photograph by Brooke Frederick
text by Audra Wist
“I love to be caressed,” he said to me, my hand on his chest. Color me impressed. As I get older, I continually notice the need for men to be touched. I’ve been a long time proponent of strip clubs, sex work, and so forth – physical sites designed for and marketed to men for sexual pleasure – even before I could really justify it legally or intellectually. I always had a hunch that something was going on there that was good for women and for sex, and that the usual bad mouthing on the grounds that men were sniveling tit-obsessed cretons was ill considered and lacked any constructive thought about the potential of these venues for sexual progress. For me, porn has always felt like a fall-back to these other privileged spaces in my mind, and for good reason. Though direct, quick-and-dirty and getting the job done for the most part, porn lacks something essential to desire, to sex: touch. These arenas I describe provide a context for touch and a real time one-to-one interaction that is becoming increasingly more important and unavailable.
Spending time in strip clubs across the U.S., I find something interesting yet not so surprising happens: people quickly open up. The awkwardness of being seen in a place like your local strip club melts away in an instant behind the closed doors, and an intimate ease comes forth. The low lights and typically recessed seating below the stages stake off a specific arena for erotic play with clear-cut boundaries. I’ve eavesdropped on numerous conservations between strippers and clients, men and women of all sexualities, and they are remarkably docile and cheerful, very inquisitive, albeit sometimes a little shy. Women seem to have a refined understanding of pleasure and people of all creeds are drawn to our innate knowledge of carnal ambiguities. In discussing the pornographic nature of the strip tease or naked body, people also want to talk with these women about their bodies, interests, and peculiarities in relation to their own, ultimately gaining a better understanding of themselves and others in the process. When women facilitate touch, touch facilitates acceptance and understanding. Porn cannot necessarily answer your burning questions on how to please a woman, but a woman probably can.
To be able to see and converse with a real person in a sexual context with distinct boundaries is an important interaction – and one I feel should be encouraged and coveted as a sexual savior amidst a sea of pornographic images. Touch, or the possibility for touch, makes all the difference.
Although I encourage all genders and sexualities to touch more, I focus on straight men here because they tend to reject the idea of being touched as it goes against the prescribed masculine position of assertive doer. To be touched could be likened to being held, being acted upon rather than in pursuit of action. I see an inconsistency here. The drive to participate in any sort of sexual spectatorship comes from a desire to get off, to be connected, to be with someone and that “with” denotes a want to touch them – someone, something, to be in unison, 1+1. Touch is the literal connection between us and unifies our experience. Touch is also reciprocal. When I touch you, you also touch me. I’ve felt the power in someone’s casual graze of my arm or playful grab of my side. It’s unparalleled – incredibly exciting and comforting to feel someone’s body come in contact with mine. I’m there with them in an instant. I find I surprise men when I touch them before they touch me. They like the change and surrender to being touched, a passive appreciator of my invitation to intimacy.
In a recent conversation with a sex therapist friend, we were discussing porn’s bad rap. I told him I never felt bad about porn, just that it sometimes made me feel gross afterwards. I wondered why. He asked when those gross feelings came to the surface and we deduced that it was after a period of continual porn watching with subsequent masturbation. He summed up the “is porn good or bad” controversy in a neat way that I liked and that I frequently share with my clients and friends dealing with sexual loneliness and/or heavy porn consumption. Think about porn like your go-to delicious greasy food and eating as masturbation. The occasional treat yourself moment can be tasty and it certainly won’t ruin your body if practised here and there.
"Strip clubs, massage parlors specializing in extracurriculars, professional domination sessions, escort services, physical smut – these are all ways in which sexual urges can be evenly distributed, demystified, and depressurized."
In a similar vein, eating is essential and keeps us alive and alert, it can even be fun and exciting, relaxing sometimes. However, if your entire diet becomes that delicious greasy item, then you are likely going to run into some problems, mentally and physically, during your slow build binge. Use your common sense and don’t overdo it. Though, do have as many sexual experiences (including masturbation) as you wish. Remember, I liken this to eating; it is healthy and good to do so.
There are small seemingly innocuous ways to do this. Annie Sprinkle and her partner Beth Stephens have coveted the term ecosexual and are currently making work based on “intersections of sexuality and ecological relations.” In my own similar experience of collecting erotica, I find the simple act of touching the magazines, the books, even seeing the typeface contributes to the objectness, the sexual nature, of the material itself. To touch the image, to touch the thing that contains the words is a sexual experience that I would liken to a modern day sexual encounter. Touch is inherently fetishistic as it signifies objecthood which gets me off.
Strip clubs, massage parlors specializing in extracurriculars, professional domination sessions, escort services, physical smut – these are all ways in which sexual urges can be evenly distributed, demystified, and depressurized. Varying a sexual diet assists in understanding our desires, and talking with like-minded folk helps to normalize our experiences with our bodies and others’ bodies, as well. Instead of having a one-to-one relationship between yourself and a screen, these other arenas offer up the benefit of having another person present that you interact with and casually discuss your likes/dislikes, fantasies, and so forth. While I do not disparage porn or its performers, I do privilege seeing a body before me under lights, on a stage, sitting next to me, on top of me, below me, kissing me and touching me as an absolute sexual essential.
Audra Wist is an artist, writer, social commentator and provocateur - she is also an avid collector of erotica and erotic ephemera. She is also a professional dominatrix based in Los Angeles specializing in all sorts of punishment and humiliation. As Autre's sex editor at-large she will be covering all sorts of naughty content in the realm of sex and sexuality – from masturbatorial musings to photographic editorials. Follow Autre on instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE