Friday, July 29, 2011

Sex, Strictly A Guy Thing (No Girls Allowed)

My photography gets a lot of attention from guys, and very little from girls. This is something I've known for a long time. And while I appreciate all that attention, it's a little bit frustrating, because I'd really rather be connecting with girls. I've thought a lot about why guys gravitate towards my photography more than girls, and believe me, it's a very complicated issue. It's easy to conclude that guys are just more sexual, and sexually open, than girls are. And maybe that's true. I don't like to jump into gender stereotypes, though. The old, "men are horndogs, and women are frigid icicles" is a stereotypical generalization. After all, females make up 50% of the classical depiction of sexual intercourse. Or should I be led to believe that homosexual male sex is far more natural than heterosexual sex, and that heterosexual sex ought naturally to be of the type where the man demands and the woman reluctantly complies? I'd like to believe that females can be just as interested in sex as men - and indeed, I've come across many females who would suggest this is true (see: just about any pro-porn feminist blog writer). But then, where are they? Why are they not visible? Are they truly that rare? Or is it true that the female mind is wired in such a way that their appreciation of sex is fundamentally different from a man's - specifically, that they have far less interest in visual depictions (like photography) of sexuality? Any of this can be true, but what concerns me is that we can't even know for sure as long as we discourage girls from behaving sexually and admitting their interest in sex.

There's a lot I want to do for girls' sexuality. Basically, to tell them that it's okay to like sex. That it doesn't make you a "slut", or otherwise that being a slut is not a bad thing. But of course, the majority of people out in the world participate in so-called "slut shaming". So the fact that I'll respect a girl who embraces her sexuality doesn't give her much comfort that the rest of the world will do the same. I wish I could somehow, through my work as an erotic artist, get out the message that girls being sexual is okay, and natural, and that they shouldn't be shamed for it. And a lot of my work is about fighting shame and being proud of your sexuality, but it's tricky, because I'm a guy, and the issue is a lot different for guys than it is for girls. A guy is allowed to be sexual, even encouraged and rewarded for being sexual. So, as a guy - even though I'm an atypical guy that feels girly on the inside - the message doesn't have the same effect when it's me getting out there showing my sexuality to the world and saying, "look, I'm not ashamed." And if I dare try to encourage girls to be more sexual, I can so easily be accused of serving my own selfish sexual desires (which I refuse to deny that I have).

I don't know how to accomplish my goal - whether working with girls is the answer; using my skills to enable them a venue to express their sexuality. But it's hard to even do that, because most girls are afraid, reasonably afraid, to approach the landscape of sex. They're scared of being associated with it, and many of them are probably victims of the societal brainwashing that insists that sex is dirty and icky and sinful, and that men's sexuality in particular is impulsive and predatory in nature, and should be avoided. There really is no easy answer, and trying to break girls who have already succumbed to the social programming is not only difficult, but could be construed in very destructive terms by a social system that wants to keep girls pure and virginal and asexual. I mean, think about it. The whole "sexualization of girls" debate implies two things: that girls are naturally asexual (they have to be "sexualized" by an outside force), and that the sexualization process is a bad thing - in other words, good girls are asexual girls. And for that reason, I am concerned for my own safety. I don't want to push girls into being more sexual, I just want to open up the floor, so that the girls who are, feel comfortable being so, and admitting it. It would be really nice to meet some girls who are, like me, rebellious, and have already broken out of the socially constructed mold of how one is supposed to properly act, sexually.

And it's weird, as a (sensitive) male who is sexually attracted to females, I feel kind of bad about having strong sexual desires for girls, when the social paradigm tells me that girls are largely uninterested in sex, and actually in a lot of cases interpret sexual advances as aggressive, predatory behavior. See, I don't want to make girls feel uncomfortable or defensive. I want them to be interested in sex the same way I am, and I want them to be able to interpret my sexual interest in the proper context - that is, as a positive and natural physiological phenomenon, and not as a threat, not as an impulse that's going to cause me to think of a girl as a piece of meat, something only to be fucked, whether she wants to or not. Really, I just want to hear girls say, yes, I like sex. I think it's really sad that we've come to a point that we've lost any conception of positive sexuality. That you either have to stay sexually pure (or strictly private), or else you're part of this sinful world of vice - the idea that if you embrace sexuality, by dressing in a certain way, or posting pictures on the internet, that you're agreeing to be objectified or treated rudely or whatever. That you have to take the one with the other. That you can't be sexually open and liberated and still respected and treated like a human being. And I just want that to change. I want sex to be a happy thing again, like it was before the Christians showed up.

And I want more people to learn - as I have learned - that if somebody anonymously sends you the message "I want to fuck you in the ass" (an activity I have no interest in participating in), you don't have to be offended and feel threatened, you're allowed to take it as a compliment, and then completely ignore it, and know that the person on the other end is just indulging his sexual desires, and he doesn't (shouldn't) expect you to be interested, and that he's NOT going to track you down and rape you if you don't patronize him. And that you're allowed to tell people to back off if they're bothering you, but that you shouldn't take a playful sexual comment as an immediate threat of rudeness and aggression. Are we not sexual beings? Why do we run away from sex so much? I get that some people just don't like sex, but how many haven't even tried peacefully coexisting with it? Because it just isn't going to go away, no matter how much we legislate it, and restrict it, and repress it within ourselves. It's not going away. And if we embrace it, and learn how to approach it properly, we can turn it into a positive life force. It doesn't have to be the icky, sinful thing that we make it out to be.

Things do NOT have to be the way they are, just because they are the way they are. Consider alternative possibilities. I'm telling you it's possible. I used to be sexually repressed. I didn't learn to masturbate until I was 17. I was tempted (brainwashed) to take an abstinence vow in high school, but it didn't make much difference because I wasn't getting any, anyway (the full story is more complicated than that, but I have no desire to get into that here and now). Now, sex is a large part of my life (and when I say sex, I mean a million things in addition to sexual intercourse, which is only a really tiny part of what constitutes "sex" - that's another critical point that so many people miss), and a very strong positive force that gives me something to enjoy, to counter all the shitty things I have to deal with in life. And I'm not diseased, I've never gotten anyone pregnant, and I can count the number of people I've been sexually intimate with on one hand (not that it matters how many people you've been with - I'm just trying to make the point that embracing sex doesn't have to have anything to do with "sleeping around", if you don't want it to). And you can follow my example.

Unfortunately, reforming the sexual landscape (and it desperately needs an overhaul) is going to be extremely difficult. It's not just a matter of tweaking some attitudes here and there. We don't live in a vacuum, and as long as those sex-negative messages are out there, they are going to continue to affect our feelings about our sexuality. Even as a sexually liberated individual, I still have to fight the very powerful sentiments floating around that insist on convincing me that sex is bad. And you have to be really strong to resist all of that negative conditioning. But I'm convinced that it's doing us more harm than good. Repressing our sexuality leads to unhealthy attitudes towards sex, and is the primary cause of all of our sexual dysfunctions in society. It's not going to be easy to flip that switch, and the results may not be clearly positive until the more positive attitudes have time to sink in (which is bound to take generations, at least - after all, we've been exposed to centuries of Christian moralism). Nevertheless, I feel it's a task that is utterly worth undertaking. I ask you to be brave and join me. Only together can we change the world...for the better.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The appreciation of erotic beauty - as an end in and of itself.

What is the purpose of erotic art? What is the goal in appreciating erotic beauty? The satisfaction of sexual desire? My stance is that this is one component, but not the only one. If erotic beauty satisfies one's sexual desires, then that is perfectly fine. And in fact, that is the primary element that sets erotic beauty apart from other kinds of beauty - that's what makes it special, and so very alluring. Yet the true connoisseur of erotic art understands that it is not simply the satisfaction of sexual desire that makes erotic art so appealing - after all, for that there is crude pornography. Erotic art taps into the romantic sensualism of beauty; it takes a sexy image, and drapes it in meaning and desire. It is, put simply, sexy but more. And it is this "more" that makes the erotic image far more appealing to some (even in a sexual way) than crude pornography. It is, in a sense, divine bliss, as opposed to earthly pleasure.

But is an appreciation for erotic art purely a means towards acquiring the goal of sexual satisfaction? Does one look at erotic images to pass the time between acts of fucking? Does one use those images as a catalyst or motivator for their other sexual behaviors? I'm sure some people do. Especially those who view porn. Yet, this is not the only possibility, and restrictions on erotic imagery should not assume that it is, while ignoring other, less 'salacious' uses of erotic images. In my own unique personal case, I have a suspicion that I actually enjoy the pursuit and appreciation of erotic imagery above and beyond the carnal act of sex itself. I'd rather create (or discover) and share a work of lasting erotic beauty, than spend a few moments attaining temporal carnal bliss. Should my interest in erotica (and eroticism) be belittled because some people (perhaps even a majority) have crude intentions? Should 'fine art' be dumbed down for the sake of the unsophisticated majority who are incapable of proper artistic interpretation?

No, absolutely not. That some people get off on images in crude ways is not an argument that those images should be in any way restricted. And that's without even touching on the argument that perhaps people getting off in crude ways is good for their health (and by extension, good for the rest of society, too).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Body Acceptance

Body Acceptance is recognizing that you're not the prettiest girl in the room, and being okay with that. It's not pretending that there is no difference between you and her. Acknowledging the worth of inner beauty does not eliminate or negate the value of outer beauty. Having body acceptance means understanding that your worth as a person depends on a whole lot more than your physical appearance - not thinking that physical appearance has no importance.

I know I'm not the most beautiful model on flickr. And I accept that, because my character and personality enriches my work with a depth and style that makes it unique. However, I would be a fool not to recognize that the fact that I am at least moderately attractive is a huge benefit to my work. If I were considerably less attractive, I might very well not bother attempting the kind of photography I've been focused on. After all, photography is primarily a visual medium, and it would be silly for me to ignore the aesthetics of visual beauty as I approach my work.

"Image is not everything. But it is something."

Total body acceptance recognizes both of those tenets. And that is the truth about beauty.

Beauty is not everything there is to life, but it does have a certain appeal. Not everyone is intelligent. Not everyone is athletic. Not everyone is strong. Not everyone is funny. Lacking any one of these traits does not make you worthless. Find your individual strengths, and revel in them. Don't dwell on the qualities you do not, by chance, possess. You may regret that you are not pretty - well I regret that I am not even a girl to begin with. But I have other qualities that I can be proud of. My not being a pretty girl, while unfortunate, doesn't ruin my life completely, and it doesn't stop me from being able to positively appreciate others who are pretty girls.

So let the beautiful model, and do not condemn them for it. Meanwhile, if you are not counted among the beautiful, find the place where you do belong, and pour your heart into that important work. If you do, you are bound to find others who will admire you for it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pet Peeve

Pet Peeve: people who would make me feel bad about wanting to take pictures of pretty girls nude. Like as if doing so makes me a bad person - for "degrading" or "objectifying" women (I call it "honoring" and "celebrating") - or that it makes me a weak person - for giving in to temptations of the flesh (as if we weren't supposed to enjoy the few pleasures there are in life).

I am an artist, and it is my calling to seek out beauty, in the perfect form in which it appears to me, and to capture it and share it with the world. What I do (or rather, at this point, what I'd like to be doing) is beautiful, in spite of your body shame, religious guilt, and sexual hang-ups. And if you have nothing good to say about what I do, then you've got nothing for me to hear. Go find another target for your psychological abuse.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nudists Who Don't Mind Being Photographed

As a photographer, one of my goals is to photograph social nudism. Unfortunately, many nudists (at least in America) are paranoid about having their picture taken, to the point of embracing a pretty general across-the-board "no cameras" policy at nudist resorts and events. Naturally, they are worried about voyeurs, as well as the ramifications of family, friends, and/or coworkers finding out about their practice of nudism. And while the latter is a valid concern, I feel it is an unfortunate result of how wider society views nudism, with a particular focus on how it misunderstands nudism. And hiding in the shadows only helps to reinforce the status quo.

That's why I believe it's important for nudists to stand up for nudism. And for us to embrace our own ideals and be less self-conscious about what people will think if they see us naked. Most nudists will perhaps not be so bold, but I'm certain that some of us are willing to stand up to the task, for the benefit of nudism. But even on a more basic level, for a photographer interested in shooting nudist recreation, it is more imperative than ever that he (or she) find a group of nudists who are prepared to give their explicit consent to being photographed, knowing that those photographs may end up in view of the public.

So I'm thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to start some kind of group - a network of people who aren't afraid to contribute to the public database of nudist photography. We could also provide education and discussions about both the risks and the importance of not hiding one's lifestyle, and of nudist photography in general.

I know that the people involved would probably be too few and far between for them to actually get together and do shoots, but I think that it would be helpful for people of this sort to band together and reinforce one another, while also hopefully getting the word out to the wider nudist community, if not society at large. Plus, having some centralization, with a focus on defending the merits of nudist photography, would help fringe nudists and photographers who may be out there worrying that they're the only one, and that there's no hope of ever finding other nudists who might want to contribute to a photography project they've been dreaming of for years.

Obviously, the focus of a group like this would be on legitimate nudist photography, so there would have to be an emphasis on the family-friendly, nonsexual context of the photography. And this is about nudists who aren't afraid to say to the world "I am a nudist", so it will have nothing whatsoever to do with the heaps of anonymous men who want to expose their junk to the world without showing their faces, nor with the private photo-sharing groups that are so popular. It's not necessary that one be a prude to join the group, just that they understand the group is not prurient in nature, and are willing to behave themselves, up to nudist standards. As far as fear of voyeurs go - if you're willing to unselfconsciously show your naked body to the world, then you have to accept the fact that voyeurs are going to look. Really, it's not a problem. It's just looking. Abusive behavior, on the other hand, is easy to combat.

So that's my idea. I know there are tons of nudist groups on the web, some better than others, and most of them have photography sub-groups, but they're all so small and fragmented and inactive. And it's just nudists talking about photography, it's not like there's any emphasis on educating the world about what they're doing, or even just the wider importance among the nudist movement that taking (and sharing) a nudist picture encompasses.

Maybe I am alone in this. But even so, discussing the merits of nudist photography might encourage others to get on board. As usual, I'm better at coming up with ideas than I am at actually executing them, so I'm not sure what to do. But, if you're reading this, and you're on board with what I've described, leave a comment and let me know you're out there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


If you don't want people to view your images in a sexual light, it doesn't help to bring up the topic of sexualization in the description for your images. Telling perverts to "stop it" isn't going to keep them from thinking perverted thoughts. And on the other hand, introducing the subject encourages everyone else to entertain those thoughts as well. After all, if I tell you not to think about elephants, what's the first thing you're going to think of?

So what does it accomplish? The perverts see your warning (which also acts as a billboard directing them to your content) and go about their business more secretively than before (which is perhaps the best you could hope for). And yet, the images are still sexualized - except you're the one responsible for it. Good job.

This effect is particularly striking when it is the result of an excessive paranoia over pictures of kids. Just like with the elephants, if you have to follow every "look at this picture of my kid" with a "don't you dare think any sexy thoughts", then what can you expect? You think you're checking other people's compulsion to think sexy thoughts, but you're the one whose mind immediately goes there. In fact, it may not be a coincidence at all, as it's often the people who complain the loudest...

Personally, I don't have much time for self-righteous moral crusaders or cowardly hypocrites.

A Metaphor

Imagine that sex is swimming. Now imagine that the most powerful church in the world just happened to be founded on principles that extol the virtues of being landborne. Naturally, the church forbids the teaching of swimming. Their idea of "education" is describing the dangers of swimming and telling people not to enter the water. Over centuries, people learn to avoid swimming, and categorize it as a risky activity, mainly out of tradition (backed by the church's support).

As you can imagine, most people who dare to dive into the water unprepared end up drowning. And this just reinforces the church's position that swimming is dangerous. Meanwhile, the lucky few who manage to figure it out on their own have a real hard time teaching others, because the church actively tries to silence them. You see, it's in the church's interest to ensure that swimming remains dangerous, no matter how many lives are sacrificed for it.

Now, think about our world, where there is no powerful taboo against swimming. Swimming is still a risky activity, but the dangers are largely controllable. In fact, we have created man-made environments that allow for swimming while eliminating many of the peripheral dangers of being in the water. Most people know the basics of swimming; lessons often begin at a young age, and even before that, the inexperienced are permitted to splash in the shallows under proper supervision, and with the right protective measures in place. Some people still avoid the water, by choice, while others, who have an aptitude for it, seek out a deeper understanding of the aquatic environment, and even pursue careers in related fields. And none of this is cause for alarm, because it's all out in the open, where the risks can be monitored and reduced. And the lack of a taboo eliminates feelings of guilt and shame.

What, then, is the difference between sex and swimming? One is an activity without which most people could still live a fulfilling life, and the other is accompanied by a strong biological impetus, which when denied or repressed, leads to complex psychological problems.

Examining Flickr's Safety Filters

Disclaimer: I make no claim that the advice given in this post is accurate. Standards change, and not every guideline is always clear to follow. These are simply the rules as I understand them at the time of writing this post. That understanding may change, and the rules themselves may change. I make no guarantee that by following these guidelines you will avoid running into trouble with flickr, or other flickr users. To stay safe, please visit the flickr community group Adult Flickr Members: How NOT to get Deleted!, and read their posts and guides thoroughly and frequently. ;-) Good luck.

Safety filters are the ingenious invention that allows flickr to play host to both family friendly content, as well as hardcore pornography. But, they are of course not perfect. They are essentially an imperfect solution to the problem of how to serve a global community where members from different parts of the world are bound to have different standards of decency.

There are only three levels of safety. "Safe" is basically anything that is completely inoffensive, whereas "restricted" is reserved for the really bad stuff, and "moderate" is for those things that tend to fall in between. Of course, illegal material of any kind is outright prohibited.

The biggest complaint I have about the safety filters (and it's something I can live with, even though I don't like it), is that nudity is not judged independently of sexual content. I understand that it's a lot harder to judge the context of an image to determine whether or not it's sexual than to just take a quick look and see what parts of the body are visible, but the result of taking the easy way out is that you get nonsexual nudity placed on the same level as explicit sexual penetration. A set of genitals ten feet from the camera is no less severe, according to the safety filters, than a set of genitals ten inches from the camera, and inserted into another set of genitals...and covered in goo. Now what kind of message does that send out?

Consider how the "restricted" level is described right there in flickr's FAQ:

Restricted - This is content you probably wouldn't show to your mum, and definitely shouldn't be seen by kids

Notice the discrimination against nudists. A nudist would have no problem showing his naked body to his [nudist] mum, nor would he have any qualms about showing it to [nudist] kids. In fact, in nudist environments, mums and kids alike frequently hang out together, in the altogether - that is, completely nude. And there's nothing sinister or sexual about it.

I realize we're talking about a minority here, but I'm part of that minority, and so it has to be said. Still, I can tolerate the fact that most people are offended by nudity (even though I don't like it), but the thing that bugs me more is that it's being equated with sexuality. I know there are people out there who can stand to view nudity uncensored (whether in a nudist or artistic context, or something else), but still have hang-ups about porn. But the way the safety filters work, you can't pick one or the other, they come together as a package deal. If you want to view uncensored nudity, you have to put up with the possibility of coming across porn, and if you can't stand looking at porn, then you have to deal with looking at only nudity that has been censored (or none at all). Again, what kind of message does this send out?

Let's take a closer look at the filters, and what falls under each safety level. Thankfully, flickr has included in its FAQ their favorite 'rule of thumb' regarding posting material that includes nudity. It goes like this: breasts and bottoms are moderate, full frontal nudity is restricted. And, one of the unspoken rules is, if your content is sexualized in any way - either by comments or tags or descriptions or by placing it in certain groups or even in the context of the rest of your photostream - you should filter it one level higher than usual. For example, a picture of bare feet, while technically including only safe levels of "nudity", might need to be rated moderate, or even restricted, if it is contextualized as a 'foot fetish' photo. This is true even for fetish items that are not strictly defined as a form of 'nudity'.

But for this exercise, let's take the following photos as is, ignoring their context, so we can see what the different safety levels allow for (in my own understanding). However, I'll note that, when in doubt (and sometimes when there is no doubt), I tend to filter my photos conservatively - for two reasons. One, the cost of reducing a photo's audience (which is admittedly unfortunate) is minor compared to the potential cost of getting in trouble (and possibly even deleted) for not filtering a moderate or restricted photo properly. Two, there are some photos that might technically be able to survive on a lower safety level, but I don't necessarily want them to be seen by people surfing on just that level, for personal reasons.

So, starting with "safe", the range goes from the fully dressed, purely mundane,

to family-friendly not-really-showing-anything implied nudity.

Many flickrites get away with creating the illusion of implied nudity via skimpy clothing - and they are the ones who tend to make a big fuss about the fact that they're not really naked, thereby spoiling the fun - but I've always gone for the authentic approach; that's just my style.

In the "moderate" camp, we have breasts and bottoms. Note that there is no top-equality on flickr. Shirtless men can be considered safe (if not overtly sexualized), but topless women cannot. That's just the way it is. Breasts and bottoms are officially "nudity", yet relatively harmless in comparison to full-on genitalia - think breastfeeding and mooning - so they come in at "moderate".

Now, I know people freak out when they see genitalia, but I can't help thinking that it's ridiculous that - for example - a nudist in the same innocent pose would be rated moderate when viewed from one direction, yet restricted when viewed from another. It just seems silly.

And so we come to "restricted", which covers everything from a flash of pubic hair,

less revealing nudity that is nevertheless sexualized,

full frontal nudity in a nonsexual context,

tastefully sexualized nudity,

blatant erotica,

all the way up to explicit hardcore pornography

(quite a range, eh?). And then you've got frustrating cases like this one, or this one, or this one, or, yes, even this one (which is certainly no more disturbing than the phallic imagery - including penis-shaped lollipops - a person might be exposed to at a public fertility festival in some parts of the world), where the "offending" bits are so small or nondescript that they are essentially benign (but better safe than sorry - er, sorry, better restricted than...uh, never mind).

As I said before, I resent the fact that immodest nudity and hardcore sexuality are judged on the same level. I don't mind there being a filter for nudity, but I think it's unfortunate that it's the same filter that is used for pornography. I have pictures that I would be comfortable showing to nudists and art lovers, yet I would not be comfortable showing them other pictures I have that could be described as pornographic. But instead of separating that content, it's all or nothing. And that goes against the very purpose of the safety filters - to let people view the content they want, while avoiding the content they don't want.

Those are my complaints, and as I said, I can live with the way the system currently works, whether I like it or not - that's the basis of free speech, being able to criticize something constructively. I do have much good to say of flickr, since they are the only service I've found so far that meets my needs of having a nice community, and explicitly allowing pornographic material, while not behaving like a sleazy 'adult industry' site. For that they have my kudos. My growth as a photographer has been greatly facilitated by the flickr service and community, and who knows how differently things would have progressed without it.

On the other hand, you hear a lot about people being deleted from flickr for breaking this or that community standard. I'd like to think that my courteous behavior and careful reading of the rules is what's responsible for me being kept around this long, rather than blind luck (and really, so many people do get deleted for really obvious reasons), but the content I post does put me sort of on the fringe, and I'm not impervious to making mistakes. But so far, pretty good. I'm crossing my fingers that it stays that way.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

For an Ethical Morality

Morality is a personal preference. It's a matter of taste. Unfortunately, religions have co-opted it and used it as a tool for controlling the masses. They tell their followers what morals they should hold, and then they try to pull the rest of society into line with those morals - because after all, each religion has the right answer, and every other religion is wrong.

What is morality but a guide for how to live a pure life free from sin? But who decides what is sin? Is sin a scientific concept, dictating ways of life that are harmful to the individual or society? Or is it an arbitrary designation made by uninformed zealots who once perceived this or that way of life to be harmful (or merely distasteful) in one way or another?

There are two kinds of immoral acts. One is a sin against others (e.g., crimes like theft and murder), and the other is a sin against oneself (e.g., vices such as gambling and promiscuity). But I can argue that with the philosophy of ethics and the principles of science, the concept of morality is completely irrelevant and extraneous to a complete guide for living well.

In the first case, we have sins against others, which can be completely covered by the rule of law, correctly applied - that is, applied for the protection of individual rights, and not as a moral prescription for living a clean life. When one person 'transgresses' against another, in the sense of violating the other's rights (such as in stealing from him, or killing him), we have a clear instance of crime that can be investigated, judged, and - if proven - punished. There is clearly a transgressor, and there is clearly a victim, and the execution of the crime clearly threatens the sanctity of the social construct. Ethics, as applied to dealings between individuals with concern for those individuals' equal rights, is all that is necessary to govern sins committed by one against another, and is the full proper application of the law.

In the second case, we have sins against oneself, which are commonly viewed as vices. While it is noble to have concern for one's fellow man, and to have a desire to protect him from harm and lead him to a pure life, there is a broad margin for interpretation when it comes to deciding what type of life is 'good', and whether or not 'purity' is even something to be valued. Ultimately, concern for the rights of the individual, and his ability to freely decide how to live his own life, trumps any moral concern for the decisions he chooses to make in life. It is perfectly fine to advise people on the rewards and pitfalls of various lifestyles, but ultimately, the decision lies with the individual, and that means we must be willing to respect individuals who choose to live in ways we may not support or recommend.

Now, regarding how we determine which lifestyles are 'good' and which are 'bad', we don't need a fictional being to dictate to us what those are. We are not children. We have developed the field of science as a means of understanding the world around us. Through objective scientific trials, we can determine which ways of life are harmful and which are beneficial, and we can observe precisely in what way(s) they are harmful or beneficial. And if science provides no evidence of harm, then there is no reason to discourage that lifestyle. We need not say that promiscuity is a vice because God forbids it, or because the Devil encourages it. Rather, we can say that promiscuity carries the risk of transfer of disease, unwanted pregnancies, and the like.

And, science also gives us the tools to isolate those risks and work on preventive measures so that a person can live promiscuously with less risk than they could before. This is the power of man - shaping the world for our own betterment. And in the end, risk or no, it's up to an individual whether he wants to engage in a vice or not, and we should respect that decision even as we disagree with it. For there is no value in choosing to live well if we cannot also choose to live poorly (which is, after all, a subjective value judgment that one who lives in vice may fully disagree with).

Because it is so subjective, morality is a thing that must be applied only to oneself, and not to others, if we are to uphold the virtue of individual rights and free choice. We can make suggestions for how others should live their life, but in the end it is their choice. Acts that infringe on the rights of others can be prosecuted by law, and lifestyles that carry scientifically proven risk of harm to oneself may be discouraged (and those risks should certainly be targeted by education), but must ultimately be permitted to be engaged in by those who choose to do so. After all, life itself is not without risk, and a person should be free to weigh the risks he takes with the benefits they bring him - this is something he alone can decide, for he alone knows what the value of those risks and benefits are to him personally.

And when it comes to activities that are scientifically safe and criminally benign - like, say, dropping a quarter at the slots, or sharing taboo sexual fantasies, or anything that has been deemed unhealthy without proof, or offensive without demonstrated empirical harm - morality dictates only whether or not you like it, and it is not fair for you to discriminate against others on that basis alone. Morals ought to guide your own life - noone else's.

A Window on Intimacy

Many of the erotic photos I post are, sexually speaking, depictions of "intimate" (if mainly solo) moments. Pictures of me hard, sometimes pleasuring myself. It occurs to me that someone viewing those photos might get the impression that, because I post those photos publicly for complete strangers to see, I am "open" in such a manner that I wouldn't mind just anyone watching me in those moments as they actually occur (which is debatable, considering my exhibitionism). And, in other photos where I might be with another person, since I share those intimate moments with the world, one might imagine that I'm willing to share moments of that sort with just anyone.

But there is a barrier there - the barrier of photography. I choose which pictures to show the world, and through them, I can engage my exhibitionism while satisfying others' voyeurism, all the while without betraying the sanctity of my body. That is to say, I still get to choose when and where and with whom I behave sexually, and the fact of the matter is, my choices in those matters are much more restricted than you might think. You see, erotic artists are not necessarily sluts and whores, and I would argue that that holds for 'sex workers' of many stripes (individual results will vary).

Aside: In fact, I think the all-or-nothing assumption that if a person gets involved in erotic work of any kind then anything goes is generally harmful - it reflects poorly on the image of the sex industry as viewed by wider society, and it puts undue pressure on those who get involved ("you have to go all the way!"), or those who might have gotten involved if they weren't scared away by the horror stories they've heard (regardless of how true, or how common they are). Not to mention the fact that if you characterize the sex industry as sleazy, it will attract more sleazeballs. And you think that's a coincidence? It's a self-perpetuating phenomenon that the anti-sex puritans are all too happy to support - as long as sex maintains its sleazy image, their arguments which hinge on that "fact" will continue to hold water. Never mind who gets hurt in the process of ensuring that sex remains a dangerous, sometimes even criminal, vice.

Getting back to the main point of this post... If, for example, I were to post a photo depicting someone else touching me - you could not imply from that that I would give that privilege to just anyone I might bump into on the street (or even befriend). The fact that I show the world my intimate moments does not mean that I am "loose". I am essentially saying, "come, look at this", but I am not implying, "come, and join in". To do that requires passing a very thorough vetting process. ;-)

Although as far as pure fantasy goes, you're more than welcome to imagine whatever scenarios please you most. Just remember that those are your fantasies, and I have no obligation to participate in them. :-p

Monday, July 11, 2011

Selling With Sex

I often hear people get upset when people use sex to sell their products. Firstly, advertising is far from an honest, upstanding industry. Either you begrudge their methods (and in the interest of free speech, I do), or you can attack them on a broader platform. People have reasonable arguments about why selling things with sex is stupid or wrong, but I claim that they're using those arguments to conveniently rail against sex from a sex-negative standpoint. If somebody dislikes sex, they're going to latch onto every good argument against sex that's out there (whether it's a valid argument or not), and they're going to try to lean on the non-sex-specific aspects of those arguments in an attempt to hide their personal moral judgments and make it seem like sex is bad from an objective standpoint, regardless of their personal beliefs.

So, people complain when sex is used to sell a product. I just saw a commercial where an anthropomorphic dog was used to advertise a furniture store. It didn't make any sense to me, it was just a stupid gimmick. I imagine whoever came up with it liked dogs, or just thought people who wear animal costumes are cute, and that it would generate some positive attention, that could be directed towards the product they were trying to sell. Why is sex any different? People like sex, so why should it be off-limits from an advertising standpoint? What if a person commissions a sexy advertisement for their product because they are the type of person who likes sex, and includes sex or sexiness as a part of their general lifestyle image (whether or not it has anything directly to do with the product he's selling)? What is wrong with that?

If you don't like sex, you're more than welcome to shop somewhere else. But don't try to prevent advertisers from choosing to use sex to sell products, and don't try to rob people of their choice to support companies that use those advertisements.

Dislaimer: I have no affiliation with Naked Juice, and my views expressed in this post do not in any way reflect theirs. Unfortunately.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sex Advice from a Nudist

I'm ripping off this idea from because I thought it would be fun. Of course, I'm probably cheating, because in addition to being a nudist, I'm also a sexual liberationist, but the nudist experience is definitely there. ;-p

zharth, 27

Why are nudists better in bed?
Because they are comfortable in their skin, and more sensitive to the everyday stimulations of one's environment.

I'm interested in attending my first nudist event, but I'm really insecure about the size of my penis. What should I do?
You should learn to accept what you've got. A man is more than the size of his penis. Anyway, it's not like nudists are going to care how big (or small) you are. You're not there to show off.

My girlfriend is a nudist, but I'm not into it. I'm uncomfortable letting her attend nudist events by herself, and I'm not interested in going. Is it crazy that I want her to hang out with me, with her clothes on, instead of a bunch of naked strangers?
Yes, it's crazy. And you're ruining it for the rest of us. :p Stop being so possessive. Do you realize how lucky you are to have a girlfriend who is into nudism?

What's the best way to pick up someone at a nudist event?
Don't try. Because if you do, there's a good chance you'll get kicked out. If you meet someone, that's great, but it should progress naturally. Just because everyone's nude doesn't mean they're all looking for a hook-up.

I get easily aroused — sometimes for no clear reason. What happens if I'm at a nudist event, and I get an erection around someone I'm not attracted to, or worse, someone I am?
That depends on where you are and who you're with. I like to think most nudists will be forgiving, as long as you're not behaving lewdly (try to ignore or conceal the erection, if possible, instead of flaunting it). I get aroused easily, myself, but I find if you don't stimulate it or concentrate on it (or on whatever might have caused it), it will go away before long. If it's the person in front of you who caused it, then just try really hard to focus on the conversation. :p Worst case scenario, if somebody seems upset, address the issue in a light-hearted manner, showing them that you're personable and not trying to be creepy or aggressive.

How long do I have to wait before I asked out my sister's ex-boyfriend?
You should ask your sister that question. Unless you're on bad terms, in which case it's up to you, provided you're not interested in patching things up with your sister anytime soon.

I am not a fan of women who don't shave. Nothing personal — it's just a preference. I don't want to go home with someone, find out she's unshaven, and then offend her. How can I meet shaved women?
Find an online community for shaved people. Barring that, you have two options. If you're hooking up with someone and it's not serious, then don't feel bad about stating your preference. If you're in a more serious commitment, then you should be able to work something out if you let your girlfriend know how important it is to you.

I think it's really important for a young woman to learn about her sexuality. Is it weird to give my seventeen-year-old daughter a vibrator?
No, it's not weird at all. But you should probably ask her first, she might already have one.

I dated a professor, while I was in his class, secretly. He broke up with me, and now I've found out that he's dating another student of his. Should I report him?
Report him for what? Breaking your heart? Take the high road.

I'm a married woman who's no longer sexually compatible with her husband. Is it better to have a secret affair, and lie, or leave my husband and fuck up my kids?
It's better for you to talk to your husband, and try to work out a compromise, if possible. If that's not possible, you can still be there for your kids. You can't protect them from all the shit that's going to happen to them throughout their lives, but you can be there for them to support them when they need you.

I'm a gay man and I just found out my partner used to "date" older men for money. I wouldn't mind if he was broke and doing it out of necessity, but he was a student at a good college. I'd like to let bygones be bygones, but it's driving me crazy. What should I do?
You should talk to your partner. Find out why it bothers you, and whether it's something you can get over. He's not a bad person just because he's willing to trade sexual favors for money. Anyway, isn't it better that he did it voluntarily, and not out of necessity? Are you saying that 'prostitution' is okay if it's forced, but not if it's engaged in consensually? Isn't that a little backwards?

An Open Letter

To the Anti-Sexual Brigade:

For god's sake, if somebody finds you attractive, it doesn't mean they're going to rape you. And do they really deserve to be ashamed for feeling that way? What reason do you have to counter somebody else's positive vibrations with a buzzkill? You have this opportunity to let other people feel good, and you'd rather they felt bad? Oh, what a fantastic person you are.

You don't have to go out of your way to please anyone you don't want to, but neither do you have to go out of your way to punish anyone for being pleased by what you would have done anyway. And if you take pleasure in pleasing others, then more power to you. God forbid somebody should get their rocks off. Heavens, no!

It's one thing if somebody is giving you attention that makes you feel uncomfortable, but to punish a person just for admitting what he likes? If you had your way, I bet you would put anyone who likes to look at porn in a concentration camp, wouldn't you? Bravo, you're a true Christian soldier, doing the Lord's work. How many souls do you have to crush in order to earn your wings?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Photographic Solipsism

I envy photographers who have confidence and a pure enough spirit, that they can afford to take the moral high ground on the issue of photographing only people who have given their express consent to be photographed. I don't want to take pictures of people who don't want their pictures to be taken, but I sometimes get stuck thinking that the people I'd like to photograph would never consent to it - considering the nature of my work, and that I'm too honest to pretend that there isn't a sensual quality to my appreciation of beauty, something that is bound to scare many people away.

But, I suppose if you never ask, the answer is always no.

The trouble is, I hardly ever meet people - especially the ones I'd like to photograph - let alone tell them all about my photography hobby (which is a little bit more difficult to explain than it would be for someone who shoots inoffensive things like flowers and pets and sunsets).

If I were to take pictures of a public crowd, I would be instinctively drawn to the more attractive members of that crowd, and my realization of that fact would make me self-conscious, and I would begin to feel guilty. Because the fact of the matter is, I don't really want to take pictures of the crowd. It would just be an excuse for me to take pictures of the attractive members of the crowd, without having to single them out and ask them to model for my camera. And part of the reason I'm afraid to do that is because I feel guilty treating a person like a piece of meat.

I'd like to believe that anyone would be flattered if a photographer came up and told them they're pretty enough to be in pictures, but it's hard for me to think that way when I hear so many things about people being suspicious of photographers, not wanting their pictures showing up on the internet, and about how degrading it is to have your image appreciated on a superficial level by complete strangers.

Maybe it's my fault for conflating what people say about pornography with plain portraiture, but then again, maybe it's the odd way my mind works: that if you look at a picture and like it because the girl is pretty, that it doesn't make all that much of a difference to me (in terms of being more or less degrading) if the girl is fully dressed or nude and spread-eagled. To me, sex is sacred, and pornography is as innocent as any other kind of portraiture.

So I guess when people say, "it's different with porn", I don't really understand what they mean. Especially considering that we can't come to a consensus on what is considered porn. If a person can use an innocent image for pornographic purposes, is it right for us to then become suspicious of innocent images? And if not, then how can we condemn pornographic images outright, if there is the possibility that they can be meaningful, uplifting, and positive accounts of sexuality, that do not degrade the models? I just can't seem to sort out the logic behind the way we act on these issues, together as a culture. And I suspect that's because there is no logic behind it.

And that's why I rarely take pictures of crowds, and have very few pictures of other people, besides myself (with a few rare and important exceptions). I'm the only person I want to take pictures of who I know - with certainty - is on board with my goals and purposes as a photographer. And, you know, who won't complain when they learn that I sometimes shoot pornography, and then come to the conclusion that that somehow stains the rest of my work.