Where are we now as a society sexually, and where are we going? Porn can teach us.

We live today in a world of sexual upheaval, and the basic argument of Stormy’s World is that porn creates new tastes. We aren’t born with the sexual constitutions we have as adults. We make them. We discover new things that we find exciting — and porn helps us with this discovery.

The book’s point of view is positive. Porn has been a punching bag for the intellectual class, but Stormy’s World celebrates porn as playing a big role in the revolution in sexual tastes that has taken place in the last thirty years, not just reflecting changes but actively helping to shape them. The book is a serious study of the role of the adult entertainment industry in guiding — indeed, helping to create — the great changes in American sexuality that are going on around us today.

Women-on-top, the transgendered, exchanging John Wayne and Doris Day sex roles for the easy back-and-forth among genders — these are all themes that didn’t exist thirty years ago.

New Sources in Charting the Course of Sexuality

The book pioneers new sources in charting the course of sexuality, mainly the internal correspondence of the adult industry: the blogs, insider newsletters and publications, and box covers of the videos and DVDs. Nobody else has worked with this material, partly because it is very hard-core, and partly because access is difficult. The porn industry does not welcome snooping outsiders, and for me, as an academic, to open up these sources is unprecedented. I attended industry meetings, became friendly with directors and models, and ultimately convinced people that I was not out to do a screw job on them but to present their stories in a balanced way.

The changes themselves in sexual behaviour are riveting, but they can be confusing for people who experience them. Many people consider themselves to be stranded in their desires, isolated midst a sea of prudish disapproval. We know that they aren’t alone, however, because the cascade of images online shows that many new tastes are widely shared.

Porn creates mainline erotica; none of it is “violent,” although many of the images in “roleplaying” feature dominance and submission. Then there are the so-called “niche tastes” — desires you thought that only you had. But they turn out to be quite common.

They’re normal, as long as they don’t involve animals, children, and are 100 percent consensual. (In adult porn, these preconditions are always met. The San Fernando “Valley” does not produce child porn.)

So porn is comforting and reassuring. At the same time, it is exciting and buccaneering. The old conventions are smashed, and new tastes arise in their place that exercise an almost hypnotic power over men and women alike.

So this is news! Women, especially younger women, are finding that they enjoy porn and that it puts them on an equal footing with men rather than being on the receiving end of whatever it is that he has seen online. Same-sex attraction turns out to be hugely popular among women, far more so than homoerotic tastes among men. Women don’t crave “romance” in their porn, they crave images that appeal to them as women.

For a long time, there was in the industry a fashion for “gonzo” — quick and dirty sex that many women found unappealing. As women become major consumers, there is a trend back towards feature films with plots, not because full-length movies are somehow “nicer,” but because you can get into the characters (unlike in gonzo, where you often can’t even see their faces).

So porn is a real industry, and Stormy’s World documents its shift from New York to San Francisco to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. In the meantime, the production of porn has gone global. Every country produces it for an international market that includes camming and toys as well as images.

“The adult entertainment industry” is really not a euphemism; it is an industry that goes beyond images to the “toy box” in the bedroom and to developing psychological relationships with the webcam models, who offer solace as well as excitement, to men especially who may receive little of this at home.

The last thirty years have seen the sexual activation of American society, and this tsunami of arousal has not happened by accident. “Stormy’s World” documents the history of the sexual evolution and hints at its future.

 

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