The third issue of Future Sex is out and with it the happy news that we truly have a fine new addition to the world of sex publishing on our hands. After two somewhat choppy excursions into the dangerous waters of trying to create a magazine with a fresh point of view on matters sexual, editors Lisa Palac, Laura Miller, et al seem to have found their sealegs with this delightful new collection of photos, stories, articles and reviews that are at once interesting, intelligent, imaginative, and just plain hot.
Creating meaningful alternatives in the world of sex publishing is a much more difficult task than you might think. I know because I've been there. It's easy to criticize what's already out there -- whether commercial pornography or the new "erotica" -- as trite, repetitive, infantile, sexist, boring, or weird. But it's something else again to arrive at a clear sense of what could be done instead, and even more difficult to then find or create visual and written material that realizes that alternative vision.
Future Sex takes on a complex, difficult, and worthy set of mandates: to publish sexual material that's real and honest; to embody a basic sexual intelligence and positive respect for sexual desire; to be a genuine physical as well as mental turn-on (that is, to be masturbatable); to appeal to an intended audience of both women and men; to go beyond cultural stereotypes of women, men, and sex itself; to embody some form of progressive sexual and gender politics; and, as important as all the others combined, to sell. All this through a variety of media with very diverse possibilities and pitfalls: photography, fiction, essays, journalistic reporting, and reviews.
The first two issues of Future Sex were, not surprisingly, mixed bags. The visual design of the magazine was certainly innovative (sometimes distractingly so), and the will to chart a brave new creative sexual direction was unmistakable, but I felt that much of the material that filled the first sets of pages fell short of the vision. I wanted, of course, to like this magazine, and I am always ready to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who has the guts to try to pull together something new and interesting about sex. My sense of Future Sex through the first two issues was that it was a work in process -- a new creature working hard to give birth to itself, waiting for its vision and its form to gel.
I happen to know Lisa Palac and Laura Miller. They're smart, talented, creative, ambitious, and sophisticated both in their attitudes about sex and in their understanding of how sexual intelligence intersects with mainstream culture. I also know from having watched other sexually innovative magazines take form over the last decade (Libido, On Our Backs, Taste of Latex, Frighten the Horses, Cupido, Yellow Silk), and from my own sexual publishing ventures (Erotic by Nature, my book of erotic photography and fiction, and even this column), that it takes time to find a new sexual voice, to define clearly what you want to do and say, to bring into sharp focus what necessarily starts out as a vague sense of possibility. The process of defining a new sexual publication is not all that different, really, from the process of defining ourselves, over time, as sexual individuals.
Given all that, it's quite an accomplishment that as early as its third issue, Future Sex really seems to have arrived. I was able to go from beginning to end, only stumbling here and there, finding myself continuously drawn in by both the pictures and the words.
Thus, James Sturz's report on Europe's first Jack-and-Jill Off safe sex party offers both intelligent perspective and a proper vicarious buzz, as in this description of one scene from the party:
"The Swedish woman, released from her bonds, held Robert's head gently, while she continued to dance, extracting rhythm from her hips. Two other women ran nails across his chest. Their voices were hushed. The lights were soft. No one else said a word. I thought to myself, I've slept with women behind closed doors without half the intimacy on the table before me."
Jessica Mott's overview of Japanese pornography is insightful, a fine piece of background journalism, and well anchored in progressive gender politics as well. The chance to see how pornography develops against the background of traditional Japanese sexual culture and gender politics lets us look that much more clearly at our own particular forms of sexual enticement and entertainment, and to see how these sexual forms are reflections of our own societal attitudes about sex and the various power and sexual interfaces between women and men.
Marilyn Drake and David Keith's paired perspectives on interracial sex (she a white woman, he a black man) are as good as any personal writing I've seen on the subject: honest, analytical, political in the best sense of the term. How refreshing to read writing that's thoughtfully and intelligently political, in contrast to the knee-jerk-correct political orthodoxies, or writing that is reactively anti-political.
The two erotic short stories, "Full Metal Corset" by Anne Tourney and "Program Six" by Don Webb, are both fun, edgy (s/m is the subject of one, animal sex the other), well-written, and good quick turn-ons.
The photo essays turn the trick of being imaginative, real, and sexy all at once. The balance of cunts and cocks, of male- and female-oriented sexual inspiration, is a noteworthy achievement, as is the incorporation of implied story lines to hold the photos together, without becoming distractingly or simplistically narrative.
In a series of photographs by Joegh Bullock and Bill Weiss, a male photographer begins by shooting nudes of a female model only to have her turn the tables on him before the two of them drop the camera entirely in favor of each other. Whether she is pulling down his pants to get at his cock or he is burying his head enthusiastically in her arched pussy, the photos capture real sexual heat. And it's a treat to see models of color in sexual photographs that avoid even a hint of racial stereotyping or exoticization.
In "Autoerotic," a photo essay by photographer Carlise Iman, we watch a lovely and delightfully unglamorous woman turn herself on with porn pictures, then play with herself until she comes. For me, one sign of good sexual photography is when I can actually feel the pictures, feel them in my body. When model Gabriella squeezes her nipples in these photos, I can feel them. When she pulls up hard against her clit, I can feel that too. And when she licks the juice of her cunt from her fingers, I can taste her as well. These photos are as hot as they are real -- hot because they are real -- a fine bit of sexual photography reminiscent of the power of Jack Morin's book of masturbation photographs, Men Loving Themselves.
Annie Sprinkle's delightful portfolio of sexual exotica are a delightful world unto themselves, photos that mix glamour and beauty with humor and wild imagination. Whether she's showing us a cunt transformed into an Alpine snow scene, Joe Simmons' lovely body going up in flames, flies making love, or Jill Dreskin in a standard porn pose that transcends itself by the power of her gaze, Annie's work never loses the ability to take us beyond the habitual limits of our erotic imaginings.
Rounding out the issue are smart short reviews of videos, books, recordings, and erotic computer software. Laura Miller is especially on the mark talking about Andrew Blake ("glossy and pretty, if passionless, films... for those want the refined aesthetics of primo softcore with the close-up action of hardcore") and about Betty Dodson ("stunningly radiant at 60+ [she] is the best possible advertisement for her own orgasm-a-day program"). While I'm not familiar with the software or the recordings, I do know that Future Sex has chosen to pass the word about some truly noteworthy new books, including Marco Vassi's A Driving Passion, Charles Gatewood's latest book of radical portraits, Primitives, and Craig Morey's attractive book of photos, Studio Nudes.
Cyborgasm: Taking It In the Ear
Lisa Palac has another sex product for us besides Future Sex -- a sexual CD she has produced with her fiance' , Ron Gompertz. It's called Cyborgasm, "a one hour anthology of explicit erotica that aims to bring the sexual imagination to life."
Cyborgasm's promotional hype was almost more than I could take seriously. "From sweet nothing whispers to no-holds-barred lust recorded live on location," I read, "Cyborgasm exposes the surreal, voyeuristic and dark sides of sexual fantasy.... Cyborgasm sounds so real, you're not just hearing sex, you're having it.... For the wildest sexual experience of your life, just close your eyes and listen."
Well, I've taken the Cyborgasm trip and must report, dear readers, that, for me at least, there is still a difference between listening to sex and having sex. And I can't really say that I would call listening to this disc to be among the wildest sexual experiences of my life.
Still, this collection of recorded sexual encounters (some believably sincere, others somewhat larger than life) and recitations of delightfully sexual short stories and (yes) poems, is one crafty piece of erotic engineering.
Most of the twelve substantive tracks are recordings of couples (and one larger group of swingers) having sex -- having sex right on top of the microphones so that when you listen you really do feel that you're right there in the room with them. Listening to other people being sexual is one of my favorite things to do -- whether it's people on the other side of the wall, people on the other side of the room or, in this case, people on the other side of the microphone -- and the various sexual encounters on Cyborgasm are sufficiently genuine and hot sounding to allow me to suspend my disbelief and just let the moaning and whimpering, the demanding and begging, the accelerated breathing and climactic explosions get my sap flowing.
True, these people give more explicit description of what they're doing than anyone would off mike, but I found myself using the level of narration to create a heightened sense of voyeuristic (audistic?) theatre that made listening even more charged. Not only are these people having what sounds like genuinely hot sex, they're having this sex for the purpose of making a sound track so that people like me will get to hear them. I am listening; they know I will be listening; they act as if they are entirely and intimately alone. A fine fabrication of dual reality: experience plus the meta-experience of being above the event, watching. Life as theatre: one of the highest forms, however we set it up.
Happily, the audio tracks on Cyborgasm for the most part avoid the exaggerated excitement and stylized language that are so common in prerecorded phone sex tapes. The specific content of the various scenes similarly go beyond fuck and suck conventional, including for example Mistress Kat's haunting "Absolute Sadist" and a lovely, naughty "Daddy's Grrrl" venture into age play. The predominant heterosexuality is broken by the scene of two women being sexual together, supposedly for the first time. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding scene involving two men -- a significant though understandable compromise of political concerns to those of marketing among the homophobes. One scene is spoken entirely in French -- perhaps an elite gift to those who happen to know the Language of Love, perhaps a demonstration to those who don't that sexual talk can be arousing whether or not you understand what is being said.
The two narrated stories offer a different variety of audio turn-on; each effective in its own way. Susie Bright's dripping rendition of "Circus Whore," a wicked domination fantasy enhanced by a stunningly twisted music track by Evan Sornstein, is for me the hottest track on the disc. Jon Vailiff's ultimate taxi driver fantasy, "Dirty Fare," is more conventional and a bit long, but still works well.
My poet's heart was especially delighted with the inclusion of two poems, "Blue Light" by Don Bajema and "Succubus (Wet Nightmare)" by Diana Trimble. Both were hot and compelling, the syntax of the poetry enhancing rather than detracting from the sexual description. I only wish that the sound track for "Succubus" had been mixed differently, as I had trouble giving center stage to the language (where it belongs) rather than to the too-intrusive music.
There's something about listening to sexual material, rather than watching it in videos, films, or magazines, that I like very much. At the risk of being old hat or old fashioned, it really does leave room for the imagination -- room for each listener to fill in the details according to his or her most personal inclinations. We can picture the scenes we hear any way we want to -- what the people look like, how they move, what specifically they are doing. Better yet, we can dispense with picturing the scene entirely, focusing our attention instead more directly on the energy that is so eloquently expressed in the participants' sounds and voices.
Seeing, after all, is the most left-brained of the senses, and that left-brained, specific, detailed focus too often distracts us from the more amorphous, more intuitive, as far as I'm concerned more powerful, right-brained, arational aspects of being sexual. This is one important reason that people so often close their eyes during sex -- not to avoid intimate connection with their partners, but to allow intimate connection on other levels -- through the energies and nuances of the more left-handed senses: touch, taste, sound, smell. One of the best things about sex for me is that it is an opportunity to get away from the right-handed perspectives that so dominate our world -- to go underground, into the underworld, into the darkness, into the unconscious, into hell, into Hades in the original, not at all negative, Greek-mythological sense.
Coming from the dominant right-handed path, we often get far too literal, too specific, too explicit, too obvious, in how we think of sex. One of the disservices of conventional pornography is the way it tends to encourage this literalization of sex. Visual porn then goes one step farther by prepackaging our fantasies for us, substituting standardized images and gestures of what is sexy for the more varied details we would and do come up with when we are left to our own devices.
Of course the tales and scenes collected on a disc like Cyborgasm are also prepackaged fantasies. But sounds and words are so much less definitive than visual images that it's another matter altogether. It's like the difference between radio and TV, between the times when our parents and grandparents gathered around the radio to listen to dramatic readings of plays and romances, their minds alive with necessarily individualistic imaginings of the scenes being portrayed, and the homogeneous, intravenous totality of the television-watching experience.
So, all in all, I guess I see the concept of audio sex as the low-tech alternative, though the quality of the digital editing and mixing on Cyborgasm is certainly technologically sophisticated. Undoubtedly there will be many more discs of sexual material produced as time goes by. One more color to add to the palette of sexual entertainment. Cyborgasm, fortunately, gets the medium off on the right (which is to say left) foot.