A Matriarchal Society
No story I have ever covered has elicited such fantastic interest as the making of a porn movie. Not war, pestilence, politics or celebrity. People come up to me in restaurants, at parties. They call me, wanting to know what it's really like. "What are the stars really like?" "Do they really?..." "Is it actually?..." Everyone wants to see it. There is a vast, intense interest in seeing people have sex on screen. This may be because we live in the only theocratically censorious state in Europe [England], where hardcore pornography is illegal.

The first film was produced in 1896 in this country. The first act of censorship was in 1898 when the British cheesemaking industry had a shot of blue-veined cheese withdrawn. Censoring cheese is no less absurd than censoring an erect penis. All the pseudo-social- scientific arguments about pornography encouraging rape and violence and sexual dysfunction have been made patently bogus by the fifteen-year experiment of us having no pornography while the rest of Europe has as much as it likes. The sexual-crime rates in Switzerland and Denmark are not notably soaring compared with ours. The things that most of us think should be banned --- underage sex, violence --- are already covered by the law whether you have a camera there or not. But although everyone who has spoken to me wants to see the movie and wants to know every sweaty detail, so they have all wanted the sex stars to be dysfunctional, unhappy and exploited. "Well, of course they're all on drugs, aren't they?" "They're pretty sick people, aren't they?" "It's a very sleazy business, isn't it?" There is a need to have received wisdom confirmed. The bottom line is that we want filmed sex to have a riotous comeuppance for the actors because sex is the intimate act that proves the invisible truth of love and love is the most precious and powerful thing our species owns. But again, this doesn't make sense. Why don't we censor or become outraged at actors faking all the other facets of love? Why aren't two strangers who say, "I'll love you forever" on screen far more wholly immoral? Why isn't Romeo and Juliet by common consent the most disgustingly depraved play ever written and only performed in seedy clubs on the Reeperbahn? It doesn't make sense, but then, nothing about sex makes sense. Why should it? The wiring in our heads that connects desires, lust, jealousy, passion, devotion, frustration and biology is so complex and irrational, that to even consider a rational debate about sex and pornography is absurd.

Making Hot House Tales I learnt that these are not exploited people. The set is matriarchal with the women choosing what they'll do and with whom. Only the film crew are cynical about the act --- but then, all film crews are cynical. The stars are surprisingly innocent. I mean that in a fundamental not a physical sense. They are incredibly kind to each other. Each scene would start with the girl saying, "OK, what are your do's and don'ts? I don't like fingers up my arse or my hair being pulled, but slapping's good. Do you mind me biting your balls?" They would help the guys keep their erections between shots in a fond, almost loving, way. And the sex is real. It's real in the sense that running round a track is as real as running for a bus. I discovered that to compare porn stars with actors is a misinterpretation of what they do. They're much closer to being athletes. They physically perform for public pleasure. They are an elite. Very few people can do what they do.

You may play tennis but you're a million miles away from winning Wimbledon. You have sex but it's not in the same ballpark as these people. They take it seriously. They train, they're focused and they're very, very good. Is a girl with breast implants who'll take two penises up her backside any weirder than a shot-putter who'll take male hormones to throw a cannonball? There's no question which gives the most pleasure to watch. But one is a national hero and the other a seedy pariah. It doesn't make sense. Are the stars exploited? Well, a lot of the women have what are known as "suitcase pimps" --- parasite boyfriends who carry their bags and take their money, and there are some pretty seedy agents on the periphery of the business. Is there a lot of disease? Everyone has to produce a blood test every thirty days. It's an unbreakable rule. A porn film has safer sex than a lot of you have with your own spouses. Are they happy? Well, that's a piece of string. They have the same run of broken marriages and fractured lives that you'd find anywhere in LA. Certainly they're far less miserably abused, abusive and disposable than their equivalents in Hollywood. What I found, though, was a sincere sense of awe and envy for their ability to be straightforward about sex and still get pleasure from it. I have never met a group of people who were so relaxed about their bodies and their function. They've shed the strait-jacket of insecurity that the rest of us lug into bed. In the pool of bright light, I watched a remarkable fraternity of nice, attractive and amusing people doing what the rest of us cool libertarian liberals have been talking about since the sixties. That is, be honest, relaxed and open about sex. I also learnt that we look for truths that will confirm and bolster our own complicated social, political and moral dilemmas about sex. We see and understand what we want, what we need, to see. And if you are reading this with a disbelieving sneer on your face, well, join everyone else I've said it to.

What Hot House Tales will look like, heaven only knows. I'm pretty sure it is not going to be the Citizen Kane of adult entertainment --- probably more like the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of skin flicks. But I do now see what a vaunting piece of hubris and self-delusion it was to ever imagine you could direct sex. I might as well have tried to pole a punt with my penis.

--- From AA Gill Is Away
A. A. Gill
©2005, Simon & Schuster

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