We So Seldom Look on Love in Porn

Curator's Note

“Every time I shoot a sex scene, I fall a little bit in love.” This sentiment from porn star Asa Akira’s autobiography, Insatiable: Porn—A Love Story, jarringly contradicts the relationship typically posited between love and porn. Pornography, we are told, is unequivocally not a love story. Porn is antithetical to love—its consumption is said to destroy loving relationships and leave viewers emotionally stunted, unable to experience real intimacy; its production, prevents performers from ever being able to have a real loving relationship because, the story goes, who could love a whore? As a result, in viewing pornography we search for proof of authentic pleasure or proof of exploitation, but we do not typically look for love.

Videos of porn performers in love, like offscreen couple Danny Wylde and Asphyxia Noir, are presented by MakeLoveNotPorn.tv as a corrective to the absence of love in mainstream pornography. Discussing their choice to document their sexual activities, Wylde says to Noir, “I want to show people how much I love you” suggesting that his love for her will be discernible in the act of making love. Fortunately, MakeLoveNotPorn resists positioning certain acts and rhythms as “making love” while denouncing others as merely fucking, by presenting all forms of sexual activity as love making. In doing so MakeLoveNotPorn rejects stereotypes that would suggest the relation between two people can be determined through the forms their sexual relations take.

Thus, whereas meat and money shots, as Linda Williams discusses, serve as proof of sexual activity and sexual pleasure respectively within pornography, there can be no visual proof of love. By putting the relationship between the act of making love and love itself at the fore, MakeLoveNotPorn tests the possibility of visibilizing and proving love. Watching Wylde and Noir make love, whispering things to one another that are often inaudible to the viewer, reveals that even when offering their love up to our gazes, it remains inaccessible. Wylde recognizes the failure of the video to make their love visible saying, “I like the fact that not everything is accessible…that some of that is only available to my partner.” If pornography is defined as “an exposition of the inexposable” constituted by the impasse that, “there is in fact nothing to say or show” as Jean-Luc Nancy states, then rather than standing in opposition to pornography the (futile) attempt to visibilize love is utterly pornographic.


Fascinating post Karly-Lynne, I really enjoyed it. Most interesting here, I would argue, is the compulsive desire to "image" love through the very means (i.e., sex) so many, as you suggest, argue negates it. The idea that representing a style of sex that contrasts with pornography somehow doesn't get you back to the very point they are trying to diverge, as I believe you suggest, is fascinating. Fascinating because no one seems confident to just say that love is, in the end, anything but a spectacular moment but instead an enduring commitment. What seems to materialize from this is a confusion within the parameters of this site to disassociate "love" from "romance." So, I'm wondering if that is really the missing term--"romance"? Perhaps the substitution is not love over pornography, but a performance of domestic romance over sex. Even so, this performance shows us something quite fascinating--awkward laughter, lack of direction, confused sense of action--which all seem to suggest the contingent nature of love itself is not found in the physical act of sex, so much as the absence of necessity. Something pornography would in fact be unable to explore within its well-refined genres.

Thanks so much for your comment, Adam. I’m a bit leery of the term romance—of the way it has been used in a false division between something good and feminine (romance novels) and something bad and masculine (pornography), or the way that certain forms of sexuality are incorporated into romance while others are positioned against it (I’m thinking here of something like Christian Grey’s assertion “I don’t do romance” in Fifty Shades of Grey that suggests BDSM and romance can’t coexist). I really appreciate that MakeLoveNotPorn incorporates sexual acts, like BDSM, rough sex, choking, etc., that are typically positioned as unromantic into its definition of love or making love. In the longer video that this clip is taken from, Wylde chokes Noir while they are having sex and this is not presented as unreconcilable with their gentler moments; both are equally expressions of love, which I think is important. However, I think you are absolutely right to point to the other aspects of their performance as equally, if not more important than the physical act of sex. If there is anything unique in the video itself (as opposed to its framing) I think it is these moments of awkwardness that would typically be edited out (at one point Wylde even has difficulty maintaining an erection, a “failure” that most pornography would efface but which is included here as an offering of his vulnerability). These moments you point to seem to in fact stand in opposition to the idealization at the heart of both romance and pornography. So I wonder if intimacy or familiarity might be better terms than romance? Could you say more about what you mean by the absence of necessity?

Karly, this is such an insightful post because it touches on something that, once pointed out, seems obvious, but which probably a lot of us don't think twice about. Again, as I wrote a little earlier in response to Kal's post, we should consider our definition of love, whether it's a feeling (and thus we can get lost in the intensity of the moment, like when Asa Akira shoots one of her scenes), or if it might be process—and thus impossible to fully render visible in one image or scenario because it necessarily requires a sequence of becoming. (The idea of sequence, it occurs to me, also spurs us to think about context and intertexts - the Wylde article linked to here fleshes out this picture and arguably itself supplies some of what might be missing, that "inaccessible" content he mentions.) Adam wonders if “romance” is the missing term and I think that's an interesting question too and I'd be curious to expand it—since there are manifestations of love which are not romantic. So, would there be pornographic equivalents to, say, filial love or profound friendship? And would those analogous forms have problems, too, in representing their kind of love? For example … without even bringing up oedipal issues (but we can talk about those too), is there an equivalent pornography to be found of the family and familial love? I'm tempted to be scathing and say, “Oh, one answer is family values media—something like 7th Heaven.” But to do that would immediately plunge the idea of pornography, and its equivalents, back into that Bad Object mindset, the kind of lazy myths that Karly's work, and porn studies in particular, try to explode.

Zach, thank you for your thoughtful response. I really like your suggestion that love might be impossible to render fully visible because it is a processes rather than a spectacular event. I think that’s especially helpful because the contexts and intertexts your refer to, the framing of the sex scene itself, seem central to what makes this video so interesting; the sex scenes themselves are not particularly unique as Veronica points out. For this sex scene to raise the issues about love that I feel it raises, this larger context seems indispensable. Your question about whether filial love or profound friendship would have the same difficulty visibilizing their love is terrific, but I’m not sure I have an answer. My gut reaction is that they would, however I am having difficulty thinking of examples. I wonder if family photos, or advertisements that use families might be appropriate examples of familial love, or at least of the attempt to prove to visibilize familial love in the way that MakeLoveNotPorn attempts to visibilize romantic love. More than a narrative about filial love, these examples seem like they might be grappling with displaying love in a single moment, of attempting to prove or demonstrate love. On the other hand, I wonder whether it might be different in the case of familial love as there is potentially less impetus to prove familial love because it is, at least ostensibly, unconditional, whereas romantic love is less certain, less reliable.

Karly-Lynne, I really admire your reading of this clip–particularly of the tension between imagining that love, like sex, can be shown, and the audiovisual product which leaves so much unseen/unheard. I wonder, maybe to pick up on Adam's comment, what this type of scene has in common with more standard "Voyeur" porn, which can look (camera clearly positioned to look as if perched on a nightstand, mostly immobile) and sound (inaudible exchanges, or no sound at all) pretty similar. Both, it seems, enact the fantasy of access to something less staged and more authentic–but here, while the performers give "permission" to the audience to watch, the element of uninvited or "peephole" watching isn't part of the arousal apparatus. Or is it? Is there a way to look at love–even if the look is always failed/frustrated–that's other than spying?

Thank you for your comment, Veronica, you are right to point out the commonality between the MakeLoveNotPorn and other forms of pornography—not only voyeur videos but also much amateur pornography, as well as some independent and feminist pornography, share a similar aesthetic. I certainly do not think these videos are as unique as the website makes them out to be, although as I mention above the framing seems unique. I am a bit hesitant to say the same thing is happening in voyeur porn, only because the appeal of voyeur porn seems to rest on one or both participants not knowing they are being viewed, whereas the performers of something like MakeLoveNotPorn explicitly give the audience permission to watch as you say. The difference between something taken and something given seems to have importance beyond solely ethical concerns. That said, your question of whether there is a way to look at love that’s other than spying is very provocative, because even when offered up to our gaze, looking at love does seems to be a matter of looking in on love from outside. I wonder if looking at love requires that we look at someone else’s love, at love of which we are not a part, in which case it would seem to always be a matter of looking in from outside making spying an apt term. What would it mean to look at love of which we are a part?

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