“Don’t you appreciate the visual aesthetics of a good hog-tie?” he asked.
I thought about it a long time. I’ve never hogtied anyone. I’ve never had the desire to hogtie anyone. I’ve been hogtied myself, but one can’t appreciate the visual aesthetics in that position. Of course, I have seen other people hogtied, both in the flesh and remediated in porn, but I have come to realize I lack the mental faculties needed to project myself into the visual image of the hogtied individual.
You can imagine, this makes porn a disappointment for me, because so little of it is actually made for the female gaze.
Why can’t I have a photograph of a middle-aged man in a conservative suit with his fly down and his cock in his hand?
I’ve complained about this and been pointed to gay porn. For some women, gay porn works. It doesn’t work at all for me. I find it viscerally disorienting because I perceive that this erotic gesture is not being aimed at me. I’m back being a voyeur again.
And it occurs to me that, in order for women to enjoy porn, they either have to be toppish and at least bisexual. Or they have to do something rather intricate: they need split themselves into two.
One part projects themselves into the body of the object of desire and the other does a sort of interesting recursive thing: occupying the place of the viewer, with a male gaze, and imagining themselves being the object of desire that the viewer wants to see.
We do a similar thing when we read. We split ourselves. One part acknowledges that this is a fictional textual remediation of something erotic. The other part projects itself into the text and, immersed there, vicariously experiences the happenings in the story. I have no problem doing that. In fact, I’m an expert at it.
But when it comes to visual stuff, it just doesn’t work for me. The woman in the picture doesn’t look like me, and, if it’s a video, she doesn’t sound like me or act like I’d act. She doesn’t wriggle like I wriggle. She doesn’t mew like I mew. Her breasts are not my breasts; her hips are not mine either. And, more importantly, I know it’s staged so I don’t trust anything she is doing to be a true indication of what she’s feeling inside. So, weirdly, I am totally devoid of any empathetic feeling at all. Certainly not any erotic empathy. Wondering how long it might have taken to shoot this scene and who was fluffing the male actor distracts me.
And, although I am sometimes very attracted to certain women, I can’t honestly say I’m bi. But then I can’t really say I’m straight either. There are people, regardless of their gender, to whom I’m attracted. However, I don’t have dominant tendencies. So I can’t enjoy the view from the top in and of itself.
Strangely enough, this is not true when it comes to text. I can easily mediate and translate the view from the top in writing. Reading a story written from either the view of the dominant or the submissive, I have no problem, if the writing is halfway decent, finding my way to the sweet spot of the reading experience. It doesn’t even have to be a kink I like. As long as I am offered some insight into how either of the parties feel, I can get in.
Before you go accusing me of going on an anti-porn feminist diatribe, let me try and explain why I think text is different to images. And why I think erotic writing is different to porn writing. Or at least what I have come to believe is one of the differences.
Beyond the whole ‘porn doesn’t contain conflict’ thing, which is also true, it makes a lot of automatic assumptions about the viewer (or the reader). It takes many things as a given. Orientation, gender-role, how the viewer consumes experience, how he or she translates it internally.
I have come to believe that really good erotica doesn’t make those assumptions. Like good writing in general, it doesn’t assume an automatic alignment of desire between the reader and the narrator. The text slowly, and at its best, unobtrusively offers you reasons to find commonality. Information about who the narrator is and why they are turned on by this helps, but it is also the silences, the gaps, the things the reader is not told, that allow them to find alignments where none are even offered.
To some extent, reading is narcissistic. It is about seeing where you can fit yourself in to the world of the story. Even as you acknowledge that it is a fiction and it is about characters who aren’t you. Nonetheless, it is both the details and the gaps that ease the reader into internalizing and personalizing the story.
And unless someone has specified looks, and race and social status down to a boring level, I seem to have no problem looking past my difference to the character and immersing. Most notably because physical attributes aside, feelings are much more universal. As long as I get a sense of what the characters are feeling, and I can relate to it, I’m in like a dirty shirt.
This last thing is probably why visual and textual porn doesn’t work for me. The assumptions made in the positioning of the consumer, viewer, reader confront me with my difference. And with no communication of what is going on from an interior perspective, I have no way in.
“I just can’t believe you can’t see how fucking
beautiful this is,” he says, showing me a picture of a woman hogtied,
artfully positioned on a red velvet settee. She is white, with dark hair,
wearing a leather corset, stockings, fuck me pumps and a lot of white rope.
“I just don’t find her attractive. It doesn’t make me
want to fuck her.”
“You’re not supposed to want to fuck her. You’re
supposed to want to be her.”
“She doesn’t look anything like me.”
“Can’t you picture you instead of her there, on the
“No. This is not a picture of me hogtied on a couch.
It’s a picture of someone else hogtied on a couch.”
“But look at those knots. Aren’t they lovely?”
“If I’m supposed to want to be her, how would I see the
“You wouldn’t. But you can appreciate them, can’t
He’s getting frustrated. I can tell. “Jesus, you’re
supposed to look at this and want to be in her position. You’re supposed to
want me to want you like that.”
“You said ‘You’re supposed to’. Who says I’m supposed
“Jeeze. For fuck sakes. I don’t know. People who like
“The kinky powers that be?”
“That explains everything.”
“I have a bad reaction to authority.”
“You’re not a real submissive, are you?”
Lacan famously said: “There is no sexual relationship.”
I think this was what he was getting at. It would have been easier to say, ‘Wow, that’s hot.’ Then I probably would have gotten laid. But I would have been lying. I can think it’s hot that he thinks it’s hot, but that’s not what he wants. He wants me to put myself in his shoes. He wants me to desire what he desires. If I could do that, we’d be twins. And I would want to hogtie him. I’m pretty certain he doesn’t want that.
I disagree with Lacan. There is such a thing as a sexual relationship, but it relies on our ability to accept the other’s object of desire without having to desire it ourselves. A kind of laissez-faire that only happens when you really know someone.
Our society stresses the positive nature of accord. It has a model of lovers in which they want exactly the same thing. But I suspect that, a lot of the time, one of them might just be pretending.
Or, better still, enjoying the fact that the other wants whatever it is. It is possible to enjoy someone’s desire without needing to share it. This is where I think he’s wrong. That admiration, that gratification that one gets from witnessing someone else’s desire… that is a sexual relationship. But they are rarer than we care to admit.