Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Gaze, Erotica and the Aesthetics of a Hog-tie

"Don't you appreciate the visual aesthetics of a good hog-tie?" he asked.
I thought about it a long time.  I've never hogtied anyone. I've never had the desire to hogtie anyone. I've been hogtied myself, but one can't appreciate the visual aesthetics in that position.  Of course, I have seen other people hogtied, both in the flesh and remediated in porn, but I have come to realize I lack the mental faculties needed to project myself into the visual image of the hogtied individual.

You can imagine, this makes porn a disappointment for me, because so little of it is actually made for the female gaze.

Why can't I have a photograph of a middle-aged man in a conservative suit with his fly down and his cock in his hand?

I've complained about this and been pointed to gay porn. For some women, gay porn works. It doesn't work at all for me. I find it viscerally disorienting because I perceive that this erotic gesture is not being aimed at me. I'm back being a voyeur again.

And it occurs to me that, in order for women to enjoy porn, they either have to be toppish and at least bisexual. Or they have to do something rather intricate: they need split themselves into two.

One part projects themselves into the body of the object of desire and the other does a sort of interesting recursive thing: occupying the place of the viewer, with a male gaze, and imagining themselves being the object of desire that the viewer wants to see.

We do a similar thing when we read. We split ourselves. One part acknowledges that this is a fictional textual remediation of something erotic. The other part projects itself into the text and, immersed there, vicariously experiences the happenings in the story. I have no problem doing that. In fact, I'm an expert at it.

But when it comes to visual stuff, it just doesn't work for me. The woman in the picture doesn't look like me, and, if it's a video, she doesn't sound like me or act like I'd act. She doesn't wriggle like I wriggle. She doesn't mew like I mew. Her breasts are not my breasts; her hips are not mine either.  And, more importantly, I know it's staged so I don't trust anything she is doing to be a true indication of what she's feeling inside. So, weirdly, I am totally devoid of any empathetic feeling at all. Certainly not any erotic empathy. Wondering how long it might have taken to shoot this scene and who was fluffing the male actor distracts me.

And, although I am sometimes very attracted to certain women, I can't honestly say I'm bi. But then I can't really say I'm straight either. There are people, regardless of their gender, to whom I'm attracted. However, I don't have dominant tendencies. So I can't enjoy the view from the top in and of itself.

Strangely enough, this is not true when it comes to text. I can easily mediate and translate the view from the top in writing.  Reading a story written from either the view of the dominant or the submissive, I have no problem, if the writing is halfway decent, finding my way to the sweet spot of the reading experience. It doesn't even have to be a kink I like. As long as I am offered some insight into how either of the parties feel, I can get in.

Before you go accusing me of going on an anti-porn feminist diatribe, let me try and explain why I think text is different to images. And why I think erotic writing is different to porn writing. Or at least what I have come to believe is one of the differences.

Beyond the whole 'porn doesn't contain conflict' thing, which is also true, it makes a lot of automatic assumptions about the viewer (or the reader). It takes many things as a given. Orientation, gender-role, how the viewer consumes experience, how he or she translates it internally.

I have come to believe that really good erotica doesn't make those assumptions. Like good writing in general, it doesn't assume an automatic alignment of desire between the reader and the narrator. The text slowly, and at its best, unobtrusively offers you reasons to find commonality. Information about who the narrator is and why they are turned on by this helps, but it is also the silences, the gaps, the things the reader is not told, that allow them to find alignments where none are even offered.

To some extent, reading is narcissistic. It is about seeing where you can fit yourself in to the world of the story. Even as you acknowledge that it is a fiction and it is about characters who aren't you. Nonetheless, it is both the details and the gaps that ease the reader into internalizing and personalizing the story.

And unless someone has specified looks, and race and social status down to a boring level, I seem to have no problem looking past my difference to the character and immersing. Most notably because physical attributes aside, feelings are much more universal. As long as I get a sense of what the characters are feeling, and I can relate to it, I'm in like a dirty shirt.

This last thing is probably why visual and textual porn doesn't work for me. The assumptions made in the positioning of the consumer, viewer, reader confront me with my difference.  And with no communication of what is going on from an interior perspective, I have no way in.

"I just can't believe you can't see how fucking beautiful this is," he says, showing me a picture of a woman hogtied, artfully positioned on a red velvet settee. She is white, with dark hair, wearing a leather corset, stockings, fuck me pumps and a lot of white rope.

"I just don't find her attractive. It doesn't make me want to fuck her."

"You're not supposed to want to fuck her. You're supposed to want to be her."

"She doesn't look anything like me."

"Can't you picture you instead of her there, on the couch?"

"No. This is not a picture of me hogtied on a couch. It's a picture of someone else hogtied on a couch."

"But look at those knots. Aren't they lovely?"

"If I'm supposed to want to be her, how would I see the knots?"

"You wouldn't. But you can appreciate them, can't you?"

"Not really."

He's getting frustrated. I can tell. "Jesus, you're supposed to look at this and want to be in her position. You're supposed to want me to want you like that."

"Who says?"

"What?"

"You said 'You're supposed to'. Who says I'm supposed to?"

"Jeeze. For fuck sakes. I don't know. People who like kink."

"The kinky powers that be?"

"Yeah."

"That explains everything."

"What."

"I have a bad reaction to authority."

"You're not a real submissive, are you?"

"Probably not."
Lacan famously said: "There is no sexual relationship."

I think this was what he was getting at. It would have been easier to say, 'Wow, that's hot.' Then I probably would have gotten laid.  But I would have been lying. I can think it's hot that he thinks it's hot, but that's not what he wants. He wants me to put myself in his shoes. He wants me to desire what he desires. If I could do that, we'd be twins. And I would want to hogtie him. I'm pretty certain he doesn't want that.

I disagree with Lacan. There is such a thing as a sexual relationship, but it relies on our ability to accept the other's object of desire without having to desire it ourselves. A kind of laissez-faire that only happens when you really know someone.

Our society stresses the positive nature of accord. It has a model of lovers in which they want exactly the same thing. But I suspect that, a lot of the time, one of them might just be pretending.

Or, better still, enjoying the fact that the other wants whatever it is. It is possible to enjoy someone's desire without needing to share it. This is where I think he's wrong. That admiration, that gratification that one gets from witnessing someone else's desire... that is a sexual relationship. But they are rarer than we care to admit.


11 comments:

  1. Very interesting to hear your perspective. I can see where the hog-tie appreciator is coming from ... don't you find this as hot as I do? That could be you, how hot is that?

    I suppose that you're spared the addictive side of (visual) porn and there"/ little risk of you being desensitised to erotic writing, so long as it is done well. No bad thing.

    I was also intrigued to hear you say that reading is to an extent narcissistic. I've never though of that before, but I see what you mean. Are voracious readers more narcissistic than those that dip in now and again? Maybe on one level; on a level where they want to see themselves in an adventure that someone has written for them.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. Hi Calumvs,

    Perhaps I haven't explained myself very well. I don't think porn is addictive, per se, but I think it lulls us into believing that fantasies (in the Lacanian sense) can be shared. I show you a picture of a middle-aged man in a hot suit, with his fly unzipped and his cock in his hand. To me this is a very hot image. My guess is that, unless you're gay, you're going to shrug your shoulders and say... uhuh. It's not that it's going to offend you. It's that it is not the right point of gaze for you.

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  3. I was saying that (predominantly visual) porn can be addictive; though I see what you mean about it needing to press the right buttons or it just won't work.

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  4. Tastes in porn, and reactions to it, are such a personal thing. A lot of mainstream porn doesn't work for me, not because it's produced for the male gaze (which I possess) but because it so heavily objectifies the female actors. I don't want my partner in my RL sexual relationships to function as an object for my lust; I want her to be a partner, an equal participant in the give and take, a subject of the sex we're having rather than an object of it, and that's what I'd prefer to see portrayed on the screen also. Ironically, BDSM porn, which on the surface is more objectifying due to the power dynamic involved, often does a better job of portraying what the submissive is getting from the exchange. I have a hard time watching bondage porn though. I get distracted deconstructing the rigging, and working out how to tie it myself and adapt it to my partner's body.

    Interestingly, RG, your image of the middle-aged man in a suit, with fly unzipped and cock in hand, is something I can appreciate. Not because I have any sexual interest in men, but because I can project myself into that role and experience being desired in that way. Which I guess is the flip side of your hogtie, except it works differently for me.

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  5. I don't find it surprising that you are indifferent to the visual, as women are not stimulated by visuals in the same capacity as men.
    It can be argued that the workmanship on the knots serves as a distraction from sex, like a reverse foreplay..something to momentarily delay sexual response, rather than to build tension.
    The control and asymmetrical power dynamics might be a turn on for some, but it is not a universal desire, just as the rope itself might have a personal significance to the male you address.
    I don't understand the importance of the perfect bondage knot, but it is probably a necessary component for some.

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    1. Hello TJ, I beg to differ. I know a lot of women who are incredibly stimulated by visuals and, in fact, there has been a recent landmark study that indicates that men and women process visual stimulus differently, but that women get turned on by a far broader range of visual stimulus.

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  6. Several items for discussion here:

    1) F/m is what turns me on, and anything else is kind of...meh. At best. Anyone who shows me something else and expects me to be aroused is totally missing what makes me tick.

    2) Most (not all) porn that depicts F/m does so from stereotypical positions: It is something that is done TO the male. There is no relationship between them. It is, basically, tab A goes into slot B, rotate camera angle, random humiliating phrase used, slap, whip, repeat.

    3) In regards to "male gaze" I think we need to specify "dominant male gaze." Most porn, even non-BDSM stuff, expects the male to take a dominant role. He is the one doing stuff to her (dealing with solely hetero stuff). Even in BDSM porn, she is wearing stuff that is (supposedly) sexy for him to see and (generally) uncomfortable for her. I suspect this is why even most F/m porn misses its mark with me - it is still shot from a dominant male perspective. I can't prove it, but I would suspect there are few actually submissive men who produce porn.

    4) In general, pornsters don't resemble real people. Male and female, they tend to have microscopic levels of body fat. The men all have six-pack abs (if not eight-packs) and snowball arms. The women have tiny waists and huge breasts.

    5) Erotica lets you know what's going on inside someone's head. Are they struggling to let themselves enjoy it? Are they balancing their checkbook? The biggest sex organ is the brain, and there is simply no place for it in porn.

    6) I don't understand the statement that "There is no sexual relationship." I also don't know who Lacan is (pause for wikipedia article). I would reject his premise as being false on the face of it. People are fundamentally sexual beings and relate to each other on that level. Like any relationship, it is imperfect.

    7) I think objectification gets a bad name from overuse. We want our partner to want what we want because we have been taught that it is somehow wrong to objectify them - temporarily and partially - in a specific way for a specific time. In the scene given, the man wants the woman to admire the way the knots are tied because he can't get around to saying, "I like the way the knots are tied and want to tie you, even if you don't really enjoy it. I want you to be the object of my desire in exactly this way." So he gets frustrated, she gets frustrated, and no one gets what they want. My sexual relationship works best when I allow myself to be objectified - and when SHE allows herself to objectify me. All the rules and social expectations are gone and there is only the bare sexual desire getting what it wants.

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  7. You've made a lot of points here, and probably more than I can respond to.

    Lacan's statement 'there is no sexual relationship' is a complex one, based on his psychoanalytical theory of the function that fantasy plays in perceptions.

    My use of the word 'object' and 'subject' is probably not one you're used to. The person you desire is always the 'object,' as in the object of desire. I personally think objectification is pretty much what everyone does all the time when they want the object of their desire. Intersubjectivity is a very rare and always fleeting thing.

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  8. As usual, there's a lot going on in this post of yours.

    I'm pretty picky about porn, but I think there are probably pictures of hog-tied women that I'd find arousing. They'd have to show the woman's face, her reactions to the situation. And I'd have to find *her* attractive (I do consider myself bisexual, though hardly a practicing one). When I reflect on the best visual porn I've seen, I realize you're right - I experience it from both perspectives, that of the dominant and that of the submissive. If I were that woman, I'd enjoy knowing that my master liked the look of me - and the knots. Somehow I'd understand his enjoyment because I can put myself in his place.

    By the way, is this an account of a real conversation? If so, I pity you!

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  9. Hi RG!

    This does cover a lot of stuff. As i was reading I kept asking myself - what does turn me on? What stuff in literature do i go back to again and again?

    The old rules apply, you have to be curious about the characters, hog tied or otherwise. The characters have to say something to you. I find myself snacking a lot on Anais Nin because somehow she seems to capture the feminine experience for me, the emotional entanglements of her female characters in Little Birds and Delta of Venus. But also I like Nicholson Baker because of his word music and because he write's erotica that is verbally funny and extreme, which is a rare thing. The single funniest story I ever read in any genre is an amateur erotica by one of his characters in "the Fermata". And it was all language.

    So I don't know. Though I really did love your novel Gaijin, I wasn't so much sexually aroused by it as compelled by it. It had audacity, which quality i admire most of all.

    garce

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