Despite our digital sophistication, today’s ubiquitous pornography is as bad as ever. Most amateur efforts are awful. Professional images are digitally trumped up to impossible cartoons. People portray sex they way they think it should be–not the way it is. The resulting pornography rarely has any relevance to the true human condition.
Beautiful Agony is different.
The website is subtitled “Facettes de la Petit Mort,” or “Faces of the Little Death,” the French euphemism for orgasm. This site features regular people doing what they have been doing ever since they figured out how. The videos show the “artists” from the neck up as they pleasure themselves, although some clips feature couples. There is no nudity.
Much has been written about the site, but little has been said. Viewing the videos moved me in ways I did not expect. I found them fascinating, crass, embarrassing, beautiful, arousing, and nerve-racking all at once. The clips evoked a strange self-awareness in me.
In a word, Beautiful Agony is honest.
Eschewing nudity on the site is brilliant. Our genitalia are fairly predictable during sex. Our faces, however, are anything but. With the temptation to look down there removed, the viewer must focus on the facial contortions associated with the powerful moments of climax. The resulting images have little in common with the aesthetically enhanced cosmetic honeys we normally see. Real people are intense and contorted during sex. Collapsed eyebrows, clenched teeth, giggles, shudders and pauses portray not just pleasure, but anguish, pain, irritation, playfulness and even grace.
Sometimes eyes are open, sometimes closed. Sometimes eyes startle into round O’s as if the artist has somehow surprised themselves.
Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the clips is the sounds: utterances, fabric brushing fabric, inhalations. One woman exclaims, “Fuck yes!” to herself in a congratulatory tone. Some artists cry out and thrash. For others, a simple jerk of the head or one punctuating gasp marks their orgasm.
No one can escape identifying with these videos–hence the uncomfortable edge in watching them. The petite mort is the ultimate loss of control, the inexplicable moment of concentrated, sublime pleasure. The videos are at once universal and singular: we all have sexuality but it is different in each of us. If there is one specific commonality in the clips, it is the calm moment of aftermath when the artists revel in smoky satisfaction. Call it bedroom eyes that have just seen the light.
Now that is sexy.
The corresponding confession videos, in which fully clothed artists talking about sex, can be as unnerving and funny and disturbing as the climax clips. Topics include strangest place (on top of a car parked in front of a motel), favorite accessory (the “bunny”) and impetus (“There’s nothing good on TV.”) One man says, “Don’t be so moralish about it,” then admits to performing anal sex on other men, while quickly adding that he has never been thusly penetrated. Another woman finds masturbation useful when she can’t find a “shag.” Her corresponding masturbation clip is hollow and perfunctory.
Another man appears boyish and sweet in his clip. Then in his confession, he discloses, “I was a gay boy that grew up in a country town.” He then recounts tales of his days as a prostitute, the details of which include soiled undergarments, defecation and a group ejaculation on one paying older customer. I crumpled in front of my screen, sad and repulsed. I’d nearly forgotten that sexuality can be profoundly disturbing.
Out of the score of clips I watched, not one failed to fascinate me. I simply could not take my eyes from the screen. The site elevates this common human act and puts it on the edge of art and erotica and pornography and even scientific research. The producers and participants at Beautiful Agony have achieved a rare goal. They show us an intimate side of ourselves most of us have never seen.
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The Sun’s music video “Romantic Death” on YouTube, which features a montage of clips taken from Beautiful Agony.
The preceding post was brought to you by Erin O’Brien, human being.