameson, Stephanie Swift, Alexa, Temptress, Asia Carrera, Sydnee Steele, Amber Michaels, Johnni Black, Felecia, Inari Vachs, Jessica Drake, Teri Starr, Bridgett Kerkove, Devin Wolf, Herschel Savage, Randy Spears, Evan Stone, and Brad Armstrong. 130 minutes. Wicked Pictures/Adam & Eve Productions. Available at Extreme Restraints and at Good Vibrations.

And I was so in the mood for it, too.

Really, really in the mood. I’d just gotten back from my honeymoon, all relaxed and happy and horny, and definitely ready to enjoy a high-quality porn video. “Dream Quest” looked like just the thing: a multiple award-winner, critically acclaimed, carried by more than one high-quality sex-product company with excellent taste.

So what happened?

Jenna_jameson_1Let’s start from the beginning. A sword-and-sorcery costume drama, “Dream Quest” stars Jenna Jameson as Sarah, a sexually repressed young woman who’s irritated at her boyfriend and is longing for more romance in her life. After a frustrating date, Sarah is visited by two fairies in glitter thongs (Stephanie Swift and Felecia), who call Sarah into their magical world on a quest to save fantasy. (Fantasy, as it turns out — warning, spoiler alert — is a sort of glowing, bejeweled dumbbell about the size of a six-pack, but that’s not important right now. It’s been imprisoned by an evil wizard. That’s the important thing.) Sarah undergoes an awkward, hasty transition from uptight good-girl to horny slut, and begins her journey into the magic land of half-naked, constantly-boffing witches, elves, gnomes, and the like.

Yes, it’s a dippy premise. But I’ve seen pornos with dippier premises that have worked just fine. Yes, it plays like it was written by a horny Renaissance Faire nerd. But I’m a horny RenFaire nerd myself, so that’s not necessarily a criticism. In fact, you’d think that’d make it a slam-dunk.

So what happened?

ShowgirlsWell, for starters, this video has a seriously high cheese factor. The sets and costumes are reasonably pretty, with a lot more imagination than you typically see in porn. But they still look totally Vegas, with gold thongs and high-heeled boots and enough body glitter to suffocate the cast of “Showgirls.” And while the box cover raves about the Hollywood-level special effects, the effects are in fact mortifyingly lame. I’d cringe if I saw them in an original “Star Trek” episode, much less a Hollywood production. “Dream Quest” is clearly trying to look like “Lord of the Rings,” but it doesn’t even come close. Hell, it doesn’t even look like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It looks like the cheesy cover art for an embarrassingly bad fantasy/sci-fi novel.

It wouldn’t be so painful to watch if it didn’t take itself so bloody seriously. But the video is clearly aiming for something lofty and transcendent, a haunting, otherworldly beauty that inspires new heights of erotic imagination, or some damn thing. When people who think they’re reaching for the stars end up landing in a giant cheese pile, it makes you cringe in embarrassment. Especially when they don’t have the sense to be embarrassed for themselves.

But all of that could be forgiven — if it weren’t for the sex.

Lord_of_the_rings_1See, in the midst of all the zany Tolkien-in-Vegas costumes and sets and makeup jobs, someone forgot to come up with the zany sex. The sex in “Dream Quest” is the same old goddamn mainstream porno sex that you’ve seen a million times. Since the premise of the video is about the importance of fantasy and how awful life gets when it disappears, you’d think they’d come up with some sex scenes that are more… well, fantastic. Imaginative. Something other than just the same old sucking and fucking in somewhat more interesting sets and costumes. Instead, in the place of genuine erotic variety, they put the actors through a standard series of awkward positions, clearly intended, not to make the sex pleasurable, but to make the sex visible to the camera.

Jessica_drakeExample. There’s a scene with the evil wizard Vladamir (Herschel Savage) and his wood-nymph slavegirl (Jessica Drake), where the slavegirl says “I would do anything to please you, my prince.” Emphasis on the “anything.” And all he can think of is to get his dick sucked and then fuck her in the cunt and the ass. Please. Have a little imagination. Given a half-wild, half-naked slavegirl kneeling at my feet offering to do anything to please me, I could come up with half a dozen more interesting pleasures just off the top of my head.

Even standard fucking and sucking would have been fine, if it had some oomph. But the sex in “Dream Quest” is depressingly oomph-less. With a couple of exceptions, there’s no passion, no intensity, no sensuality, no erotic suspense. It’s fine, it’s perfectly pleasant to watch, but it’s really nothing special.

ZazelHere’s the thing: You can’t just take the same old sex and put it in different sets and costumes, and expect the movie to be different. It’s like the parable of the old wine in new wineskins. Or new wine in old wineskins. Or whatever. I’ve seen this in all too many supposedly high-end porn videos: they put a huge amount of attention into sets and costumes and lighting and camerawork and even writing, and then they run the actors through the same old sexual paces that we’ve all seen a hundred times. It doesn’t have to be that way: the wild sexual ferocity in the vampire flick “Dark Angels,” the hilariously imaginative “sex restaurant” scenes in “Barbara Broadcast,” the elaborately painted pussy that you watch seductively breathing in “Zazel,” all come to mind. But “Dream Quest” is nowhere near that league.

DumbbellAnd I hate, hate, hate the moral of the story. See, the movie begins with Sarah being irritated at her boyfriend Steve (Devin Wolf) for constantly pushing sex and trying to grope her even when she says no. At the end of the movie (warning: spoiler alert), after Sarah rescues the Jeweled Dumbbell of Fantasy and comes back to her normal life, her boyfriend shows up to apologize for his crass behavior. And then — get this — she says he doesn’t need to apologize, that she should apologize to him for not being open enough to sexuality and fantasy. Let me repeat that: Her boyfriend pushes sex on her when she’s not in the mood, continues to push and grope after she’s said no several times, repeatedly promises to knock it off and then repeatedly breaks those promises — and she’s apologizing to him? How fucked up is that? Sure, she’s repressed and shut down and needs to let sex into her life — but that’s hardly a sin on the level of refusing to take no for an answer. And frankly, if I had a lover as clumsy and disrespectful as this guy, I’d probably shut down too.

CondomsThere are things about the video I like. There’s some nice use of long shots interspersed with the genital close-ups, letting you see whole bodies and giving a feel of the setting and the mood. The long shots are nicely done, too, well-framed with some real attention to beauty and sensuality. Jenna Jameson’s swimming scene is a sweet delight: you get to just gaze at her lovely nakedness and watch her enjoying herself and her body at a leisurely pace, without racing impatiently towards the fuck scene. The scene with Jenna and Tundra the ice queen (Alexa) is fairly tasty as well, with some interesting uses of pretty sex toys. And the movie has consistent condom use — good for them.

Asia_carreraAnd despite the overall “taking itself way too seriously” tone, there are a few moments of clever, self-aware humor. There’s a hilarious bit when Arachna (Asia Carrera) gives Sarah new clothes for her magical journey, saying “You’ll blend in better”… and in the next scene, Sarah’s wearing lace-up fur-topped boots, a tight blue bodice with a puffy off-the-shoulder blouse, and a shimmery hip-baring loincloth. (Even funnier — she does in fact blend in better that way.)

LaundryReally, except for the embarrassing sword-and-sorcery thing, “Dream Quest” isn’t actually flat-out bad. It’s just — mediocre. But mediocre is its own kind of bad. When porn is so average that you take breaks from it to fold your laundry… and to watch Jeopardy… and then to watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway”… and then to fold laundry some more… well, that’s pretty gosh-darned mediocre. You should not be wanting to take breaks from your porn.

Carmina_buranaAs for the music… well, it varies. None of it is actually good, but very little of it is awful, and at least it’s varied. Some of it is like a Carmina Burana knockoff set to a disco beat-box background, and some of it is Enya-wannabe material, and some of it is reasonably pleasant Renfaire-inspired ambient stuff. But very little of it is your standard thumpa-thumpa synth-disco retread porn crap. I do have to give them credit — at least they’re trying.

Dreamquest2And now that I think about it, that’s not just true for the music. That’s true for the entire movie. I didn’t care for “Dream Quest,” I thought it was pretentious and cheesy and not very hot. But I will give the filmmakers this: At least they were trying. They were trying to make a porn video that was beautiful and magical, inspiring and poetic, something that transcended porn conventions and reached into genuine art.

BanquetWhich is much, much harder to do in video than it is in almost any other porn medium. In erotic writing or comics or art, all you need is one person, one sex freak with talent and imagination who’s willing to give up being seen as a serious artist in order to explore their erotic vision. Even in adult photography, all you ultimately need is one good artist and one good model (although additional models are certainly helpful) who care about erotic art and don’t give a shit about the effect that making porn will have on their career.

Film_setBut film and video is a collaborative medium. To make a good film, everyone involved needs to be good. Everyone. Actors, director, writer, cinematographer, set and costume designers, you name it — all of them have to be skilled and inspired for a movie to come together. And in porn, that’s extremely difficult to pull off. People who are serious about a mainstream or even alternative film career, whether in front of the camera or behind it, tend not to go into porn. And the folks in the porn business who do have real talent and passion still have to work with a whole lot of folks who don’t so much. You can have all the vision in the world, but unlike writing or comics or art, you need other people to help you realize it. It’s a damn near impossible thing to do, and I guess I should cut the people who are trying to do it a little slack.

But not much.