Studying Porn

Sometimes I have a pipe dream of becoming a pornographic academic. I’ve been lucky enough to speak on a few panels and even present a paper at the first Feminist Porn Conference here in Toronto last April. That was definitely one of the highlights of my life, and it’s something that I’d definitely like to experience again. I don’t know exactly what form that’ll take, but it does mean that I take the concept of porn academia to heart in quite a serious way. I spoke with Dr. Chantelle Tibbals for her podcast a while back, and have had this interview that she did with Slate in my back pocket, waiting for a time that I might be moved to blog about the dire need of more research and critical thought with regards to porn… That time has come, blog. That time has come.

The problem is that, because of the general preconceived notions about porn, people have a real tough time seeing value in attributing precious academic resources to its study. This is a really negative bias, because it is an otherwise very culturally dominant medium/art form/phenomena. There’s certainly something to be said about the taboo nature of porn, but if anything, that only feeds the potential for discussion and research, and it should ideally also play a role in piquing general interest about said discussion and research. It’s film, biology, psychology, sociology… It’s obviously the study of sex and gender. It’s ripe for all types of analysis.

As with my unfaltering belief that the answer to bad porn is not no porn, but more porn, I think that more work in the field will balance out some of the more unfortunate pseudoscientific snap judgments that people make about the way porn impacts teens, relationships and the psychosexual self. Maybe this means I should dust myself off and get into writing porn academia in a more serious way. After all, that’s sort of how Dr. Chauntelle came to it. Who knows? Maybe I could be Dr. Sophie some day. There is so much room for a balanced, sex-positive critical and academic response to porn. As far as I know, while mainstream and actively queer/feminist porn is getting traction, very little at all is being written about porn from a pro-am or aesthetically artistic way. Maybe beautiful porn needs a place in academia. What do you think?

Why Do We Have Sex?

I have a confession to make: I’m not having sex right now. At all. I’m taking a break from dating while I do some Sophie-related soul searching, and this includes even the casual, easy ongoing fling I’ve had for the past… Almost year. With a boy I really liked who suited my tastes and weirdnesses to a T… But, that’s neither here nor there. It is HARD, and the fact that I write about sex and spend a tremendous amount of my day around porn has made sure that my mind is on it even more than it already would be, but do you know what? That’s okay. I’m doing the best thing I know to do for myself right now, as suggested by my very innovative and persuasive therapist. All this is temporary, and it should lead to a happier me, if a super sexually frustrated me over the next few months. It’s been a week, but a rough one.

The main reason I’m doing this is because I want to look at the reasons I’m intimate and make sure they’re actually making me happy and making my life better instead of worse. Neutral would be okay too, but definitely not worse. Well, wouldn’t you know that the university just a few blocks away from me (University of Toronto – site of the Feminist Porn Conference!) is in the process of studying why people have sex and how that rates in terms of satisfaction and well-being? They’re only doing this work with couples (for now) so I’m not likely to become a lab rat for them, but at least I can look at their findings and apply them to my life, and perhaps to yours as well!

They found that when you’re having sex for positive reasons, you’re likely to have a much better time than if you’re having sex for negative reasons. This may seem obvious, but I don’t think it’s something people put much stock in. Positive reasons like increasing intimacy and connection or feeling better about yourself are more inclined to put you in touch with your partner and yourself and revelling in your sensuality together for its own sake, whereas doing it because you feel like you should or because it will smooth over a fight… Not so much. Wifely duties shouldn’t be a thing, and that goes for any other partnerly duties, too. A slave to duty is just that… And if you’re going to be a slave, you better have a safeword!

Sex is a wonderful thing, and we should all be having more of it (though not me right now, I guess) but it’s valuable to take a step back and make sure we’re feeling good about what’s going on. There’s something to be said for giving pleasure rather than focusing only on receiving it, for rallying and for making a concerted effort to promote intimacy, but there’s work on the self that must be done to ensure that this is a positive choice rather than self-coersion. You shouldn’t ever have to talk yourself into sex. That’s very different than making time for it or making it a priority. By checking in with ourselves, we’ll be able to enjoy it infinitely more.

Love, Art and Porn – The Life of Carlos Batts

The late Carlos Batts with his wife April Flores

The late Carlos Batts with wife and muse April Flores – Courtesy of LAWeekly.com

It’s been a tough couple of days, probably for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that the world has lost a talented, innovative man. Carlos Batts was a fabulous photographer and videographer who made a name for himself in art, commercial work and adult content. His body of work on all fronts is truly gorgeous and lush with a uniquely vibrant feel. He engaged with a lot of subjects outside the norm, focusing on exposing “unconventional” beauty in raw, creative ways. Though he had many subjects over the years, his muse was his wife, adult film star April Flores. They were together for over 13 years, married for 10, and in that time he said that shooting her never felt like work, according to Gram Ponante‘s wonderful account of their working and intimate relationship. While reading Gram’s piece after finding out about Carlos’ passing, a particular topic stuck out to me:

Can what you do when you’re in love be porn? Is it porn when there’s commerce involved? Each scene of Alter Ego [a film shot by Batts, starring Flores] is lovingly framed, lit, scored, and constructed, but there are women fucking each other with dildos in it.

Sure it’s porn, but that doesn’t mean it’s soulless.

Michael Ninn could have made Alter Ego, or Andrew Blake, but it would have seemed cold.

That is a question I find that I’m asking myself a lot. Porn is hard to define and nail down, and people imagine that the love slips away from the creators and performers when you cross a certain sexual threshold or when money enters the equation. In my experience working with Camille and Mike, and in meeting, talking with and listening to many other people who blur the lines between love, art and porn, there is some almost inexpressible third heat permeating the work. There’s a warmth and closeness, not only drawn out through familiarity, but through the meeting of the professional and the personal in a defined artistic medium. It invokes a kind of solidarity and that radiates out to the audience, creating a community. They’re in this together, and we get to witness this rare thing.  It’s absolutely something you can see between Carlos and April.

My heart aches for her today. Losing a soulmate is an unfathomable thing. I encourage you to peruse his inventive, original work as well as some of the films they made together. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Carlos a number of times, including when I heard him speak at the Feminist Porn Awards screening and again at the Feminist Porn Conference. His desire to move past stereotypes and labels resonates immensely within the industry. As a big girl, seeing his unabashed approach to other big women in his work made me feel beautiful, and I know I’m not alone in this. He will be remembered for his amazing work, his unique approach to blending sexuality and love with his art and, just as importantly, for being a wonderful partner to April. Rest in peace, Carlos.

- Sophie

Nude Selfies: What’s the Big Deal?

Without lauding what this particular lawyer dude from Delaware is up to (because he seems kind of skeevy) I do think that he has a point… Why do we care so much about people seeing our nude and/or sexual selves? This is an idea which is near and dear to my heart because, well, I get freaked out about it a lot. You see, my work is what I’d call porn-adjacent. I’m in the thick (PUN!) of it in terms of my day to day operations, but I am not the subject nor am I sexually available in any meaningful way because of my job. Sometimes I dabble in blogging, reviews or interviews which include a glimpse into my sexual life (these days, it’s absolutely nothing to write home about anyways) but it’s always done in an arm’s length kind of way. I’m lucky that I don’t feel any pressure to go any further than I feel comfortable. Camille and Mike are very respectful of me and would never ask anything beyond my desires…. But I am undeniably curious at times.

I mean, I have a very outgoing personality, I’m a decidedly sexual person and, even though as a bigger girl I’m not everyone’s favourite flavour, I know the niches that would work for me. Every year, along with representing our sites, making valuable contacts and soaking in the inspirational environment, the Feminist Porn Awards always brings at least a few tempting offers to shoot with some of my idols. So far, I’ve shrugged them all off with sheepish statements about just being a behind the scenes type of gal, but it does make me question why I’m so reticent to share my sexuality and my body online.

This reluctance doesn’t just mean that I wouldn’t likely shoot professional porn, but also that I’m almost overly judicious about any way that my body could appear online. The only sexy videos and photos I’ve shot with former partners were mutually deleted in what is almost a half-ceremonial/half-legal exchange — last time over delicious Vietnamese takeout. On the increasingly rare occasion I’ve had any reason to get sexy over webcam with an object of my affection, I’m actually very cautious to only have my face OR my body in the shot, and to have a sufficiently ambiguous backdrop. With the propagation of ex-girlfriend/revenge porn sites devoted to ogling non-consensual sexts and screengrabs, you can never be too careful even though I trust those with whom I’m e-intimate.

I certainly have absolutely zero sexual shame, I’m confident about my body, I’m quite up-front about sex with the people in my life… There shouldn’t be any reason for such concern, but there are still external societal pressures to keep the theoretical sex separate from the physical embodiment (or digital reproduction there-of) in order to feel safe from the more intense ramifications of sex-negative culture. I’m happy and secure with my job and feel an increasing comfort in my path in the sex-positive sector, so I’m not particularly concerned about my image in that respect and I’m relatively confident that I could explain a foray into porn to absolutely any friend or family member… I guess it’s largely that, though I don’t view sex itself as private, I struggle with the vulnerability required to share it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there, and you can’t entirely control the way people interpret it, even as a person with a background in porn PR.

Maybe I’m just too uptight. After all, I’m also not the type to get a tattoo for fear of regrets over that which cannot be undone, but I so deeply admire those who can let go and do what they want. I’m a little too in my head to divorce my desires from the potential impact of doing something which is stigmatized in many ways, though less overtly so. Perhaps if it became more normalized, it’d be easier. It’d definitely be healthier for everyone societally to share and bare our sexual and physical selves to reduce shame, promote our differences and find kinship in our baser natural states.

I’m not saying we should make like that University of Iowa TA and accidentally attach a sexy video instead of the solutions to her math homework, as I think that there’s a time and a place for everything and that a delineation between overt public/professional persona and the sexual self is still important, but I think that we should be able to shrug off such situations as a moment of exposed humanity and move on. That takes some doing, which only comes through normalizing such sexual expression. It’s kind of a catch 22. I know that more people need to be willing to be open to cause the shift, and that starts with the individual… In this case, with me. Will I do it? I guess we’ll see.

- Sophie

The Waiting Game

They say that waiting is the hardest part. I don’t think that song was about post-surgery rehabilitation, but it’s certainly fitting. That’s right, it’s still your old pal Sophie here… In case my flippant tone wasn’t evidence enough that it’s still me. As we know, Camille had her second surgery on Sunday night, which was relatively early all things considered. Now that it’s been a success, the waiting begins. They can’t just slap a cast right on there, so we’re not exactly sure what the timeline will be, but it seems that she may well be fine with just the metal going on in her body in terms of stabilization. She needs to heal up a bit and they have to observe her to make sure that everything is going as planned.

She still doesn’t have much in the way of mobility and it definitely wouldn’t be safe for her to strike out into the world until she’s feeling a bit more secure on her leg and until they know for sure what they’re doing with it stabilization-wise, so she’s STILL in the hospital. Even though she’s putting up a very brave face, this would be frustrating for anyone. Just the thought of being cooped up in a hospital room for two and a half weeks makes me shudder. Yet, our favourite redhead hasn’t succumbed to madness from cabin fever just yet. She has lots of wonderful friends, both online and in the flesh, so she’s still in good spirits. But it will be VERY nice when she’s able to get out and about.

I have an interesting blog idea for tomorrow, potentially a couple actually, so I’ll take off my medical information relay hat and put on my chapeau de sexpert… If that’s a thing. Until tomorrow, porn pals!

Surgery Success

Camille Crimson's motorcycle trophy

Mike made Camille this delightful trophy commemorating her motorcycling excellence.

Hey blogfriends! It’s Sophie, yet again. This time I have very good news for all of you. Camille had her second surgery last night and it was a complete success. I spoke with Mike this morning and, although he still doesn’t know the specifics of the second surgery, we do know that it went very well. We’ll find out more about the status of her leg regarding screws and stabilization once she’s up and talking to doctors. For now, she’s relaxing post-surgery and will be sleeping after her long day and night. Once she’s well-rested and ready to debrief with the doctors, we’ll know exactly what her recovery time will be, both in and out of the hospital. For now, let’s all be very happy that her surgery’s outcome was so favourable. It’s been a long two weeks and it’s not over yet, but she has already made leaps and bounds, so let’s celebrate!