The (Only) Reason to Pay for Porn

It’s not about action; it’s about intimacy.
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It’s not about action; it’s about intimacy.
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Have you made a call from a payphone recently? Rented a DVD? Used the services of a travel agent or a one-hour photo center? If, for some odd reason, you have, you’ll have no doubt asked yourself: “Do people still do this?” The very same question was whizzing around my head as I was compelled – in 2014 – to pay for pornography on the Internet.

I bought my first laptop in 2003 and minutes after it first whirred to life, I discovered a cornucopia of sites where lovingly curated and categorized porn clips could be streamed gratis. It was a big day – if not a productive one. I was not alone. Over the following two years, the number of people who, like me, felt entitled to free adult entertainment surpassed the number of people paying for it. Not surprisingly, the effect of this de facto free-for-all on the adult entertainment biz was less erotic suffocation and more a pillow over the face.

But rumors of porn’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The people still managing to make money from digitally delivered smut are just smarter than they used to be: They’ve learned that sexual content can be devalued in a way that intimacy can’t. At least, not until a vastly improved iteration of Siri comes out.  

The demand for intimacy is why countless camgirls are making more significant money than all but a handful of adult performers making a living from movies. It’s why Sasha Grey, a flat but expressive brunette, usurped Jenna Jameson’s throne. It’s why Customs4U, a company that enables users to (kind of) direct clips starring performers as esteemed and accomplished as Tera Patrick, was one of the only exhibitors at the 2014 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo with anything to smile about.

It’s also why I – a dyed-in-the-wool frugalist and long-time smut pilferer - forked over my credit card details to kink.com after seeing a brief snippet of content containing absolutely zero sex.

Kink peddles BDSM. I like several porn genres and tropes but I wouldn’t say that that BDSM – an overlapping abbreviation of Bondage and Discipline (BD) Dominance and Submission (DS) Sadism and Masochism (SM) – is a go to. That said, these San Francisco-based dungeon masters made me get my penis and plastic out because of the way that each and every one of their hardcore scenes is bookended.

Before the scene proper is shot, an off-screen female interviewer chats with the talent about the various procedures meant to guarantee their comfort, safety and enjoyment. She then asks questions relating to the typically erudite, charming and thoughtful performers’ previous experiences in BDSM and what she or he hopes to derive from the scene at hand - a scene that ostensibly, they themselves have scripted. The post-scene interview is conducted with the usually beatific performer, still naked, breathless and glazed in a variety of natural and synthetic fluids, ebulliently and eloquently recounting various aspects of the scene, focusing on his or her personal highlights and challenges.

I’d entered my credit card details before I had time to think why this particular website had so tripped my trigger quite so hard. Since then I’ve realized that I responded to the efforts taken to give performers a voice and present them, not just as actual people, but as empowered people who derive a great deal of pleasure and well-being from what they’re doing: People who are given the opportunity explicitly articulate their consent.  

Now, as much as I would like to, I can’t truly know if say, Krissie Dee actually does love enacting a sorority hazing fantasy any more than I can be 100% sure that the eggs I eat come from happy, healthy free-range hens. All I know is that those eggs taste way better and that I, a veteran miser/scrimper/tight-wad, will happily pay $6.99/dozen for them. Same goes for porn: Better smut commands a higher price, which is to say that it commands a price at all.

Free-range, fair-trade porn just works way better for me – and not for merely ethical reasons. The reason it works is that I’m no longer as interested in watching people fucking as I am in watching an individual woman get fucked. It’s not 2003 and it’s not particularly extreme, but a little bit of thought and a lot of eye contact goes a long way. Whether you flex the plastic or not, you get the porn you paid for – which means I’m probably watching better porn than you.

Photos by Deux / Corbis