On porn is in the eye of the beholder 

I have decided to accept that I am on Pornhub.

I’ve spent so much time debating and questioning and arguing about my presence on a pornography platform. Searching for an alternative, hoping for an elegant exit. Facing the fact that explicitness has no other place to live on the internet. Feeling slapped in the face when I load one of my videos and see myself next to ‘Try Not To Cum’ games and ‘Milf Who Want To Fuck’ ads. Wondering if I am being reckless. Enjoying getting new subscribers everyday, yet not changing the setting that sends every email announcing that to the Junk folder. Not knowing how to answer the comments I’m getting there, all positive but definitely of a different nature than the ones on Vimeo. Basically, being completely and utterly ambivalent about the whole thing.

But the truth is, this is what’s real right now. The split is what’s real. There’s no other place for me to have this conversation, and trying to build a safer space equivalent would require resources I do not have. So, if I am to move forward, I need to start with where I am. And right now, I am on Pornhub.

To tell the whole story, I have to talk about an essay I encountered this summer that has radically changed my mind on the question of pornography. “Some Harms to Women of Restrictions on Sexually Related Expression”, by Leonore Tiefer, from her book Sex is Not a Natural Act (Westview Press, 2004). Tiefer is a sexuality expert known for speaking against the medicalization of sexual dysfunction. Her book is a collection of essays challenging the consensus reality of sexuality. Essentially, she posits that sex is a potential and a construct, something more human than just a biological drive. She’s not always easy to read but she certainly takes sex positivity to the next level by removing the mandatory aspects from it. In this particular essay, she makes several amazing points, such as the fact that pornography is best understood not through literal interpretation, that the morality of masturbation is a huge subtext behind the argument against porn, and that repressing sexually explicit material actually robs women of the opportunity to make up their own minds about it. Her perspective resonates so much with me, I’m so grateful to have found someone who dares step out of the classical debate about porn. Having highlighted every second sentence, I wish I could post the entire essay here, but I’m a big believer in copyright, so instead I’m going to encourage anyone interested to go find her book. I will permit myself one quote though, as I feel it speaks to me directly: “Shame and ignorance make cowards of us all, but now is no time for cowardice about women’s sexual practices and imaginings. Censorship harms women because women need sexual empowerment, not sexual protection. Antiporn campaigns say that porn gives men power. But in fact, men already have power. Explicit sexual materials and performances can contribute to women’s sexual power. People who do not like certain types of pornography can avoid them. Or better yet, they can create something completely new.” Like music to my heart…

That being said, I’m not sure I’m ready to call what I do porn per say. I still claim the subtle but fundamental distinction between material that aims to depict arousal versus material that aims to create arousal. This to me is the essential difference between my art and porn, the difference between showing you what I see and showing you what you want to see. Well, come to think of it, it’s not like this dichotomy doesn’t exist in every other art and entertainment form.

Also, and this is an important point, I don’t mean to say that it’s all peachy now, that I don’t think the pornography industry has any issues. I’m still very much aware and afraid of its potential for exploitation. But, looking at the news these days, it should be clear to everyone that you don’t need to be in porn to be subjected to predatory behaviors. The power imbalances that enable abuse need to be addressed everywhere.

My art comes from a place within me that is conscious of the shame my sexuality is entangled with and yet still believes in the transformational beauty of sexual expression. I have had to keep myself safe through many dark nights of fear, yet hope rises in the morning light, asking to be embraced. Sunrise Orgasm is from almost exactly a year ago, the last full orgasm video I made before Vimeo closed my account for the second time. I held on to it because I kept hoping I could release it on a different platform, and because I needed time to remember how to be more courageous than ashamed.

Watching it again now brings up an enormity of feelings. Wondering what the hell I was thinking but being proud of myself. All my beauty and all my flaws exposed as one. Moments of grace next to moments I wish I could cut out. Everything I would do differently but how this experience can never be relived. The way this is both boring and mesmerizing, so private and political. How my entire story is written on my body. How pleasure and awkwardness, confusion and surrender rise and fall like waves. The reality of orgasm, the time that it takes. How slow pace leaves so much room for the uncomfortable. The desire to see and feel myself, the struggle to show up, to exist as myself. All laid bare to judge or to celebrate.

I can’t know for sure that I’m doing the right thing in sharing this. I’m still terrified that my work raises so many questions for which I do not have answers. But there is something about this that’s asking not to be denied. If that makes me a pornographer then fine, so be it. Call it porn or call it art, I don’t care anymore, they are your eyes, you decide what you see.

Sunrise Orgasm, on Pornhub

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12 thoughts on “On porn is in the eye of the beholder 

  1. Your battle with the parameters or definition of what you do has always been such an unfortunate distraction for you. The proof of that is in this beautiful piece of art you are finally revealing. As a photographer I was of course immediately drawn to the backdrop and the lighting. It makes the piece visually stunning. I’m glad you may have found the logicality to your work now set against the platform used to view it. The exploitation point is well made, and I never saw it in that manner before. Interesting. I’ll just say that it is nice to see you back at your art again maybe. It is unique and Special

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    1. To be perfectly honest, I’m glad for how everything has happened. I’ve been getting to know myself, what I really are, mean, want, in ways I could have never imagined. How else is one supposed to see through their blind spots? And as important as it to me to express myself through my art, I’m even more invested in a clear vision, because that is precisely the source of my art in the first place.

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  2. From Wikipedia: “United States v. One Book Called Ulysses was a December 6, 1933 decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in a case dealing with freedom of expression. At issue was whether James Joyce’s novel Ulysses was obscene. In deciding it was not, Judge John M. Woolsey opened the door to importation and publication of serious works of literature that used coarse language or involved sexual subjects.
    The trial court’s decision was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which confirmed that offensive language in a literary work is not obscene where it does not promote lust. But Judge Woolsey’s trial court opinion is now more widely known, and often cited as an erudite and discerning affirmation of literary free expression…..”Whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac”.
    When asked about the proceedings Morris Ernst, the lawyer who represented the publisher, is reputed to have remarked that “pornography is in the groin of the beholder.”
    I mention this as Joyce’s Ulysses is one of the true liberating works of the 20th Century. There is a passage in the book where Leopold Bloom secretly masturbates while watching a woman (Gerty) who in turn secretly watches him. I remembered that passage in the novel while I watched your Sunrise Orgasm – a video which is both erotic and strangely beautiful. And Rain, you are so gorgeous naked that it almost hurts to see you pleasure yourself with such abandon.

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    1. “Pornography is in the groin of the beholder”. That is seriously too funny. The story of humanity reads like the life of a human, going around in circles, not remembering the beginning, not knowing the end. No wonder we don’t know anything for sure. And as grateful as we can be for the publication of Ulysses, there is still a split in the confirmation that “offensive language in a literary work is not obscene where it does not promote lust”. So even when we reframe what is offensive, arousal remains obscene. Not that we know how to stop it from happening. I can’t help but think that emetic is in fact a cover up for the aphrodisiac. And if porn platforms are the red light districts of our day and age, then they are equally accomplished in keeping up the emetic context we need to allow ourselves to be aroused. Of course it’s such another case of the chicken and the egg, of entangled cause and consequence… As for your comment on your experience watching my video, I find it interesting timing that you are using the word hurt, as I am currently deeply involved in thinking that I need to stop fearing hurting others so that I can stop hurting myself, and that maybe what hurts doesn’t always harm. I would never want to actively harm anyone, but maybe the process of being hurt is meant to be the portal to something that wants to be experienced and resolved. That would make it also be a strangely beautiful thing.

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  3. I truly enjoy your perception of things, as in “even when we reframe what is offensive, arousal remains obscene.” I suspect that “civilised” humans fear arousal because it involves a loss of control. Yet to achieve spiritual freedom, many of us have first to be broken on the ego wheel of control and importance and in that brokenness surrender our script of how life should be and allow the passion of the universe flow through and from us. As for hurt…. or almost hurting; what I mean is that as I watched your video an energy flooded my physical sense of being and my instinct to physically connect could, obviously, not be satisfied – after all, you are both real and an illusion. (Perhaps you have read the Yeats poem Song of Wandering Aengus where the narrator becomes enchanted by an apparition “It had become a glimmering girl\With apple blossom in her hair\Who called me by my name and ran\And faded through the brightening air” but he is really enchanted by his spiritual longing and his sense of separateness.) So, I suppose, it is the longing for some sublime connection that “almost hurts” – an unrequited longing that is probably in us all – it is a longing that is often felt while looking at a full moon. The Chinese have Moon Parties where they sit outside view the full moon together. How cool is that…? And certainly “being hurt is meant to be the portal to something that wants to be experienced and resolved” – you are wise beyond your years. Anyway, I for one, welcome the many feelings your writing and videos evoke in me and I am often enchanted by your intelligence and your natural beauty – at some juncture, when “the past” has been processed, that penetrating intelligence will find its focus in the ethereal and challenge our perception of the world.

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    1. I think you are very right in pointing out the loss of control of arousal as the problem. It might very well be the main reason why we are so afraid of sexuality. The fact that we don’t control it is what drives us to control the context within which it can happen acceptably (the marital bed or the red light district, one good, one bad). And I know of the hurt you describe, and I am very aware my work can call it into being. It is one of the reasons I sometimes think I should not be sharing it, not be making it. But then again, if it is not imposed, one could, as you choose to, welcome the opportunity to feel, even if hurt may be part of what will arise. Still, it is very challenging for me to step out of my paralyzing fears in order to step into the light. I am going against many milleniums of oppression and repression and, well, that’s just not very easy every day. Finding resonance does make me feel like I cannot be only wrong, so thank you for your continued presence. Oh and yes, moon parties, so cool!

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