Porn Is Better in Community. I’m Serious.

Photo of Cinekink 2015 audience by Stacie Joy.

Photo of Cinekink 2015 audience by Stacie Joy.

Here’s my thesis: porn is better experienced in community.

Sounds weird, right? Like, ew, like, community? Like, with other people watching, too? Like strangers? Or even worse, with people you know? Like, watching porn with friends? Awkward…

But I’m serious. Really, really freaking serious.

I had a weird weekend, you guys. It involved running around New York City in extremely cold weather, wine, hookahs, brunch, watching a lot of porn with strangers and friends alike at two different film festivals (CineKink and the NYC Porn Film Festival), and basically discussing pornography with a lot of people ranging from consumers to filmmakers to critics to protestors. It ended with me coming home, sick and exhausted, and having to stay home instead of going to a rad porn-festival-after-party… and thinking. A lot.

Then I saw this new video that Rusell Brand put out, in which he makes a lot of very good points about the effects of pornography on consumers and culture… and in which he also makes a lot of overreaching, going-too-far statements about how dangerous it is. (True facts: I kind of love the guy even though he goes way over the top with a lot of things, even this video.) And my whole weekend kind of wrapped itself up into one crystal-clear realization: porn is better experienced in community.

I don’t want to go into all the specifics. It would be silly to try to break down every statistic that Russell Brand cites in his video, or to transcribe the entire twenty-something minutes of audio I recorded of my argument with revolutionary communist anti-porn protestors outside the NYC Porn Film Festival on Saturday afternoon. I don’t need to explain to you the most fascinating points of my conversations with filmmakers Jennifer Lyon Bell, Morgana Muses, and Traci Traci, or the high points of my delightful brunch talk with Sarah Beall of MakeLoveNotPorn.tv. I don’t need to recount the in-depth debate over wine about a short film at Cinekink, or the bizarrely life-affirming messages that Annie Sprinkle shared with a sold-out crowd while she showed us the subversive vomit porn she made thirty years ago. That would make this long and boring to read (and, in the case of the vomit porn, kinda gross).

But without going into detail about the gorgeous and weird and thought-provoking erotic cinema I saw this weekend, like the intensely intimate masturbation scene from “Silver Shoes” by Jennifer Lyon Bell, featuring Annabelle Lee; or the sweet and sexy romp of “No Artificial Sweeteners” from The Madame; or the sexy build-up of the spare, line-drawn “Pretty In Pink” from Aura Espino and Porno Jim‘s “The Line” and Foxhouse Films‘s “Fire Escape”; or the thoughtful and gorgeous “Marriage 2.0″… Okay, so some detail is required… But still, the point is this: when revolutionary communists protesting film festivals talk about how the porn industry is degrading to women, supportive of the patriarchy in its objectification of human beings, and of capitalism in its willingness to sell those human beings (they made a bunch of fallacious links to the human trafficking industry, which I argued with them about, but that’s not the point here)… And when Russel Brand talks about how porn can be damaging to our modern perception of what sex is, and to our ability to connect with other people through it… None of them are totally wrong. Pornography absolutely does have the power to degrade, objectify, capitalize upon human beings. And it is completely capable of complicating people’s understanding of sex and relationships and intimacy. I have seen it happen.

But here’s the trick: porn’s gross, degrading, unpleasant ability to negatively impact people’s lives exists almost entirely in the self-imposed vacuum in which so many of us experience it. When our only relationship to porn is in dark rooms with locked doors, glowing computer screen logged into free, streaming websites that show us pirated clips of disembodied genitals devoid of humanity going at it in the isolation of our deepest, darkest throes of guilty passion… Consumed in isolation, blanketed by shame, the consumption of pornography can turn into a something very dark and very dangerous. It’s true.

And yet I’ve watched porn in sold-out audiences in two boroughs of New York City, along with dozens of other people, and I can tell you that this experience is wholly different. We’ve sat together in dark theaters and art galleries, at a long-running film festival and a brand new one, in the dark, with friends and strangers, and we’ve laughed at the right places and gotten pensive and turned on together, and afterward we’ve stood around in lobbies and hung out at bars and had long, searching, goddamn worthwhile conversations about erotic film and how it makes us feel. We’ve met filmmakers and heard about their inspirations, and we’ve met performers and learned about their motivations. We’ve talked about our preferences in porn, and nobody has ever called anyone else a freak for what they like… or at least they’ve never meant it.

Pretty normal crowd at Cinekink 2015. Photo by Stacie Joy.

Pretty normal crowd at Cinekink 2015. Photo by Stacie Joy.

In this context, the consumption of pornography is a shared experience about which we have different feelings and reactions. Porn becomes a text for criticizing or enjoying, just like any other form of media. In community we can learn about different interpretations, discover filmmakers and performers who are making exciting new material, share our thoughts and feelings, and understand that pornography does not exist to tear us apart. It can, in fact, bring us together when we take a deep breath and allow ourselves to watch experimental short films in a dark art gallery in Bushwick with our leg pressed awkwardly against a man we’ve never met before, who did kind of squeeze his legs together in a very turned-on motion every time an image of a cock being stroked showed up on the screen, but who was a perfect gentleman about sitting next to me.

Anyway, the point is this: porn can hurt us. It really can hijack our brains and cut straight from our eyes to our groins, leaving a trail along our insides. That trail can be one of shame and isolation and fear of discovery, which will wreak havoc. But it can also be a trail of intrigue and analysis that can be shared and enjoyed with other humans. Just like anything else, including the monster under the bed, it’s a lot less scary when the lights come on after the show and there are other people there, smiling and conversing, than it was when you were all alone in the dark.

All that being said, I’m not trying to tell you that the only way you can responsibly watch porn is by attending a film festival. That obviously doesn’t work most of the time for most people. But what I am saying is: talk about it. With your friends or your significant other. Or if none of them seem open to discussing it, find an online community that’s open to the discussion of pornography as a serious subject (I don’t mean comment threads on PornHub videos [unless you are Limerick Larry, in which case, rhyme on, good sir]). Start liking and commenting on my Facebook posts; interact with the other people who do. Start following some of the pages I follow. Take part in the conversations. Sign up for conferences in your area. And yes, when film festivals happen near you, attend. Enjoy. Discuss.

Experience porn in a community. It will be so much less weird than you think.

All images by Stacie Joy.

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