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.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Six: Optics

Desire enters at the eye. That's an old, old truth. We desire first what we can see. Dr. Lecter makes that point to Clarice, and I'm tempted to repeat the dialogue in his voice. First principles, Clarice... Beauty enters at the eye, and desire enters with it. We covet first that which we see.

This takes us to the presumed evil of the male gaze. I know the background of the term--- Laura Mulvey applying Lacan's idea of the Gaze to feminist film theory. I know too that Mulvey herself has written that she never quite intended the term to become an indictment. But there is a hostility abroad in the world of feminist theory to the idea of looking. To be looked at is to be objectified, to look is to assert power. Well, to look is to begin to desire; that's inescapable.

There are writers who take the idea further. I've read books where exploration and travel and science are all treated as suspect because the idea that the world is there to be understood is regarded as an assertion of power, control, and "entitlement".  Who are you, they ask, to want to know the world and what's in it? I cannot begin to tell you how ridiculous I find such writers to be.

Desire enters at the eye. I know that it does, and I know that I look at the world and find things worth desiring. I will look at the lovely girl entering the room, and I hope that she recognises it, and that she feels something like tribute offered to her beauty. I may well never know her name, never speak to her, but I want her to know that her beauty is valued.

There's one set of objections to the male gaze that dislikes valorising beauty. To admire physical beauty, the argument runs, is to value only "appearance", and not essence. Well, desire is based on what we see. We don't desire what we can't see. My gaze lights on the young and lithe and elegant and long-legged. Those qualities are what I desire. Beauty is about striking a pose, about knowing how to strike a pose.

Every morning as I walk through city streets to office, I look out at the world and re-arrange it in my mind's eye. I use the bits and pieces for stories in my head. The world is all there in my gaze. And I'm glad that there are beautiful things. I'm glad that lovely girls move through my field of view. I desire beauty, and beautiful young companions. And even for those girls that I'll never speak to and never have, I'm simply glad that they're there. I do desire them, and that won't change. But even if my desires remain unrequited, they add beauty to my world.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Five: Hooks

My friend tells me that when she hears the term "NSA sex", she always thinks "National Security Agency sex". So do I--- needless to say. When she wrote me about that, we immediately began to develop the concepts of cryptographic sexting and cryptanalytical sex. She has long legs and this perfect deadpan expression and martini-dry wit--- all reasons why I fell in love with her in her plaid-kilt schoolgirl days, and all reasons why we're still friends and why I trust her to always know my thoughts.

She did ask me to write about the "hook-up culture"--- she'd just read Tom Wolfe's novel about a co-ed whose virtue is imperiled by contemporary undergraduate life. She missed the "hook-up culture", she tells me. True enough, since at eighteen or nineteen she was with me. That put her into a very different kind of novel. Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is full of New Victorian moralising; our novel was about delights and depravity. She was never an ingenue, and she didn't allow me to be the villain I was expected to be.

Some years ago I found a book at a local library called "The Hook-Up Handbook".  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Was it supposed to be funny? Sexy? Censorious? I never could quite decide what pose it was trying to strike. I take for granted that parties and clubs are all about trying to find sexual partners. And I take for granted that undergraduates and twentysomethings do go out looking for sex. However not? Youth, being away from home, the full flood of energy, the craving for excitement and new experiences---- all those things are just built in to the undergraduate experience.

The New Victorians and the moralisers seem to forget that sex is a powerful physical thing, and that sex can be an adventure, a pure physical rush. Why is it that it's acceptable to feel edgy or restless or bored on a Friday night and decide to go run five miles or swim laps, but that going out to find an attractive partner and have sex 'til dawn is a Major Social Problem? Sex that's about a release of energy or a way to relieve boredom or stress, sex that's done purely for excitement or to have a new experience challenges the rules that more than a few groups want to impose.

As a gentleman of a certain age, I'm probably not as driven to seek out partners as I was at eighteen, but the drives are still there. Lust doesn't evaporate when one leaves one's twenties. It's harder to seek out new experiences--- I've worked my way through most of the kinds of experience I was hoping for at eighteen. Still, every new partner is a new world, and I'm someone's new experience every time a young companion has an adventure with me. There are still nights when I'm restless or on edge or melancholy and need the rush of physicality.

Aging roués are usually cast as the villain, though often with a hint of the sadly comic about them. These days, too, roué-hood carries a weight of disapproving DSM-IV and gender-studies terms. One has an obligation to one's young companions, the same obligation one had as an undergraduate. Be someone's adventure. Offer someone excitement and as much delight as you can. That's worth remembering. Names aren't always important, phone numbers aren't always exchanged. What matters on hook-up nights, what matters in seductions in hotel suites, is that there is a sense of adventure and a rush of delight. Physical release or a sense of playing out a script or a rather intricate game--- sex can get you there, and it's perfectly acceptable to want to go to just those places.

I've never understood what's now called "slut-shaming", and I've never taken sex to be something deeply "spiritual" or sacralised.  I am fine with what's called "hook-up culture", and I'm fine with the idea of sex as something one can do just for the rush, the same way someone might do a 5-K run or hang glide. Just...make it an adventure. Make it a novel or a film. Look for delights and construct games and scenarios that offer up excitement and a sense of the new and thrilling.

There will be nights when you need that rush, or when you just need to desire and feel desired, or when your body just needs release. Accept that. Look inside yourself for how you want those things to be structured. Sex against a wall behind a club with an attractive stranger? Going up to the rooms of someone scandalously older? There's a time for both. And both can be adventures, can be part of the stories you'll keep in your head.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Four: Strings

An old and very dear friend--- the younger companion who, all these years later, remains the gold standard against whom I measure any girl in my life ---raised an issue in a recent e-mail. Is there such a thing as NSA sex? she asked. Is there really? That's a complicated question.

There was never the chance of NSA sex with her, of course. She was very much someone I loved from the beginning and wanted to be with. And even when she was still in a plaid prep-school kilt, she and I were on the phone every night, talking 'til dawn.

I've had experiences at parties or clubs that didn't involve names or deep soul-baring conversations. I've made out with girls or had sex with them when it really was like the Ke$ha line: you know I don't care what your middle name is. Party games, dance clubs, lots of vodka and designer drugs. Which is perfectly fine. That was all about physical release or relieving the boredom or feeling daring. What I will say is that I've never dismissed anyone the morning after a seduction.

I'm a creature of habit. I like my experiences repeatable. If I like eating at a certain restaurant or seeing a certain film or hearing a particular song or reading a particular book, I want to be able to repeat the experience. I am a creature of habit, and of favourites. Once I like something, I want it there in my life. The same is true of people. I can be fiercely loyal to friends and lovers, and I like having them there in my life and knowing that someone I've cared for will be there for new moments.

Seductions are adventures and treasured rituals and engaging games all on their own. But if a girl has played out a seduction with me, if she has spent time with me and talked across a table or across the night aether with me,  I'd like to have her stay around. That's not a need for monogamy or deep passionate romance, and I can't deny that convenience may be involved. But it does mean that I respond to anyone who can share conversations and games with me. I love the new-ness and adventure of a seduction, but I like knowing, too, that I can have value enough to be someone's repeatable experience. I hope to be valued enough for a young companion to appear at my door and tell me that she's not quite sure why she isn't appalled at herself, but that she isn't afraid and really does want to try that Argentine malbec  or Czech absinthe again.

There are strings there, even with casual FWB girls. However gossamer they may be, there are strings and I weave them myself. However not?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three: Sous-Vêtements

My friend at USC tells me that I should devote an entry to what she calls "the underwear issue".  Well, there's no issue at all here. I prefer my young companions never to wear any.

That goes back to "Story of O.", a long time ago. I'm sure you know the scene. It's right there in the opening pages, before O. is taken to Roissy. She's with her lover in the back of a limo. He tells her to take off her underwear, raise the back of her skirt, and sit directly on the seat. Later, when she's been "trained", she's told that she will never wear underwear again. I read that at fourteen or fifteen and was amazed. I'd never imagined that people--- girls ---might do that. But I knew I found it incredibly sexy, and I knew that was what I'd want from girls always.

The no-underwear rule has become a signature thing for me. It's something I've asked girls to do since ever I first had lovers, and it's very much something I've come to insist on with young companions.

It is about ease of access, though it's not just about that. Girls who've been out with me in potentially revealing outfits--- short skirts, low-cut jeans, slit skirts ---have told me that there's a thrill of risk there, and there's a feeling of awareness, of being constantly aware of themselves, of how they sit or stand or bend. Feelings, too, of both vulnerability and the exaltation of having a secret. I've known girls who didn't wear underwear simply because they found it more comfortable, but even there, they told me that there was a difference in just pulling on jeans with no underwear on an ordinary day and in doing the same to go to a party or a club or on  a date. Sitting in class like that could be just about comfort or not having done laundry. Going out like that--- "going out" in the social sense ---was about having a secret, something that potential admirers or partners didn't know about, something that had the potential to be revealed, to surprise.

My friend at USC tells me she hasn't worn underwear since high school. She's forgotten how, she says. She does give me credit for encouraging her, and I'm glad I offered her support. She believes in the delights of having a secret, and she loves the idea of being in seminar discussing Russian lit and culture and knowing that her outfits are always worn next to the skin. How can I not be thrilled?

I will encourage my young companions to give up underwear, at least when they're with me. It's a signature thing for me. No one has ever been appalled or repulsed or horrified by the request, and I am pleased with that. There is a rush in sharing a young companion's secret while we're out for drinks or dinner and in seeing a mix of challenge and pride and delight in her eyes when she wears dangerously short skirts out with me.

Two: Silk

A lovely friend who's at USC right now asked me to write about silk scarves--- a taste she and I both share.

I've always been fond of scarves--- keffiyehs, too. I like six or seven-foot university scarves worn in winter. I've always liked the Oxbridge-undergraduate look, the blazer worn with the long scarf in college or club colours.

White silk scarves, though... White silk scarves are a high-utility item. They go well with black bomber jackets or car coats. Yes, it's the fighter ace look. Or the chevaux-leger look--- the beau sabreur. Something dashing, anyway. Works for girls, too.

White silk scarves, my friend at USC says, are an accessory every wicked girl should have. I do agree with her, even if she is quoting Sharon Stone's character in "Basic Instinct". Every lovely girl with a taste for games needs a few white silk scarves on hand. And I always keep one or two in my rooms for when young companions come to visit.

Blindfolds and bindings--- the white silk scarf works perfectly for both. Purpose-designed blindfolds have something too much of the sleep mask about them. And handcuffs lack grace. A friend in London tells me that her own Gentlemen Admirers bind her with climbing ropes, but I'm not athletic enough to own rock-climbing gear and I've never mastered knot-tying. Silk scarves eliminate any problems with knot-tying. It really doesn't matter if they're knotted at all. Just looped and lightly tied works best. Tying a lovely young companion is about ritual and symbol, not about the actual restraint. Silk makes that point, and silk leaves no marks on wrists or ankles. A mark should be something negotiated and something that requires its own rituals. It shouldn't just be an accident of friction. I might also add that with silk scarves, there's no danger of losing the key.

Silk always carries connotations of elegance and grace. Think, now: a long-legged young companion in tailored, narrow-leg black trousers and a white silk shirt worn open to the waist, French cuffs undone. Worn next to the skin, of course, just as the trousers should be. The semiotics of the outfit are about elegance and the way something fluid as silk is nevertheless austere. Add a man-tailored black jacket and a white silk scarf.

Silk is a caress, and yet in Ottoman days princes and viziers were executed with silk scarves. Silk implies  open cars at speed, or aeroplanes from the 1920s. (The fate of Isadora Duncan has to be borne in mind, of course) Silk is grace, and yet silk is fantastically strong. And white silk against dark-tanned skin is a clear signal of allure.

I've never liked my young companions in lingerie; that's one kind of silk that's not part of scenes in my rooms. A man's shirt worn alone--- white or blue Oxford cloth; a young companion wears that n my rooms and then sleeps naked. But scarves, now. Always scarves. Those are accessories that every lovely girl should collect on her own, and accessories that every older admirer such as myself should keep on hand. Anyone can keep riding whips; I certainly do. But handcuffs and ropes will never have the aesthetics of silk scarves, and they'll never match the multiple uses of white silk.  My friend in Los Angeles and I certainly share that view.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One: Distinctions

I'd asked friends what topics I should address here, and an old and dear friend in Jax asked me to talk about the differences between erotica and porn. Well, that's not a bad beginning topic. After all, I am a bibliophile, and I do live surrounded by books. So let's just begin there. Whatever is the difference between erotica and porn?

The quick and cynical answer is the difference involves money and class markers.

Erotica is...expensive porn. Erotica is porn that's expensively produced and marketed. Or porn that's set among the rich and beautiful. Or porn that's accessed in ways that emphasise class markers--- expensive editions, expensive techniques of production. But there's something else, too: the idea of abstraction and self-consciousness.

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I acquired a copy of Pauline Reage's "Story of O". Yes, that was the white-covered Grove Press edition, the one that's still in print, the one that was sold in hip bookstores in university neighbourhoods. I'd heard of the book. It was a title I'd seen mentioned in discussions of Grove Press, which was itself a class marker. Grove in those days was the American press that specialised in translations of the Parisian literary underground. They did editions of Beckett, they did editions of surrealist works, they backed the Evergreen Review, which was the hip art review of the late 1950s and early 1960s. That's a whole set of class markers on its own. I knew that "Story of O" was "an erotic classic" and that it was French. I took a copy home from a tiny bookstore filled with exactly what you might expect--- Beat novelists and poets, French and South American existentialists, utopian Marxist and anarchist books. I read it and was just...stunned and amazed.

"Story of O" is of course the s/m classic. Sitting in my room that first day, I had no idea what it would actually be about; I'm not sure that I quite knew what s/m was. Of course the book was a major sexual awakening for me. It opened up avenues of sexuality that I hadn't quite imagined. I knew porn existed, of course. Now this was long before the internet, and long before video. There were porn novels, of course. Pulp tales in cheap editions, usually with solid-colour covers. I knew those were on spinner racks in bus stations and convenience stores in bad parts of town. I knew those things existed, even if I hadn't read them...or read more than one or two (and we won't discuss the possibility of shoplifting here). "Story of O" was...amazing and different.

The s/m scenes in "O." are classics of their kind, of course. And it's almost a cliche--- the number of girls who claim that reading "O." in high school changed their lives. "Corrupted" is the word the Victorians would've used. But there's more to it than the sex, hot as those scenes are. For me, "Story of O." opened up a second set of fantasies, something past the sex. You know the idea. O. is taken into a secret world of hidden chateaux and private parties and elegant townhouses and converted abbeys in the old-money parts of Paris and environs. And O. herself is a fashion photographer by trade. Even before she's taken into a world of wealthy men who own her, she moves among the beautiful and stylish. "O." wasn't just about girls being whipped and chained and violated, it was about secret worlds. The novel deployed class markers just as much as it deployed images of subjugation. "O." was aspirational--- it was about a whole parallel, moneyed world with intricate rituals.

There's the literary aspect, too. And not just the style and the grace of the writing, though those things are class markers, too. "O." made clear reference to things like "Letters From A Portuguese Nun", to French high lit. The story came with a pedigree, and one its readers were expected to know. It came with theory built into it, and that was part of its power.

Porn is instrumental. It's written to get the reader off. Erotica is designed to make the reader think about the idea of getting off. There's a level of abstraction there that bus-station porn didn't have and didn't bother with. There's a distinction there worth exploring, and one that was something to do with the definition of art. Porn is about producing an immediate effect. Erotica, like self-conscious art, is about making you think about the idea of an effect. Erotica wants the reader to be aware of what's being done to create an effect. There's something of that in high-art painting, where the viewer is supposed to be aware that what he's seeing is a painting, that the painting has a history and that the artist is aware that the viewer is aware of what's being done to create an effect. There's a self-consciousness in erotica that isn't there in porn. And there's a presumption that the reader has the time to consider that self-consciousness, that the reader has time to apply knowledge about lit and art to the work.

So many of the usual list of erotic classics are about s/m, and s/m is always the intellectuals' fetish, isn't it? It's about abstractions, about theory and scenarios. Even the costumes and equipment are designed to abstract participants from the mere physical sex and into ideas. And s/m is an expensive sexual taste when done the way it's done in lit. That's no accident, I think. Which makes me think of another class marker, too. Erotica, whether s/m or not (though s/m offers a clear example), also has time built in to its stories. Beautiful locations, beautiful costumes, elaborate scenarios and games--- those things don't just take money to access, they require time. Time to prepare, time to play out. And here in the new century, having time is even a more of a class marker than money. v. erotica. Do you have an instinctive grasp of which is which? Do you know it when you see it? I'd be interested in your thoughts and views. I've talked a lot about s/m here, but I think some of this applies to other things as well. David Hamilton's photos from the early and mid-1970s are beautiful and dream-like and breathtakingly erotic. But it's not just that they're lovely young girls naked with one another in the Provencal countryside, and it's not just that soft-focus is some kind of criterion for saying "not porn". It's that Hamilton's photos are supposed to make the viewer instantly think of their pedigree, of paintings and poetry that deal with the same kinds of image...and that Hamilton expects the viewer to know about, say, Pierre Louys. Erotica is about sex, but it's less immediate than porn. It adds that extra step of self-consciousness.

There are other images that occur to me. High-fashion erotica, of course--- e.g., Helmut Newton or the work Jeff Dunas and Rebecca Blake did in the 1970s. Again, there's the idea of self-consciousness. Money, too, yes: expensive hotels, distant cities, elegant houses. But always that intermediate step between the image and physical arousal, that small disconnect.

Tell me what you think. What defines each for you?

Ein Vorspiel: By Way of Introduction

These entries are the notes of an aging roué: dry thoughts in a dry season.

I am a gentleman of a certain age. I live in an urban downtown, on the edge of a park with a lake.

I was born in one of the older cities of this country. I was educated at good universities, though I did not attend Trinity Hall, Cambridge, nor the College of Charleston. I have traveled, though I have never lived in Knightsbridge nor the 7e or 16e Arrondissements of Paris. I have never served in combat nor hunted big game. Politically, I am rather on the Left, though not invariably so.

I am not and never have been a religious believer, though I appreciate religious ritual and art. Seneca's description of religion ("wisdom by the commons, false by the wise, useful by the State") seems both perfectly apt and good policy.

I am a roué. There are other, less pleasant words for that now, but that's something we'll discuss later. I have been known to describe myself as "libertine, but never libertarian".

I prefer my Scotch single-malt and my companions younger. We'll discuss that later, too.

I play chess, though I prefer backgammon. I do not play bridge or poker.

I have never been married; I have no children. I live in what my counterparts in mid-Georgian London might think of as genteel poverty. I do live amidst books.

My attitudes are (I hope) more eighteenth-century than Victorian. My beliefs are shaped by postmodernism and post-structuralism.

I intend to write about a number of issues, though sex and its social and cultural aspects will be key to these entries. This is not however a sex blog. It is not a place to brag about conquests. That is unseemly for anyone male (e.g., various dude-bro/frat-boy blogs), though memoirs of adventures and encounters by lovely young women are quite engaging. As a gentleman of a certain age, my entries will be fairly abstract. I am often fascinated more by the ideas of things than by the things themselves. I will be writing here as an observer, and if I sometimes play the raconteur, I hope never to play the braggart.

I appreciate civil conversations and exchanges. I stress the word "civil", and discretion is both expected and given. If you'd like to read along, or to engage in discussions about my entries, you are invited. Here in the early days of this blog, suggestions about topics are welcome from lovely readers.

Every writer has an imaginary reader in mind. It shouldn't be hard to guess the attributes of the readers I hope are out there, though wit and intelligence are chief amongst the things I'm hoping for.

Please--- read along.