Almost everyone does it. Its influence on Western culture is palpable. It has the ability to warp our expectations, make us feel like failures and betray some of our worst insecurities.
I’m talking about monogamy, but the description also neatly applies to what some see as its antithesis: pornography. In her new memoir, Prude: Lessons I Learned When My Fiancé Filmed Porn, Emily Southwood shares her intimate take on both. Her ideas about ever-lasting love are put to the test when her fiancé, Robbie, gets a job as a cameraperson for Webdreams, a reality series on the Internet porn industry. Before he was offered the job, the couple had attempted to watch porn together—Southwood wanted to be accepting of all facets of sexuality, but couldn’t let go of the idea that mainstream porn was degrading. As Robbie encounters some racy but rather stereotypical plot lines on the job—chapters have titles such as “Threesomes,” “Squirting” and “Swallowing”—Southwood becomes increasingly insecure.
“Initially,” she writes, “I simply felt left out of a part of Robbie’s life. I wanted all of the man who I was in love with. I was sexually possessive to the nth degree.” But then she begins to worry that Robbie will tire of vanilla monogamy after first-hand exposure to pornography’s sexual buffet; in an attempt to keep up, she experiments with anal sex and a porn “makeover”—buying thongs at Kiki de Montparnasse, getting Brazilian waxes and donning stilettos during sex. But the problem lay beyond the bedroom.
“Porn was this subject that was easy to avoid because it made me super uncomfortable,” Southwood says on the phone from her Montreal home. Yet she couldn’t help but make negative comments about the industry to Robbie, who’d become defensive. One heated debate: Should condoms be mandatory in porn? Southwood says yes. But the stars told Robbie they irritate skin, which can spread disease faster. In dilemmas like these, Southwood charts a feminist’s attempt to reconcile herself with the adult film industry. On the one hand, there’s everything Andrea Dworkin warned of (degradation, health issues, misogyny), while on the other—as she discovers through conversations with Robbie, research into its history and watching more of it—porn provides a fascinating window into human sexuality: both others’ and her own.
Eventually, the couple open up enough to adjust their attitudes. Robbie becomes a little more critical of porn, she is less judgmental. Above all, they learned to speak rationally on the subject.“Communication was my biggest lesson—to talk about it. I like some of it, I don’t like some of it, but now I can take it or leave it in the same way I can take or leave a pair of jeans.” —Haley Mlotek