Every February, I have a crisis of erotic conscience. This is the month in which I must cull the best of my favorite erotic stories from the past year. I make cruel decisions among dozens of perfectly excellent candidates I've savored the past year. I sit there, reading the pages again and again, asking myself, "Is this the story that no one will be able to resist?"
In the middle of this year's meltdown, I got a phone call from a saucy men's magazine. It's one of those newer "laddie" mags you hear so much about, where girl celebrities in their underwear taunt readers but never quite take it all off. As a child raised on Playboy's centerfold formula, I am mystified. But laddie magazines don't offer that kind of third act. They specialize in an endless loop of second-base titillation.
The reporter began his interview with me by asking how young men can employ erotic lit as foreplay, to lubricate their female dates and get them to acquiesce to intercourse. "Isn't it easier to just pop in an X-rated DVD?" he asked.
I imagined my hand inserting a disk into a woman's vagina and then programming her to my will.
I didn't tell him that. I actually had no idea what he was talking about. I've never been on a date where my beau seduced me with a porn movie. I'm usually as interested in having sex as my companion, so no tricks are necessary.
Of course, I'm a pretty odd porn watcher. In my heyday, I watched more XXX videos than any other woman I know, and most men for that matter -- because I reviewed them professionally. I'm in the X-Rated Hall of Fame for porn criticism. I would load up dozens of tapes in front of my screen and watch them as fast as possible with my reporter's notebook in my lap. Sure, I had to relent and masturbate every once in a while, but even that was at breakneck speed. I was completely alone, except for occasional friends who would walk in and make fun of me. They left when they realized my dedication to deadlines was devout. I wouldn't have dreamed of subjecting a lover to my bizarre work ethic.
Clearly, in order to answer this laddie interview, I needed to speak to some ordinary young people to see if porn DVDs and videos are part of their customary foreplay. Furthermore, what was so "easy" about it?
My first informant was rather cynical. "If 'easy' is what you're interested in," he said, "then you ply your date with liquor until she's helpless. It doesn't matter whether you screen Barney or Paris Hilton. Your only task is to maintain enough alertness to take advantage of her."
"That's raping, not dating," I protested.
He cut me off: "What do you think these stupid magazines are promoting? They're incapable of considering women's sexual self-interest."
Harsh? Yes, but I heard similar disdain from others. The most innocent response I got was from a college student who said that it was just another twist on 1950s drive-in nostalgia. "When you go out with someone, you like an excuse to get it on. You watch a dumb movie, and you start getting busy, 'cause neither of you cares what's on the screen."
It's the American Puritan Reflex again: two people who pretend they're not going to have sex even though that's exactly where they're heading. It's not easy, it's contrived.
It certainly is more challenging to tell your date an erotic story, or hand her some provocative pages to read. Sharing is caring, but where to begin? The hard part is that such disclosures are so intimate -- you're showing her something private. It's the beginning of mutual rapport, and it's also taking a risk, the ultimate aphrodisiac.
I did talk to some couples who watch porn for fun...but they weren't exactly the laddie crowd. These were longtime couples way past the dating phase. Porn night is part of their familiarity.
The most popular porn-watching group activity I found occurs at parties. Someone throws a kegger and keeps a sleazy porn tape on the tube for the whole night's activities -- the more ridiculous the better. Fat actors, inflatable sheep, corncobs. Everyone who walks into the room mocks the action. Bets are placed on the prospects of the most unattractive characters. Butt blemishes are tallied.
But the producers of the disdained video should not feel insulted. Unconsciously, they're still working their magic. Even though all the partygoers make fun of the movie, they're influenced by the images of naked sex. They don't want to be fat or pimply, but they do want to be hard and wet. People who went to such parties confided to me that even though the videos were stupid, they later found themselves in compromising positions, even if they were all alone.
Would this have happened if they had gone to an erotic reading/performance or had sat down to write their own erotic stories? Sure, it would've been even more exciting, but such acts require active intentions!
The thing about watching TV is that it's more inert than reading or any kind of self-expression. You walk by it and you get a whiff of whatever. If you're tense or unhappy with sex, if you wish you were dating someone else, the porno will make you even more uncomfortable. The TV isn't a good enough magician to change that...its hallmark is its passivity. It sits there and grates on whatever is already under your skin. In its ultimate mind-vise trick, it puts you to sleep.
How would I advise an enterprising young man to "use" a book like Best American Erotica? Well, first he'd have to read it, which might be an adventure in itself. He might read it over and over, savoring each illumination. This is all before the "date" even happens.
The night of the big event, he should put the book out in some prominent place, perhaps in the doorway, so the young woman is forced to trip on it. What could be more simple?
The idea is to make her yelp "You're reading this???" or at least to raise an eyebrow. A better response might be, "Ohmigod, can I borrow it?" So much can be gained by these first impressions.
At this point, the boy could feign surprise or humor: "Can you believe it? My mom left this in my car!" Or he could be the suave playboy who whispers, "This is one of my favorites."
Whatever the case, his date will be wondering what it is he likes so much in this provocative edition. Now it's his move to uncloak himself. He must flip to the opening page of a story and make a nonchalant comment: "This is pretty good."
The spell has now been cast. If the young woman replies, "Oh, no, the next story was so much hotter," then what can I say? You really have hit Easy Street.
Copyright © 2005 by Susie Bright