Crass Commercialism

It seems like when addressing the acts (arts) that make up sex work, nearly everything written is looking at the most crassly commercial forms of those acts. Elizabeth and I were in the library yesterday looking at the 306.7s when we came across a book on paid phone sex. She took the time to browse through the volume sharing passages with me and we were both struck by the book’s focus on one particular subset of phone sex. The author(s) made the claim that the central factor of phone sex is the flatness of its fantasy with the patron being dependent on the operator portraying a character that is not real and cannot be real, that the patrons would not be able to use this service if they were confronted by the complexities of an actual human being on the other end. Instead the operators were to be a form onto which the patrons could project their fantasies and have them mimicked.

Our rather different experience with phone sex probably colored our negative reaction to this narrow view, and I can admit that. When your sexual and romantic relationship begins in a long distance context, things like phone sex become very important. So the exploration of phone sex only from the anonymous, highly mediated, mass-marketed commercial form seemed to be slighting the art that goes into constructing and sharing a fantasy and standing in the stacks looking through that book (and the few others on sex work) seemed a reminder that sexual arts are generally only addressed at their most commercial. Pornography is written about as a product far more often than an art, and the issues surrounding it tend to be based on porn-making being a job. Ultimately that leaves Elizabeth and I out of the conversation. Yes, we make porn. We like making porn. We like having phone sex, and doing so engages us in each other as real, fleshy, determined and deliberate, complex human beings.

See, looking at porn making and other skills that are used in sex work only from the point of view of the work, and writing about phone sex only focusing on one kind is… well, it would have been like if we went over to the 780s and only found books on Britney Spears. Yes, her kind of music is a tremendous cultural force, and must be taken into account, but to only talk about the music from the point of view of the industry leaves out so many forms of expression, like Defiance, Ohio who create beautiful, intense music from love, and give away much of what they create. Keeping the focus on the business of sex and the effects of sex as work (and I do enjoy commercial porn, so I’m not knocking that) means that the arts involved in creating that business are slighted.

I read someone like Ellie Lumpesse, who is brilliant and sexy and just generally amazing, and see that she offers phone sex sessions and I just can’t imagine that the people who have calls with her are doing so in order to project their flat fantasies onto her, to have her as a puppet to act out things without ever becoming too real. I have to think that the draw to calling Ellie is that she is very real, and she puts that reality out there for everyone to see, to respond to, and to engage!

Where is the literature dealing with sex arts that not only allow for, but depend on engaging one another? I know there are other consumers for whom the reality of the performers is an important part of the enjoyment. It’s seeing real people fucking, and not being able to deny that reality, that makes the experience so intense.

And even now, despite trying to move away from the commerce of sex and discuss the artistry of sex acts, sex work, I’ve gone back to the framework of consumers and performers. The language is insidious. Are Elizabeth and I performing in our writings, videos and pictures? Do the people who see, watch and read become consumers in that act? I tend to think of it in the moment as more participatory. We exhibitionists are rather dependent on our voyeurs. With Elizabeth posting some pictures recently to some communities on livejournal and on Chubby Parade I mentioned how important it was to me in those kinds of venues that posters respond to the people who comment on the posts. It’s that back and forth, that form of relating, that makes it so valuable to me. It takes pornography beyond the realm of producer/consumer and makes the act of creating, sharing and responding central, using porn as a mechanism of relating, much like many other forms of art.

So, while not dismissing the value of and issues raised by commercial sex I do want to find a language and literature of the arts and relationality behind that commerce.


I don’t want to distract from the post above and the focus on acts also used in sex work as art/relation/etc., but related to all of this from the perspective of commerce is “Naked, Naughty, Nasty” by Vicky Funari, from Whores and Other Feminists, ed. Jill Nagle which in part discusses the expectation on the part of customers at a peep show that the performances be “real” and her response to that expectation. What right do customers have to define what is real and expect that reality from the workers? I’ve also written before about ideas of real and fake, especially when applied to sex workers, and god knows Ren had had to deal with this supposed dichotomy in the many criticisms of her.