Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brutal Gay Porn on the Web

Dear Dr. Bill: I'm a gay man and for years I've realized that I'm intrigued and fascinated (OK, turned on) by porn movies or pictures that depict heavy-duty bondage and BDSM activities. Sometimes these are quite brutal. Undoubtedly I'm not alone: There are clearly tons of Web sites devoted to this fetish, as well as large sections of video stores. (I don't really know what goes on in leather bars or clubs.) The thing is...this stuff tends to really bother me, in the sense that I worry whether it's moral, whether it's good for the "victim" or exploitative, whether it's good for society and the gay community...and what it says about the people who salivate over this kind of stuff (including, now and then, me). I don't want to sound preachy or judgmental. I'm just concerned that it might NOT be a good thing that people (not only gays) are routinely giving in to their "dark side" these days and getting pleasure from pain, and calling it normal.

I mean, a few decades ago this probably would have been viewed as highly abnormal or wrong, yet the widespread presence of the Internet has made it all seem acceptable and commonplace. I remember many years ago in high school, a teacher asked us to define evil, and I said something like, "Getting pleasure from someone else's suffering." To me, that's still a pretty decent definition ... yet I wonder how the present fascination with the erotic side of pain fits in with that definition.

Yesterday I was bored and horny and used my credit card to pay for a month's membership on a gay bondage/pain Web site...the usual pics and videos of cute young gays being restrained on tables and crosses and abused (seemingly or in reality -- sometimes it's hard to say). After a few hours of this I felt really bad about myself and a bit depressed that this is not a moral activity for anyone ... that it's harmful to me, harmful to the actor, harmful to society. You might say that no one is harmed if everyone is consenting and going into it knowingly. But I feel bad that these young guys may be taken advantage of in the worst way and might be forced to go through these activities because of bad lives (poverty, addiction, etc.). If they need money desperately, is it really their free will?

I realize that every person's psyche is painted with both light and dark colors, that it's likely that ANY person can be aroused by either ecstasy or agony. No one is above feeling pleasure when someone else is suffering. But should it be such a widespread entertainment phenomenon? What does that say about us, if instead of repressing it we are turning it into a huge industry? Decades from now, what will be happening in these movies as the envelope is pushed more and more? Or have I just been watching too many scenes with Yoda and Vader in"Star Wars" movies? It would be great to hear your thoughts and readers' comments. P.

Thanks for your question. This may sound odd, but while I was reading it I was reminded of the debate over horror comics of the fifties, and mad slasher films of the 70's, and so on. What's that got to do with gay S&M porn? Horror comics and slasher films (or splatter movies) are dark and brutal and lots of perfectly normal people love them. Lots of people like to venture into the dark side now and then -- look at the popularity of Stephen King, Clive Barker (gay, by the way) -- and all the top-grossing super-gruesome horror flicks that abound (with victims dispatched in the most graphic, terrible ways). Most of these books and movies have a strong (generally hetero) erotic component to them. Now imagine if they had homoerotic twists... The violence in many of these films has often been considered pornographic. It troubles many people that this kind of stuff is considered entertainment -- it's troubled me at times -- yet most of the people watching these movies and reading these books (myself included) are not abnormal.

Now let's look at gay (or for that matter straight S&M porn). For that matter, let's look at the whole leather/S&M scene, which is not strictly gay but has historically been a big part of gay culture. On the one hand, we have leather fetishists who simply enjoy the feel and look of leather -- it makes them feel sexy and they are attracted to men with the same look. Not every leather fetishist is into S&M (sadomasochism) or B& D (bondage and discipline, a milder form of S&M).

I remember a friend once saying to me that the leather/s&m scene "wasn't about beating somebody up." It could be as simple as adding some titillation or "kinkiness" to a sexual episode. Or it could be a complete "lifestyle." I have known couples who live as slave and master, with one being dominant and the other submissive, but it was simple role-playing, something that turned them on. Again, it wasn't about "beating somebody up." Tying somebody up and having (consensual) sex with them when their movements are constricted, spanking or smacking somebody's bottom, seem like fairly harmless activities to me. [However, one should never allow someone you don't know well, or fully trust, to tie you up, blindfold you, or anything along those lines.]

I go to leather bars sometimes because I enjoy the masculine atmosphere, but I'm not there on the nights when you must wear regulation leather outfits. There are, admittedly, things about the scene that I'm unfamiliar with, and things that disturb me. Rightly or wrongly, the leather scene is seen as one where there is sexual experimentation of a more outre kind. For instance, fist-fucking. But it would probably be very unfair or inaccurate to suggest that every habitue of a leather bar is into extreme sex or total kinkiness.

What's most troubling to me about the extreme S&M scene is the aspect of degradation. Do some gay men want to suffer physical pain or humiliation due to internalized homophobia? Years ago I was on a radio program with a slave-type whose comments about feeling miserable and degraded ran counter to everything I believed as a gay man and activist. When I mentioned this he said that I just didn't get it. The whole point for him was to feel miserable and degraded. That's what turned him on. Conversely, do some gay men want to abuse/degrade other gay men because of their own self-hatred, only turned onto someone else? Is it a good thing to be aroused by being degraded or by wanting to degrade others? You can see the problem. (And how to explain heterosexuals who are into pain and degradation? I suppose even straights can have issues relating to self-worth.)

However, it would be all too easy to be simplistic. The leather/s&m community is undoubtedly as diverse as the larger gay or GLBT community. A lot depends on one's personal preferences. As an example, there are some people who would call being urinated on an act that is completely degrading to them. Others would say, "big deal, it's harmless. Just take a hot shower after a golden shower and who cares?" There was a time people thought performing fellatio or being sodomized was degrading but today we're more enlightened. Still, many people would rather keep waste products out of a sexual episode.

I suppose as long as it sticks to role playing and titillation, I can't see any harm to SMBD either in reality or in porn. But if someone is at the point where they can only be turned on by extreme mental and physical suffering and degradation ... ? Not healthy, I'm afraid. However, just because one enjoys it in a movie doesn't mean that's the only way they can get off in real life.

As for the actors in these films and the possibility that they're being exploited. Certainly some porn actors (and hustlers) have been desperate people who were exploited by the industry, but more often people go into these films for the excitement, the sex, and the money. I imagine the acts in hardcore S&M films are probably not simulated, just as they are simulated in soft core porn. Even in hardcore films a lot of it is probably play-acting like wrestling.

Ultimately, you're not really getting pleasure from somebody's suffering because a.) most of it is staged and b.) even if it isn't, they're not "suffering" if they enjoy it. Okay, that's probably a cop-out. But, whatever the situation, you're still just watching actors in a movie. If you enjoy their suffering it may be no different than the way the audience anxiously awaits the next victim to get slaughtered in a mad slasher film. Disturbing, maybe. But not necessarily something to worry about.

I'll end for now with a laugh. Years ago I was with a friend in a [non-leather] bar when I took my belt off and jokingly slapped it against his ass a few times as he bent over. After a minute or two it became serious; we were both enjoying it. Later on one of the two bartenders told me, "We don't like that sort of thing in here -- take it down to the docks!" The other bartender told me: "That's the most exciting thing that's happened here in years!"

So you see -- different strokes (pun intended)!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is something wrong and sick about people who get turned on by physically abusing other people. You can't compare it to enjoying horror movies! Gay or straight, these people need psychiatric help. Shame on you Dr Bill for not seeing that.

Bill Samuels said...

The comparison I was making was that a person can enjoy a grisly slasher film with lots of victims and scenes of graphic violence without being a serial killer or someone who is seriously turned on by hurting people. It's only a movie. Similarly, an S & M porn film is also a movie, and because someone may enjoy it also doesn't make them a sadistic predator. The original correspondent admitted he was troubled by his interest in these films, and I concede that there are disturbing aspects to the more extreme forms of S&M culture, as outlined in my reply. Thanks for your comments.