Critics Make Me Meditate on BJs

This morning I got up, turned on my computer, and saw a tweet referring to this article on PopPorn by Bobbi Starr, referencing my blog entries on blowjobs in queer porn a while back (Part I and Part II) and referencing me as an ivory-tower gazing academic who thinks all blowjobs are rooted in misogyny.

I was like. Woah.

I was like, “I don’t think that at all! What the hell! I was trying to say in those posts that I was surprised to see rough blowjobs in queer porn because it’s easy to see them in straight porn as misogynist, but maybe they’re not misogynist. Here’s why it’s easy to think that they might be, but here are people who aren’t coming from the same background doing it… maybe people just like it.” I was all sad, because I thought people were attacking me without reading what I was really writing. But then I re-read the posts and, though I do think I made the points I was going for, actually, I realized I didn’t make them very clearly. I spent way more time talking about why it’s easy to see a lot of blowjobs in porn as gross and upsettingly anti-female than I did talking about why maybe they’re not that way. I think, in my mind, I was trying to explain how I got to the point of turning these assumptions on their heads by explaining why those assumptions might be made, but kind of forgot to make my own point.

And so, Bobbi, touche. I deserve the criticism for not saying what I wanted to say. So now I’m going to say it, and explain a little bit more about my perspective.

My entrance into the porn industry as a professional (rather than a casual masturbator, which I’d been before and which had given me my only exposure to pornography hitherto) was as a DVD reviewer for a print magazine. As a sometimes-online-porn user, I’d been hoping that “real” porn wasn’t quite as violent and wild as online porn; I had it in my head somehow that they came from different places, or that some of the upsetting images I saw on my computer screen were the most extreme stuff out there. That “real” porn would be a little more relaxed and less intense. Cause honestly, we’ve all been there. We’re clicking around finding video clips and jerking off and then when we’ve got our rocks off and start thinking about the things we just masturbated to, we’re like, “Woah, that was… I might be a bad person for liking that.”

Of course, I come from an incredibly rigid background when it comes to what makes a good person vs. a bad person. I’d been raised in an environment where not just irresponsible or violent sex was bad, but all sex outside of marriage was bad, and where anybody who enjoyed thinking about it or doing it was bad, too. So I’d found myself particularly vulnerable to recalling the gaping buttholes I’d just seen on my computer screen and thinking, “I am terrible. How could I have found that sexy?” I think I still do have serious issues with enjoying some of the things I see while watching and thinking about and writing about porn, and that’s where a lot of my perspective comes from. I’m trying to deal with my own puritan past, and it’s tough.

But anyway, back to the career in writing about porn. The thing is, when I got my first DVD review assignment, I was all chipper to see some “real porn” and feel better about things. And when I popped that DVD into the player, one of the first things I saw was a really intense, gagging, choking, mucousy, almost violent, gonzo-style blowjob. Even with all my online porn clicking, I’d never seen anything so extreme involving a mouth and a penis, and, well, it kind of terrified me. I realized all at once that: 1) “real” porn was the same as online porn and I was going to have to overcome some of my conservative upbringing to deal with it, 2) I was going to be watching a lot of this, and 3) there was a lot I had to learn.

I’m still learning. But put yourself in my place at that point: young, naive, starry-eyed, and with absolutely no knowledge of went into actually filming a porno. When I saw a girl choking on a penis and gagging, coughing up mucous, etc, my instinctual response was, “This doesn’t look like fun. It looks like she’s about to vomit. And that guy is saying things like, ‘Suck it, bitch’ to her. It seems like she’s being abused. Holy crap. Should I be watching this?”

I think this is an instinctual response that many people might have. It’s like when you accidentally walk in on your parents having sex when you’re a kid; it looks, sounds, and seems very violent and upsetting at the time. And if they don’t bother telling you later that they were actually enjoying themselves and that everything’s ok, you might walk away from that experience thinking that Mom and Dad have some serious issues they need to work out, and that sex is primarily a bad thing. It takes a while to get past this idea, based solely on how little you know and what you saw: sex itself is an almost-violent act. It’s intensely physical, often aggressive, and accompanied by sounds and facial expressions that are very much akin to those we make when we’re in pain.

I had the same kind of gut reaction when I saw that first “real” porn blowjob: looking back I realize a lot of things I thought weren’t true. That woman wasn’t being abused–she was on that set being filmed because she wanted to be. She’d signed the paperwork, voluntarily performed the BJ, and gotten paid for it. That guy saying rather impertinent things to her didn’t hate or think she was just a hole to fuck: he was playing along and enjoying himself and doing what he was getting paid to do. And the act itself, with all the mucous and gagging, was most likely being very much enjoyed by both parties. In later years, I’ve talked to and heard many performers talk about how much they love sloppy, extreme blowjobs. They love to give them and receive them. It’s a way to make the experience of sex more extreme, it pushes their bodies further, it’s hot that they’re so into it that choking is just part of the performance. And I realize all this is true; gagging on a cock can be just another way of showing one’s devotion to getting your partner off, and it can be really erotic in its own way, just like being spanked or tied up or called names or any number of other things that, to an outsider, can seem really negative.

And here’s where I think I got mixed up in that last blog post that Bobbi took offense to. I’m no longer as much of an outsider as I was when I reviewed my first DVD. I realize that extreme blowjobs are not necessarily acts of misogynist rage, and as a matter of fact, particularly when they’re on film, they are almost always the exact opposite of that. Both performers want to be doing what they’re doing, or they wouldn’t, duh, be doing it. But when I was an outsider, they appeared different to me. It looked, from the outside, like this woman was being degraded by this man. Like she was being humiliated and made to choke against her will. And that illusion alone can be really hot. But when I first saw it, well, I was traumatized.

And I think a lot of other people might easily feel the same way when they see their first gagging blowjob scene. From the outside, they very often look like unpleasant experiences. Depending on how they’re filmed and presented, they can look like anything from the abject debasement of the woman being “forced” to take them, or like a woman with rabies is devouring a poor, unsuspecting man with an erection. The physical acts being performed don’t always scream “super erotic and really fun.” And that’s where my hesitation around blowjobs like this comes from: my own first, traumatic experience and the realization that other people with my same type of mindset and upbringing, who know nothing about the process of filming pornography professionally, might have the same kind of reaction to it. It’s hard to show someone with no background in these things a video of a girl gasping for breath, drooling, coughing, and gagging and say, “No, really, she’s having a blast!” She probably is having a blast, but all outward appearances don’t tend to show it.

So I think about the outsider, the person who doesn’t know about these things, watching a scene where someone is doing this, and I think that this person might assume a lot of things. Firstly, that this is misogynist. At the practical level, it’s kind of anything but. But from a viewer’s perspective, it can very easily be interpreted that way. It looks like, in many cases, a man is force-feeding his penis to a woman who is gagging on it. And that looks kind of un-PC. And un-PC kind of makes people uncomfortable. Of course, the point that can be made here is that what’s PC and what people want to do in the bedroom are only very tangentially related, and that lots of women WANT to be force-fed cocks. (Big reveal: I like giving sloppy, gaggy blowjobs, too. I really do. Ask my boyfriend.) But what something looks like and what it actually is are very often miles apart. So when the uninitiated viewer sees this stuff, especially if that person is a woman who was raised like I was, wrong assumptions are easily made and porn can easily be labeled as “bad” and written off.

And that would really be a shame. Andrea Dworkin and her posse of anti-porn early feminists sure thought that porn was “bad” because it objectified women, probably based on similar experiences of seeing something and misinterpreting what they saw, then developing a philosophy around it. I’d dare say we’ve come a long way since all that crap in the 70’s. But the visuals of a woman on her knees choking on a dick can easily misled women now to think those same kinds of thoughts.

My first experience of giving a blowjob was a little traumatic, too. I didn’t know what I was doing or even want to be doing it, but I sure wanted to make my boyfriend happy, and he sure as shit shoved that thing as far back into my throat as it would go. And that made me incredibly unhappy. It made me choke. And I didn’t like that. Of course, that was long ago and at the time I was in no way ready to deal with that, but the experience traumatized me and made me have my first startling thought, as a rebellious teen, that maybe my mom was right and sex was shameful and bad, because I felt pretty ashamed that I’d let him do that to me. Looking back I realize that the shame I felt was primarily a result of being forced to do something I didn’t want to do, whether it was sexual or not. It was the loss of dignity in not being given a choice that upset me, but because of its nature I wrote it off as sexual shame. And I know that I’m not the only person out there with an experience like this in her past. We are so conditioned to find sexual things shameful that we often overlook the realities of the situations we’re examining. Like blowjob scenes in porn. We’ve heard for years, most of us for our whole lives, that porn is demeaning to women and full of mancentric images, and then when we see these blowjobs that are so easily misinterpreted, we can project our own shame issues onto it and think that the woman must be feeling ashamed and debased. Not empowered and super sexy, like she probably is.

And so, though I obviously have some biases based on experience and some deep-rooted issues with my own sexuality in general, the main issue I have with blowjobs that include gagging isn’t that I think it’s impossible for people to enjoy them. (Again, I do enjoy them, myself.) The issue is that people already have a tendency to think badly of porn, and it’s very easy to project seriously wrong-minded ideas onto the things we see porn performers doing, based on our biases and cultural conditioning. I’ve done it, and I’d like to think I’m working on overcoming it. But it’s worth thinking about that people might come into an experience trying to be open-minded and come away thinking that Dworkin and her minions were right, that porn DOES degrade women and that it IS bad.

It’s not. I LOVE porn. I think porn is necessary, important, vital. I think that porn is a reflection of who and what we are. And many of us are lovers of extreme blowjobs. But it’s all about context, and sometimes it’s jarring. It can particularly jarring, or it was for me, when it’s in queer porn, where the gender binary I was expecting not to find seemed to be mimicked in women given women blowjobs with fake cocks. I thought there could be no point, and why would a woman do something to another woman that can so easily be misinterpreted as misogynist?

But when I saw that, I started questioning my own assumptions about why people do these things. I didn’t see any evidence of misogyny in these scenes; maybe the performers were just so used to seeing more mainstream performers do this that they thought they had to… Or maybe gagging blowjobs are just ubiquitous now. Maybe there once was misogyny in the act, but now it’s just what we do because we’ve all seen it done, tried it, and liked it. I realized that I, little miss conservative-upbringing, give head with mucous, gagging, and intensity. That I like doing it. And, holy crap, by extension, I finally realized that most of the time, when it comes to sex, people do what they do not because porn tells them to or because they hate other genders, but because they want to. And even though watching someone drooling and gagging might make it seem as though blowjobs and porn itself are both evil, they’re not. They’re just complicated.

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