Playing the Race Card: Candida Royalle’s “Caribbean Heat”

This piece was originally published by Adult FriendFinder magazine in 2005.

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Playing the Race Card:
Caribbean Heat

Produced by Candida Royalle. Directed by Manuela Sabrosa. Starring Felinia, Nicole, Susan, Paola, Yinna, Sol, Max, Spider, Bruce, Danny Boy, Red Phoenix, and Adrian. 84 minutes. Femme Productions.

First, let me ask you this: Have you seen any of Candida Royalle’s movies before?

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If you haven’t, let me explain real quick. Candida Royalle was the first smut producer to make movies specifically for women, and she pretty much single-handedly invented the “couples” video. Her company, Femme Productions, makes videos aimed at what women want to see in dirty movies: compared to most mainstream pornos, they feature more foreplay, a slower and more sensual pace, less focus on genitals and insertion shots, more full-body sensuality, better production values, greater variety in body types, more plot and character development, an emphasis on sex in the context of relationships and romance, greater attention to the woman’s experience and pleasure, fewer money shots, and better-looking men. Much, much better-looking men. Candida’s work has been hugely influential on the porno industry: her success made other producers realize, not only that straight couples liked to rent dirty movies, but that both women and men were hungry for passionate, labor-of-love porn with good production values and not-completely-stupid writing and acting.

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Although I usually prefer my pornos to have lots of raunchy sex and not much plot, I’ve always been fond of Candida’s movies. She does a great job of conveying the unique pleasure of sex with someone you actually love and care about, something most dirty movies don’t even get close to. And even if the sex in her videos isn’t usually my favorite type to watch, her work does a beautiful job of expressing passion and enthusiasm, getting across what the characters are feeling and why they’re enjoying it… which automatically makes it hot. (That’s often true in porn, video or written or whatever — if you get a good strong sense of the characters’ excitement, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the kink they’re enjoying is your personal fave.) I’m always happy to watch Candida’s videos, and I’m always curious to see what she’ll do next.

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So anyway. Candida Royalle has a new-ish video out, “Caribbean Heat.” Now, this one Candida didn’t actually direct. She produced it, and supervised the direction; but unlike every other movie Femme has made, this one was directed by someone else: a new female director, Manuela Sabrosa.

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And Candida’s absence does show. I liked “Caribbean Heat” a fair amount, but I didn’t wildly adore it, and I don’t think it’s one of Femme’s stronger efforts. It does have many of the company’s usual good points: a patient pace, a relative dearth of cum shots, attention to female pleasure in general and foreplay in particular, women who don’t look like Barbie dolls, and some seriously fine-looking men. But it has some weaknesses that are unusual for a Femme production. The editing is often awkward and choppy, with oddly abrupt jumps that skip over some nice bits and generally interrupt the erotic flow. There’s an odd lack of focus and direction; there’s no clear sense of mounting excitement and passion, and while the performers’ pleasure is visible, it’s not particularly infectious. And the format (five separate, unconnected vignettes) means that one of the things I like best about Femme videos — namely, a reasonably well-written story sustained long enough to get me caring about the characters and their sex lives — is completely absent from this one.

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More to the point, the sex didn’t really wind me up that much — although to be fair, that’s largely a matter of taste rather than actual artistic failure. The sex in “Caribbean Heat” is sweet rather than fierce, gentle rather than intense, romantic rather than passionate. This is often the case with Candida’s movies, but it’s even more so in this one. Even the “casual sex with strangers” fantasies are more romantic than they are nasty. And even the supposedly kinky scene — the master and maid one, with the leash and the cage and the riding crop — is quite gentle overall, with the actual kinky elements getting very minimal play. The pacing adds to this quality as well: instead of insistently building a driving tension towards an intense release, the sex scenes feel more like rolling hills of sensuality, with arousal rising and falling in gentle waves. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing; for porn viewers who are sick of being pounded like a jackhammer by conventional smut videos, it may be a positive blessing. It’s just not my style. (As anyone who’s been regularly reading this column knows, it’s really, really not my style.)

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But “Caribbean Heat” does have something good going for it: something very special, almost unique, a trump card that all by itself makes the video worth checking out.

That trump card is race.

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Here’s the thing. Virtually all contemporary porn videos fall into one of two categories. The vast majority of them are white as the driven snow: their performers are 100% lily white, with not even a single person of color onscreen to upset the delicate sensibilities of the porn-watching public. And the ones that aren’t all-white tend to be racial fetish videos: nasty black women with big booties, fiery Latina tamales, mysterious and submissive Asian ladies, hugely hung black studs fucking dainty white women, that sort of thing. Adult videos starring people of color that treat their performers like regular people instead of stereotypes and that don’t descend into creepy fetishization of their race… those are rarer than hen’s teeth. There are some exceptions (the interracial Romeo-and-Juliet movie “West Side” leaps to mind), but there are damn few.

“Caribbean Heat” is one of them. With a vengeance.

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“Caribbean Heat” was filmed on location in Central America, and features an all-Latino cast. But unlike most adult videos with a non-white cast, this movie treats its Latino characters like… well, like characters. Like people, with their own sexual feelings and desires and experiences. They’re depicted as the subjects of their own sex lives, not the exotic hot-tamale objects of white lust; the sex is seen from their perspective, not the perspective of white people who are hot for them. To add even more to the authentic “this is how we see ourselves, not how others see us” quality, the dialogue is almost entirely in Spanish. (Subtitles are added when they’re really necessary; but of course this is porn, and not particularly chatty or plot-driven porn at that, so subtitles mostly aren’t needed. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get the gist.)

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The video was directed by a Latina woman, which almost certainly makes a huge difference. The box cover says that director Manuela Sabrosa “shows you what lovers in her corner of the world do,” and for once, the box cover does not lie. Sabrosa is revealing her own erotic world in this video, and she’s clearly seeing the skin and flesh of her performers, not from the outside, but from within.

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And this quality alone makes me give “Caribbean Heat” a solid thumbs-up. Racism in porn is one of the largest and most active bees in my porn-critic bonnet. And it’s not just about politics, either — it’s about pure, selfish pleasure. All-white casts don’t just seem racist to me; they seem freakishly artificial, and they add hugely to the ticky-tacky “they all look just the same” look of so many dirty movies. And the racial fetish videos just make me queasy. But “Caribbean Heat” is a delight. It’s such a sweet and rare pleasure to see a beautifully wide range of naked skin colors in a porno, without those skin colors being framed as exotic, alien, slightly bizarre fetish-objects. It’s so much fun to see non-white porn performers revel in the pleasure of their bodies, without those bodies getting slotted into someone else’s kinky pigeonholes. To some extent, all pornos display their performers as objects of other people’s lust, and I don’t usually have a huge problem with that. But when it comes to race in porn, the objectification thing gets grotesquely out of hand, to the point where it’s impossible for me to enjoy it at all. It’s a genuine treat to see a porn video that shows people of color as regular hot people who are fun to watch while they fuck.

Playing the Race Card: Candida Royalle’s “Caribbean Heat”
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Silly

Please note: This post includes information about my personal sexuality. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please hang up now. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

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It just seems so silly.

I mean, spanking. Please. How seriously can you take it? Yes, sure, there are thousands of psycho-socio-philosophico-political treatises on hundreds of forms of sexuality, on intercourse and bondage and sex work and masturbation and so on. But getting your bare bottom paddled? How are we supposed to ponder it and not fall into fits of the giggles?

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It makes it hard to talk about. Heck, it makes it hard to think about. It’s much easier to talk about vanilla sex: it’s “normal,” it’s safe, you’re not revealing yourself as a pervert if you show an interest in it… and because it’s so common, it’s easy to think of as important and serious. And it’s easier to talk about hard-core kink as well: there’s this gravity that comes with heavy sadomasochism, a sense of danger and power that makes people take it seriously, even if they don’t approve of it.

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But spanking is right on the border between the two. It’s just transgressive enough to make you feel like a freak — and it’s just un-transgressive enough to make you feel like a dork. You can beg your partner to beat you, or stand over them with a whip in your hand, and feel like an outlaw and a rebel. But it’s very hard to say “Please spank me” and not feel at least a little bit like a nerd. When you’re bent over someone’s lap with your pants pulled down, or caressing someone’s bare bum getting ready to give them a good smack, it can feel like a crowd of invisible vanilla people is standing alongside, cringing and saying, “Ew, gross, you’re into that?” — while a crowd of invisible sadomasochists stands next to them, rolling their eyes and saying, “Oh, puh-leez. Give me a break.” You get the silly feeling from both sides of the vanilla/pervert spectrum.

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And of course, the childishness of spanking can help make you feel like a fool as well. Spanking is so rooted in childhood, and it brings on all those childish feelings of smallness and unimportance, naivete and powerlessness. No wonder it’s hard to talk about seriously. Even thinking about it can make you feel like an embarrassed nine-year-old.

But here’s the thing about spanking. This sense of silliness, of triviality, of childish shame, is closely intertwined with its pleasure. If you can let the silliness be, and even go with it, it can actually make spanking more pleasurable.

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I’m not just talking about the potential hotness of humiliation and smallness. Sure, that’s a factor: even if you don’t get off on heavy-duty humiliation, feeling small means feeling vulnerable, which can mean feeling open and touchable, which can mean feeling hot and sexy. And of course, if you have play-acting fantasies with a childhood streak — schoolgirl or schoolboy games being the classic example — then the embarrassment and smallness of spanking can add to the immediacy of the scene.

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But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is the connection between silliness and playfulness. The fact that it’s hard to take spanking too seriously can create a certain freedom to simply enjoy it.

The thing is, sex — both vanilla and kinky — can often feel so very serious, all fraught and intense and laden with meaning and consequence. And while that can be lovely, it can also be a burden, adding this lead weight of self-consciousness and anxiety that really doesn’t help the proceedings.

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But when you’re doing something that’s inherently silly — whether it’s dressing like a cheerleader, playing barbarian conqueror, or getting turned over someone’s knee with your bottom in the air — it relieves some of that tension. Sex that feels trivial and dorky can also feel light and giddy and exuberant. Frivolity and playfulness can make sex feel less like a test or a drama, and more like a goofy game that you both love to play, a conspiracy of pleasure that you’re in on together.

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Sure, the silliness of spanking can make you self-conscious and anxious as well. There’s nothing like feeling dorky to make it seem like the whole world is staring at you and writing critiques. But if you can accept the dorkiness and spank anyway, if you can allow yourself to feel goofy and turned on at the same time, it can relieve some of the portentousness that can come with the intensity of sex.

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What’s more, because it is right on the border between kink and not-kink, spanking can feel like a safe doorway between the two. It makes it possible to tap into the darker world of hard kink without being overwhelmed by it. It can make you feel both a little bit wicked and fundamentally safe. And that’s a very good place to take off from. Some hard-core sadomasochists turn up their noses at spanking and other light kinky play for this very reason; I believe “tourism” is the charming terminology for it. But… well, fuck them. They’re idiots. It isn’t a competition.

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And when you come right down to it, any kind of sexuality can look pretty darned silly. When you think about any type of sex too closely and imagine what it might look like to visiting space aliens, it all can seem outrageously, mortifyingly ridiculous. Now, you can deal with the absurdity of sex by simply ignoring it and not letting it get to you. And there are times when that’s the right thing to do. But there are times when it’s completely appropriate to accept the absurdity, and revel in your inner dorkiness. And when you’re whipping yourself into a sexual frenzy by spanking a bare bottom or getting your own bottom spanked, that might be a good time to start.

Silly

Right Wing Hypocrisy: The Blowfish Blog

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I have a somewhat unusual take on the recent slew of right-wing politico sex scandals — David Vitter, Bob Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, etc. etc. etc. — over at the Blowfish Blog. The piece is called Right Wing Hypocrisy, or Why Sex Guilt Fucks Things Up For Everyone, and instead of just ranting about these folks’ hypocrisy (although I do a certain amount of that as well), I ask the question:

Why are the the specific taboo sex acts they engage in so often the exact same ones they publicly campaign against?

Here’s a teaser:

Admittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I’m sure there’s some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!” makes great headlines. “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!” isn’t going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.

But even given that, there’s a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.

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To find out what I think is behind this “preach in public against the exact things you’re doing in private” pattern — and why I find myself having a smidgen of compassion for these assholes — check out the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Right Wing Hypocrisy: The Blowfish Blog

My First Non-Monogamous Relationship: The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This post, and the post it links to, contains references to my personal sex life — not very explicit ones this time, but family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff at all may want to skip it.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog (where I’m doing some of my best sex blogging these days), with the rather self-explanatory title My First Non-Monogamous Relationship. It’s an unusual and (I think) interesting piece, and it begins thus:

It wasn’t the non-monogamous marriage I’m in now.

It wasn’t my first and very short-lived marriage, in which my husband-to-be and I unsuccessfully cruised in singles bars trying to pick up women.

It wasn’t even my first serious adult relationship, in which my boyfriend unilaterally decided that we should be non-monogamous, spouted non-monogamy platitudes to defend doing anything at all that he wanted including ignoring me to chase other women, and then went into a weeping rage when I wanted to sleep with one of his friends. (Thus turning me off non-monogamy for some time.)

It wasn’t any of those.

It was when I was about eight.

Like I said — a little unusual. To find out how the rest of the story goes, visit the Blowfish Blog. Enjoy!

My First Non-Monogamous Relationship: The Blowfish Blog

Greta’s Reading at “Perverts Put Out,” Sat. July 28

This Saturday, July 28 — the evening before the legendary Dore Alley Street Fair — there’s going to be another in the excellent “Perverts Out Out” erotic reading series — and I’m in the lineup once again! It should be a great evening, with writers including not only moi, but Charlie Anders, Gina de Vries, Thea Hillman, Mattilda (Matt Bernstein Sycamore), Kirk Read, Lori Selke, horehound stillpoint, and emcees Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard.

So if you want to hear me and a bunch of other good sex writers read about, you know, sex, then come to CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street in San Francisco, this Saturday, July 28, at 7:30 pm. Admission is a $10-15 sliding scale. And if you’re one of my blog regulars, please come introduce yourself. Hope to see you there!

Greta’s Reading at “Perverts Put Out,” Sat. July 28

“A price I was willing to pay”: Hard Porn, Sex Work, and Consent

This is one of the smartest, most thoughtful things I’ve read lately about sex — not just porn or SM, but sex — and I wanted to call y’all’s attention to it and talk about it a little.

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It’s by spanking model Adele Haze (I don’t know why spanking models are called models instead of actors or performers when they work largely in movies, but except for curiosity I don’t really care). In this piece, Haze talks about a shoot she did with Lupus Pictures, a kinky video production company that’s renowned/ infamous for making movies with extremely heavy content: very hard spankings/ beatings, done with intense implements, causing real suffering and serious bruises and marks.

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Haze makes no bones about the fact that the actual “getting caned” part of making this video was very difficult and not at all pleasurable. But she also makes it clear that she found the experience extremely satisfying, and doesn’t regret it in the slightest. She found it professionally satisfying — Lupus’s production standards are apparently very high, and as a performer it was an artistic pleasure to be working with them. And she found it sexually satisfying — the caning itself was far from enjoyable, but the prelude and the aftermath were an intense erotic pleasure, and she was able to tap into some very dark fantasies of non-consent in a way that she hadn’t been able to before in a professional setting.

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Pertinent quote: “So yes, I knew there would be pain, and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it. I wrote it off as a side-effect: a price I was willing to pay. In hindsight, I’m glad to say that my judgement on this was sound.”

I think the thing I like so much about this piece is that it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and doing any other kind of job vividly clear. And it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and being in any other kind of sexual relationship vividly clear as well.

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See, in any kind of job, and in any kind of relationship, there are things you like and things you don’t. Even if it’s a job or a relationship that you’re basically happy with, there are going to be parts that are hard to deal with. What makes a job or relationship a healthy one is that the good parts make the bad parts worth putting up with — and that you’re free to make that decision.

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And that’s true for porn — all porn, not just spanking porn — as much as it is for any job. I think some people have a tendency to think that if every single thing on a porn shoot isn’t a perfect erotic dream for every performer, it’s therefore exploitation at best and coercion at worst. (Eros Blog, the blog where I found this piece, has an excellent analysis of this coercion/ exploitation question with porn in general and with Lupus Pictures in particular, in his piece Evil Porn Werewolf Enslavers Debunked.) But if you look at making porn as (a) a job and (b) a sexual relationship, you realize that porn doesn’t have to make all its performers perfectly happy in order to be a healthy job. It just has to make them happy enough. There has to be enough about it that they like, sexually and professionally, for the stuff they don’t like to be worth putting up with.

(Via Eros Blog, who got it via Spanking Blog. God, I love the Internets.)

“A price I was willing to pay”: Hard Porn, Sex Work, and Consent

Mighty Real: A Review of “9 Songs”

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I was digging through my archives the other day, came across this, and was extremely entertained by it. I think I’m the only film critic on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I may be the only sentient being on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I think there are giant seven-eyed mollusks from the planet Zarquon who hated “9 Songs.” So I decided I should come clean about it and stand by my eccentric opinion. Here’s the review I wrote of it for Adult FriendFinder Magazine. Enjoy!

Mighty Real
Copyright 2005 Greta Christina. Written for Adult FriendFinder Magazine.

9 Songs. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Michael Winterbottom, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Starring Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Unrated.

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Before I say anything, let me get this out of the way: This is the movie where people have sex. If you’ve heard about “9 Songs,” this is almost certainly the Number One thing you’ve heard about it. The actors — not the characters, the actual actors playing the characters — have literal, explicit, non-simulated, actual real-life genital fucking-and-sucking sex. And rather a lot of it, too.

Now obviously, if I were talking about a porno movie, this would be so uninteresting as to be laughable. But for a non-porn, semi-mainstream art-house movie, it’s pretty much unheard of. And whatever buzz is being generated about the movie is being generated because of it. Which is kind of too bad. Because while the sex in “9 Songs” is pretty interesting, the fact that it’s “real sex” isn’t the most interesting thing about it.

So I wanted to get that out of the way right off. And in fact, the movie gets it out of the way almost as quickly, establishing its “real-sex” credentials in the very first scene between the two main characters — so you can get a good look at it, and get used to it, and move on.

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See, here’s the interesting thing about “9 Songs.” It isn’t that the sex is “real,” or even that there’s so much of it. What’s interesting about “9 Songs” is the way the movie uses sex. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Welcome to Sarajevo”), “9 Songs” uses sex to tell the story of a couple’s relationship (well, okay, sex interspersed with songs at live rock concerts). We find out about Matt and Lisa (Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley) and the rise and fall of their love affair, not through a series of conversations, but through a series of sex acts. The way they’re having sex — what they do, how they seem to feel about it, how it gets started, who takes the lead, how well they pay attention — this is how we find out about who these people are and what they’re like together.

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And here’s what struck me. In most mainstream (i.e., non-porn) movies, when two characters have sex, it’s the very fact that they’re having sex that’s important. Typical movie sex shows people having sex for the first time; even when it’s not a first time, sex is almost always used as a plot point, a shocker or a turning point, a newly opened door or a burned bridge. Filmmakers don’t bother to show you anything special about the sex, don’t bother to make the style and the feel of the sex unique to those characters. The fact that they’re having sex is apparently special enough. The actual sex can just be generically hot movie sex, with perhaps a few broad strokes (rough or tender, quick or slow, loving or cold) to paint a marginally more specific picture.

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But in “9 Songs,” the fact that Matt and Lisa are having sex is a given. They’re having sex from the very beginning of the movie, and by the second or third scene, the fact that they’re having sex is no more surprising than the fact that any two people in a relationship are having sex. So it’s the kind of sex they’re having, the tone and flavor of it, that becomes important.

For instance. There’s a scene where Matt ties Lisa up, blindfolds her, and begins guiding her through a fantasy, telling her “Forget where you are” and making up an erotic story for her to imagine and enjoy. But almost immediately she takes over the storytelling, picking it up and running with it in an entirely different direction, taking control away even as she’s bound and blindfolded.

For another instance. There’s a scene where Matt and Lisa go to a strip club together, apparently to enjoy this naughty thrill together as a couple. But as the scene unfolds, Lisa become increasingly entranced with the dancer, ignoring Matt entirely and even forgetting that he’s there — to the point that she doesn’t notice when he takes off and walks out the door.

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There are many, many more instances. There’s a scene where Lisa is masturbating, with the door open and Matt in the next room; not in a friendly “showing off for my lover” way, not even in a feminist-empowered “my body, my right to masturbate” way, but in a defensive, closed-off, “fuck you I don’t care what you think or want” way (exacerbated by the fact that, as always, they’re at his house). There’s a scene where Matt asks if she thinks they’ll ever have sex without a condom, and Lisa says no: not because of safety, but because she likes it better with one. There are scenes near the end of the film where Lisa feels Matt slipping away and starts becoming more sexually attentive and affectionate. I could go on and on. The whole movie is like this, with the actors expressing subtle emotional shadings and character traits during sex scene after sex scene after sex scene.

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And again, it struck me how rare that is, in both mainstream movies and porn. Mainstream actors spend years learning to express emotion and character in the way they walk, speak, smoke, eat, scratch their head, look in a mirror, everything. But sex is either supposed to come naturally, or it’s not considered important and unique enough to work on. And porn actors — even the ones who can act — spend so much time and energy trying to look hot that there’s nothing left for depicting the way their particular character would have hot sex. (I still remember how great Rocco Siffredi was in the arthouse movie “Romance” — until it came to the sex scenes, and he stopped being Paolo the character and just became Rocco the porn star.)

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The fact that the sex is real isn’t entirely trivial, of course. You’d think it would work as a shocker, and it does a bit at first. Even I was staring at the actor’s genitals for the first few minutes, making sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. But after a while, the realness of the sex has the exact opposite effect: it normalizes it. It presents sex as natural: one of the things people in love do together, and therefore interesting to look at and worth depicting as authentically as possible. (Director Michael Winterbottom himself has commented on this, pointing out that, “If you film actors eating a meal, the food is real.”) The scenes at the rock shows are given the same casually loving attention as the scenes in the bedroom, putting sex in the same category as music: an integral part of the characters’ lives, important but not separate. And while there’s no special attempt to show you the fucking and sucking in all its close-up glory the way porn movies do, there’s no special attempt to avoid the shot, either. It’s just normal, filmed like a normal aspect of love and coupledom, beautiful and moving and fucked-up and funny and sad.

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And of course, the fact that the sex is real puts “9 Songs” firmly on the line between porn and art. You know how non-porn movies have become more and more sexually daring (some of them, anyway), and how porn movies have become more artistically interesting and innovative (some of them, anyway)? You know how that line between the two has started to blur, the way it seemed like it was going to in the ’70s before everything went to hell and the two split off back into their own little worlds? Well “9 Songs” is trying to make that happen again. It’s more than just the latest salvo in the campaign, more than just the latest push of the envelope. “9 Songs” has plonked itself squarely on the fence between the two territories, sitting its big naked butt in the gateway and holding the gate open for anyone else who wants to come through. In either direction.

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But does it work? Sure, it’s an important event in the history of cinema, blah blah blah. But is it a good movie? For the most part, I’d say yes. It’s very much a small movie — it’s not even a slice of life, it’s a sliver — driven less by plot and narrative than it is by feelings and images. You have to have patience with that sort of thing, with a quiet, meandering story that takes a while to establish itself and doesn’t really go very far. And the voiceovers during the Antarctic scenes (the movie is presented as a flashback, with Matt remembering the relationship while he studies glaciers) are pretentious to the point of teeth-gnashing madness. So you’ll have to have patience with that, too.

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But if you can deal with this sort of small, quiet, occasionally pretentious arthouse movie, I think your patience will be rewarded. It’s perceptive and thoughtful about sex, about love, about relationships, about the places they do and don’t overlap. The sex is beautiful to watch, even when it’s sad, erotic and romantic in the way that your own sex life might be erotic and romantic. And if you’re at all interested in the way sex is (and is not) depicted in movies, then rush your butt out to the arthouse before it goes away. You absolutely cannot miss this one.

Mighty Real: A Review of “9 Songs”

On Jealousy: The Blowfish Blog

Gotta say, I’m enjoying this Blowfish Blog gig. It’s forcing me to write something thoughtful and meaty and at least semi-serious at least once a week, which is hard but also kind of the point of me being a writer. And it’s neat to be getting paid to blog. When I’m feeling cranky and jealous of writers who are more successful than I am, I have to remind myself that plenty of writers would kill for that.

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And speaking of jealousy, my latest piece for the Blowfish Blog just went up today, and it’s on that very topic. It’s called “On Jealousy” (hey, sometimes I’m good with the clever titles and sometimes I’m not), and here’s the teaser:

If your partner is casually attracted to other people, it doesn’t mean they have a serious desire to screw around on you. It just means that they’re, you know, alive. Human beings are animals, and a healthy human being with a healthy sexual appetite is going to get a hard cock/ wet pussy when they’re around other human beings who look like hot stuff.

To read the rest of the piece… well, you know what to do. Enjoy!

On Jealousy: The Blowfish Blog

“Let it be in the gray area”: An “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” Interview

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Can two people disagree on whether or not they’re having sex?

Do I count how many people I’ve had sex with differently than I used to?

Can we define sex with gray areas, in something other than simple “yes” or “no” terms?

Do we even need to define what “sex” is at all?

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Every now and then, I get surprised and tickled by where my writing is ending up and who’s reading it. And to this day, nothing surprises and tickles me more than the fact that my piece Are We Having Sex Now or What? is regularly studied at colleges and universities around the country — in sexuality courses, of course, but also in philosophy courses, women’s studies courses, sociology courses, and more.

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I recently got an email from a student at UCLA who’s reading “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” in her Philosophy of Sex course, and who asked to interview me about it for an essay she was writing for the class. I said yes, on the condition that I could post the interview here on my blog. (Actually, I stupidly gave the interview and then asked if I could post it on my blog — but she very kindly said yes.) Here is that interview.

1. Would it be selfish, immoral, animalistic, or even unromantic in any way, if one were to make the determination of a sexual experience to be an act of sex without the agreement of the participant(s)?

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No. I think that different people having different definitions of sex is a reality of life, and I think that, within reason, people have the right to decide for themselves how to define sex. Even if that means that one person in an experience says, “Yes, we had sex,” while the other (or another) says, “No, we didn’t have sex.”

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What I DO think would be immoral — or if not immoral, than certainly unkind and insensitive — would be to insist that the other participant(s) share your definition. Or to put it more conversationally: It’s okay with me if my partner says we had sex and I say we didn’t, or vice versa — but it’s not okay with me if that partner insists that they’re right and I’m wrong. (It IS okay with me if they try to debate it — I’m almost always up for a good debate — but ultimately, I want them to respect my right to define sex my way.)

2. So now that you have exposed and exploded the definition or the defining of sex, what have you done with your count of past sexual partners?

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I’ve definitely dropped the count. I now have a rough estimate of about how many sex partners I’ve had, but I gave up the list long ago. It’s just not that important to me anymore.

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I do, however, still tend to define my “first time” the same way I did when I started keeping the list. I could, of course, revise the list according to how I define sex now — and if I did, my “first time” would be a lot earlier, since (like many people) I was experimenting with other kinds of sexual play before I had intercourse. But that’s not how I experienced it emotionally at the time. The earlier experiences didn’t feel to me like “my first time” — they felt like “fooling around.” And in general, when I do think about the count, I tend to define who counts and who doesn’t by what I thought of as sex at the time — not what I think of it now.

3. In post-definition, how do you now, or how should anyone define an act of sex?

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I don’t think sex has a hard and fast definition, with all acts clearly either inside the line or outside. (Of course, that’s true even for less loaded concepts. Who was the linguist who pointed out the difficulty of clearly defining the word “chair”?)

Personally, I generally go with the definition I came up with in the essay: “the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of sexual pleasure.” But mostly, I don’t worry about it very much. If an experience is in the gray area, I let it be in the gray area.

And I don’t care all that much how other people define it — as long as our definitions are close enough for us to be able to talk to each other. (I’m very much a usagist when it comes to language.)

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What I DO care about is that people acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of this question, and the fact that so many people have different answers to it. That, I think, IS an ethical issue, and one with real-world consequences. In the sphere of public health and sex education, for instance — how can you do effective safer-sex education if you don’t know how people are defining “sex”? If you’re trying to teach teenagers to use condoms when they have sex… well, lots of teenagers think oral and even anal don’t “count” as sex, so they may not be protecting themselves when they should. A safer-sex message for teens needs to make clear that, as far as disease transmission goes, oral and anal sex definitely “count” — regardless of whether you think they make you not be a virgin or whatever.

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And of course, there are legal repercussions. Example: When Queen Victoria was signing a law prohibiting homosexual behavior, she struck out all references to female homosexuality — because she believed it was impossible. So there were decades in British law when male homosexuality was illegal, but female homosexuality wasn’t.

I could go on about this for pages. The upshot: I don’t much care how exactly other people define sex. I do care about whether people understand that “sex” is a flexible concept, that it means more than simply penile/ vaginal intercourse, and that different people have different definitions of it.

4. The yes, it was sex, or no, it wasn’t sex binary, is typical of crude human thinking, would it be progressive, or practical, for one to adopt an elaborate spectral system to understand or keep track of personal sexual activities?

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I don’t know how elaborate it has to be. Personally, I find “yes,” “no,” and “borderline/ maybe/ gray area” to be sufficient. But I do think a spectral system can work. In order for it to work, though, people need to be okay with the borderline/ gray area, and not care quite so much about having every act be either a “yes” or a “no.”

5. Can you conceive of a system that is superior or more accurate than a spectrum system regardless of practicality? In other words, what is beyond a spectral system, no categorization or defining at all?

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I think “no defining” is impractical and unlikely. We’re verbal animals, we talk to each other, and we talk to each other about sex. (A lot.) And in order to do that, we need to have something resembling a definition, with enough overlap and common ground to understand each other.

What I DO think would be superior… well, see above, re: me caring less about what the definition of sex is, and more about whether people understand that the concept is a flexible one, and act accordingly.

But in addition to that:

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I would like to see people let go of worrying so much about whether any given act or experience counts or doesn’t count as sex, and pay more attention to questions like: Is it pleasurable? Is it consensual? Is it ethical? Is it safe? Is my partner enjoying it? Is it something I want to do again?

That’s one of the main reasons I care about making our definitions of sex more flexible. I think if we’re less fixated on whether what we’re doing (and what other people are doing) counts or doesn’t count as sex, we can focus more on questions about sex that I think are a lot more important.

“Let it be in the gray area”: An “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” Interview

How I Write Porn: The Blowfish Blog

(FYI: This post contains a certain amount of information, not about my sex life exactly but about my sexual fantasies, which family members and others may not want to know about.)

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If you’re interested in knowing how I write porn — either because you’re a porn writer yourself or you’re just curious — then check out my latest piece for the Blowfish Blog. The piece is all about my nuts-and-bolts process of writing erotic fiction — and, not coincidentally, my analysis of what makes erotic fiction work. Here’s the teaser:

I usually start with the physical actions. What the characters are doing, what they’re saying, which body part is going where.

“He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back.”

It’s what I call “the skeleton.” And the problem with most bad porn fiction is that it stops there. Too many porn writers think that a description of sex acts is all a porn story needs.

I have more sympathy with these writers than you might imagine. When I’m writing a first draft, I get very excited about these things, too. After all, when I’m having a sex fantasy, these are the things I fixate on: the breasts spilling out of a low-cut blouse, the cock pushing into a tight asshole, the hand smacking down on the bare bottom again and again. I know how those sex acts make me feel. Vividly.

And it’s easy to forget that conveying the sex acts doesn’t convey the feeling.

But it doesn’t.

So then I move on…

To find out what I move on to, read the rest of the piece on the Blowfish Blog. Enjoy!

How I Write Porn: The Blowfish Blog