It doesn't happen often but I've been staring at a blank page for a long time now, wondering what I'm going to write about my personal experience with pornography.
I'll just plunge right in and risk being branded a prude but all my experiences with pornography have been embarrassingly bad.
Burn with hot shame
When I was a kid, I was playing hide'n'seek with my pals in the forest behind my school. What I ended up finding was a water-logged, ancient copy of Playboy magazine whose pages had faded but were still clear enough for me to burn with hot shame when I got home despite having left it in the forest. My parents weren't hippy liberals in tune with free love but they weren't conservative moral apostles either so I can't explain my enduring guilt except I may have instinctively felt that anything sexual wasn't meant to be a mass spectator sport.
Fast forward to my early twenties, in a house in London, and left alone by my then-boyfriend. I had moved in with him two months earlier and had finally had a chance to sort the house out the way I wanted. While I was clearing out old papers and clothes, I happened upon a most extensive stash of hardcore pornography. My first reaction was to breathlessly ring my best friend in Austria who advised me to just leave it where it was and not mention it to the boyfriend to avoid any unnecessary scene wherein the topics of privacy and perversion could possibly threaten my relationship to him.
Not just gratifying - but also important
When she visited me in London a few months later, we waited for the aforementioned boyfriend to leave the house to have a look at his stash of pornography together. When I handed my best friend a copy of one of the truly XXXXXXX magazines, she was so shocked that she forgot to check if there was a chair behind her and came crashing down on her tailbone which is still painful for her when the weather changes to this day. It's really quite ironic because the bulk of my ex-boyfriend's porn stash had quite a bit to do with 'tail', if you catch my drift.
Okay. So I'm past that particular boyfriend (and not because of the porn) and I'm a fully fledged adult now and STILL, porn makes me feel uneasy.
That's why researching a Saturday Reality Check Special on the evolution of porn since the 70s has been a particularly liberating experience. I've discovered why porn isn't just gratifying (and when I write "porn", I'm talking about porn between consenting ADULTS - nothing more, nothing less), but also important.
The Other Hollywood
I spoke to Nadine Strossen, the American Civil Liberties Union President and author of "Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights". She gave me a feminist's take on the adult entertainment industry that was pro-porn as a matter of absolute principle.
Legs McNeil, the author of "The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry", shared with me incredible tales of the porn industry's contribution to the way mainstream films are made and distributed today PLUS the story of Sharon Mitchell, an ex porn star and junkie who tackled the still mysterious health crisis affecting her workplace in the early eighties and became an AIDS research pioneer.
The absolute highlight of my porn research was hooking up with Gram Ponante, a journalist based in the porn capital of the world, the San Fernando Valley in California, and a man who made porn talk with a complete stranger not just fun but incredibly easy. He bills himself as a Porn Visionary and you can check out his reports from Porn Valley at www.gramponate.com.
It was his insights on what it's like on the set of a porn shoot plus his incredibly open manner that convinced me that my experiences with pornography don't have to be embarrassing or bad.
Porn - From "Deep Throat" to Cut-Throat
The porn industry generates a revenue of at least 60 billion US dollars a year world-wide. There are over 1.3 million porn-related websites on the net. 70% of all internet porn traffic takes place during the 9 to 5 workday.
Things certainly have changed since "Deep Throat", the film that launched modern-day pornography, was shown in back-alley cinemas in 1972.
From the story behind porn's first attempt at mainstream success to the technological advances enabling anyone to access porn anywhere, Reality Check gets all porny. This Saturday, as of midday, and with Riem Higazi.