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June can be the cruelest month in London . . . if you originally come from Spain. At this point in the year, most cities in the Iberian Peninsula showcase a splendid sun: a warning of the blazing summer that is to come.

But this was not the case in the gayish Soho district. It was a rainy and chilly afternoon as I hurried along, weaving my way through the crowded Shaftesbury Avenue. I was late for my coffee with Robbie Rojo, a tanned and good-looking expat from Cadiz who I knew well from the internet. Still, I had almost no knowledge of him. This is usually the case with porn stars. If you have seen them in action, you know very intimate details about them, but you have almost no idea about who they really are. “Will his demeanor be as wild as his performances on screen?”, I wondered as I looked for him in the Starbucks of Wardour Street.

What brought us together on that gray London day were intellectual concerns. For a long time, men have commercialized the female body through the media, especially in porn. A Netflix show, Hot Girls Wanted, has recently brought many of these stories to light. But what about those men who become objects of pleasure for other men? “Who is the person behind the body? How do you live your life when you become an object of desire?”, I asked Robbie on Facebook. He found my highbrow doubts amusing. He was the first of many. Over the past year, I have been in touch with a good number of gay porn stars. Much maligned sometimes, yet also secretly imitated and revered, these men had many things to say about the ups and downs of a profession greatly transformed by the internet in recent years.

More… “Sacred Monsters”

Ernesto Oyarbide is presently reading for a Dphil in History at the University of Oxford. He regularly writes on contemporary issues around cosmopolitan culture, human identities and anything digital.

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The history of modern art is strewn with the wreckage of obscenity charges. At the beginning of the 20th century, a work of literature with sexual content might initially be deemed obscene but eventually embraced for its esthetic and social importance. James Joyce’s Ulysses and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover are notable examples. They opposed Victorian standards of propriety, but after passage through the courts and critical opinion, emerged as high art.

In the realm of cinematic representation, obscenity was initially an industry-wide concern. The Motion Picture Production Code was developed in the 1930s under the assumption that movies, as mass entertainment, needed to be monitored to protect public morality. Strict enforcement began to wane in the 1960s, and the Code was replaced by a more indulgent film rating system. Nonetheless, certain films struggled to maintain their integrity in the face of a dreaded X rating. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris refused to amend its subject-matter to avoid such a rating, which reduced its box office profits. In time, however, it emerged as a film classic.

Television, too, began by monitoring its sexual content until the advent of cable TV did away with most forms of censorship. On premium channels at least, sex and art are now permitted to consort.
More… “Pay to Play”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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The origins of the limerick are vague
But the style came after black plague.
And in today’s modern age
This boyfriend may wage
Spats in rhyme, though his girlfriend may beg.
(Stylisticienne, The Smart Set)

Let’s take a critical eye to the profane and the obscene. (Los Angeles Review of Books, The Smart Set)

What’s the value of paper in the digital world? If you’re biting your nails over the imminent demise of the paper book, relax — technological doomsayers have been around for ages. And before you hit send on that e-résumé, consider putting your skills on paper. (National Endowment for the Humanities, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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Strong women rulers have always suffered violent attacks on their sexuality. To the Romans, Cleopatra was the lascivious “harlot queen,” a woman “whom her own slaves would grind.” In the Middle Ages, Isabel of England got the same treatment from her enemies, as did Catherine of Medici and Anne of Austria. Even Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen who masterfully remained above the male fantasy mill, could not stem all rumors of her “uncontrollable female desires” and was thought to have been behind the riding-accident death of her longtime friend Robert Dudley’s wife.

 

But perhaps the most tragic victim was Marie Antoinette. From early in her rule, the Austrian-born queen inspired in her French subjects the most virulent misogyny. The market was flooded with whole libraries of violent pornography that depicted her as a wasteful and treacherous… More…

Since the 1960s, the history of sex has transformed from sleazy sideline to respectable subject of academic study. The following is a timeline of the lesser-known scholarly discoveries that inform our erotic thinking today.

 

c. 1700: Sex “invented.”

“Some time in the 18th century, sex as we know it was invented,” writes Berkeley historian Thomas W. Laqueur. Before that time, Laqueur argues, most anatomists accepted the ancient idea expressed by the Greek doctor Galen that there was really only one gender: Women’s sexual organs were essentially the same as men’s, except they were inverted due to a lack of “vital heat.” The vagina was matched by penis, the ovaries by the testicles (“stones of women”), the labia by the foreskin, the uterus by the scrotum. This appealed to classical notions of cosmic harmony, and allowed doctors to argue… More…

 

I know no faster way to divide a room of feminists than to utter the word “pornography.” We’re all pretty together on the choice and equal pay issues, and other disagreements have considerable common ground. But when it comes to porn, feminists retreat to their dogma. There is the camp that derides pornography as violence against women and believes it causes men to dehumanize women. This is, admittedly, a small (and mostly aging) group, but they are vocal and they like to write books. There is another group, the sex-positive group, some of whom are sex writers or have created their own pornography. They’re a little embarrassed about the “penetrative heterosexual sex is rape” stance of their predecessors and are trying to create more female-friendly sexual environment in the culture.

(I know that feminists aren’t the only ones… More…

It’s a standard part of the hospitality industry: To make guests feel pampered, cared for, at home on the road, hotel operators grievously overcharge them for hardcore pornography. The hotels make a modest but effortless profit on these transactions. The bored and lonely guests who rent on-demand porn feel even more bored and lonely after watching it — and thus stay in their rooms and out of trouble.

Naturally, because it’s a win-win proposition, someone wants to end it. Recently, representatives from Focus on the Family, Citizens for Community Values, and assorted other professional American finger-waggers met with the top brass at Marriott International in an effort to convince the hotel chain to banish porn from its properties. The decency advocates have been engaged in the campaign for nearly a decade now; this was the first time Marriott agreed to sit down with them.

According to Tom Minnery, senior vice… More…

 

Last year a few video trailers for Chad Kultgen’s novel The Average American Male came online. In one, a man bitches about the price of the dinner, demanding a blow job in return. In another, a man tells a girl he loves her only to get her to give him a blow job. And finally, over dinner with his girlfriend’s family, when the father asks, “We’re just wondering when we’re going to see a ring on our little girl’s finger,” the Average American Male replies, “As soon as she learns to swallow without gagging and take it up the ass without crying.”

If the novel itself had been as violently offensive as the ad campaign, it would have at least been interesting. Instead, Kultgen had about as much insight into the typical male psyche as Maxim…. More…

Italian nuns have left quite a subversive legacy. This is thanks largely to the literary labors of Pietro Aretino, a Venetian author who is today hailed as the “father of modern pornography.” In addition to his ground-breaking book of sonnets – The Sixteen Postures, which described a string of athletic sexual positions with handy engravings – Aretino penned the classic Secret Life of Nuns, whose panting prose would not be out of place on nerve.com today. It depicts lonely young novices in ritualized “jousts” with monks and priests (“First tilt went to the trumpeter…spurring himself on with his fingers, he ran his lance right into his lady-friend’s target right up to the hilt…”) and devoted to the pastinaca muranese, “crystal turnip,” a state-of-the-art dildo made of fine Venetian glass and filled with warm water. The nuns kept erotic manuals hidden in their prayer books and always offered their charity to… More…