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Tale of the Tapes

Like many other women, the writer never found much to like about porn videos. Searching for enlightenment, she spoke to two girlfriends who get turned on just by reaching for the remote.

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The other day, I was staring at the Banana Republic ad of the couple lying in bed with the baby, and I realized I was looking at single women’s porn. But instead of feeling lightheaded and lusty when I was through, I just felt a really intense craving for a merino-wool sweater. I started to wonder if this was the only porn out there for women. I wanted real porn, orgasmic porn, movie porn. Though I’d watched a few feminist flicks over the years, they were corny without being hot. So I called up some girlfriends to find out what was getting them off and why.

My friend Tessa, a petite Williamsburg mom, 40, has been into porn since she was a girl, when she stole some of her grandfather’s bondage magazines from the forties so she could look at them. Today she’s an avid collector of fetish magazines like Leg Show and Deviations, and she often buys seventies pornos, which she calls “ugly-people porn,” at yard sales. She likes them because they can compete with her fantasies for originality, and because the women have real breasts. “I don’t like the fake tits that stand up like melons, and the scars. In the seventies, they had plotlines and made feeble attempts at fleshing out the characters.”

Six years ago, she married an artist and was up-front with him about her collection. But as it became clear to him that she was interested in porn as more than just kitsch, they started having problems. Sometimes she’d want to have sex and he wouldn’t, so she’d put in a movie instead. “It wasn’t okay if it didn’t involve him. He had to be the object of my sex.”

Two years ago, they split up, and she thinks her porn was part of the reason. Now that she’s single, she has more freedom, but her harshest critics are female friends. “They see it on my shelf and say, ‘How can you watch this?’ I can’t believe that it wouldn’t turn some people on. Or else it does, and they’re just denying it for political reasons.”

Jenna, a vivacious, blue-eyed 33-year-old novelist, is a porn enthusiast who just purchased a DVD player for her bedroom. “This will only have pornography inside it,” she says. “I’m not going to be watching the first season of Larry Sanders.”

In college, she took no interest in porn—she was a self-described “rad fem with hairy armpits.” But after she graduated, she moved into an apartment with two porn-loving straight guys. One had a movie called Blue Heaven. “We watched it thousands of times,” she says. “And whenever we popped it back in, it was at a different place. We never mentioned it until one of my roommates and I fessed up.”

Her interest piqued, she began going to X-rated-video stores in the West Thirties, bringing along a gay friend “to protect me.” In the past few years, she’s begun buying used DVDs from eBay. “The Internet and amateur porn have changed everything for me,” she says. “When porn was in theaters, only men could go because it was disgusting and dangerous, but now it’s so privatized you don’t have to leave the house.”

As for amateur porn, which uses women who’ve never done adult films before—or at least don’t look like they have—the appeal lies in the real sex. “In amateur porn,” says Jenna, “there seems to be more of an understanding that if the woman is having a good time, it’s hotter for the guy.” Her favorite auteur is gonzo actor-director Seymore Butts. “I have his entire oeuvre on dvd. I like him because I think he’s so hot. I like anything with anal sex, and he has relationships with his girlfriends, who have personalities.”

So far, she hasn’t met any guys who are threatened by her porn fanaticism (surprise, surprise). In fact, “it’s a good tawdry-sex inducer to talk about porn on the first date.”

Sometimes she watches with lovers, but there are drawbacks. “It only works with a lover when he recognizes that at that point, he’s just a human dildo. Otherwise, it’s too much going on at once.”

Does she ever find a film too degrading to women? “I keep my politics out of the bedroom. In extreme situations, porn can be ‘degrading,’ but to me what’s more degrading is that women in mainstream movies all look exactly the same.”

In fact, in all her years of porn watching, she has only one criticism. “Seymore has this really ugly green lamp, and there are times, even while masturbating, when I think, God, I wish that lamp weren’t there.”

When I hang up with Jenna, I feel like I must get on the porn horn. It’s the same feeling I had a few years ago when I realized that no sex-loving single girl in Manhattan had pubic hair anymore. I pick up the phone and call boyfriend Jake. “Can you bring over some porn?” “Give me twenty minutes,” he says.

He arrives with an armful of movies and a wide smile. We pop in one of Ed Powers’s Dirty Debutantes series and snuggle on the couch. In the series, Ed, who resembles a high-school math teacher, has sex with girls who’ve never done it on camera before. He has an overgrown mullet and an ample paunch, but there’s something warm and accommodating about him, and the girls seem to be having the time of their lives.

That night, in bed with Jake, something very strange happens. Instead of fantasizing, I find myself seeing images—vivid, photographic ones—because I just saw them twenty minutes ago. I keep replaying this one scene between Ed and a 19-year-old redhead, and as I roll over onto my back, I realize something. Some women hate porn because of the portrayal of women or the ugly men or the fake breasts, but my guess is that most of them hate it for a much simpler reason: They haven’t tried it.


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