Friday, August 26, 2011

Seven: Handbooks

A friend told me last night that she was always amazed at how people react to her fantasies and fetishes. So few, she tells me, are really shocked even with her more extreme interests. There will be some initial hesitation and then a headlong dive into things that her lovers end up doing with her over and over.  I could only tell her that it doesn't seem such an odd pattern to me. Isn't that how people come to like single-malts or Stilton or sashimi?

She has had hostile comments about the things she likes, though not from her partners, potential or actual. Moralisers and a certain kind of feminist have attacked the things she likes (no, not s/m, or not exclusively). She was told that the sex she likes isn't "authentic", and she's been told that it's all the fault of porn. That's apparently an idea that has some currency these days.  There's a writer called Gail Dines who's made a career by arguing that something called "porn culture" is lurking out there to corrupt "true" sex and replace it with the "inauthentic". My friend was told that she only likes what she likes because "porn culture" told her it was sexy and acceptable. The charge seems to be that my friend was enslaved by the evils of "porn culture" and degrading sex through her MacBook screen.

I used to laugh at the the Victorian idea of a girl being "corrupted" by books.  Though I suppose that in some sense I was corrupted by books. "Story of O" gave me a picture of a kind of world filled with style and elegance and decadence and the forbidden. And a host of other novels gave me a picture of how one should live and dress and act, of worlds I might aspire to one day inhabit.  I had my own list of fantasies and fetishes long before there was porn on the web--- long before there was a web.  I still give my young companions books that I hope will intrigue them and give them descriptions of things that delight and arouse and amuse. That's my job as Evil Older Predator, of course: to tempt and seduce.

Well, the Victorian idea is still laughable, of course. No one has ever been ruined by a book. Not even Emma Bovary. Books open up worlds and suggest that this world, this place, these acts and morals--- none of it is the only way things can be. Books offer possibilities.  If nothing else, they make the half-formed things in your imagination concrete.

Octavio Paz once looked at all the how-to sex guides in a Los Angeles bookstore and laughed that "only a gringo thinks he can learn to fuck from a book". Good line, but not true. I learned about sex and the styles that go with it from books. Books let me know that there were worlds and experiences worth pursuing, and they gave me a sense of what was possible.

Porn on video or the web gave my friend something of the same experience. When she was in her early teens and first exploring what she liked, porn on the screen wasn't something that told her that this was the way things had to be. Porn showed her that people actually could do  some of the things that she half-imagined. Porn gave her things to try, both to accept and to discard.  It allowed her to know that there were possibilities out there to explore.  I can't see how it ever made her tastes "inauthentic".  I hate the idea that some kinds of sex aren't "authentic". I first tried single-malts because of characters in novels, and now they're my signature drink. I'd never have found something I really enjoy without those characters--- spies and exiles and Oxbridge dons ---showing me something worth exploring. The same is true of sex, both for my friend and for me.

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