Privacy, identity protection, personal security — these are hot-button topics today.
The peculiar thing is, vast numbers of people apparently have no concerns at all about openly sharing significant portions of their lives with strangers, though social media, blogging. Attempts to enter the various TV talent contests have never been higher, while whole segments of the population seem to think their lives are worthy of a reality series. Several popular shows are merely hosted presentations of YouTube videos.
I’m always intrigued by sharp conflicts and juxtapositions. I believe they reveal important fault lines in society. This strange schism between desperate efforts to gain attention and fears about government eavesdropping and surveillance (as well as personal stalking) got me thinking of a very special group of people who appear intent, at least at a given moment in time, to expose themselves about as nakedly as possible.
I’m thinking of those folks who not only post risqué personal photos, but who actually upload X-rated videos of themselves onto major porn sites. This seems highly counterintuitive to me. I can understand how some might find the notion a turn-on, but surely there’s a lot of potential for backfire. What happens when employers, family or friends get wind of it? Once you’ve been sucked up into the vortex of one of those huge sites, don’t you lose all control of who sees the material? Suddenly, it’s all there for the world to witness.
This bizarre contrast between a fascination with exhibitionism and the almost paranoid protection of privacy got me trying to research the issue in as direct a way as I could. It’s taken me several months, occasionally working through some very odd channels, but at last I tracked down three couples based in the general Las Vegas area (technically speaking, one couple lives in Arizona), who were agreeable to meeting with me to discuss their experience as amateur porn stars.
I find it somewhat amusing that they didn’t want to be photographed for this context (given their lack of shyness for the video camera). Naturally I’ve not included their names. But as you will gather from their comments, they’re very different in age and appearance — and motivation. What’s common about them is of the sequences I watched (which range in length from five to 15 minutes) I think the description “very straightforward heterosexual play” is apt. “Vanilla” is perhaps a term others would use. For ease of reading I’ve amalgamated their remarks, with their approval.
My question was, simply, “What inspired you to make a sex tape and to share it on the Internet?”
“We’ve been in the body-building and fitness fields for years. We’ve both been sports models in the past, so it didn’t seem like such a jump. We have in fact been paid since we started posting, so maybe we’ve lost our amateur status. At the start we said it was just some fun. It was hot, thinking people around the world would be watching us. We did realize, though, that there was something else going on. Both of us come from strict religious upbringings, which is part of what drew us together originally. We’d both been athletes growing up, so we had this body-proud thing on the one hand, and then a deep sense of shame and confusion about sex. Videoing some of our sex life felt like a way to balance that out.”
“We were on vacation and we ended up watching a porn movie in a hotel. It was the first time we’d watched porn together. It was really exciting and seemed to open up some new doors for us. We’ve been married for 14 years. But at the same time, we felt there was something wrong. The sex we were watching was real enough in one sense — and then again, it wasn’t. The actors were porn stars. They were too well-endowed and obviously enhanced. There was no real context, it was just sex, but with a feeling of artificiality. So we went from being really hyped up to feeling cheapened and disappointed. We’re both in our 40s. We’re a little overweight. We won’t win any pageants or endurance contests. But we’re happy together, and we thought it would send a good message to other couples that you don’t have to look perfect to have good sex.”
“It was a totally stupid thing to do, and a completely isolated incident that we’ve felt ridiculous about ever since. Word did get out, and we’ve had to explain ourselves on more than one occasion. Some things should stay private and we learned that lesson the hard way.”
So, there you are. Three different reasons and three very different responses to the experience of sharing what’s arguably the most intimate activity you can engage in. For Couple 1, it seemed to represent some blend of therapy and rebellion relative to harsh religious childhoods. For Couple 2, it presented as some kind of grassroots correction of the porn industry’s slickness. For Couple 3, it amounted to a little too much vodka one night and some unfortunate regrets and awkwardness since.
All three couples agreed that if the exact same videos had been somehow made surreptitiously without their consent, they’d feel a strong sense of violation, even if the content was utterly unchanged.
This tells me that what we’re really debating when we talk about privacy is not what information about us is collected, or what depictions of us are circulated, but rather the degree to which we’ve granted permission. The more we feel “it’s our idea,” the easier we feel about it — even if this means some horny middle-aged people in Poland seeing our cellulite.