Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why 2257 Bothers Me (And Why It Should Bother You)

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and the following does not constitute legal advice. Actually, one of the things that bugs me most about our laws is that legalese is so hard to parse, that you often have no idea what constitutes "following the law" without paying a highly-priced professional to interpret the rules for you - which may well be overturned in a court setting. Nevertheless, the following are the issues as I understand them, and I may not be a lawyer, but I am a critical thinker.

I've been trying unsuccessfully to articulate the reasons why the 2257 Regulations make me feel uneasy, and I think it all comes down to this: the law places an unconstitutional burden on protected speech, but it does so with the justification of protecting children from sexual exploitation. And, frankly, it's incredibly difficult to construct a convincing argument placing the importance of essential liberty above the alleged "safety" of children (and there is no doubt policy-makers take advantage of this fact). No matter what I say about how 2257 chills speech and gives the state way too much control while taking away the privacy of its citizens, my entire argument could be destroyed by a simple, "don't you care about the children who are being sexually abused and exploited?"

I don't want to seem insensitive (though it may be inevitable) to the plights of abused children, but where does it stop? How much of our rights and freedoms are we willing to give away "to protect the children", when it's not even clear that we're doing that much? The 2257 Regulations do nothing to prevent child sexual abuse. If someone is intent on breaking the law, drafting more laws isn't going to stop them. What 2257 does is make it easier for law enforcement to identify and prosecute illegal speech. But at what cost?

What really bothers me about 2257 is that it shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. If you are accused, then you are guilty unless you can provide the required records proving your innocence. If you cannot, then even if the prosecution can't prove the speech you've created is illegal, then you can still be punished (rather harshly) on account of not having those records. I get the sense this law was pushed forward by frustrated prosecutors who felt it was unfair that producers of "indecent" pornographic speech were getting off unpunished just because they couldn't prove that the speech was breaking any laws.

The other thing that really bothers me about 2257 is that it reinforces the position of law enforcement as enforcers of social control, instead of mediators of public conflict, which they're supposed to be. I am unnerved by the thought that a cop could look at an image, decide that a crime has been committed, and then press charges without ever receiving (or even soliciting) a complaint from anyone involved in the creation of that image. I know victims are not always in a position to stand up for themselves, but I was under the impression that this country was founded on the principle of NOT infringing on the fundamental rights of the innocent in a [sloppy] attempt to get at criminals.

You might think that the 2257 Regulations (read them here) don't apply to you. You might think they only apply to big profit-making pornography industry companies. Well, you're wrong. The courts have argued that individuals intent on sexually exploiting children are not motivated purely by commercial interests, and therefore ALL speech that includes pornographic content ("actual or simulated sexually explicit conduct") falls under this law, including the videos you make with your wife in your bedroom.

You could argue that the courts are never going to prosecute you, for any number of reasons (because you're not a threat, because the videos you've made are obviously not illegal, whatever), but that's entirely beside the point. The law is on the books, and you are expected to obey it. If you do not, you are subject to the penalties, whether you manage to get away with it or not. And it's not good for society to have laws that most people aren't expected (or don't expect) to follow. Above all, this is not like getting a speeding ticket; failure to comply is a federal crime, and you could spend up to 5 years in prison - all because protecting children from sexual exploitation (even if that means tossing innocent people in the slammer) is serious business.

You might think that the 2257 Regulations are reasonable. After all, there is an official age limit for involvement in pornographic media, what's so bad about keeping records to enforce that? Well, it's reasonable to require individuals intent on creating this type of media to check first and make sure those involved are of age. What the recordkeeping requirements do is burden the civilian with what should be law enforcement's duty to investigate. It's their job to get in contact with those involved and ensure they are of age, if they believe otherwise. This falls under shifting the burden of proof.

Moreover, the recordkeeping requirements are simply too much. Can you imagine having to create and maintain documents (viewable by government agents at any time) for every single alcoholic beverage you drink, every single cigarette you smoke, every NC-17 movie you ever watch, just so that law enforcement has an easier job of prosecuting people who give alcohol, cigarettes, and NC-17 movies to minors? It may be a noble task, but it's just too much control, it takes the fun out of everything, and most of all, it's an unlawful restriction on liberty. And it gives the impression that law enforcement doesn't trust you to follow the law. Sure, distrusting its civilians is a better way of cracking down on crime, but do you really want to live in a country where the government doesn't trust you? It's "guilty until proven innocent" all over again.

IDing is reasonable, given the age restriction. But having to keep these records is overkill. I would even go so far as to say that having these records for cases that appear to be borderline (i.e., "barely legal" porn) is not just reasonable, but a really good idea. Still, I don't think it should be a legal requirement (especially not across the board), simply an intelligent defense for those few who think that misunderstandings could lead to mistaken charges.

In a discussion on the constitutionality of the 2257 Regulations, and whether they should apply to all producers of pornographic content or only those producers of content that could be reasonably mistaken for illegal speech*, one defender argued that one could not always tell, just by looking, the difference between an 18 year old and a 21 year old, or, more importantly, the difference between an 18 year old and a 15 year old - hence why the records are crucial. This may be true, but it reveals much of the intent behind the law. Very few cases would involve a reasonable confusion between a 15 year old and a 21 year old (or, more importantly, between a 12 year old and an 18 year old).

We have a federal age restriction on pornography set at 18, even though teens under the age of 18 have often been sexually active of their own volition. Remember that the purpose of these laws is to combat the sexual exploitation of children - a concept that evokes images of prepubescent children being raped on camera for profit: very visceral, emotional images that tug on our heartstrings, and short-circuits those reasoning faculties that might prevent us from agreeing to give up more of our rights and liberties. Is the state really using this law to prevent prepubescent children from being raped? I think, comparatively, it would be very easy to tell the difference between a prepubescent child and an adult, as opposed to trying to parse younger teens from older teens. After all, if (actual) child pornography were indistinguishable from adult pornography, then why would pedophiles even bother?

No, this law is being defended on the merit that the state wants to be able to criminalize speech that is visually indistinguishable from legal speech: porn that features teenagers that are indistinguishable from adults. Teens that, quite unlike victimized children, may actually want to participate in pornographic speech - speech that, in some cases where the teen is over the local age of sexual consent, depicts legal conduct (quite apart from the court's conviction that child pornography - which really has nothing to do with this - is a form of speech inextricably linked to conduct that the court has a "compelling interest" to combat. I agree that the courts have a compelling interest to combat the sexual victimization of children, but the interest is far from compelling when we're talking about sexually mature teens).

If setting an age limit at 18 means a few prematurely developed 15 year olds might slip through the cracks, I fail to see why that is a serious problem. The real activity the age limit is meant to prevent is the abuse and exploitation of children who are too young to have an interest in sex, and there are extremely few cases where an 8 year old could possibly be mistaken for an 18 year old. We've already got more than enough laws on the books, that cover more than enough ground; the more we expand their reach, the more protected speech will be chilled, and the less freedom and privacy we'll have.

Once the government has put into place a system that can enforce the criminalization of speech indistinguishable from protected speech, what's going to stop them from raising the age cutoff from 18 to 21? After all, some 18 year olds are still in high school. What about parents who don't want their kids wasting their college tuition on fucking when they should be studying at university? Boom, the cutoff age jumps from 21 to 25. Which will be great for the lobby who wants you to wait until marriage and only have sex for procreation, in church-approved positions (and still feel ashamed afterwards). Because, you know, the worst possible thing that could happen in the world is a 17 year old masturbating on a live webcam feed - worse than widespread poverty, drug addiction, gang violence, war and famine, murder and genocide...

You think any of this would happen if we had a healthy and positive approach towards sexuality? And what really gets me is the fact that sexual crime and pathology thrives in a climate of sexual repression and obsession. Pathologizing healthy sexual urges does nothing to curtail criminal sexual behavior (in fact, it may have the opposite effect). If we want to "fix" the sex problems we have, the answer is not to push sex further and further under the rug, but to pull it out, dust it off, and stop behaving so pathologically towards it. Sex is a part of life.

*Read this argument for the unconstitutionality of the 2257 Regulations (it's very good). And then read this response (a bit harder to stomach). I know, they're long, and filled with legalese, but they're very interesting if you have the time and patience to plod through them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sex vs. Erotic Beauty

If you've been paying any attention at all to my writings, or the nature of my photography, then this will come as no surprise to you - but, it's such a fundamental part of my philosophy on eroticism that it bears repeating, again and again.

I want people to understand the difference between sex and erotic beauty. Yes, they are related. But they are not equivalent. Sex is an activity that people can participate in. Erotic beauty is an idea, a concept, that can be explored through media (in my case, the visual medium of photography). If you lack any semblance of critical thinking skills, you might think that erotic beauty is intrinsically linked to sex in that it cannot exist independently of the sex act. Any intelligent, rational mind, however, will realize that this simply is not the case. Sex can be a source of erotic beauty (though it can also be devoid of erotic beauty), but though eroticism is intimately related to sexuality, it extends far beyond the limited domain of what constitutes "sexual activity".

For example, a picture of an attractive person nude can be a source of great erotic beauty, even though there is no sexual activity involved. This is the realm of "sensuality" that I've talked about before - the part of 'sexuality' that exists outside sex itself. Frankly, I think this realm is infinitely fascinating, but it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and I think it's because they don't know what to do with it.

Take nudists, for example. Nudism has nothing to do with sex. And because of the stigma against sex, nudists often feel compelled to legitimize their lifestyle by correcting people's misconceptions about nudity and sexuality. But what about erotic beauty? Nudism is not about erotic beauty, but it is about people getting naked, and when attractive people get naked, that is a potential source of erotic beauty. I sense that for some nudists, this is cause for great frustration. They are likely the people who confuse sex with erotic beauty. They fear that if they admit that there can be (not intrinsically, but incidentally) erotic beauty present in nudism, that this is the same as admitting that there is sex in nudism. Hopefully you're intelligent enough to realize how ridiculous that is. Unfortunately, many people aren't. I have no problem with nudists drawing a sharp line between their lifestyle and the sexual act, but it bothers me when I see them contorting themselves into pretzel twists of self-deception and hypocrisy in an effort to try to convince themselves that naked people [that are not having sex] can (and should) never be erotic.

But most of all, it's the people who embrace the creeping restrictions on sexuality into the realm of erotic beauty that raise my ire. People who would denounce, decry, and censor images of erotic beauty using arguments that are only relevant to sexual activity. People who believe that pictures are just as (or in some cases more - see the common discrepancies between age of sexual consent and legal age for participation in pornography) dangerous as the physical act of copulation, even when the pictures do not actually depict (or suggest) the actual physical act itself. People who would call you a slut and a whore for engaging in the artistic pursuit of beauty, as if this were the same thing as selling your body on the street.

Sometimes, sex is involved in the creation and exploration of erotic beauty; and I will absolutely not avoid exploring that angle for fear of losing the badge of "wholesome purity". I refuse to censor myself in that way. But sex is not always (and is frequently not) the source of erotic beauty. The stereotype of the porn industry is that it draws women in, objectifies them, uses them up sexually, and then spits them out. In some cases, this may be true, but I'd have to be short-sighted and narrow-minded to blame all of pornographic speech for this problem. Still, the pursuit of erotic beauty is another thing entirely, and this is where the controversial porn vs. art argument becomes meaningful. The goal of erotic art is not to get people off at whatever cost. If people get off, that's a good thing, but it's not all there is to it. It's about pursuing beauty - just like the rest of the aesthetic disciplines, except this one covers a specific type of beauty that is related (but not equivalent) to sex. It's not about exploiting models for (sexual or monetary) profit. It's about finding what is [erotically] beautiful in the world, and honoring that.

As a photographer, I see people complaining about pictures all the time. These are people who don't really understand pictures. And what they're really concerned about is behavior, which they mistakenly attribute to the pictures. On further thought, I think this is what David Hamilton was referring to when he said the following, which I've quoted before, elsewhere:

"A distinction must be made between eroticism and pornography; the media have blurred the disparity to an unforgivable degree. For those intelligent enough to recognize the difference, erotica will continue to hold a unique fascination. Social evils should not be confused with the pursuit of true beauty."

As a defender of pornography, I am sensitive to platitudes given out by erotic artists who denounce porn seemingly in an effort to distance themselves from the stigma of porn (much like nudists who seek to "purify" themselves by denouncing eroticism). Nevertheless, there is a meaningful difference between artistic eroticism and pornography - even if that difference is subjective, and notoriously hard to pin down. But what I think David Hamilton is saying here, in reaction to his detractors, who would argue that his photographing the erotic beauty of young girls in some way degrades or exploits them, is that there is a substantial difference between respectfully honoring the physical beauty of a model, and taking sexual advantage of her. This is something that, remarkably, some people seem incapable of understanding. We feel compelled to take up a drastic, black-and-white perspective on the issue - if your appreciation of a model's beauty is not entirely and perfectly nonsexual, if there is even the slightest hint of eroticism behind it, then you may as well be raping her on camera. In this perspective, erotic beauty - and its virtues - is entirely thrown out and subsumed under the broadening realm of "sexual activity" (deemed pure vice), which apparently now includes taking nonsexual pictures of attractive models, on the basis that you or a hypothetical member of your audience may entertain vaguely sexual thoughts at some point. If you ask me, I think this is just insane. And it needs to stop. Not all sex is bad, and not all erotic thoughts constitute sex.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interpreting The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights fascinates me because it is a sort of sensual paradise. A Garden of Eden, but where carnality replaces innocence. There is a wealth of intriguing detail to be studied in Hieronymous Bosch's thusly-titled triptych, but I'd like to address its overarching interpretation. It is popularly seen to be a warning about the sin of lust. That embracing a hedonistic lifestyle leads one down a slippery slope to total chaos and anarchy - and that such indulgence will inevitably be punished.

The left panel of the triptych seems to depict the Garden of Eden, at the moment that God introduces Adam to Eve. This is the genesis of man's carnal desire. The central panel depicts the Garden of Earthly Delights, which seems to be the logical progression from Eve's seduction of Adam, in which all kinds of people engage in carnal pleasures, plain and profane. Then, in the right panel, we see these people being punished for their sins of indulgence in a frightening nighttime hellscape.

The implication is seemingly clear, but I like to approach it from a different perspective - not as a progression from sin to punishment, but as a warning about the line where indulgence crosses into anarchy, as well as an illustration of the path (back) towards paradise. In the left panel, in the Garden of Eden, mankind is still young, and has yet to populate the earth, but the animals are abundant. Some of them are hunting and killing one another, as is the natural way. In the right panel, in Hell, demons taking on the distorted forms of animals violently punish men for various sinful activities. Only in the central panel, in the Garden of Earthly Delights, where man and animal alike are distracted by the pursuit of pleasure, is there a seeming harmony of sensual enjoyment.

In my view, sexual indulgence does not necessarily lead to unrestrained hedonism. Sex is a source of joy and happiness, and it brings people together. It distracts us from our other instincts - our selfish, dominating instincts, that lead us to inflict violence and suffering upon one another, and to pursue our own interests at the cost of others'. This is what's going on in the hellish right panel, and it's why we're being punished. That is what the world is like today. We shun positive expressions of sexuality, yet we glorify violence. We live in an earthly hell because we've forgotten paradise, and we'd rather hurt than love one another. Is it too late to go back? To return to the garden? I don't know, but we can try. All we have to do is lay down our weapons and redirect our aggression towards the pursuit of carnal pleasure. Then maybe someday we can again walk naked and happy across the land, at one with nature and at peace with all of mankind, pure though not innocent.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Paraphilia and Sexual Normality

Personally, I think we should differentiate between those who have an exclusive fixation on an object or an isolated part of the body such that it and it alone can bring them arousal and/or orgasm (and frankly, I've never known such a person) and those who are merely enticed and excited by specific things, as one part (if an important part) of their overall arousal pattern.

Also, I think we should differentiate between fetishes that focus on inanimate objects or isolated animate objects (like specific parts of the body), and "fetishes" that can best be described as an unusual focus on a certain type of sexual organism (like, say, members of your own sex) - since, to me, it seems like there would be a significant difference in the mechanics of being attracted to a thing versus being attracted to a [living] being (however unusual or uncommon an attraction to that thing or that being might be).

To go further, I think it would be interesting to isolate the triggers for sexual attraction from those for romantic attraction, and determine to what extent they are related. Specifically, I think it would be fruitful to examine the difference between those who treat their fetish as an object with purely sexual purposes, and those who experience romantic feelings for their object (or being) of attraction. There's so much room for study.

None of this is to say that there is anything wrong, nor that there is nothing wrong, with such peculiarities - frankly, I think we are in no position to make such judgments, since our understanding of human sexuality is poisoned by very counterproductive biases on the nature of sexuality. Even so, it doesn't mean we can't study sexual abnormalities in a nuanced, scientific manner, separate from making value judgments about them.

Above all, I definitely think we should learn to differentiate between matters of sexual taste, and impaired psychological functioning. I know that if someone is turned on by something that grosses you out, the instinct is to say "that's sick, there must be something wrong with you", but we shouldn't mean it literally. It's not true in nonsexual matters (can you imagine "enjoys listening to country music" being a symptom of a psychological disorder?), and I think our belief that it's true in sexual matters is [mis]informed by our biases against sex.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Little Music

You may have to turn your volume up a bit.

Contact Survey

I decided, on a whim, to do a quick survey of my contacts on flickr, just for the fun of it, to see what sort of photographers I follow and admire. The results are rather predictable. Out of a current total of 40 contacts, I have:

6 social contacts,
2 women who are aesthetic artists,
2 women who take naughty pictures,
7 women who dabble in erotic art,
6 male erotic photographers of women,
1 female erotic photographer of women,
12 teenage girls with cameras (who, despite what you may think, are amazing photographers),
1 mother who photographs her beautiful daughters very artistically,
and 3 girls who are mostly into fashion.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pretty is Popular

"Pretty is popular". I really think that's the crux of the truth about beauty, and I think it's something that bothers a lot of people - especially those who are less or not pretty, but also some pretty people too. Arguments go around about how pretty people are always used in the media, on television, in the movies, on the covers of magazines, but the issue becomes especially heated when we talk about feminism and sexuality. Some women are concerned that they are being judged primarily or solely for their prettiness, or sexual attractiveness, while their other merits are being ignored. And they complain that feeding into the "pretty is popular" culture just encourages that.

Is that reason to disparage, or even discard, the "pretty is popular" culture? Can such a thing even be done, or is it an inevitable part of human nature? Would undermining the popularity of prettiness even have the effect intended - to boost women's perceived value (by men, presumably) in all areas other than physical beauty? These are all questions that need to be asked and considered. Personally, I think it's futile to rail against the popularity of prettiness. And personally, the quality of prettiness brings me more joy than frustration. Granted, I am not female. However, I do have an unusual amount (for a male) of envy towards pretty girls, as I'd love to be one. Nevertheless, I don't view prettiness as a thorn in my side - it's the ray of sunshine that gets me through life.

Are women judged for their physical beauty to a greater extent than men? I think that's the important issue, that determines whether this is just a human nature thing, or if it's also a feminist/gender issue. And I'm willing to believe this is the case. Maybe because of years of patriarchal tradition, where men have been judged for their competence, while women have been seen as little more than wives and mothers (yet, though wives may be prized for their attractiveness, is it not true that a mother's good qualities are derived from skills of competence?). Assuming this is the case, the next question is, does our emphasis on the physical attractiveness of women significantly overshadow their other merits? In other words, are we judging pretty women just for their prettiness, and are we judging less pretty women harshly in spite of their other positive qualities and competencies?

I think, largely, it's a matter of image. I think the real amount to which women are judged solely on their appearance is small. I think men have an instinctual reaction to women, that could be described as vain, but I don't think it's a deep-seated commitment to valuing women solely for their appearance. I think men are perfectly capable of judging women on their other positive qualities and competencies. But I think it's very easy to point out instances of the "pretty is popular" culture as if they were indications of an underlying "unpretty is useless" attitude. Of course pretty women are going to draw attention. Of course they are well utilized as the visual image of a company or campaign - after all, isn't that what physical beauty is good for? Does this fact necessarily imply that unpretty women with other talents aren't going to be appreciated and utilized for other parts of the company or campaign? Frankly, I don't think so. But it's so very easy to feel like that's what's going on.

I'm not going to argue that women have equal opportunities compared to men. I just don't have the experience/data/knowledge to make that judgment. There is no part of me that wants to obstruct women's struggle for more and better opportunities in this world, and to be taken seriously, and judged adequately, and all of those things. I just don't want those things to be gained at the cost of beauty and sexuality. And I don't believe that it is necessary that beauty and sexuality be sacrificed for those goals to be attained. I think men could probably stand to be a bit more sensitive about women's feelings regarding being judged for their appearance, but I don't see what purpose it serves to undermine men's specific appreciation for the attractiveness of a female. It's something we must come to terms with, not try to defeat.

Just because a man tells some girl, "I like you because you're pretty", does not mean that he's also telling you, "I don't like you because you're not pretty." Don't fall into the trap of thinking that.

Also, if you complain about not being valued for your prettiness, you're giving off the impression that's the only merit you, as a woman, could possibly have. Emphasize your other merits. Being obsessed with prettiness (or the lack thereof) only plays into and contributes to the stereotypes you're railing against.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Nudist Rant

The following is an angry rant I wrote after reading sentiments suggesting that clothing is some kind of a necessary barrier preventing people from behaving like uncivilized apes. It is not directed at anyone in particular, but the points contained within, while forceful, I think are strong.

I mean, if someone is pissing on a park bench, then that's a sanitary concern. If someone is walking up to people and swinging his junk in their faces, then that's a behavioral issue. None of this has anything to do with what the person is wearing. If the only problem is that a person is naked and you don't want to look at him, then piss off. That doesn't give you any recourse to the law. I've seen plenty of ugly people I'd rather not have to look at, but there's no law against them coming out in public, and it's very easy for me to just not stare at them. The whole nudity taboo is arbitrary and unfair. What if there were a taboo against showing ears in public? What about the people who don't like covering their heads? If there are groups of people who don't like nudity, then let them have spaces where they can be free from nudity, but when it comes to shared public ground (and especially private ground, no matter where it is visible from), there should be no law against it. And it is the people who are deathly afraid of nudity in any situation that are insane, not the people who think it might be nice to doff all of one's clothes on a particularly warm summer day, for example.

Following on that thought, any practical argument against nudity is conditional. Though there may be practical arguments against nudity in specific contexts (sanitation is a popular one), there are just as strong (or stronger) practical arguments for nudity in other situations. If you're arguing pragmatically against nudism, then you have no choice but to concede that in some cases public nudity ought to be acceptable (like, say, at the local swimming hole). The only convincing argument for an across-the-board ban on nudity in public - though it shouldn't be convincing - is based on moralistic beliefs about nudity that usually conflate it with sex, reinforced by a lifelong tradition of gymnophobia (you have no idea how persistent habitudes are). Neither of these conditions should trump the practical considerations (and health benefits - both mental and physical!) for a more casual acceptance of nudity. No amount of your moral outrage outweighs my right to - for example - sunbathe on my front lawn naked. If you can't handle it, you're too sheltered, and if you don't want to be exposed to such things, you're more than welcome to lock yourself up in the privacy of your own home - or, barring that, put up a fence (yes, that's your responsibility, not mine). But your moral beliefs and personal standards of decency have no jurisdiction over what I do on my property, nor my state of dress when I'm on public streets or in public parks or the like.

In all honesty, I think it's only fair that anyone spend a considerable amount of time in a nudist environment before arguing against nudism. I've spent a lifetime in a textile environment, even though I might prefer a nudist one (clothing optional is the best of both worlds), and nobody ever asked me if I wanted to wear clothes, or whether I preferred to see other people dressed, rather than nude. If you can't respect my preferences, why should I respect yours? (Aside from the fact that your preferences are conveniently written into law...)

Women as a Sexual Commodity

Ironically, I think that if women started asserting themselves sexually more, they would be commodified less. And that can only happen if we stop shaming women who do assert themselves sexually. Women have to demonstrate that they have a mind of their own, and that they like sex, or else men will continue to want to commodify them for sexual pleasure (whether or not they continue to have the power to do so).

I hear a lot of cross-talk between the male camp and the female camp, but I really don't think either one understands the other. The whole feminist movement has given the female voice a lot of exposure, but I don't think a lot of people are giving the male voice a fair audience. I understand that females have been disempowered for a long time, but today's males aren't responsible for hundreds of years of subjugation, is it right that they be punished for it? The point of the civil rights movement wasn't to enslave white people in order to get even. The point of it was that slavery was wrong - for anyone.

Both sides must be willing to listen compassionately to the other side. And I see a lot of criticism of male sexuality as if it were the in vogue or politically correct thing to do these days. Pornography is degrading to women. Men are sexual predators. Attraction to physical beauty is vain and shallow. I'm a male, and I try very hard not to be a creep or a predator or what have you, but I have these sexual feelings, and I refuse to feel sorry for myself for having them. Look, I want to make a compromise with women. I have sexual needs, and I'm sensitive to the needs of women. I'm not like the men that are out there that don't listen to women. I want to listen. But I don't want my own needs and feelings to be belittled either.

As an erotic artist, over the past few years, I've noticed a very conspicuous disproportion between males and females in the sexual community. Maybe women are more likely to be the subject (or object, if you will) of porn, but men are by far the more frequent fans/users. I see virtually no women expressing a sexual agency, admitting an interest in sex. I've looked and looked for women who can appreciate the work I'm doing and give me some feedback, and they are practically non-existent. The only thing keeping me from turning gay purely out of convenience is the fact that I'm really not attracted to men.

Is this a biological phenomenon or a social phenomenon? I don't know. I wish I had the answer to that question. I want it to be a social phenomenon, because then I think it would be easier to change (though still not easy). But regardless of what's causing it, this is what the effect is: lots of men possessing a demand for sex, and very few women providing the supply. The trouble is that women don't seem to want sex. So men have two choices. Go without sex. Or force a woman to have sex.

I know, I'm offensively simplifying the issue. But it's because I'm trying to make a point. It's a subconscious attitude that some men may have. Maybe it's heinous, but we can't get rid of it until we identify it and talk about it. I'm a nice guy, there's no way in hell I'm going to force a woman to have sex with me just because women aren't giving me the sexual attention I crave. Yet I can't help feeling a little resentful of that.

Now, I'm sensitive and I'm intelligent, so I'm trying to find an ethical way to get around my problem - that is, lobbying for more freedom of sexual expression, fighting the institution of sexual shame, because I think freer attitudes towards sex will allow more women to be more open about their sexual feelings. But another person who is not quite so sensitive, or intelligent, might deal with this resentment another way. Like, say, insulting women for not responding positively to his unsolicited sexual advances.

I'm just considering the possibilities. And I absolutely don't condone that behavior. But while we ought to discourage it, it doesn't help to solve the problem if we don't look at what's causing it. And I think one of the primary sources is the sexual disparity between males and females. Whatever causes it, and whatever we can to do alleviate the problems that result, that's an issue we need to deal with.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

There Are Only Two Kinds of Porn

Misogynist porn, and gay (male) porn.

I don't really believe that, I'm just trying to make a point.

It's curious to me the way some guys just assume you want to look at pictures of their dick. I don't mean when you'd rather be looking at family portraits or landscapes or something, but even when you're looking at porn. I can understand taking the benefit of the doubt when it's not clearly stated, but it's the people who don't even check that I don't understand. Why would a straight guy who's interested in girls want to look at gay porn?

I have nothing against different people with their different tastes, and I don't even mind a little intermingling. It's just that I would check first before I decided to show a girl a picture of my dick. Maybe she's only interested in other women. Maybe she doesn't like those kinds of pictures. I guess it's just the way I am. I like to research things and make sure my footing is solid before taking that first step. I see a lot of people who just barge in headfirst. Shoot first, ask questions later.

And though they might get tasked every so often when they barge through the wrong door, it also seems to be the case that they're more likely to get the things they want. After all, you can't get what you want if you don't ask for it, and sometimes you'll find it in places you wouldn't expect. Winning takes trial and error, and that involves quite a bit of error. Really I'm just envious of people who have that kind of confidence, that "go get it" attitude, and that resilience in the face of (potential) criticism.

On the other hand, I'm not like that, and I don't like the implication that there is only one type of personality you have to have if you want to get anywhere in life. (which seems to be the case - and I don't have it). So, being the person I am, I can't help wondering. What kind of a mindframe do you have to be in to go around soliciting random strangers with pictures of your dick, waiting to find out if they appreciate it by the tone of their reaction? Is that why so many people (especially girls) complain about how rude people (especially guys) are about sexuality? Because, I mean, if that's turning girls off of sexuality overall, that's really unfortunate. Because there is such a thing as a sensitive and caring sexuality. And it's not something that only females can possess.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Importance of Proper Sex Ed

(emphasis on proper)

People are growing up and not being taught how to deal with their sexual feelings. We sweep these feelings under the rug, because they make us uncomfortable, and because we think there's something wrong with sex, but these feelings aren't just going to go away. People are left to fumble around in the dark, learning on their own what to do about their sexual feelings, and some of them are making bad decisions. Those bad decisions are used as examples by the anti-sex crowd to "prove" that sex is wrong and dangerous and immoral. So it gets swept even further under the rug, but it still doesn't go away. More people grow up without learning that there are ways to deal with their sexual feelings that don't involve victimizing, objectifying, whatever, other people. They are forced to choose between repressing their sexuality (unhealthy) and indulging their sinful desires while taking advantage of others. It is irresponsible not to teach people how to deal with their sexuality, and it is unethical to teach them harmful beliefs that involve the requirement to feel dirty and ashamed for experiencing natural desires that are not voluntary.

I had sex ed in school, but I learned very little that was useful. We studied reproductive anatomy, but learned nothing about the practical mechanics of sexual intercourse. We were shown what a pain in the neck pregnancy is, but they failed to emphasize how good an orgasm feels. We were preached to about sexual morality (i.e., sex is immoral, so don't engage in it), but not instructed in sexual ethics ("don't have sex" is not a good ethical code). A speaker came in to talk about how amazing abstinence is (and how gross sex is), yet I'd be willing to bet a teacher would lose their job if they told the class to go home and have an orgasm as homework. Sex ed should be fun, not dreadful!

Sex[y Pictures]

I talk a lot about sex, but it's not really sex I'm after. I'm not a swinger, I'm an erotic artist. I want people to be more comfortable with sex because people who aren't comfortable with sex tend not to have a very favorable attitude toward erotic art. But I'm not trying to promote a platform of unrestrained promiscuity.

The way I see it, modeling for pictures is safe sex. You're opening a window onto your sexuality through which the world can take part in your eroticism. I know a lot of people are hung up on sex being a private thing, to be saved for that special someone. But that's a highly selfish perspective. Through pictures, you can give the gift of eroticism, and even orgasm, to hundreds or thousands of people - particularly people who may never get the chance to sleep with someone as attractive as you. There's zero risk of pregnancy or disease. You don't actually have to touch anyone. And there's less risk of unwanted emotional attachment. It's a win for everyone.

That is, except for the tendency for polite society to shame sex-positive individuals. This kind of moral reactionism is a poison on healthy sexual expression, and it's precisely the thing I want to combat. It's the source of my ambitions for a sexual revolution. I don't necessarily want everyone to start having sex with everyone else, in one big global orgy. I just want people to be more comfortable sharing worldwide in the ancient art of eroticism, without being subjected to a grand shaming scheme. All of that shaming has one particular effect - it is a chilling effect that prevents so much potentially amazing erotic art from being created. I want to create that erotic art. But I can't do it alone, and my potential allies are being brainwashed by the opposition into avoiding having anything to do with me and my work. That's what I'm fighting against. That's what I'm fighting to correct.

Additional Point: You can find lots of galleries on the web of pictures of naked chicks, uploaded mostly anonymously. The anonymity helps in some part to deflect the negative attention a person might get for posting such pictures online, but it's not complete protection, and having to guard one's anonymity creates many limitations. But even more concerning is the suspicion that, although hard to gauge with any certainty, many of these pictures are likely either uploaded without knowledge or against the wishes of the girls in the pictures, or, those pictures have been uploaded by the girls with the intention that they will remain private, yet they have been stolen one way or another, and posted publicly - again, either against the girl's wishes, or without her knowledge.

Obviously, that type of behavior raises ethical concerns, especially considering the reaction one might get if pictures of that sort are found online by friends, families, co-workers, et cetera. Though I must point out, fighting the stigma against that kind of behavior (instead of shaming those who engage in it) would have the effect of reducing the threat of that risk. But people who take these pictures and post them without consent are ruining the practice for everyone - because the girls who are victims, as well as everyone else who objects to such activities, don't tend to make a distinction between the theft and the sexual expression. They think everybody who engages in sexual expression has no morals, and are just as willing to steal pictures for sexual satisfaction as those who actually do. So they attack the expression itself, encouraging girls not to take those pictures in the first place (and to view with derision any guy who asks or encourages a girl to take such pictures).

I like those pictures. I like those pictures a lot. Whether they're shared with consent or not, the pictures themselves are really nice, and fun to look at. I'm not a thief and I'm not a creep. I don't like that girls have to be "victimized" and stolen from for those pictures to be shared. I would never engage in that kind of behavior with any pictures I might take of a girl, or any pictures that a girl might choose to give me in confidence, with the expectation of the pictures remaining private. I don't betray people's trust. And the last thing I want is to poison my noble enterprise (creating erotic art) by engaging in shady and unethical behaviors.

Nevertheless, I like those pictures, and I want them to be available. So, what recourse do I have but to try to talk to society, and girls, and try to get them to open up about sexual expression, so that they will be more willing to share those pictures with strangers? I don't want to steal pictures of girls, so my only choice is to do what I can to create a more friendly environment in the hope that it will lead girls to feel more comfortable to consent to that sort of thing. But it's really hard as long as these stereotypes of perverted creeps are out there, and as long as we as a society at large shame people for embracing their sexuality, and especially sharing it online, regardless of the details of the case. It's why you can't post sexually explicit erotic art most places, because it's treated just the same as porn.

So the next time you find out someone you know has posted sexy pictures on the internet, don't even think of chastising them. Instead, shake their hand and congratulate them for their courage, for standing up against the sick sexual mores of our time, which insist on keeping our sexuality locked up inside ourselves, where it can do naught but screw up our minds.

Also, as long as girls keep saying, "no way, I will never post pictures like that", unscrupulous individuals will continue to post them without consent. There is most definitely a demand, and there is nothing we can do to eliminate that demand. But we do have some measure of control over how to meet it. I'm not going to argue that anyone should be forced into doing it if they don't want to, but I guarantee you there are some girls who are more willing to share than others. What does it accomplish to shame them out of it? We're just fueling the black market trade, where ethics aren't even considered. It's irresponsible. If a girl wants to share her beauty with the world, we should be thanking her for doing her part, not shaming her to stop. Because every girl shamed out of participating just encourages many more girls to become victimized, to fill that hole. I don't believe people are demanding for victimization. I have more faith in humanity than that. It's just, if you intentionally dry up the supply, and victimization is the only source, that's where the demand is going to head. You can't eliminate people's sexual desires. But there are many different ways to satisfy them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Girls, Gurls, Grrlz

I'm a little afraid to talk about this, just because I don't want to alienate or offend anyone. Rest assured, I try very hard not to let my personal preferences affect my judgment of a person. So, for example, the fact that I am not attracted to "gurls", t-gurls, trannies, transwomen, shemales, or chicks with dicks, does not mean that I don't respect them. Nor does it bother me when they (as well as plain old men) are attracted to me, despite the attraction not being mutual. In fact, that's precisely the reason why there are hundreds of people who call me a contact on flickr, yet very few of them are also my contacts. It's also why I feel socially detached in my work - because I'm not reaching the audience I'd like to reach. Nevertheless, I am very grateful for the audience I have. It's their support that encourages me to keep doing what I love, and I appreciate that regardless of whether or not I'd want to fuck them. :p

I'm also a little concerned about being called a traitor, since despite all I've said and done to combat gender stereotyping, the fact is, I actually like the gender binary. I would never force it on anyone who wasn't comfortable with it, (generally) works for me. I like that there are complementary masculine and feminine forces. The only thing is - and this is the source of my dissatisfaction - I wish that biology and society didn't decide for us, without asking for our preference, which gender we're supposed to be.

Hence, I am a boy, with a lot more experience being a boy (not that I've ever been very good at it), that nevertheless wishes he could be a girl. Now, here's the wrench in the works. Despite my affinity for the gender binary, the traditional heteronormative standard is for an individual to be sexually attracted to his/her gender opposite. But I didn't start wanting to be a girl because I like boys, it happened because I like girls! And that does give me a sense of appreciation for the parts of me that are male, just because it allows for a smoother compatibility with girls. I honestly don't know whether my gender is male or female (how does one even diagnose gender?), but at times I feel both like a heterosexual male and a homosexual female (albeit lacking the all-important experience of being a girl). Which, to say the least, can be weird. And that, I suppose, is why I'm not completely conventional in my sex/gender beliefs and feelings.

But coming back to the point of this discussion, I view "girl" as the ideal that I strive for (unreachable or not). I'm seeing a lot of "gurl" pride among "gurls" on flickr, and it genuinely has me curious. Because, to me, "gurl" is not the goal I'm striving toward. It's a weird in-between thing. If I, at times, reach "gurl" status, it is only because it is a reluctant compromise between what I am, and what I want to be. Don't get me wrong, I like having the option to be a gurl. It's a lot better than resigning myself to my biologically and socially prescribed gender. That is, again, why I'm dedicated to fighting gender conformity. I may never be a true girl, but it's downright unfair for me not to be allowed to wear, say, a pink skirt, just because I've got a penis between my legs. However, the fact remains, I don't view being a gurl as something to be proud of (aside from the fact that it's a huge middle finger to the square, conformist establishment). I admire the parts that are girly, while simultaneously regretting the parts of me that are, inevitably, not. And all the while, I continue to admire girls - beautiful, beautiful girls - but not gurls.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Insidious Practice of Slut-Shaming

Attacking sexual expression as the cause of sexual abuse is not an attack on sexual abuse. It's an attack on sexual expression, which includes healthy and positive forms of expression. It's an attack on sex itself. If you don't hate sex, and you still want to fight abuse, then ATTACK THE ABUSE. Start promoting the platform that a girl (or anyone else) should be free to be as sexual as she wants (in dress, behavior, whatever), and that that IS NOT AN EXCUSE TO ABUSE HER (nor to shame her). As long as we continue to assume that sexy behavior leads to abuse, we are tacitly admitting that abuse is standard sexual procedure. That is an extremely sex-negative view, that completely ignores (and discourages!) positive and healthy sexual expression and activity, AND IT NORMALIZES SEXUAL ABUSE. Promote positive sexuality. Defend sexual freedom. Limit your attacks on sexuality strictly to sexual abuse - do not condemn the proper use of one's sexual agency (which may or may not involve promiscuity and pornography).


A Strategy for Revolution

Sexual liberation is less about opening your legs, than it is about opening your mind.

Attitude must be changed along with activity, for a revolution to be successful. You can't go out and practice a sexually liberated lifestyle while still clinging on to your old moral values and internalized sexual shame and not expect to run into a conflict. Many try this, and claim the presence of conflict proves that liberation is unfeasible. (See: the sexual revolution of the '60s, and the ensuing backlash). But how can you expect to liberate your body when you haven't liberated your mind? And between the two, it's much harder to change one's mind. Posting a nude picture on the internet is, mechanically speaking, a simple task. Training your mind to ignore a lifetime of conditioning that compels you to feel ashamed for posting that picture is MUCH more difficult. However, it is possible, and the result can be magnificent. Yet even then, if the rest of the world hasn't changed, the pressure to revert (and conform) to old norms can be immense. It's peer pressure, pure and simple.

Liberation is worth it, even if it's not easy. But it has to be done fully, not superficially. You can't just liberate your behavior, you have to liberate your thoughts and feelings, too. Don't be discouraged by those (and there are many) who have done a half-assed job of seeking liberation, only to fail and then count that failure as evidence of what they'd wanted to believe all along - that the easy path of leaving things the way they are is the best thing. They are wrong. True change takes consistent and considerable effort. But don't be afraid to change the world. The result will be nothing short of amazing.

Why a Sexual Revolution is Worth it

When faced with the difficulty of changing social-sexual norms, it's very tempting to say, why bother? After all, what will be accomplished but plunging society into moral decay, and giving fringe perverts free license to bask in their depravity?

But you see, that attitude itself is a symptom of modern sexual mores. Why do we see sex as this dirty, unnatural thing, and why are we in opposition to it? Does it have to be that way? Listen - what we have to gain from a sexual revolution is turning sex from something to be ashamed of into a powerful force for good in life.

Why do we insist on making people feel bad for wanting to feel good? Wouldn't life be better for all of us if we were allowed to indulge our sexual appetite without shame? Embracing sexuality doesn't mean allowing an anything-goes kind of mentality. We can still have ethics and morals about sexuality - so that people continue to treat one another well. The difference is that people won't have to feel bad when they treat themselves and others to the experience of sexual bliss. How is this not a positive goal for mankind?

The essential fact is, human beings have a basic fundamental right to guilt-free orgasms. This is true without limitation to race, gender, or even age. It's true for the perverts who have bizarre sexual tastes, and it's just as true for the vanilla majority (assuming they're truly the majority). Every struggle and hardship in life would be easier to endure with the sexual orgasm on our side. Why wouldn't we want to enlist such a powerful ally, especially when it's currently being propped up as an enemy, used to wear down our collective physical and mental health?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Elaborating on a Point

Recently, I proclaimed the following:

"It occurs to me that anyone who faps to pictures of other people on the internet is a hypocrite if he has a problem with other people fapping to pictures of him on the internet."

Here's a potential counter-argument, that I will debate momentarily:

Porn stars, erotic models, et cetera are photographed with the expectation that people will fap to their pictures. Just because I might go ahead and fap to them doesn't mean other people are entitled to fap to non-sexually oriented pictures of myself (e.g., nudist pictures, pictures of me at the beach or pool) I might post online.

I will concede that point - yet not without mentioning how convenient it is that others are kind enough to be willing to become masturbation fodder for you, while you are not for them (granted, not everyone is equally attractive, and the burden of demand will therefore vary). However, the fact remains that nobody is harmed in an anonymous act of fapping. You may as well try to control people's sexual fantasies, because I guarantee you there are people fantasizing about people (if not about you) and acts that would offend you. I think what you're really concerned about - or what you should be concerned about since it's pointless to worry over something you can't control, i.e., other people's thoughts - is the sexual attention you may be attracting.

I feel for you, because sexual attention can be rude and offensive. And I'm not gonna say we shouldn't encourage people to be more polite about how they give out sexual attention. That's something I support. But sexual attention is not just gonna go away, and trying to censor people through sex shame is not healthy or humanitarian. We ought to come at it from both sides. While encouraging "perverts" to be more polite, we should also work on our own sexual hang-ups, and learn to deal with the fact that sexuality is out there, some people are going to address it, and we should, at the very least, learn how to accept polite sexual attention. That is to say, not dismiss (or attack) someone purely for giving you sexual attention, but only getting defensive when the sexual attention is proffered in a harmful (insistent, inconsiderate, etc.) manner.

Really, it depends on both sides (the prudes and the perverts) adjusting their behavior and working towards a compromise. That means that whichever side you're on, you have work to do if you want to live in a more sexually healthy world (and I assure you, that you will receive more of the wrong kind of attention, or hear of others suffering the same, in a less sexually healthy world, as we have now). If you're a prude, you don't have to become a pervert, but try to think of perverts as people, and try to give them the benefit of the doubt, while suggesting ways NOT to repress their sexuality but to revel in it in a manner that is less offensive to prudes, while simultaneously learning to shrug off sexual comments and attention without getting all in a huff about it. Perverts, you don't have to become prudes, just try to be considerate of other people's sensibilities, and above all be polite, and don't give people attention you don't think they would want.

Prudes, perverts, can't we all just get along? Instead of arguing back and forth that the entire world has to either be sexually sanitized or dirty and debauched? Let's try to live and let live, without disparaging each others' chosen lifestyles. To each his or her own, with the freedom to associate with those of a like mind.