Let's Talk About Sex
My thoughts on this come from an episode I watched recently of The Big C. For anyone who hasn't seen it, the wonderfully talented Laura Linney plays Cathy, a middle aged mother who finds out she has advanced melanoma. With very few treatment options, she decides to start living her life to the fullest.
The particular episode that sparked this post has a wonderful scene where Cathy walks in on her adolescent son watching porn. Her first reaction is the usual shock and embarrassment, causing her to quickly retreat and shut the door. Instead of leaving it at that, however, Cathy decides to come back into her son's bedroom and insists that they watch porn together.
Embarrassing. Horrifying. Poor Kid. Probably scarred for life.
Not being a porn connoisseur myself, it got me thinking about what exactly it is, and if there is any connection between the fantasy it exemplifies and the reality it stems from. My interest, of course, lies mostly in how it relates to acting.
Porn stars are, after all, actors. And while there may be a stigma against them, goodness knows most of them are far more well known and make a lot more money than I do.
On a related note, women especially (though men are certainly subject to it too) are faced with a public demand to live up to some kind of sexual expectation, whether it just be having a good body to acting out some sordid wet dream.
We all know the cliche story - girl becomes stripper to support herself through college. Young, educated, talented woman becomes prostitute to pay rent while pursuing her dreams. Slightly older woman undergoes several plastic surgery procedures to appear younger and more attractive. I often joke about it, but in reality the subject is something that comes up a lot in the acting world. How far would I go on stage or on screen in "acting" intimacy? Sometimes nudity is art, and sometimes it's pornographic. Where is the line?
As a woman, I feel that the idea of sex comes into to play with a lot of very basic decisions I make on a day to day basis.
For example: Going to a job interview. I want to appear as an attractive candidate to my potential employer. This means being well prepared intellectually, but it is also impossible not to think about the saying "Dress to Impress." I am also aware, however, of the fine line between being attractive as an employee and being attractive as a young woman. One is desirable (in the professional sense.) The other is threatening. The moment HR gets a whiff of anything remotely related to sex or sexiness, that't it - you're an automatic liability.
In the acting world it's slightly different. That same liability in the corporate world might just mean gazillions of dollars in Hollywood (emmm, hello Megan Fox?). There is also a certain openness that goes hand in hand with sexuality that is desirable as a performer.
Marilyn Monroe said something along the lines of "whenever I'm acting I just think about sex." And people loved her. I myself find her mesmerizing to watch. On top of that, I have often heard acting teachers say that great acting is about having a private experience in public. Isn't sex one of the most private, intimate things we experience?
So it got me thinking - as an actor, can I learn something from porn?
The utterance of this question aloud at the dinner table this evening led to my roommate and I sitting in front of our computers for an embarrassing amount of time sampling a variety of porn sites.
What we discovered was frustrating for several different reasons. Firstly, the damn videos took forever to load and simply would not stream without stalling every 30 seconds. Secondly, with absolutely no character development, I really didn't care who these people were or what they were doing to one another. Thirdly... hmmm, I won't go into specifics, but let's just say I wasn't always a fan of how body parts were arranged, or how the camera was positioned in relation to them.
As for the acting part of it? Who knows?! Aside from the range of vocalizations happening, there was very little happening on screen other than the plain mechanics of how body parts fit together. I definitely didn't have the sense that any of the actors were achieving a new level of intimacy or openness that was something I could admire as an actor.
While I was not turned on by any of the porn I watched, I have definitely seen plays and films where a mere glance between characters was enough to make me flushed. This comes back to having the private experience in public.
I am still trying to define for myself exactly what it is, but now I know that you can take off all your clothes and literally show the inside of your body without revealing anything about you as a person. Meanwhile, all your garments can stay on and you can share something profound about yourself, or about being human.
Needless to say, there is a lot to discuss on the subject. Comments, please!
-- Sarah Wharton