Why America Needs More Porn

We interviewed Dan Savage on the state of our country's porn and what it takes to put on an adult film festival.
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Ali Drucker
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We interviewed Dan Savage on the state of our country's porn and what it takes to put on an adult film festival.
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It rakes in 450 million viewers per month on millions of sites across the web. It overwhelms your browser with explicit pop-ups. It’s even garnered some pretty hilarious parodies starring a Donald Trump look-alike. So it stands to reason the last thing you might think about porn is that we need more of it.

But we do, and badly. While there’s a corresponding click for every kink out there, mainstream porn represents a narrow scope of what many real people actually want in bed. The antidote for all that vanilla jerk-off material may just lie in HUMP!, acclaimed sex advice columnist Dan Savage’s amateur porn festival. To be certain, however, there’s only one way to find out. So I bought a ticket, dragged along a co-worker, and sat down in a packed auditorium to watch roughly 90 minutes of pornography in a room of total strangers—and it was easily the best Friday night I’d had in awhile.

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It’s jarring at first, almost uncomfortably so. The lights go down, and within moments you’re greeted with horny grocery store owners making love to anthropomorphized kiwis and grapes. Or my personal favorite, a genital-conducted orchestra film entitled “Beethoven’s Stiff.” 

While some films are serious or lean more toward the hardcore genre, the vast majority seem perfectly engineered to make you laugh. Unlike porn parodies made by companies like Woodrocket that borderline schticky and almost always feature the same hetero penetration that pervades the industry, the films at HUMP! are off-the-wall absurd, embracing a new genre of porn as entertainment, rather than straight-up erotica.

But to experience it to the fullest, you need to surrender control over what you’re watching. “What’s different is people don’t come to HUMP! to masturbate," Savage told Maxim. "If you come, you’re going to watch porn that you would not click on if you were home alone. And what I think is happening is at first all anybody can see is what’s different: that’s not my thing, that’s not my plumbing, that’s not the body type that I’m attracted to, those aren’t sexual acts that interest me.”

He’s not wrong. I definitely shied away from any close ups of vaginas—I’ll admit, straight woman that I am, and though I’ve got one of my own, I don’t find them the most attractive part of the body. The humor, so expertly delivered in moments like a karaoke party turned full-on orgy, softens all that. “About a third of the way through, everyone is beginning to tap into what’s exactly the same... the passion, the vulnerability, the sense of humor, the desire—all of that is more important,” Savage explains.

And those are the qualities we need more of in modern porn. For a few days every year, Savage and his team of fellow curators pour over hundreds of submissions, looking for the handful that most exhibit those elements. So why a porn festival for amateurs? He answers plainly: “Because sex is fun and funny, because people need creative outlets, because we shouldn’t be afraid of our genitals, and because I think it helps us to appreciate each other’s common humanity.”

Lofty goals for a bunch of people getting naked in front of a camera. We as an audience may be benefiting from their performance, but the incredibly strict security measures that prohibit any taping or streaming offer up the actors a chance to live out a dream of being porn stars for a weekend, without the digital footprint. Though it’s largely the environment of going to the movies to see any rom-com, Savage admits that he’s had to act as clock block extraordinaire once: “We had an incident where people in the audience…well, a blowjob was given or a blowjob was attempted. We stopped it.” 

But it's almost impossible that you could maintain any arousal for long, given that some of the films seem to be purposely transgressive. One such film, entitled “Twincest” was an animated affair that explained through a tongue-and-cheek jingle why your twin might be the best bedmate of all. To some, this might raise eyebrows, but to Savage, that’s exactly the point. “I don’t think anything really should be taboo as long as it’s consenting adults,” he says.

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You won’t find the self-crowned King Porn engaged in marathon YouPorn binges: “I like to read dirty stories. I have actually a crazy collection of dirty porn pulp novels from the fifties and sixties, because it’s really hot...Shining a light up at an orifice and then sliding a dick in and out of it – I don’t really want to watch that.” Duly noted.

It’s all fun, funny, and irreverent, but how we consume porn in America speaks to larger issues that HUMP! tackles head-on. “I have a teenage son who is straight, and I tell him that a lot of porn is produced for people who are very angry—angry that they can’t be with the person that they are looking at," says Savage. "And so they want access to that person and they want to look at that person, but they also want to see that person punished in a way that isn’t sexy or healthy or consensual.” All the porn at HUMP!, however, is consensual first and foremost.

But what else makes for good porn? I asked Savage to fill in the blank: “Good porn always…” Two steps ahead, he replies, “It should just be one dot. Good porn always. Period. Life’s too short for bad porn.”

HUMP! runs through October, check to see if it's coming to a city near you here.