I came of age on the internet, along with the internet, in the way a certain segment of the population did—the cohort of us who slipped into legal adulthood around the turn of the millennium (the true millennials, I think sometimes, but that’s neither here nor there), who considered our university email address to be the first one that mattered (because before that there was, what, AOL? That Hotmail address no one messaged you at? To be true I had a Buffnet account that my parents disabled when I set off for Columbia—but that was never a really real email address, not in the way my initials and a number and Columbia.edu were), who came into maturity at the same time that the internet was bursting into a full, glorious bloom.
I started a LiveJournal when I was eighteen, because that’s what you did when you were a certain sort of hipster who wanted to stake a claim for yourself in this brave new world. In the beginning there was no one listening, and in the end there were too many people listening, and somewhere in between—somewhere from eighteen through twenty-six I unleashed a flood of thoughts about sex and love and dating and depression and family and medication and everything that was my life, then.
I don’t remember when, exactly, I started to close up: first it was the process of making things private, accessible only to a small number of people; and then, later, maybe when I started dating someone I actually cared about, I found my voice growing quieter and quieter until it eventually faded into silence. Oh, I am still a member of the chattering classes, but these days the torrent that flows from my mouth obscures more than it reveals; these days I am full of secrets, me, the girl who once prided herself on being an open book.
There is an ending here, or a second segment, but I don’t know what it is, or maybe it’s too personal and private to be shared anymore. There are things I wish I could tell you, internet, but I’m no longer the girl with the LiveJournal, I’m no longer able to store my secrets out in the plain sight of the internet. Maybe—definitely—the internet has changed, maybe—definitely—I’ve changed; but whatever we once had, it’s different now.
I fell for you at sixteen.
I had no solid, reasonable reason for falling in love, but at that age you don’t need one. We’d spent some time together during my trips down from Buffalo for JSA events, and the more I saw you, the more I wanted to be with you. That spring, as I waited to hear back from the colleges I’d applied to, I found myself secretly hoping that of the three Ivies I’d applied to, Brown and Harvard would reject me so that I’d have no reason not to go to Columbia — so that I’d be spared any kind of decision making process and be able to gently land in your arms.
Ultimately the decision came down to NYU and Columbia: no matter where I went, I could rest easy knowing I’d be with you.
If I had to give an explanation for why I fell so hard for you, it’d be something along the lines of this: you made me feel normal. I’d spent sixteen years moving from place to place, dragged around by my nomadic parents, and though I sometimes felt comfortable, sometimes felt tolerated, or tacitly accepted, I never felt like I really belonged. With you, though, it was all so effortless. I could just be me — whatever that meant — and it never seemed to complicate our relationship. Whoever I was, whatever iteration I became, you were there for me all the same — and I loved you just as deeply.
We have been together for fourteen years now, making you my longest running non-family relationship. There’ve been times when I’ve considered leaving — when whoever I was dating swore they’d never commit to a life with you in it, when friends and family had fallings out with you — but it’s never really been serious. And even as the protests against you get louder, as friends protest that your tastes have gotten too expensive, that you’ve abandoned your cool friends, that you’ve buddied up with the i bankers at the expense of everyone else — still and all, I feel grounded in my deeply felt loyalty to you.
I never learned to drive because of you.
I developed an appreciation for the beauty of small spaces because of you.
I justified our relationship because you made me a better person — more eco-friendly, more responsible, more aware of others around me.
And I do not know how to quit you, New York. And if I did, I’m not sure that I could.
Birth-1 year: baby
1-3 years: toddler
4-8 years: child
9-12 years: tweenager
20-21: early twenties
22: mid early twenties
23: late early twenties
24: early mid twenties
25: mid twenties
26: late mid twenties
27: early late twenties
28: mid late twenties
29: late twenties
30+: who cares, you’re old now.
There’s a feeling you get when something is about to end: like the cripsness that enters the air as summer turns into fall turns into winter (or, if you’re more like me, the mugginess that begins to suffocate New York City as July and August roll into town). The way that dogs can smell cancer, we can sense an impending finality—the quiet winding down into whispers, the loud explosion of destruction, they’ve all got their warning signs, and if you pay close enough attention you can spot them when they’re still miles away.
Pornography did not invent the idea that coitus ends with male ejaculation, but it certainly hasn’t done much to dissuade viewers from that idea, either. In the list of “things everyone knows about porn,” the notion that all mainstream porn scenes end in facials is one of the most paramount truths (and, like most “truths” about mainstream porn, its veracity is rather shaky—but that’s a topic for another essay).
Whether or not facials provide the capstone to each and every scene that emerges from Porn Valley, they certainly appear in enough of them to have made a bit of an impression. Which brings me to my actual point: why, of all things, is the facial so important to porn?
Let us assume, as most porn producers do, that the intended audience of the product is a heterosexual male; let us also assume that this heterosexual male has been indoctrinated with the idea that a sexual experience naturally concludes with male orgasm, and that a great deal of his own enjoyment of pornography is directly connected to his ability to live vicariously through the scene’s male performer. Our viewer does not merely want the scene to end with the implication of male orgasm: our viewer wants to be able to feel, or somehow experience, that orgasm for himself.
Where females orgasms are most likely to be audible, male orgasms tend to be visual. Beyond the grimace-like visage most often associated with the male orgasm, there’s the undeniable “proof” of pleasure found in a man’s ejaculation. If you are seeking to “prove” that a man has come, to give viewers a sense of conclusion and satisfaction, capturing his ejaculation on camera is one of the easiest ways to do it*. Thus the prevalence of external ejaculation in porn**: if you want to really show it, it’s best that it occur out in the open, in a brightly lit, easily filmed environment***.
Thus the external ejaculation, or come shot, or money shot. For a viewer to vicariously experience a performer’s orgasm, he must see it; this is the most expedient way to achieve that end. But an important question nevertheless remains: why the face?
There are numerous places that a performer could visibly ejaculate: on the furniture, on his hand, on his own body, on almost any body part belonging to his costar. It is not particularly difficult to understand why the latter is the most appealing of all the above mentioned options: to maintain the idea of sex as an act of physical bonding and fluid exchange, it helps to have the fluids in question make contact with one’s partner’s body. A porn scene that ends with the male star ejaculating on the floor, or on his hand, lacks the intimacy and connection of a scene that concludes with his semen coating his partner’s skin.
But there are still numerous places on a woman’s body where a male porn performer could conclude his performance—and it is worth noting, by the by, that there are many scenes in which the finishing touch is deposited on breasts, pubic hair, or buttocks. Yet somehow the face has achieved a notable amount of prominence in this arrangement; somehow the face is, if not the way a porn scene always ends, the way we think a porn scene always ends.
It is relatively accepted as common wisdom that ejaculation inside the vagina is somehow the “best” way to end a heterosexual sex act in off camera sex: it is the most special, most intense, most intimate, most forbidden****. As discussed above, internal ejaculation is not particularly ideal in a pornographic setting, meaning that pornographers must seek out a visual that approximates the intensity and intimacy of ejaculation inside a vagina.
And so, perhaps, it is that the face becomes a proxy for the vagina. Consider their similarities: they are incredibly unique signifiers of one’s self and identity (albeit one private, one public). They are highly personal sections of the body—to touch one’s face is a highly intimate act, though not nearly as intimate as touching one’s vagina, it is far more intimate than, say, a handshake. They are both regularly involved in intimate, sexual acts. And, perhaps most importantly, the face is able to visually react in the same way that the vagina physically reacts. A breast that receives a load of ejaculate remains largely unchanged; a face that enjoys the same fate may contort and moan with pleasure—much the way a vagina that experiences ejaculation may pulse and clench (a highly intimate, intense experience for both the vagina owner and her partner that is, it should be noted, effectively impossible to capture on film).
A facial offers the viewer a vicarious orgasm that visually mimics the intensity and intimacy proffered by the physical sensation of orgasming inside a vagina. It need not be read as a sign of misogyny, of some sort of hate-fueled degradation of women, as an act of territory claiming*****: rather, it may instead be seen as a clumsy way of attempting to render a beautiful, indescribable feeling in easily comprehended visual terms.
*Yes, you could also depict a man’s face at the moment of orgasm but this has the disadvantage being a rather unattractive, unappealing sight for most porn viewers.
**Health concerns on the part of porn performers also contribute to the prevalence of external ejaculation.
***It is also worth noting here that, in the (relatively) rare cases where mainstream pornography depicts internal ejaculation (often referred to as “creampies”), a visual proof is provided to the viewer in the form of a shot of semen leaking out of the vaginal opening post-coitus.
****It is also the most direct way of attempting impregnation, but we’ll leave that aside for now.
*****It need not not be read that way, either, but misogyny in pornography—while certainly an important discussion that needs to be had—is not the topic of this essay.