4 min


Forget the tease of erotica - pornography is now a mainstream language

PORN OR LIFESTYLE? Spot the difference. Credit: Xtra files

We’re on a road to integration that sometimes fools us into thinking it’s a descent into decadence.

From public cinema to the living room, from peep booths to the Internet, from Playboy to Hustler, from Esquire to Maxim, from the Marlboro Man to the Bruce Weber school of CK fuckables, the evolution from coy to porn seems very much like what the ideological North American right has been warning us about forever.

We let the thin edge of the wedge of public representation of sex in, and before long a trickle of Playboy toplessness and muscle-magazine loin-clothes becomes a stream of Penthouse beaver and arty pickle shots, turning into a torrent of Hustler split beaver and Blueboy wank pics, becoming an outrage of Screw and Shaved Parade action beaver and Inches and Bad Puppy daisy-chain triple-fucks.

We’ve gone from having to look up “penis” and “fuck” in a dictionary that was nailed down to a wooden pedestal in the high school library, to punching “blowjob” in to a search engine and learning about 60 different ways of giving or getting one almost instantly….

And yet.

Porn has penetrated into the mainstream through straight-guy lifestyle magazines like Maxim, Loaded, Arena, Front and FHM, along with the increasingly hardcore porn in magazines and the increasingly accessible stuff on the ‘net (the revolutionary content of which should not be overestimated; it is, after all, still mostly scanned magazine images, though webcams and digital cameras are quickly changing that). These are tools for a major overhaul of the apparatus of human sexual perception.

Porn actively requires us, through this penetration, to rebalance our relationship to sex by refocussing our attention on aspects ofit that have up till now been kept squarely on the margins of sexual discussions and perceptions.

The sex depicted in the new breed of mainstream lifestyle magazines is hardcore in the sense that sex in these mags is overt and fun, not covert and “erotic.” With pics of men getting blowjobs from fish, and women going down on bananas, the images are a good deal more pornographic than softcore material that actually shows more flesh.

And, just for fun, notice too that the boys in the fashion spreads are as fuckable as the girls. In porn, everyone is fuckable for 15 minutes.

Porn, then, from the hardcore ‘net and skin mags to Maxim, is becoming a habit and with it, by necessity, the integration of sex into life, and life into sex.

It’s been a long journey from the old coyness in how sex is depicted. But it’s built up momentum so quickly. What looked for a moment like a healthy, happy, and carefree world of candid and honest sexual representation in the mid-’70s just whipped right on by – past the natural or docu-porn, past the pictorial representations of men who begin having sex with flaccid penises which are only aroused once the sex-play begins, past men who tend to come inside their partners – right on into the enormously stylized stuff we see from gay porn producers Falcon and Vivid today, the stuff that’s no more realistic a portrait of sex than dance is of movement.

Some consider this a bad thing. Quite the reverse.

As dance is to movement, inasmuch as it helps us understand, appreciate and sophisticate movement, though it is not anything like the sort of movement we might make in everyday life, so, too, is porn to sex.

The aesthetic of sexual representation – we got early indications of this from that rec room-themed Calvin Klein campaign using young male and female models a couple of years ago – is shifting from the nudie to the pornographic. More and more often, the sexual images we get in film, in advertising, and increasingly on TV (see Sex And The City, Queer As Folk, Married With Children) avoid the nude of classical and Renaissance art used for centuries, the long languid or prettily posed naked person pointing to some form of beauty rather than sex – as if human beauty and nudity were separable from sex.

Instead, we now see models and actors in poses, in situations, and with attitudes directly lifted from porn. Marky Mark grabbing his crotch, Bud Bundy’s relationship with his blow-up doll, Stuart’s nose up Nathan’s butt, Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct split and Alyson Hannigan riding Jason Biggs in American Pie. The list could go on and on.

We have for centuries figured that sex can be sacred, or it can be profane.

The pinnacle of sanctity has been marriage; the nadir of profanity, pornography. We began, about the same time Playboy did in the ’50s, by devoting our mass culture to images of the sanctity of sex – Father Knows Best through to The Cosby Show, and all the rest of television, including even the soaps.

But profanity has caught up. Now we are getting beefy firemen fucking voracious blondes up against fire engines in full view of the camera (this season’s Sex And The City premier). Sitcoms in which a lover an episode is the formula – like Seinfeld and Friends – have not only become the most successful on television, but their lover-an-episode has made barely a blip on the radar screen of a culture that once devoted essays and news panels and pulpit denunciations to the Bradys sharing a bed.

We are mastering sex gradually, by habit. It is infiltrating into more and more aspects of our lives and our culture. Porn is simply the vehicle. And far from being obsessive, or puerile, or just plain dirty, this infusion is simply fixing a balance that’s been for centuries out of whack.

From nude as art to nudie as passive stimulation to porn as active stimulation. It is, by now, acting as a cultural mulch. It’s spread over everything – whether as image or attitude – and as a result, we are able, more and more, to discuss it.

And as porn stars get on Jay Leno and are featured on Entertainment Tonight, as Lukas Ridgeston and Janine become topics of more or less polite conversation (and in the latter case get to be the cover art of Blink 182’s totally mainstream album), and as honourary gay man Pamela Anderson lays waste to the distinction between pop and porn that Madonna first took the wrecking ball to in 1992 with her book Sex, not just porn, but sex, too, and all that space it occupies between the sacred and the profane, becomes open to less blinkered discussion and therefore, slowly, more rational integration into the lives of those who have it.

Decadence? Maybe, but what’s decaying is not society – it’s the weird walls we’ve built up around and in the middle of sex.