Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Emily Southwood thought she was sexually liberal. That is, until her boyfriend landed a job filming on porn sets. She was forced to combat fears and insecurities she didn't even know she had. What happens when your partner's job requires him to view even the most taboo sex act as a standard day at the office? Ahead, an excerpt from Southwood's Prude: Lessons I Learned When My Fiancé Filmed Porn, where she has a very, ahem, honest conversation about the ubiquity of anal in modern porn. Southwood's book is available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.
We join a line for the concession stand. It’s time for a beverage to go with this conversation. “Porn gets so repetitive that they just have to keep penetrating different holes to make a whole film,” I say. “Cha cha, ass, eyes, ears . . .”
“Some women like anal more than you do. Rylie Spence says it’s her favorite sexual position. It gives her the most intense orgasms. What do you want to drink?”
“That’s such bullshit,” I scoff.
“Okay. What should I order you?”
“She’s just saying that because she wants to fulfill a male fantasy—yours, apparently,” I hiss. “I know some girls like it more than I do, but no girl loves getting rammed in her exodus apparatus by several guys for hours at a time. I’ll have what you’re having.”
“I’ve met some recently who do,” he says matter-of-factly, and joins the line of concertgoers to order. I move away from the hipster fray to the railing overlooking the manicured gardens. It looks peaceful down there, perfect, surreal. I want to dive into it. I close my eyes and imagine the fall. Robbie comes up behind me and hands me a tall plastic cup of beer. “Why are you being so defensive?”
I sigh and take a swig of cold ale. Certainly he’s asking the right question. Why am I? One crass and honest reason is that I don’t like my fiancé comparing my asshole with other girls’ assholes and their gaping abilities. But I don’t say that. I’m also afraid that I’m fast becoming the vanilla sex girl compared to what he sees at work. We’re not new anymore. We haven’t had explosive sex in a semipublic place for, what, a year? Now we’re walking the path to matrimonial bliss, otherwise known to some as the death march of sexual attraction. I know that’s not my burden to shoulder exclusively. Keep sex exciting! Be eternally hot! (Or cute and sexy or whatever version of that I am.) Be enough to sustain his insatiable male libido FOREVER! A politician’s wife I met at a party once told me: “Have sex whenever he wants to. That’s how you keep a marriage together.” I almost spit out my tepid Chardonnay when she said it. Then I walked away wondering if it’s kind of true. Does that also include however he wants to? Too bad I can’t go back and ask her. Should I tell Robbie that my criticisms of ass sex are perhaps rooted in a fear of abandonment? That if I don’t satisfy him, he will cheat or leave me? That I sometimes feel pushed to be a certain way sexually for all the wrong motivations, and may well end up resenting the hell out of it? Of him? How dare he put me in this corner and force me to have anal or be sexually uninteresting, forgettable, alone.
“What? I’m fine, I’m just thinking.”
“I see that.”
“I guess it feels like a lot of pressure to be up for anything all the time, like a porn star.”
“Hey, that’s not my intention. I am aware that it’s a profession.” My hair, twisted in a messy bun, is coming undone and spinning in the wind. He gently tucks a few pieces behind my ear.
“I know.” I feel myself soften. Of course it’s not his objective to make me feel all of these things. He doesn’t even know that I feel them, and I don’t know where to begin to explain. “Let’s go check out the music.” I hold out my hand and he takes it in his always warm palm. We walk away from the railing, the darkening sky, and into the crowd, which is swaying to amorphous indie rock. Ironic facial hair, skinny jeans, and lanky-framed women in vintage peasant dresses abound. They all wear impassive expressions. I suddenly feel desperately uncool. I’m better dressed for the ballet. I feel alone, out of touch, as if no one here could possibly have my dumbass sex issues.
Photo: Courtesy Of Seal Press.
Admittedly, I did a little research on the subject of anal sex. Turns out, according to a study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine, that young women are much more interested in backdoor action than ever before. In fact, 40 percent of women from the ages of twenty to twenty-four say they’ve tried it. Why the sudden spike in anal sex among the younger set? Are they just more open to discussing it? Genuinely interested? Or both?
Hmm. Considering that the popularity of anal sex has increased alongside the growing consumption of Internet porn, it suggests there’s a monkey-see-monkey-do kind of thing happening here. It’s no wonder, when a quick glance at mainstream porn would have us believe that most women thoroughly enjoy anal sex instigated with little to no foreplay, and that we gals orgasm willy-nilly from this act alone. Suffice it to say, anal sex occurs online with greater frequency, ease, and lack of communication than it does in real life. Real life is messy, nuanced. And most girls I know aren’t always freshly waxed, anally bleached, and in the mood. It isn’t a bad thing that porn is encouraging us to spread our horizons, if you will. What’s important is that we’re communicating about this phenomenon rather than acting out of perceived porn-spawned expectations. So are we?
The study mentioned above suggests that many women are. Ninety-four percent of women who reported having anal sex in their last encounter also had an orgasm. Damn! Is anal sex better for orgasms than a five-speed magic wand? The rationale, as interpreted in William Saletan’s Slate article “The Ass Man Cometh,” is positive. It seems that the more sexual acts a woman is engaging in, the more likely she is to orgasm. And anal sex often happens in tandem with other sex acts—vaginal, oral, and partner masturbation. Saletan explains: “Women who were getting what they wanted were more likely to indulge their partners’ wishes. It wasn’t the anal sex that caused the orgasms. It was the orgasms that caused the anal sex.”
More guys initiate anal sex, which girls engage in as part of a give-and-take. Okay, sure, that sounds familiar. The attitude of mutually giving and receiving can create a willing space to explore new things. From porn-inspired fantasies to the bedroom, seamlessly—win-win.
In a recent Elle magazine article called “The Imposter,” Tracy Clark Flory tells a different story about how Internet porn affected her sex life. She revealed that although she’s been a regular sex columnist and sex-positive advocate for years, up until recently she faked her orgasms. She had lots of sex, good sex, but she had difficulty being orgasmically honest with her partners—i.e., explaining that it would take X + Y + Z to get her there. Instead, she put on repeat Broadway performances to maintain an illusion of who she thought she should be in bed. She learned many of these presumed male expectations from porn. She says: “I had strong feminist political inclinations, but I was also deeply afraid of male rejection . . . What if I didn’t orgasm and was labeled as frigid or repressed? . . . Internet porn had taught me that sexy, desirable women orgasm at the drop of a thong, and I wanted to be a temptress—aggressive, insatiable, and uninhibited.”
I see my former self clearly in this description. That night, stewing in my emotions at the Getty Center, I both resented the expectation that I was supposed to have sex like a porn star and desperately wanted to live up to the fantasies he encountered each day at work. Instead of seeing this fictitious world as something separate or even complementary to our sex life, I compared myself with it and felt that I came up short. How dare he bestow such a burden upon me?
Except, oops, he didn’t. I did. In an attempt to please everybody, I often exaggerated and internalized expectations, sexual and otherwise, in a way that left me ultimately defiant and resentful. Tracy eventually found a way out of her pattern by communicating genuinely with a guy she loved and trusted. A fairy-tale ending, of sorts.
Alas, like most things in life, sometimes things are easier comprehended in retrospect than done.