Review: Wolke Neun (2008)

cloud9

My first instinct was to dismiss the silly second half of Andreas Dresen’s Wolke Neun (Cloud 9 for Yanks), which wallows in childish dialogue (“That’s just so mean!”) and betrays its wonderful first half. But after chewing on this film over the last few days, I’ve found, much to my surprise, that it has stuck with me. I’ve come around to the possibility that these melodramatic developments are, in fact, essential to the film’s broader point. I don’t believe (and my apologies to Jane Juska) this film is really about older people having sex or even elderly characters schtupping about and having a bit of fun, but about the many ways in which civilization has made sex the province of the young, the healthy, and the bendable. We all know that plenty of other people have sex too, but we settle for these smooth and unwrinkled depictions. Aside from the surefire crowd-pleasers of lesbians or ménages à trois, that’s the only sex these days that really sells. But have we lost sight of the awkward gaffes, the intercourse we have when we’re languid or not so virile, or, found sometimes in the troubled suburbs, those clumsy attempts at spontaneity?

Cloud 9 wants us to consider these questions. By casting exceptional actors in the parts (Ursula Werner and Horst Westphal, who resembles, at times, the German answer to Jack Lemmon) and by focusing on a sexual affair not often portrayed in cinema — one between Inge, a 67-year-old married woman, and Karl, a smiling 76-year-old bachelor — Dresen may be asking us to ponder our relationship with authenticity. (Incidentally, this is a subject that Dresen is quite punchy about in interviews: “There is no authenticity in the cinema! If you want authenticity, you should look out the window. You can see truth in the cinema, but you don’t see anything that’s authentic.”) But because Cloud 9 is committed to an inauthentic truth, I’m inclined to accept the inauthentic telephone call that comes near the end of the film and some of the closing corny sentiments (“Perhaps everything has its time.”). For why should we expect constant authenticity from cinema? Maybe we don’t really want to know the authentic truth and maybe we should be spending more of our time looking out windows. (Certainly this film’s failure to depict Viagra caused me to question the dutiful thrusts of our charming septuagenarian bronco.)

Here is a film that initially sets most of its action indoors, suggesting a sedentary life of decay. What do Inge and her husband Werner do for fun? They spend their time listening to records containing train sounds. When they do leave the house, they take a random train and take in the window’s view. “He loves train rides,” explains Inge. Karl, by contrast, offers buff and tangible ambles. “I prefer bike rides through nature,” says Karl. These distinctions may seem clear-cut to us, but Inge actually finds Werner’s locomotive fixations to be not loco, but touching. This is, after all, the man she’s been with for thirty years. Why should she expect otherwise? But then Inge’s lifestyle isn’t so much about expanding her self-discovery, as it is about approaching existence much as she takes on her part-time job: sewing alterations for handsome strangers. No surprise then that our smiling friend Karl meets Inge through her work. But this isn’t exactly Last Tango in the Nursing Home, because these characters thankfully remain independent. But that impending possibility is suggested with Werner’s father, who is infirm and in a rest home. “If I ever end up like my father,” says Werner, “you can shoot me in the woods.” It’s safe to say that Werner lacks Karl’s smooth touch. But then this is Germany.

During the scenes in which Inge rubs lotion on Werner, I was reminded of the creepy scene in Mike Leigh’s Hard Labour, in which Liz Smith rubs her husband’s hairy back. But Inge and Werner seem to get along better than Leigh’s happy couple. Does it all come down to physicality in the end? If so, that’s one hell of a cinematic conceit. But it would be foolish to suggest that this intriguing film is just a dialectic. (Perhaps this is simply what I wanted it to be.)

I should probably point out that during one of the film’s many long takes, I became strangely fixated on the two breast-like bowls hanging on the dining room wall. I doubt that many critics will confess this. And I need not go into the redblooded male’s unwavering interest in mammary glands. But I found this visual to confirm my strange hypothesis. Why on earth would I concentrate on this? Because Dresen may understand that my cinematic mind, like many, is programmed to accept inauthentic truth. And even when there’s a living, breathing character before us, art forces us to fixate on the potential symbols. “That’s just so mean!” says Inge over and over again when Werner eventually levels with her. Childish? Oh yes. But if we were more honest about cinematic authenticity, we wouldn’t have to be reminded. And if we were more truthful about such matters, we wouldn’t have to go to the cinema.

But Cloud 9 is an interesting film.

The Geeks

ceiling

The geeks in the upstairs apartment moved out. I called them the geeks because I always heard the guy drilling holes into the walls at odd hours — the working theory being that he was constructing some homemade dungeon. I once heard the Nazi theme from Day of Defeat booming through his speakers, the battle sounds rattling through that thin partition between ceiling and floor. The first geek — a dark-haired, t-shirt wearing dude around thirty — was lonely. There were prospective dates, but enough disparate intervals between women for any armchair sleuth to adduce that he never really made it past one or two invites up to the apartment. But I cheered him on. Even if I didn’t really know him aside from quiet acknowledgments in the elevator.

But eventually he got lucky and he found someone who understood him. And I was very happy for him! And she was very loud when they rattled the floorboards, sounding like a soprano just getting warmed up, the two of them going at it with the stamina of ten stallions. And he stopped playing first-person shooters. He was thankfully into first-person plural now, even if it was all quite loud. They always started around one in the morning. And he would laugh long and hard just after he came. And they would sometimes make funny childish sounds together that would reverberate through the partition.

I realize that all this sounds a bit creepy and vaguely invasive. There’s no way to convey the truth of this casual eavesdropping and come away innocent and unscathed. I fully expect some authority for decency or morality to knock on the door if my account should make the rounds. I can only say that I didn’t go out of my way to overhear these things, nor did I spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling upon all this. But you must understand. It’s a bit difficult to ignore neighbors having sex. And you can’t exactly introduce yourself. Because your neighbors know they’re being quite loud. And you can’t exactly knock on their door with baked cookies and a bottle of scotch and say, “Hi there! I just love the way you fuck your girlfriend, and I thought maybe we might have a mixer!” This is something we never discuss in American culture. But maybe we should. Of course, if you opened up an honest dialogue with your neighbor, any reasonable person would beat the hell out of you or ensure that you spend the rest of your life on some predatory database.

They soon spent a good deal of time together. The nightly thumping became as regular as the gunshots that sometimes stirred us out of bed at three in the morning. And then the sounds stopped. They weren’t always there. Then they were. And then they were moving out to a new love shack. An ugly couch made its way to the first floor. It was initially accompanied by a note, beseeching tenants not to take it. Then the note disappeared. Presumably, the girl geek had talked some decorative sense into the guy geek. It truly was an ugly couch. So ugly and brown that nobody in the building wanted it. The couch was found outside a week later, taking hits from the rain. For all I knew, the geeks had gone at it on that couch. Maybe there was a time in which they had valued the couch. Perhaps this was furniture designed only for lost weekends.

But when the couch was gone, I knew that the geeks were gone for good. That regular libidinous rhythm had permanently disappeared. And I wondered what percussive effects might serve in lieu. Yes, time marches on. People change and move. The geeks may now be tormenting or delighting some other neighbor. But we were the neighbors designated to hear their grunts and moans! No more.

I certainly have regrets about this peripheral “relationship” with my neighbors. Why didn’t I use a decibel meter to get a precise reading of their sounds? I’m fairly confident that they defied a few noise ordinances, and good for them. Why didn’t I find out what the drilling was all about? Why didn’t I use a little know-how myself to spy through the ceiling? We cross into the unethical. And answering these questions would have taken away from some of the mystery.

Thus, I think it’s important for us not to discount the neighbors who fuck each other blue. These geeks, without even knowing it, spawned enigma and curiosity from their downstairs neighbors. And that, I would argue, is a positive achievement for the human race.

Love Transformer

Love and Sex with Robots
David Levy
HarperCollins, 334 pages, $24.95

Review by Erin O’Brien

Let’s start with the RealDolls.

Actually, it’s not the dolls I want to dwell on, but the men who own them. I spent untold hours conversing on an online forum set up specifically for sex doll owners while researching this article. The human aspect of the sex doll fetish/hobby has stuck with me ever since that piece ran almost a year ago. The love doll phenomenon might seem banal at first blush, but I found it to be complex and surprising at every turn.

Sex is the most popular doll activity, but owners also dress the dolls, talk to them, kiss them, and purchase lingerie and perfume for them. They pose and photograph the dolls. They name them and often imbue them with fantasy personalities. Some men even present themselves on The Doll Forum as their doll. As I struggled to understand it all, one of the forum members asked me if I love my car. That stopped me. My Mini Cooper is compact and responsive and never takes more than it needs. I want to emulate it at every turn. Do I love it? I practically deify it. And it’s not the only object that is more to me than the sum of its parts. My iPod is not only a jewel, but also a valued companion on my endless walks. I am free to enjoy those affairs without fear of persecution, but the rules are different for men who enjoy love dolls. Most owners are terrified of being outed.

Doll owners constantly discuss advances in doll technology. They want convenience features such as removable sex organs that can be easily cleaned but stay put during critical moments. They want their dolls to talk and move. They pine for fully functional “gynoids” that they can be programmed to accommodate any sexual proclivity. Forum discussions wax and wane with excitement and disappointment, depending upon how close technology is to making their dreams come true. While on the forum, doll owners evoked my sympathy, empathy and antipathy — as well as my fascination. So when I heard about David Levy’s book Love and Sex with Robots, it piqued my interest.

“Accepting that huge technological advances will be achieved by around 2050,” claims Levy in the book’s introduction, ” … Love and sex with robots on a grand scale is inevitable.”

From day one, my world was filled with technology. My father designed and built machinery. My degree is in electrical engineering. I respect milling machines, I remember the Radio Shack TRS-80 computer, and I consider my laptop to be an attractive accessory that complements who I am. I agreed with Levy’s assertions about our advances in AI and computer technology. And yes, the human fascination with automata is boundless. It starts early too. Every kid is transfixed by a window display of animated Christmas elves no matter how repetitive and mechanical their movement. I know I was. I still am.

From this starting point and through three hundred odd pages of text, Levy’s premise could surely convince me to fall in love — and maybe even marry — a robot.

I’m just a love machine

Early in the book, Levy says he will not detail the mechanics behind the robot frontier. This immediately felt like a cheat to me and put a big chink in Levy’s credibility. The emulation of the human hand, lips, and tongue seem like important components to address when pondering lovebot technology. Yet Levy does not address such issues. No matter how hard I tried, the cunning engineer in me couldn’t stop worrying about design. A lovebot will require a heating system. (RealDoll owners often use an electric blanket.) Will the user manually lubricate the robot for sex or will it have a system with refillable reservoirs? Something along the lines of windshield washer fluid? That robot kid in AI got bested by a mouthful of spinach, but he did fine even after he fell in a pool. This is more than I can say about my cell phone. I eat a falafel sandwich to stay powered up. What will fuel a lovebot? How long will the rechargeable battery last? Coitus interruptus because of a drained battery would be a real drag. Sort of like having to put your cool road trip on hold for a few hours in Shamrock, Texas while the electric car juices up.

These mystifying “huge technological advances” didn’t sit well with the Los Angeles Times‘s Seth Lloyd either.

Lloyd brought his own credentials (quantum-mechanical engineering professor at MIT) to the intrinsic problems of programming computerized robots to perform even the humblest of tasks. He calls Levy on forecasting developments so far in the future that no one can refute them, calling such extrapolation a “mug’s game.” And make sure you dig his comments on Levy’s lack of literary references. Remember Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation? We thought R2D2 was adorable. And everyone drooled over Cherry 2000. Levy doesn’t mention any of them. Not even Jude Law’s silken Gigolo Joe, who would seem to embody Levy’s vision.

Levy also forecasts that lovebots will cost the equivalent of two C-notes by the middle of the century. Right now, $199 will buy you an iRobot Roomba Robot Vacuum at Target, but the only thing it sucks is dust bunnies and pet hair. Sure, the Roomba may go down in price. Electronics generally do. Mechanical devices do not. Build them cheap and, well, is anybody out there still driving a Yugo?

You make me feel like a natural woman

From Sex and Love with Robots:

Anyone who has doubts that women will find it appealing or even possible to receive the most incredible, amazing, fantastic orgasms, courtesy of sexual robots, should think again. Think vibrators.

Did someone say vibrator?

The Cone Vibrator boasts 16 settings courtesy of a 3,000-rpm motor and is fueled by three C-sized batteries. The smooth medical-grade silicone surface is easy to clean and comfortable to (ahem) interact with. And believe me, set this baby in the center of the bed and it stays put no matter how enthusiastic that interaction gets. It costs about a hundred bucks.

Purrr.

I love my ridiculous toys. But the idea of a life-sized male sex doll does nothing for me. Sure, a toy delivers satisfaction. But it is just a toy. It has nothing to do with men or lovemaking. (Well, maybe as an accessory. I mean, insinuate yourself on the cone and your entire upper body is free to … um … oh, never mind.)

Why? It has to do with the essence of our subtle physiological yin and yang: that swirling vortex wherein you find the quest for a woman’s climax, fear of impotence, a lover’s thrill at the sight of a swelling erection on a man he or she wishes to arouse and the sense of failure a flaccid member evokes in the same situation. The lie of a woman’s faked orgasm and the intensity of pleasure between two people exchanging undiluted desire.

That said, the vagina has more wiggle room than the penis. Erica Jong called the fairer genitalia an “all-weather” organ, suitable for use anytime as long as a bottle of lubricant is in arm’s reach. The passive nature of the vagina makes it easier for a heterosexual man to suspend disbelief and engage in activities such as prostitution and doll play. Not so with the penis. The Viagra discussion notwithstanding, arousal must produce a man’s erection, which silently proclaims, you are sexy and desirable to me. It is an honest organic response, not the proper execution of computer programming. An erection imparts affirmation that a phallus will never evoke.

As a heterosexual woman, I don’t think I’m alone in my indifference to the male sex robots of the future or the male dolls of today, but I’m not sure. Although Abyss, the manufacturer of RealDoll, sent me droves of info when I asked about their product, they didn’t respond to my numerous queries about how many “Charlie” male dolls they’ve sold. I’ve read that it’s only about a dozen.

Levy is completely at odds with this topic. In one sentence he proclaims that vibrator love means robot love. In the next breath, he admits that, unlike men, women do not buy love dolls.

Why not? Although breadwinning men with gleaming teeth and pompadours stiff with Brylcreem can have their RealDolls and eat them too, the cake of Levy’s argument asserts that women probably just can’t afford “Charlie” at $7,000. He admits that this probably isn’t the only reason, but it’s the only one he cites.

An angry red blush bloomed on my neck as I digested this factoid, but I must agree: $7,000 is a lot of money to pay for the privilege of lying beneath 100 pounds of inert silicone.

I suppose I could sit on top of it.

Nah.

They’ll never get that perfect spot where shaft meets torso right. Besides that, Charlie wouldn’t fit in the box under my bed.

Even the losers

Levy is a savvy proselytizer. He appeared on the January 17 episode of The Colbert Report. When asked why people would want a lovebot, he said, “The most common reason I think at the beginning will be that there are millions of people out there in the world who for one reason or another can’t establish normal relationships with humans. They’re lonely, they’re miserable and robots, when they’re sophisticated enough, will be an excellent alternative.” When Colbert asked him if he would ever have interest in a robot, Levy responded, “No … this is for the other people.”

Okay folks, queue forms on the right. You lonely miserables–raise your hands. You guys head straight up front. The ugly guys are next. No, no. No need for you dogheads to raise your hands. We can see who you are. Just get behind the miserables. When all the pathetic losers are settled, the rest of you normal, middle-class, right-as-rain Other People have at it. As soon as I blow the whistle, let the stampede begin.

When a writer distances himself from his topic, he risks insulting his material as well as his reader. This is particularly relevant when writing about sex. If you don’t put yourself on the playing field either directly or indirectly, you come across as judgmental. To get on that field, you must put forth your assertions in the context of your reader and yourself. That is vulnerable territory–upon which Levy dares not to tread. Instead he relies heavily on studies and history in order to broach his topic. His research is thorough and interesting. Unfortunately, too often it looks backward and not forward. Catastrophically, it never looks inward.

Levy cites our pets, our Internet romances and our ongoing love affair with electronic equipment as examples of alternative human affections. So because I love my cats, I’ll marry a machine? And, yes, I have a complex relationship with my computer, but it serves mostly as a tool and a vital connection to other people. That argument led me nowhere. It’s true that people have online affairs, but in the end, it’s still something conducted in the flesh between two people.

This was the absolute scientific fact that proves humans will soon universally love and marry robots? I was still miles away.

A humanoid robot that is programmed to perform its owner’s specific wishes sounded like a new-fangled way to say hooker, trophy wife, or sex slave. The more sophisticated the electronic entity, the more cruel the electronic leash. I couldn’t see it any other way.

What I needed was a deep thought.

But it’s all in the game

Levy is an international chess champion and the author of dozens of books on artificial intelligence and computer gaming. His passion for his subject is evidenced by a long list of international credentials concerning those topics. He led a team to win the 1997 Loebner Prize (world championship for conversational computer software) and is currently the president of the International Computer Games Association. In 1968, Levi wagered that no computer would beat him at chess within the next ten years. He won that bet against his fellow AI aficionados, which garnered him considerable notability. Eleven years later, however, he was defeated by the computer program “Deep Thought,” which leads me to the heart of the trouble with Love and Sex with Robots.

This book is a commercialized version of Levy’s academic paper on the topic, for which he earned a Ph.D. The resulting scientific detachment about subjects that are not scientific–love and sex–is problematic. Although Levy’s passages about the histories of vibrators and sexdolls are wonderful, you won’t find one candid breath about the human beings behind them.

Love and Sex with Robots is screaming for eye-blinking moments such as an anecdote that a doll owner conveyed to me: he loved painting portraits but no model was patient enough for him. “A life-like doll seemed the ideal solution,” he said. “However, when she arrived, I was so taken with her realism that I automatically became fond of her.” And in an instant, this would-be Pygmalion instilled gentle poetry upon the idea of man and doll, which no longer seemed so strange.

That is how a writer must normalize a sexual subculture, by evoking the reader’s empathy over his sympathy. Exclude the anecdotal details and the droning research ends up sounding like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon.

Levy didn’t have to go very far to find a humanizing facet for his subject. All he had to do was step from behind the scientific mask for a moment and describe his lifelong fascination with AI. I smoldered with curiosity about the tipping-point moment when he knew “Deep Thought” had the game in 1989. How did he feel? I imagine it was a thrilling culmination of anger, hatred, respect, frustration, admiration and humility–a stinging slap from a beautiful woman. Perhaps it was arousing as well as infuriating. Such disclosure would have increased the power of this book ten-fold.

But the future lovebots Levy depicts are no Deep Thought femme fatales. They are submissive Stepford Wives for the masses, programmed to meet their owner’s every whim. When I juxtaposed McRobot against the brilliant Deep Thought entity that defeated a genius, it amounted to a subcontextual insult. How would Levy respond if asked to check off the box on the order form that indicated whether he’d like his custom-built robot to let him win at chess (a) always, (b) once in a while, or (c) never?

Perhaps such pedestrian options are for the “other people.”

Electric slide

Levy devotes 27 pages to “Why people pay for sex” whereby he quietly admits that buying a mechanical companion is akin to prostitution. To his credit, there is no hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold or Pretty Woman moment. The section about why women pay for sex is one of the weakest in the book. A tidbit involving ten female johns that Levy cites from a February 1994 article of Marie Claire (UK) does little to normalize the idea of paying a man to share a bed. The johns discuss their lack of success with men, the freedom from complications and constraints that inundates relationships, and the need for companionship they cannot fulfill otherwise. He concludes the chapter by saying paid sex “can be a positive experience even though [the johns] know that their sex object has no genuine feelings of affection for them.”

I wanted to make sense of all this. So I reviewed AI while writing this essay. I watched Gigolo Joe’s love scene again and again. Who is this scene for? The woman is a teary middle-aged cliché. People with complex sexual troubles surely do not see themselves this way. They don’t need pity; they need a solution. It’s not Gigolo Joe, who is more contrived than his human counterpart. Paying for sex doesn’t make sense to most women, which is why the call for heterosexual male prostitutes is a barely audible peep. Gigolo Joe’s mechanical hard-on is a lie as well.

I detest the isn’t-it-wonderful-that-these-sad-people-have-this-option-available-to-them shtick, but that’s all Levy offers me here. Again, I needed a quotidian inroads, such as the heterosexual fiftysomething man in a strapless evening gown I discovered when conducting research for a feature on cross-dressing. “Glenda” told me that, when she leaves Glen’s rough work clothes behind and steps out in pantyhose and heels, the world treats her differently — even if she’s not all that convincing in her role. Glenda can also leave Glen’s troubles behind, such as the grief surrounding his 19-year-old daughter’s suicide.

Oh.

But at one point, Levy finally grabbed me. He chronicles the efforts of the Erotic Computation Group at MIT, which endeavors to explore modern computing, human sexuality and sex toys of the future. I sat up in attention, only to read the next paragraph, wherein Levy reveals that the group was a hoax, and was gravely disappointed.

Love and Sex with Robots represents a massive amount of work. But it fails to reveal a profound truth — something I believe is still waiting to be uncovered. I wish Levy had included some of his own secrets and desires. I wish he had gotten his hands dirty and talked to real people about real sex and fetishes. But the galvanizing details and their inherent vulnerability just aren’t here. As it is, Love and Sex with Robots feels like a date with a machine.

Rosebud 2.0

undress.jpgI lean into my computer screen chin on fist, eyes leveled. Before me, a woman lies face down on an unremarkable bed. A man moves the woman’s hands behind her back. The woman waits patiently as he ties her hands together securely but comfortably with a simple rope. His wedding ring gleams as he pushes up her cotton frock and takes his time easing her panties down over her thighs. For the next several minutes, he fondles her. His caresses move from the swells of her buttocks to the folds of her genitals. She undulates and rears up against his hands. His fingers disappear inside her. She exhales pure desire in this otherwise quiet scene. At one point the man clutches the woman’s hand in a silent, tender communication. Then he reaches for something off screen. Shuffling noises ensue. A twisted tube of lubricant and vibrator appear. The play becomes more aggressive, as do the woman’s reactions. She strains to open her legs against the binding panties around her knees and another rope around her ankles.

I swallow hard.

Three quarters of the way through Amateur Bondage Video, I abort my research efforts. A few minutes after that, my jeans are a jumble on the floor and I am smoky-eyed on my own bed, basking in the aftermath.

The perfect pornographic experience? Not entirely. Sure, the end result was enthusiastic enough, but I had to swim through a dangerous ocean of flesh to get here, proving that nothing is easy.

egyptfellatio.jpgPeople often assume that women dislike pornography or that they don’t like it as much as men. That’s an oversimplification. I want to like porn. But professional videos are less concerned with what feels good for a woman and more hard pressed on what is visually arousing for men — fellatio for instance. I’m not knocking it. It’s a wonderful erotic act that men love to watch, but that only gets me so far. On the flip side, pro porn constantly depicts cunnilingus as if it were a lollipop-licking contest with a misplaced emphasis on the visual. I always roll my eyes at that and think: Too bad. If he were doing it right most of the pink stuff wouldn’t be viewable.

And the subtleties: barely audible breathing escalating to a wide-eyed moan, finger strokes that tighten into a desperate clutch, the widening eyes of climax. Ideal porn would show all of this without the ridiculous staging, faux boobs and silly plots involving pool boys and “nurses.” But the professional efforts are all about those things, which is why I gave up on them years ago. One could argue that the actors love the work and the camera, but I doubt Jenna Jameson ever works for free. Pro porn stems from the exchange of money. Successful sex is about the exchange of desire.

So when XTube.com went live nearly two years ago with the option of user-generated adult content, it was a revelation–a naked YouTube, without the snarky comments. The idea seemed flawless: finally, a free-of-charge amateur alternative to the Internet’s bogus claims of 100 percent free XXX! The parade of copycat sites followed — PornoTube, YouPorn, Megarotic. The list gets longer every day. There’s a healthy dose of desire splattered on these sites. The Web 2.0 actors and directors are doing this because they want to and they want me to watch. I’m not paying to attend this soiree. I’ve been invited.

leek.jpgThe initial orgy was a blast. The woman sashaying nude down a busy street with a cigarette in one hand and a swinging purse in the other was so funny that I posted the clip on my blog and titled the entry “Confidence.” I assigned pithy quips to my discoveries and emailed the links. I asked, “Got vichyssoise?” of a huge leek being used as a dildo. “Her lips are sealed” was my commentary on the woman matter-of-factly tying her labia into a knot. These weren’t about arousal, but fun. If the people posting them were doing it to bolster their self-esteems, judging by the hit counts, they had to puff up like peacocks. I might have watched on with bewilderment, but why shouldn’t Super KnotGirl be proud of herself?

Things got cagier when I searched for something to arouse me. I passed over the male-concentric thumbnails that dominate these sites and clicked on images or titles that might have something for 42-year-old housewife and mother in Cleveland, Ohio. My five foot one stature earned Petite Amateur Keeps Fucking a click. It featured the reverse cowgirl position, which showcased the woman’s body beautifully, but her clitoris was a mile away from the action. Even 38 seconds of that was too long — I was out in 10. The thumbnail for Mature Wife And Her Special Friend looked promising with a lush sex toy and lacy stockings, but it went south when a loud radio jock’s voice suddenly plugged an event “sponsored by new Heineken Premium Light, the first light beer worth the name Heineken!”

Ugh.

I hated it when that deer-in-the-headlights thing overcame me during mediocre or bad footage. I’d push the fast forward bar along and think: will he ever take that thing out of her mouth? If he did, but only in order to ejaculate all over her face, it was an emotional pinch for me. Amateur porn is real sex, not someone’s job. I don’t want to be treated that way. How did the woman on the screen feel? I’m not judging her sexual experience, but when it comes to watching sex, I’m selfish. I can’t help but project what I see on the screen onto my own paradigm. Someone else might be doing it, but it’s still all about me. Hence, I quickly found that no matter how graphic and banal the footage, it was almost always complex.

A click here, another over there. My eyes frenetically scanned screen after screen of thumbnails. The search, with all its primal stimuli, became tiresome, even annoying. There was very little that was sexy to me. The endless surfing was the zenith of frustration particularly when I was unsuccessful. Who wants to waste an hour looking at porn that doesn’t turn them on?

I admit there are gems and high-riding waves among the online porn like Amateur Bondage Video. And I love it that 47-year-old Doris from accounting, brought up on the mantra Good Girls Don’t Do Certain Things, can slip into the den and furiously rub off while watching Lonely Housewife Fucking Her Vacuum after a lifetime of guilty curiosity. One big surprise was the relief I felt at finally seeing what other women’s genitals look like and how women touch themselves. Men have been comparison checking ever since the locker room. Board members often have nowhere to hide. Vaginas are different. Unless you’re a gynecologist or a gay woman, you don’t see them. The pink panther stays under wraps until we open it up. Even to view my own, I have to fold up like a pretzel on the bathroom floor with all the lights on and get tricky with a mirror. Playboy is no help. Hefner’s minions either Photoshop out any indication of an orifice or leave a tiny hairless line that peeps, “I’m a very well-behaved little muff.”

Double ugh.

But the online amateurs are fleshy beauties, lush with folds and colors from pink to brown to dusky rose. These are the childbearing workhorses of human sexuality, unapologetic and closed five days a month, thank you very much. They roar, “I am pussy!” and get my unconditional support.

Then there was this: the image of a man buried between a woman’s thighs moved me to click through to Female POV 3. The man was handsome and muscled. The woman was filming the action. “It’s taking too long,” he said as he looked up and revealed his flaccid penis. Next was a failed attempt at intercourse. Then the woman bent over and fingered herself to provide a visual. The man stared into her, his face vulnerable and desperate, his right hand furiously stroking. “The camera and stuff just makes me a little bit nervous,” he said. She urged him to ignore it. Nothing worked. The man collected his clothes from the floor and left. “Hey,” said the woman, whose face remained hidden, “Close the door, please.”

I blinked back tears. I was furious over the woman’s indifference. But at the same time, I waxed protective — even feeling maternal — for the man. Women complain about sexual objectivity all the time. This was the same sort of sexual abuse made worse by the unavoidable evidence, all of which was recorded by that obnoxious little broad’s camera. I wanted to reach into the screen and grab her by the neck, plop her down and say, “Think you’re such hot shit? Don’t forget that all your shaved sweetness did nothing for that man. Everything here failed, including you.”

And that is how XTube, self-billed as “the greatest thing since the orgasm,” managed a total eclipse of my arousal for the rest of the day.

I later realized that the clip was not a failure, but the most evocative footage I’d seen, hands down. It had every right to be online and then some. So it goes when you sail the sea of free online sex. Every adjective applies. It’s funny and sad and sexy and messy and arousing and painful and infuriating and, well, a lot like real sex.

But we’ve been recording real sex forever. What’s different about Porn 2.0? This new porn frontier is thriving because the logistics that heretofore governed adult content are stripped away. To procure the new sex, all I have to do is step into my home office and fire up the Mac, which is miles away from the seedy “Adult” stores on the other side of town. Once online, I’ll find all the amateur footage I want compliments of high-speed Internet and inexpensive digital cameras. The broadcasts come from across the globe.

It can be overwhelming.

The sheer volume and range of content makes me feel as though I am standing with my nose one inch away from a fifty-foot billboard that is glaring and blaring a million different sexual messages. Thus far, Web 2.0’s John Q. Public editor might be dealing aces over at Wikipedia, but not here. In fact, the more he gets his paws into online sex, the more raucous it becomes. After all, honest sex doesn’t come with six-pack abs and good lighting. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the public editors of Wiki have spent the past two years making that world look like a real reference site and making XTube look like real sex.

But do I really want Editor 2.0 to clean this sex up?

I don’t think so. Despite my quibbles, I’m rooting for all this diverse new unbridled sex with all of its imperfect beauty. And even though I don’t drop in that often, I’ll be checking in once in a while to see how things are (ahem) coming along.

Visit the 1/11/08 entry of O’Brien’s blog for pertinent links.

Or Maybe These Bozos Just Lack Basic Humility

Greta Christina: “It’s hard to know what exactly is going on with these guys. Is this some macho thing — the men get freaked out because men are supposed to be the sex-crazed ones who want it all the time, and if your woman wants it more than you do then that somehow makes you less of a man? Is it just a generic ‘blame your partner for your problems and differences’ reaction — you know, the classic ‘we want different things, I’m perfect, therefore my partner must be fucked-up’ logic? Is it something else entirely?” (via The Other)

The Ten Strangest Mainstream Sex Scenes

In my view, one of the greatest cinematic sex scenes of all time was in Michael Mak’s 1992 film Sex and Zen (alas, YouTube fails me!), where the actors commit carnal activity while traveling through the air on wires (in trapeze delicto?). While that indelible movie moment isn’t on this handy list, there are plenty others that are. And since it’s a Monday, I think it’s safe to say that a little NSFW interspecies erotica is in order. (via Quiddity)

Also, for your consideration:

So Now That the Sky Isn’t Falling, Will the Fundies Listen?

Scientific American: “The team of researchers, led by Kaye Wellings, a professor of sexual health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, analyzed nearly 200 studies on demographic sexual behavior in 59 countries published between 1996 and 2006 to obtain their results on the state of international sexual health….Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that young people are engaging in sexual intercourse at earlier ages–the first instance of sexual activity for both genders generally occurs at between 15 and 19 years of age globally.”

Your Tax Dollars Telling You What to Do as Adults

USA Today: “Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007. The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it’s a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.”

Against the Stereotype

Now here’s a preacher to get behind (if you know what I mean): “Why can women be multiorgasmic and men not? Well, I’ve decided God just likes you better!”

Southern preacher Joe Beam is conservative, but he’s pro-sex, insisting that sex is good and that it makes people happy and stabilizes relationships. He’s for masturbation, phone sex, sex toys, any position in the Kama Sutra, birth control, anal sex — you name it, he’s for it.

“Carried Away By the Moment” is the New Buzz Term for “Wild, Out of Control, Animalistic and Quite Possibly Gratuitious Sex Thrown In To Boost Ratings”

BBC: “The sex scene, broadcast on 1 August, showed actors Kellie Shirley and Joel Beckett ripping off each others clothes and having sex on the floor of a nightclub….Ms Harwood again apologised for causing distress, but argued that ‘any sexual activity was implied rather than explicit’. ‘The intention of the scene was to indicate the passion of a couple being carried away by the moment,’ she continued.”

Roundup

  • Danielle Torres offers this intriguing guessing game: Which author slept in which house? But I don’t think the game is entirely fair. Where are the garrets? The leaking faucets? The empty cabinets? In short, where are the midlisters?
  • I don’t know what’s sillier: the notion of Bruce Willis appearing in another Die Hard movie or the ridiculous title.
  • Novelist Geoff Nicholson has written an expose on sex collecting. Nicholson couldn’t get an interview with Paul Reubens, but he got a dinner date with the late Linda Lovelace. It is rumored that the book’s original title was My Dinner with Bukkake.
  • If you haven’t had your fill of lists (and let’s face it: after X number of shopping lists, one pines for anything outside the norm), Penguin and The Times present a list of bests pertaining to the Penguin Classics. But I’m going to have to disagree on The Old Curiosity Shop as a “Best Tearjerker.” I’m about as crazed a Dickens freak as they come and when I first read Curiosity many years ago, I admired its interesting parallels with The Pilgrim’s Progress, but even I must side with Oscar Wilde for the book’s ridiculous sentimentalism.
  • Continuous partial attention applied to fiction writing? “But what grabs the attention of unsuspecting passersby is a warm, inviting smile and a sign that reads, ‘I’m writing a novel. If you’d like, please come talk to me about it.'”
  • The Globe and Mail reports that heavy Internet users don’t socialize with their loved ones and spend less time doing household chores. But the difference is only about 30 minutes. In other words, someone who is spending 30 minutes more on the Internet is spending 30 minutes less doing other things. Brilliant detective work, Statistics Canada! Can I buy you an abacus? (via Scribbling Woman)

With That Title, One Can Only Imagine How Green Berets Perform Cunnilingus

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Though romance writing remains an almost exclusively female vocation, some men have ventured into the field. Former Green Beret Bob Mayer, who has written many non-romance books under his own name and under the pen name Robert Doherty, teamed up with veteran comedic romance writer Jenny Crusie for a military romance called ‘Don’t Look Down,’ released this year.”

So Older Audiences Have Sex and Like Romps. This Warrants a 1,200 Word Story?

New York Times: “Since [Heading South] opened July 7, theaters have been packed with women about the same age as the ones on the screen. Some bought tickets in groups for a kind of middle-aged girls’ night out. Interviews indicated the movie has hit home with this audience because it affirms the sexual reality of women of a certain age, that even as they pass the prime of their desirability to men, libidos smolder. More than a few said they came seeking a hot night out.”