Home Pop Culture Culture for Porno. Part 1.

Culture for Porno. Part 1.

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Last night I went to a Russian bathhouse and, later in the evening, got invited to be part of an S&M prostitution ring. I could make $400 an hour, plus tips. And I wouldn’t even have to have sex! In fact, if I got caught having sex, I would be tossed out. What I would have to do included allowing men to suck my toes (there’s a lot of foot fetishes in the Wall Street district), “potty train” them (yes, I am the toilet in this scenario) and buy a leather get-up, though they would supply me with the whip.

The offer came from a man, Bear, drinking Scotch in a bar at the tip of Manhattan. He told me he lived upstairs in a dungeon. I laughed, under the impression that he meant a typically small and dingy NYC apartment. Then he asked the bartender if he had seen any of his girls come down yet. I was intrigued by the comment, which, looking back on the evening, I am pretty certain was Bear’s intention

But let me back us up for a minute. There was a time in my life when I didn’t know that S&M stood for sadomasochism and that sadomasochism referred to receiving sexual pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation on another person.

I first learned of S&M as a freshman in college when I fell into a conversation with a woman from my philosophy class. Let’s call her Isabelle. Apparently, Isabelle loved S&M. She talked extensively about how she got turned on when she submitted to her partner, totally vulnerable and tied to the bed. And the power she felt when he let her verbally abuse him as her tone of pitch rose with each strike of the whip.

Why would she want to humiliate herself in bed, I remember thinking. My whole sexual life (which didn’t amount to more than a couple of years at the time), I had been trying to avoid exactly that. Now, here was this young woman, telling me about her passion for humiliation and abuse. Where, psychologically speaking, does this urge come from, I wondered?

I don’t have the answer to that question. And I don’t plan on joining Bear’s sex ring to find out. Personally, S&M isn’t me. But I do believe that it is good, healthy even, to have a friend from the sex industry. Especially one who cooks you apple pie and buys you leather pants as a gift!

So, rather than gain insight into the business of sex from first hand experience, I sat down with a close friend of mine, Jean Val Jean, to pick his brain about America’s obsession with sex and the industry it creates. Jean is retired now. But in the early 1970’s, he became an active participant in the swinger culture in NYC, which later inspired him to become a porn actor and director.

On Thursday afternoon (and into the evening), I sat down with Jean to drink pure white Hennessey Cognac and discuss sex, pornography and American society.

KH: Have you done S&M?

JVK: Of course, darling! But you’ve got it wrong when you call it a prostitution ring. S&M, by definition and by character, does not involve the act of sex. It involves mistresses, capitulation and role-playing. If you were my mistress, I would let you be on top of me. You would be the boss of me and I would have to do anything you asked, that’s where role-playing and the action come into play. In fact, in the American porn industry, you cannot have S&M and straight sex in the same movie. It’s illegal.

KH: Why is it illegal?

JVJ: Because of the Puritanical laws and nature of our society! In Europe, you can combine these things. You can combine whips and oral sex. Also, you cannot have foreign objects entering a woman. Not in America. But there was a time in California when they were making the European version. They were making one that was the American sanitized version and another gung-ho version that they were shipping over seas.

KH: What is the psychology of wanting to be dominated in S&M?

JVJ: Well, some of the men who like to be dominated by women are high-powered decision makers. They are in charge, moving and shaking, all day long. And they want to be told what to do. The slave (the dominated) it the one who is really in charge, though, because they are the one who says how far things go. There’s a safe word that the “slave” says in order to let the “master” know when to stop. It’s also a mind game. Like any good sex, it all starts with the brain!

KH: What do you mean a mind game?

JVJ: Dear, if I can get your mind, then the rest of you is…like butter. The mind is what we are attracted to. We know what we’re attracted to because of communication, verbal and physical communication. This is how I know I want someone. When you’re thinking that you’re attracted to someone, you start feeling it.

KH: How old were you when you first got involved in the porn industry?

JVJ: Believe it or not, I was in my 40s.

KH: What had you done before that?

JVJ: In the early 1970’s, I used to swing and that’s how I got into it. I would go to swing clubs or house parties where couples-male and female- would go and exchange partners for the evening. In NYC, Plato’s Retreat was one that was very famous. You could have group sex, sex with other people’s wife or husband. Whatever you wanted to do. Males were only allowed to enter if they had a female with them. If they couldn’t get their wife or girlfriend to go, they had to find another woman. So newspapers started advertising women who would go for a fee. This didn’t guarantee that they would have sex with them. But it allowed them to make money by advertising that they would go as an escort. Escorting, as we know it today, has its roots in swing clubs.

KH: And you were going to these swing clubs.

JVJ: I had a friend who introduced it to me. And I met couples who would have parties (there was always at least one party a weekend for 52 weeks a year) for everyone.

KH: What made people want to be there?

JVJ: Sex. Adventure. It was also about communication. It was like ‘Cheers’ for perverts! You’d walk in and everyone knew your name. It was friendly. You danced; there was food and drinks. There were all ages and sizes and colors. It was extremely diverse, just like this inauguration! There was bisexuality, too. It was a place for people to experience sexual freedom.

KH: What did this sexual freedom do for you?

JVJ: It made me the most relaxed individual. I didn’t need psychotherapy or weight loss. It took all of that anxiety away of worrying about getting laid or being liked. There were no hyper feelings. You knew that no matter how much you hated your job, you would clock out and go to a party and have the time of your life. We were part of a sexual revolution. We didn’t know it. We just did it.

KH: Does this swinging culture still exist today?

JVJ: To a degree. But not the way that it was. We used to be hedonistic. We believed in pleasure. We enjoyed everything sensual. We enjoyed a strong cup of coffee and didn’t dwell on how it might keep us up at night. We didn’t over think our pleasure. It was about getting to know other people, yourself and going with what made you feel good. If you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to do it.

KH: What happened to this culture?

JVJ: A death knell was the advent of AIDS and other STD’s. Before then, people never worried because people were clean and took care of themselves. If something did happen, everyone would call everyone else in the circle and tell them to get checked out. There was a level of caring and respect so that we could continue to do what we did. We never used condoms, no one ever got pregnant.

KH: How is this different from today’s youth?

JVJ: Today’s youth think they invented sex! But the truth is, they talk a good game, but when it gets right down to it, they aren’t doing it. They make excuses and are inhibited. At swing parties now, people sit back and wait for someone else to make the first move. Everyone is unwilling to make it happen. There’s an example I have from when I worked on a porn shoot. The guy had never done porn before but he was really excited about. All day he was walking around talking about it. But when the time came, he couldn’t get it up.

KH: What happened?

JVJ: So, because time is money, the director had to use a stunt dick. He made everyone on the crew drop their pants. Except me, because I was the only black person.

KH: Did your race play a role in the parts you got?

JVJ: Yes. I remember one time, a woman told me she would f*ck me off camera right there and then. But she wouldn’t do it on camera because she had a fan base in the South and they wouldn’t like the fact that she, a skinny white girl, was getting f*cked by a black man.

KH: What did you do in response?

JVJ: I said, f*ck that and got on a plane to Rio! It’s important to take pride in yourself. I figure, it’s their loss if they don’t want you. Other people’s judgment should not dictate how you feel about your own self. People who have prejudice, whatever kind of prejudice, they’re not worth being with because of their narrow-mindedness.

KH: What attracted you to the porn industry?

JVJ: My experience swinging made me realize how comfortable I was having sex in front of other people. I didn’t grow up with a judgmental mentality. I never knew limitations. From a very young age, I was able to make decisions on my own about what I did and did not like because I never had any preconceived notions about what was supposed to be or who was going to think what about me because of anything I did. As long as you don’t think about it, you can do it. If you have preconceived notions about what is good or acceptable, you will be stifled. When you just let what you like happen, then everything happens.

KH: And how did you decide to get into directing?

JVJ: I think everyone who acts wants to direct, at least once! I wanted to be more involved in the process of getting to know who the people are and what they’re about, what’s going on and what they’re doing.

KH: And how do you detect these things?

JVJ: How do you know you want to f*ck this guy? You have to talk to people! You have to know who you’re dealing with. The most important part of a good porno is good casting. You’re looking for believability, relaxation. I did a movie that came out great because the people I picked all got along and were relaxed. I gave them characters to be and they acted out those characters based on what those characters would do. The sex was real in as much as it was true to who those character were supposed to be. That made it believable, sexy and sensuous.

At this point, a friend of Jean’s came into the apartment where we were conducting the interview. Jean asked me to turn off the recorder and I obliged. The visitor was a young woman. Jean’s neighbor. She is a friend of his and they seem to spend time together discussing sexuality and pleasure. They spent a lot of time talking with one another in my presence. I asked Jean one final question, ate some apple pie and took a few minutes to relax in his single-man sauna (a silver ten-like device with a chair in it so you can sit and relax while you enjoy some dry heat).

KH: With all of your experience in life, Jean, what bit of advice can you offer my generation?

JVJ: Talk to each other. That’s where it all starts and what it’s all about in the end.

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  • I love his closing advice! Wisdom hides in the most unlikely places.

  • Anonymous

    That was excellent!
    -Lacey