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Your Nostalgia May Not Be My Nostalgia: An Aesthetic Response To Vintage Smut

Not Sexy To Me

Most of you know that I don’t divulge a lot about myself at this blog. That’s by design. And so, it was difficult to decide just how to address Mike’s past comments about my comments about the retro photo shown here. I told myself I didn’t have to say more than I did in response; but two years later, here I sit still contemplating things… Struggling how to articulate them…

I believe in the empowerment of aesthetic response. I believe it’s just as important — perhaps even more so –to do with porn and erotic materials than it is with Art.

Understanding your reactions, positive and negative, makes you a more self-aware human being. A wiser human being. To me, this is the intellectual version of an opposable thumb because it separates us from the simple wankers. And when it comes to our relationships, it is just as important to be able to articulate our reactions so that we can share them with our partners. Having struggled to do this for ourselves, we become aware just how difficult the process is and therefore we have greater understanding when our partners share their struggled-to-arrive-at reactions. Simply put, talking about turn-ons, turn-offs, and why we have them means not only increased intimacy, becoming better lovers, but we can then select erotica materials for mutual enjoyment.

In the case of this photo, and those like them, my negative feelings are deeper than the words “tacky” and “silly”. Deeper and more painful.

I see in the faces of these young women, in their taunting stances, their pornification of lingerie, and comical tongue thrusting (which displays to me all the erotic nature of a 12 year old boy mooning through a car window), nothing but the fear-based sexual bravado of dares. What others might see as “playful” reads to me as mocking or (even more likely ) defensive acts of posturing. Like cats that turn sideways to make themselves look bigger to threats, these young women seem to be pretending to be something they are not.

I can nearly hear the shouting, aloud or in their heads:

“Is this what you want, you silly man, with that silly thing between your legs?”

“How do you like me now?!”

(“Do you like me now?”)

Regardless of what these five women felt that the time (or since), what I see is me — twenty-something-year-old me, the photos I posed for (even if clothed and not for publication) in the 1980s. A young women who did not understand or appreciate, and therefore could not master, the sexual power I was told I had.

As a young woman, you discover that you have something others want. Especially once you develop, and boy, did I develop. Before all my friends did too. And once your breasts swell, it’s like you become an It Girl in your own community. The numbers of staring “fans” may be smaller, but it’s a lot like sudden stardom or celebrity. It’s something you really aren’t prepared for.

Oh, you could prepared; should be prepared. But in this culture, where we use female body parts to sell chewing gum, cars, website domains, and whatever else, we aren’t big on educating our people about their own bodies, reproduction, or sexuality. We do, however, spend a lot of time instructing young women and even little girls in the laws of attraction. In fact, it is a law to be attractive. Or risk being unwanted, unloved, discarded. We sell the idea of beauty and how to attract sexual attention to females — even as we threaten them with the moral imperative to be responsible for it and what may come. But we teach them nothing about what it truly is, or how to decide if you really want any of it.  But you are pushed onwards by a closeted sex-driven society. You flirt with your power, testing it in hopes to understand it. And if flirting with individual men is more of a byproduct of such testing than actual desire, well, just fake it.  Surely all this is as natural as they say, right?

Staring at the women in this photo as I do, from decades of experience and wisdom away, I see the “promise” of such youth. Promises of heartbreak, disrespect, abuse — and that’s just what we do to ourselves. From others we can expect the same, along with cheating, the Whore/Madonna complex, expectations that women are in charge of the birth control,  “it’s only my thumb” and other lies, violence wrapped as jealousy and sold as love, STIs, date rape, and pregnancy…

The passage of time and the intellectualization of one’s past does not diminish these feelings. I think it exponentially multiples them in that bittersweet-nostalgic way where older-and-wiser me wishes to rescue or at least protect by sharing what I’ve since learned. But I can’t travel back in time and help those five young women anymore than I can go back to my own past and spare myself. Such futility renders me impotent.

That’s the impact of this particular nostalgia on my consumption of these specific erotic materials.  The emotional discomfort, sadness, loss, and even anger renders me impotent to any erotic arousal.

However, if you are flooded with something else, that’s just fine. Your likes and dislikes will be different than mine because we have lived different lives. I will neither condemn you nor censor the materials; I just don’t enjoy them myself. And now you know why.

 

Posted in Age, Essays, Photographs, Sex Education.

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8 Responses

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  1. Mike says

    SPS – strangely, I have not looked at your blog for sometime and for some reason today did so. And I find you have returned to a subject you posted that I commented on and prompted you to do so.
    I agree with much of what you have to say, and how there is in much erotic/pornographic material that have sub-texts that question the role of women in society as defined by men and the role of men themselves.
    As I said originally, the photograph is not the best example of such material. Clearly, such material is designed to sexually arouse the viewer/reader whether male or female and it is mostly assumed (particularly back then) to be male and to my view this image has no ability to provide sexual excitement.
    I do wonder if the models involved now reflect upon their work at that time, I am aware there are some who worked at the time still doing so on the Internet – when I ponder beyond such material it occurs to me is such work lucrative for them or is it that they are trapped in a situation whereby they have not other way of earning a living?
    I saw a Website of a model a few years ago who announced that she would no longer be posing and publishing her images as she was unhappy with the way the ‘adult’ industry in the USA was developing.
    The photograph you posted, to me shows young women mocking the viewers of the image and as you say using their sexuality – but of course they are being instructed in their pose by a photographer (no doubt male) to be published in a magazine (for men, probably owned and edited by men) reflecting a view of what the magazine assumes their average reader wants.
    As a man and a consumer of sexual material it has always bothered me what is assumed by them that men want, and that anything outside their defined format is viewed as somehow ‘odd’ (and here I don’t mean odd in the sense of properly defined sexual deviancy). For myself, as an example, I have never found any sexual appeal in young adult women (even when I too was a young adult.) For me, older, mature women (forty years of age and older) have always, and still are, to me much more sexually exciting and appealing.
    It occurs to me, and at times given me much thought, that in western culture we do not educate teenagers approaching adulthood about love and sex in the emotional sense. Both males and females struggle to understand their sexuality and how it connects with those they enter in to relationships with and the wider society.
    I realise that this does not provide any ‘answers’ but I am pleased to know that there are women such as yourself ready to discuss such matters, views on such things are often reduced to knee-jerk reactions.
    Please carry on providing thought provoking views.

  2. Silent Porn Star says

    Thanks for stopping by again, Mike — and for adding your comments. :)

    I don’t think all porn has subtexts which are bad for women, or for anyone for that matter. I love a lot of it myself. ;) However *any* material has the opportunity to strike a nerve in a bad way for someone as easily as it evokes a pleasurable response in another. Regardless of the intentions of the publisher or creator.

    Given that women have been subjugated & oppressed in most cultures even at this time in human history, any work is more likely to have a subtext or a reminder which upsets or offends females. But not exclusively so.

    I think the important thing is for a person to be aware why they are responding as they are, especially if something makes them uncomfortable. And when they have relationships, to share that information. This response, like most critical reading or media consumptions skills, are lacking in our education. And any proper sex ed should involve this too. This way, more people would become as tolerant and understanding of sexual thrills, in the sex positive way of acknowledging the right to sexual pleasure — as well as respectful of what doesn’t thrill others.

    Talking, including blogging and sharing like this, is a help. I hope!

  3. Mike says

    SPS – thanks for the response. Since my last posting I listened to your interview on Blowfish – interesting to hear you (rather than just reading your text and imagining what kind of person you are!) but most of all that you touched upon a number of issues that I brought up in my response.

    Yes, there are subtexts good and bad. In our culture (I’m lumping together for argument’s sake the UK and USA here but I suppose I really mean white Anglo-Saxon protestants – a shorthand that it much open to debate in itself) the expression of sexuality or the enjoyment of sex by women has been distrusted and reviled by the majority – in the UK the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey books took the mainstream media by surprise (women not only enjoy sex but sex that is not just copulation!) and has made many book publishers rethink their lists of erotic/sexual material.
    Again, I have to draw upon my own experience (I know we all do but I have no social science data to hand!) Growing up in the 1960s (I was born in 1953) my sex education in school and home was zero (my father died when I was 15 so I suspect he would have got around to it at some point) I learnt what I could from various sources. But even in the most liberal environments then and since such education has been about the mechanics rather than sexuality and eroticism.

    From my first discovery as a teenager of sexual/erotic material I was fascinated – not just for the arousal it could give but in the same way certain types of music does, interesting and worth knowing more about and experiencing more and giving much pleasure in the process. Yet, in the main, unlike music something not discussed with others – sometimes but always in the strict confines of men’s mags (such as the one your original photograph came from) criteria, but as I said in my last post anything outside that was either not mentioned or treated with suspicion or derision (but I suspect this is a male thing, I have got the impression over the years that women are much more open and revealing with their female friends.)

    I was pleased to read your response to the original photograph, and can see why it made you feel that way it did and your reflection on your own feelings about being photographed. It is also good to read the thoughts of a woman on such matters that is neither disgust or the opposite extreme – the latter a stance taken by too many men. In the past I had the misfortune to work with men who took the view that any woman who let them have sex with her was worthy of their attention, how they regarded her in any other way or how she my regard them was never a consideration.

    To me sexual/erotic material in whatever form it is in is just another area of publishing, film making etc the same as any other. But… there has to be considerations of what is being communicated (just as in any non-sexual material) and why, and those that produce it and participate in it do so without coercion and are happy with the results. I realise reading this back to myself it sounds pompous – but would we be having this debate about books, magazines and films about gardening!

    Thanks again for your responses and maintaining such an interesting blog.

  4. Mike says

    PSP – after posting the above I remembered a book that covers some of the issues we’ve discussed – John Berger’s Ways of Seeing which was a TV programme here in the UK –
    http://www.amazon.com/Ways-Seeing-Penguin-Modern-Classics/dp/014103579X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362337995&sr=1-3&keywords=john+berger
    Do you know it? I’ve dug out my copy and we will re-read the relevant parts. Would you mind me taking this debate further?

  5. Not Your Angel says

    With all due respect to you, SPS, and your other readers, there is a huge market in men who like these types of sneering bratty photos — I know, I make money off them all the time ;)

  6. Silent Porn Star says

    Of course we can continue this (or any other) discussion, Mike. :)

    Angel, I’m flattered but surprised that you left a comment — you rarely do! I appreciate both your respectful input and your income ;)

Continuing the Discussion

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  2. Your Nostalgia May Not Be My Nostalgia: An Aest... linked to this post on November 28, 2013

    […] Most of you know that I don’t divulge a lot about myself at this blog. That’s by design. And so, it was difficult to decide just how to address Mike’s past comments about my comments about the retro photo shown here. I told myself I didn’t have to say more than I did in response; but two years later, here I sit still contemplating things… Struggling how to articulate them…  […]



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