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10 Topics Gay Guys Never Discuss With Their Parents

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When you’re gay, it’s hard to talk to your parents about certain things. No matter how accepting or open-minded they may be, gay relationships, gay culture, and the mechanics of gay sex will stay a mystery to them — unless, of course, one of your parents is gay — or both.

Anyone who has been out of the closet for any amount of time knows that “gay” is more than a label to define your sexuality. It is a core part of your identity, and words like “queer,” “bi,” and “LGBTQ” constitute a significant part of your life — your people, your language, and your interests, both politically and socially. These words define a culture that our straight parents will never fully know. They may watch softened depictions of it on Modern Family, but they have never sung drunk karaoke at your favorite gay watering hole or queened out to Britney. They’ve never danced in a sea of sweaty men till 6 a.m. and they have no idea what Nasty Pig is.

Much of our culture can be hard to explain. Poppers and anal plugs will probably never warrant a conversation with mom, but other conversations — about PrEP and nonmonogamy, for example — can lead to greater understandings. Here’s a list of all those things gay men don’t talk about with their parents, with a small smattering of advice on how to do so!

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1. Douching

The thought of you having sex with another man crossed your parents’ minds from the moment they found out you were gay. Though they would never admit it, they still wonder about it from time to time. The image flashes when they’re trying to go to sleep, when they’re taking the dog out for a walk. Like many straight people, they may be clueless as to how it all works and may mistakenly believe it to be a very messy business. But douching — the process of cleaning out the anal cavity before sex — is one of those off-limits topics, one I would never bring with to them.

One way to hint at it without having to say anything is to have your parents over to your place for a night where there is, regrettably, only one shower. You must conveniently forget to unscrew the metal douching hose from its attachment at the side of your shower head. I’m not saying you should picture your mother naked, but envision her standing in your shower, looking through your assortment of overpriced sugar scrubs, charcoal-infused body bars, and organic, woodsy-smelling shampoos, and frowning over that dangling hose with the phallic-shaped metal attachment at the end. Then, hopefully, it will click, and she’ll deduce that your sex is not quite as messy as she thought.

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2. Poppers

When I’m talking to guys on Scruff whose profiles read “No PnP,” I usually ask, “Do you use poppers?” Most frequently, the answer is, “Sure. Love poppers.”

Poppers, while still a drug, are so mild that many gay men do not consider them in the same “sex drug” category that Tina (crystal meth) and G fall into. They’ve become staples of gay sex, gay culture, and gay history. We’ve been using them since the ’70s for their particular power of relaxing the anal sphincter for a few minutes, just long enough to get sex revved up. But if you try to explain the process of inhaling alkyl nitrites — video head cleaner — to your parents, they will likely conjure the imagine of junkies snorting glue in the school supplies aisle.

As with many items on this list, you could make the reasonable argument that poppers — like most facets of gay sex — never need to be brought up to your parents, since your sex life is not any of their business. But if they ever wonder why you have a few small amber bottles of some chemical that smells like nail polish in the freezer, poppers may inadvertently become a discussion topic in the kitchen.

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3. Fisting

Even if you don’t do it, you know someone who does. Fisting has long lost its shock value in gay circles, and has crossed over from dark sex dungeons into the arena of mainstream gay life. Many guys who aren’t regularly seen in leather harnesses now enjoy fisting. But imagine explaining to Dad how some guys take hands (and more) up the anus — especially when the idea of taking an erect penis up there is already outside the realm of his imagination. Many people, gay and straight, do not believe — or have not accepted — that fisting, when done safely and correctly, does not create long-term damage and can be an incredibly passionate and enjoyable sexual experience.

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4. Drag

Even though words like “slay” and “werq” have broken into the straight lexicon — primarily thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race — the art and culture of drag is still a queer creation and belongs to us. Straight people are welcome to enjoy drag shows at their local gay bar, so long as they tip, but theirs is not a history of disenfranchisement and oppression, abuse and homelessness, poverty and sex work — a queer history in which drag emerged as an act of self-empowerment.

Drag can be hard to explain to your parents. It was hard to explain to mine. My parents assumed that all gay men dress up in women’s clothes and sing diva power ballads, so the concept of drag was indistinguishable from the rest of gay life to them. They could not appreciate drag’s cultural importance because it’s not their culture, and they did not understand its complicated history with the transgender movement because they do not understand, and refuse to understand, the concept of transgender identity.

To them, as well as to many others, drag artists and trans people are the same thing — a deeply incorrect assumption that has led to something of a modern cultural rift between trans activists and the drag world. The two camps have an overlapped history, since many trans folks first discovered their true identities through drag. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when the concept of “transgender” was not as developed as it is today, many transgender people could only express themselves through drag art. As our cultural understandings both of drag and transgender identity have evolved, the two have split, and the burden has fallen on many transgender folks and trans activists to highlight and explain the significant difference between the two. Many people, my parents included, consider a trans woman to be “a man in a dress” — essentially a drag performer — and the phrase has become a terribly offensive slur against transgender women.

Take your parents to a drag show. Give them bills to tip the queens. (This assumes that your parents, unlike mine, are wiling to set foot in a gay bar.) Let them see drag in all its ferocity and kitschy wonder, then afterward, walking home, highlight the fact that what they saw was performance art, a toss-up between cabaret and camp. Explain to them that even if a transgender person does drag, the drag is the performance, but their trans identity is not. Regardless of what someone does onstage, transgender identity is a person’s authentic identity. “While drag is done for an audience, coming out as transgender is done solely for oneself,” a trans friend once told me. “And it is just as healthy and important to do as any coming-out, any form of self-acceptance that your mental health depends on.”

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5. Bears, Otters, and Pups, Oh My!

The labels will be the bane and the delight of your gay life. Gay men have long established the bizarre practice of defining and stereotyping ourselves into labels based on body type and sex practices. In the gay lexicon, burly, hairy men over a certain age are “bears.” Young bears are “cubs.” Skinnier, scruffier guys are “otters.” Young, lean, hairless guys are “twinks.” Guys into puppy play (a kink scene that was listed on my list of 30 kinky terms every gay man should know) who enjoy the “pup” role are “pups,” both in and out of the scene. Guys who prefer condomless sex are “pigs.” Tall, skinny gay guys are “giraffes” (a lesser-known label).

How did we come up with these? Regardless of where they came from, and in spite of their much-debated value, the labels are likely here to stay. While they are common parts of our speak, your parents would probably be confused to learn that you think bears are sexy or that your boyfriend is a puppy.

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6. Nonmonogamy

Nonmonogamy works out for gay men. In fact, this writer believes that nonmonogamous pairings, open and semi-open relationships, and relationships with relaxed sexual parameters are ideal for us — much more so than the monogamous alternative. The concept of nonmonogamy may seem foreign to our parents. Having a frank conversation about the parameters of your particular gay relationship with your parents may be awkward, but it can lead to something good. Explaining the distinction between sex and love may not leave everyone in agreement, especially if your parents are religious, conservative, or both. But at the very least, it will be an illuminating window into your life.

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7. HIV

Gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV compared to our straight counterparts. While no one needs to come out as HIV-positive, least of all to their parents, many poz gay men choose to do so at some point, for various reasons. Coming out to my parents about my status was hard; I did it the same morning an op-ed I wrote about coming out as poz was published in The Advocate last December.

Many of our parents remember the early days of the AIDS epidemic, so the news can be hard for them. They may mistakenly believe that the outlook for an HIV-positive person in 2016 is the same as it was 30 years ago. Most well-informed gay men, particularly those who live in urban areas, are up to speed on modern HIV care and know that with antiretroviral treatment, HIV has become a livable chronic illness that is more preventable today than ever before. Our parents aren’t accustomed to seeing testing trucks outside of gay clubs or HIV pamphlets disseminated in chic gayborhoods, so they will probably need some information to alleviate the initial fear. Give them resources and time.

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8. PrEP

There may never be a need to talk about your once-daily Truvada pill to your parents, but if they see the medicine bottle by the sink one day when the family is sharing a beach condo, you need to have answers ready.

PrEP is the once-a-day pill regimen for HIV-negative people that has proven extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission. Statistically, it’s more reliable than regular condom use. Upon initial explanation, your parents will likely respond the way many have responded to PrEP and see it as an excuse to have raucous unprotected sex. Even if you are having raucous condomless sex, you will have to explain to them that you are still protected from HIV.

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9. Top/Bottom

Just as your parents have been envisioning your sex from the moment they first learned you were gay, they have been wondering “what you do.” When/if they meet your boyfriend, they will wonder “what he does.” They won’t say it aloud, but they wonder, late at night, after the dinner dishes have been put away, whether you’re the top or the bottom. (I always find it remarkable how straight people assume every gay man is one or the other — versatile guys don’t exist in straight visions of gay sex.)

Like douching, this is one I will never talk about to my parents, no matter how chummy we get.

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10. Kink

My parents know I am gay. They know I am having sex. They know I date and have sex with other men. But they do not know and will not be told how much I love having used underwear stuffed in my mouth and my wrists tied together with duct tape. The only time I ever came close to explaining my kink practices was at the beach a few years ago when I realized there were still red caning lines on my butt and legs. I lay in the tanning bed to darken the skin around the marks and opted for a pair of baggier, less flattering board shorts.

While kink is not restricted to gay men, we have certainly been longtime practitioners of the rougher arts. Like drag, leather was originally our thing and has by and large remained so. Kink and fetish play are things that gay men of all stripes can at least be familiar with, and have probably dabbled in at one time or another. But it is one area of gay life that our parents may have a hard time distinguishing from rape and abuse, perversion and degeneracy. Explaining it can be tough.

Its accouterments can be hard to hide — all those ass toys and leather gear require storage, and that sling in the bedroom cannot reasonably be disguised as a place to hang laundry. Have a regimen prepared for surprise visits and dinners, and if you enjoy getting backlashes or caning down your legs, try not to do so before a family beach trip.

Complete Article HERE!

Topping As A Disabled Person

By Lyric Seal

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People are often surprised when I say that, for me, topping is more vulnerable than bottoming.

I remember going to a sex party with a bunch of other queer people of color, many of them sporting strap ons and saying that they weren’t interested in receiving penetration, but that they would gladly top, as that was an empowering, safer place for them. From multiple gender and racial standpoints, I deeply understand this, but it is not what my body knows. The reasons are even more complicated than perhaps I am ready to admit. But I am going to try.

Even now as I write this, I feel a welling up in my face, under cheek meeting eye. This is tear territory. I want to write you a ferocious little article, a tasty little piece, like me, but topping with a physically and visibly disabled body is a place of uncertainty and fear for me. Luckily, they say I’m brave.

When interviewed by .Mic  on the subject of being an “alt/disabled porn performer”, I was asked to speak on the issue of disabled people being desexualized by an ableist society. I told my interviewer that. as a disabled child, I was nonconsensually sexualized and yet also constantly infantilized by people around me. There are many disabled femmes (can I get an AMEN?) who know the complex plight of being a sexy baby in a lover’s or society’s eyes, whether or not we choose it.

Some identify with this; in my personal, intimate sexual life I have a Daddy. I love being topped. I love knowing I have someone wrapped around my finger. I love being taken care of. But I am not only this. I am an adult too.

I have choices. I have desire. And there is a fire in me.

When my own desire and agency tried to creep through the baleen-like filter through which I was understood by minds inside bodies not like mine–able bodied people fed on ableism with narrow understandings what my body was for–I felt like this hunger of mine was monstrous, too big for me to let out or in.

I know all too well that bottoming is not passive; even when we are touched against our will, it takes every fiber of one’s being to receive, or to not receive, psychically or physically. When I am bottoming, submitting, opening to my lover, there is that fire too, that hunger, that capacity for desire. Maybe it’s that I feel I can let loose when I am bottoming. I feel I can be a screaming hole. I feel I can be a possessed banshee. I feel I can be a taken siren/muse. When I trust what I am opening to, I can be so generous.

Perhaps it’s the performance I fear with topping. It reminds me more of dance than of song. It feels more visual. It seems it requires precision. It is only naked, or near a bed, or bench, or car, or miraculously accessible rooftop with all my clothes on, about to have sex with someone who wants me to top them, that I get such stage fright.

Socially, I’m a great top. As a wheelchair user, with a visibly disabled body in other other ways too, with the privileges of being neurotypical with a quick tongue, I learned to make speech my tool, my entry point, my point of connection and flirtation. I don’t even always know when I’m flirting; t’s my comfort place. I like to make people blush! Have since I was a teenager and all my friends were having sex with their boyfriends in private and I was having no sex but coming onto awkward boys in public

If I don’t think someone’s a charming top, I don’t like being hit on by them in an aggressive way. I’m particular about tops. I have the best one now already.

With switchy people, with subs, I’m all about the bait and switch. I’m all about the talking and dancing not leading to anything. I am hung up. I am scared. I have created a locus of control through my social interaction, in which you can view me as powerful for my words, my dancing on my own, my compliments, my insight, my tease. Physically, once we are touching, I am less confident of my abilities, or that my desire will be received, once someone feels/sees how awkward the form. What if I am too slow? Too imprecise? What if I stop for pain or discomfort?

I had a girlfriend once, who encouraged me to practice topping her, which was wonderful, and then she would embarrass me by telling new dates in front of me that I was a “big domme”. Proud parent with bad boundaries much?

It was like she was saying, EVERYONE! NEVE HAS A PERFORMANCE THEY WOULD LIKE TO SHARE! My partner, my daddy, actually does invite me to top him sometimes. And the practice is heart-altering. I become a more well-rounded me. Despite my Picasso body.

When you are learning the dance of how to top someone well, in the way they like, in the way you like it, it can take time and experimentation. It can take translation, modification. It can take making up a whole new way to move and relate to another body from scratch. Especially if you are physically disabled, if your partner is, if you both are.

I have been learning, slowly, that while there are tricks of the trade on how to top or dominate someone safely, there is no rulebook (thank goddess) on what it actually means to top someone. I am learning to take the time I need with my gimp body to top in a way that is true to me.

When you are learning a new dance, you begin slow. In fact, some bodies will only ever be able to replicate a dance slowly, and some do not replicate at all. Fuck replication. This is not to say that there are not disabled people who have topping on lock. I am not one of them! But I’m sassy as hell.

Complete Article HERE!

The Ultimate Guide to Pregnant Sex

By Lauren Katulka

Takeaway: The nine months of pregnancy bring with them a host of coital challenges, but with our handy guide you can enjoy good loving during any trimester.

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You’ve just received the happy news that you’re expecting and you’re feeling more connected to your partner than ever. Although those nine months of pregnancy can be a challenging time to be a woman, that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice time between the sheets. Read on to discover the difficulties you might face during each trimester, and how you can overcome them to experience some of the best sex of your life.

First Trimester Fun

It wasn’t too long ago that you were getting down to business on a regular basis, but now that you’ve got a bun in your oven you might be thinking of sex less often. The first trimester can leave you exhausted and morning sickness can make you feel far from sexy.

Just know that you’re not alone. A waning libido is only natural as your body stops sending signals to pass on your genes. You’re also feeling the maternal urge to protect your tiny offspring. Even if the doctor assures you sex is safe, a mother’s instinct might have you second-guessing hanky-panky.

During the first trimester it’s good to remember that sex doesn’t have to mean intercourse. If you’re not feeling up to going all the way, perhaps you could rediscover the joys of outercourse or even a simple massage. Touching one another and talking about your desires can ensure you stay close to your partner through these challenging months. (Get some tips in Double the Fun! 5 Hot Tips on Self Touch for Two.)

You don’t have to take intercourse off the table though. Sex during pregnancy has plenty of perks, including better sleep and a feelings of wellbeing . Sex during these early months can also be really enjoyable, even if you don’t feel up to it from the outset. Allow yourself to be seduced with an open mind and you might be surprised how much fun you’ll have.

Steam It Up in the Second Trimester

Many women say their second trimester is their favorite part of pregnancy. The fatigue and morning sickness are gone and your libido has returned. Your genitals will also be constantly engorged and lubrication is increased. These changes can make you feel more open to sex and can maximize your enjoyment.

Your changing body can be a bit of a stumbling block though. A baby bump and the extra curves that come with it may take some getting used to, but it’s important to take pride in these changes. Your awesome body is building a baby! (Get some tips on body confidence in 6 Steps That’ll Help You Love Love Love Your Naked Self.)

Urinary tract infections can also curb your sexual activities for a while. Pregnant women are more likely to contract these painful problems, and they can have nasty implications for pregnancy and your sex life. Don’t ignore painful urination or cramps; see a doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms. An untreated UTI can bring on early labor, so it’s crucial that you act quickly.

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We hope you enjoyed your second trimester, because the third might be tough. That cute little baby bump has grown so large many women find that it feels impossible to get comfortable. And your estrogen and progesterone levels are at their highest.

This is the perfect time to remember the tactics you used to get through your first trimester. You might not always feel like intercourse, but sex can take many forms. Communicate about how you’re feeling so that you can stay close to your partner, even if you aren’t getting as close physically.

Oh, and with that big bump in the way, it can be difficult to get as close as you might like. Sex might seem daunting, but there are ways to work around your new body shape. Women on top and rear entry positions are ideal. See our article on safe, sizzling sex positions for pregnant women for enough inspiration to spice up this final trimester.

Your bump is also a real reminder that baby is on board, and men can struggle with this. However, doctors insist that no matter how hung your man is, his penis can’t possibly go through the cervix, amniotic sac and placenta. In simple terms, sex is totally safe for the little one (and good for you). For normal pregnancies, sex also won’t cause miscarriages or preterm labor.

And Another Thing

While sex is safe for most pregnant women, those with high-risk pregnancies should exercise caution and consult their doctor if they have any concerns. More important than sex itself is the intimacy this act can foster between new moms and dads. If you can get steamy during this time, go for it. If not, make sure you talk about your feelings and remember to show your affection in other ways. This will help couples deepen their connection with each other before the new addition to the family.

Complete Article HERE!

How to look after your penis

By Ed Noon

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The British are a nation of stoics, often too proud to admit we have a problem, and too polite to bother anyone else about it. Men are particularly bad at piping up about health issues, especially when it comes to our penises. Often, a source of embarrassment can be a simple lack of knowledge. Fortunately, the male anatomy is quite easy to understand, and learning what to say when seeing your GP can help avoid red faces. Read our guide from a working NHS doctor for how to keep your penis healthy…

Don’t use slang

The number of highly imaginative slang words that have been used to describe penises can leave patients embarrassed and doctors wondering. Keep it real and you’ll be taken seriously. Here’s a quick anatomically correct dictionary of our own for you to memorise and check off next time you’re in the mirror:

Penis and foreskin – no explanation needed.

Shaft – the main length of your penis but not including the glans (tip).

Glans/tip – the highly sensitive area at the end of the penis, usually covered by a foreskin, unless removed in an operation called a circumcision, with an opening for urine and semen to escape.

Meatus – pronounced “me-ay-tuss”, this is the medical name for that opening.

Testes – otherwise known as testicles or balls. All are acceptable.

Scrotum – this is the stretchy skin that forms a sack for your testes. A thin muscle allows the scrotum to contract, which it does so in cold conditions to maintain your sperm at a constant temperature.

Epididymis – behind and above the testes lies the area that stores the sperm made in the testes. Above the testes is a firm tube that carries your sperm from the epididymis (via the prostate which lies near your bladder, so it goes a long way) eventually out through your urethra to come out in the hole in the tip of your penis (yep, the meatus – well remembered).

Knowing just a small detail of anatomy can really take the embarrassment out of a problem when explaining things. So next time you notice that something’s not right, be confident and just tell your doctor “straight up”.

DIY penis maintenance

Many male problems don’t require the attention of a medical professional. Allow GQ to fill you in.

How to clean your penis

We often gaze in awe and talk excitedly about the nose-tingling, fungus-coated, ash-rolled, squishy goodness that is a well-stocked cheese counter. That’s not what you want people to experience when getting up close and personal with your penis. The “knob cheese” that is technically known as smegma, has a particularly vile smell and builds up when the area underneath a foreskin hasn’t been cleaned. This area should be cleaned daily (just pull back) along with the rest of your genitals, your bottom and the area in between, called the perineum. Use a mild soap as these areas can be sensitive.

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How to examine your scrotum

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men. For this reason, every week you should examine each testis (the plural is testes) in turn between your finger and thumb by rolling the skin over them. The most common symptom is a lump of any size but you should book an appointment with your GP if you have any new feelings in the scrotal area.

On a lighter note, most lumps in the scrotum aren’t cancer, and if it does turn out to be cancer, it’s one of the most treatable forms of the disease. You should get to know your balls like the back of your hand.

Maintaining an erection

Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, is unfortunately common from middle age onwards and it’s caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels that pump blood to create and maintain an erection. This narrowing may occur for a number of reasons but high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking are high on the list. Giving up smoking seems like a no-brainer, and maintaining a healthy body weight and undertaking regular exercise reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.

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Protect your penis from STIs

STIs are invisible and often give no symptoms for many years so you won’t know if you’ve just passed one on, so you should always wear a condom. Available free at GPs and sexual health clinics, they significantly reduce the risk of the transmission of STIs but they’re nowhere near as effective if they remain unopened in your wallet. There are so many easy ways to get tested for STIs – a simple fingerpick test can detect HIV, and many GP surgeries have urine pots to test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea that you can pick up and drop off discretely without even making an appointment. No excuses.

Be careful with trimming

Many of us take pleasure in keeping neat and tidy. There are no hard and fast rules about what to do here, but a sensible one is to exercise caution. Be especially careful in the craggy terrain of your scrotum if shaving, where it can be technically more challenging to not make a tiny cut in the skin – this could potentially introduce harmful bacteria which could cause cellulitis, abscesses or worse, Fournier’s gangrene (Googling not recommended).

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Penis size really doesn’t matter to women

A 2015 survey of women presented with photographs of all types and sizes of penises published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine revealed that penis length was one of the least valued attributes. “Overall cosmetic appearance” came out on top. So no need to worry about whether your penis size is above or below average. Just keep it looking good.

Use your penis to keep it healthy

Make ejaculation part of your daily routine. Here’s why: a large Harvard study of nearly 30,000 men found the risk of prostate cancer was 33 per cent lower in men who’d ejaculated at least 21 times per month, compared to those who ejaculated only 4-7 times per month. This included ejaculations during sex, masturbation and, um, “nocturnal emissions”. Time to play catch up.

Complete Article HERE!

The Long, Hard Work of Running the Only Academic Journal on Porn

In 2014, Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood launched “Porn Studies,” the world’s first academic periodical devoted exclusively to pornography, although many of their colleagues—and anti-porn feminists—advised them against it.

Academic Journal on Porn

Clarissa Smith, a professor of sexual cultures at the University of Sunderland in the UK, is describing to me the ideal sex robot. “Maybe it wouldn’t look like a human at all,” she says. “It could be like a sleeping bag you zip yourself into and have a whole-body experience. How fabulous would that be? You could have your toes tickled and your head massaged at the same time.”

I ask if she’s seen the two-legged cyborgs from Boston Robotics that don’t fall over, even when shoved. “They kind of look like horses,” she says. “They’re not sexy.” She tells me that if she had any business acumen, she’d design her own pleasure bots. “I wouldn’t be talking about this journal.”

The journal we’ve been talking about is Porn Studies, the first academic periodical devoted exclusively to the study of pornography. Founded in 2014 by Smith and Feona Attwood, a professor in cultural studies, communication, and media at Middlesex University London, it’s since become the go-to quarterly for hot-and-heavy, peer-reviewed research on how porn is constructed and consumed around the world.

After receiving a raft of coverage from the Atlantic, the Washington Post, VICE, and, of course, the Daily Mail, nearly 250,000 people viewed the journal online over its premiere weekend. The first issue featured an article by groundbreaking film scholar Linda Williams, an essay on how porn literacy is being taught in UK schools, and a meta-analysis of porn titled “Deep Tags: Toward a Quantitative Analysis of Online Pornography”—which reads sort of like Nate Silver’s guide to PornHub. Later issues have explored topics as varied as the “necropolitics” of zombie porn to the “disposal” of gay porn star bottoms who bareback.

Porn has long been a popular field of academic research—professor Linda Williams’s seminal text on the subject, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” was first published in 1989—but its scholarly inspection has not been without controversy.

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“It has been considered a ‘despised form,'” Smith said. “But I think there are enough people around now who are approaching pornography from a whole range of viewpoints, not just asking, ‘Should it exist?’ or ‘How should we regulate it?’ but ‘What is it? Who’s in it? How does it work?'”

Before Smith became a leading expert in pornography, she was working at an ad agency and pursuing a master’s degree in women’s studies. “I sat through so many lectures about the radical feminists’ rejection of porn,” she said. Then, one day at the office, she received a press packet from two publishers who were just about to launch soft-core magazines for women.

“I was like, hang on, two publishers think it’s worth it to launch porn magazines, and yet women supposedly have no interest in this?”

Smith had friends who were into porn, she enjoyed a good Chippendales show now and then, and she’d watched as the Ann Summers sex shop in her neighborhood had transformed from someplace dark and seedy to a “bright and colorful” spot to buy sex toys.

“I saw these things happening, which, according to theory, couldn’t be happening.” She had a gut feeling that porn, too, was being misjudged.

In 1999, Smith decided to analyze For Women magazine, a relatively upmarket glossy that ran features like “Semen: a user’s guide” and “Women who sleep with strangers night after night.” The magazine, Smith argued, sought to manufacture “a space where women [could] be sexually free” by writing about things like three-ways, cuckolding fetishes, and anal sex in a way that made them seem normal. It was also primo masturbation material, offering “male bodies for female consumption” and real-life sex stories.

Academics and peers she respected tried to dissuade Smith from continuing down the porn path. “They would ask me, ‘When are you going to move on from this area into more serious study?’ They’d also tell me I was really brave.” She laughs. “I wasn’t brave, I was interested!”

For Women

When academics analyze comics, horror films, video games, or anime, it isn’t generally assumed that their scholarship constitutes a ringing endorsement of everything in their field of study. But with porn, it’s different. The topic is so “burdened with significance,” as transgender studies professor Bobby Noble once described it, it’s easy to get trapped in the debate over its existence—instead of looking at it objectively as a cultural product.

But Smith ignored the naysayers and, over the next few years, penned a number of articles with titles like, “Shiny Chests and Heaving G-Strings: A Night Out with the Chippendales” and “They’re Ordinary People, Not Aliens from the Planet Sex! The Mundane Excitements of Pornography for Women.”

She was cavorting with other porn academics and traveling to conferences when she fortuitously met Feona Attwood. “It felt like we were the only two people talking about [porn], at least in the UK,” Smith said. The pair eventually brought their idea for a porn studies journal to the multinational academic publishing house Routledge, initiating two-and-a-half years of negotiation. When, finally, the two were told their proposal for the journal had been accepted, they “sat in stupefied silence for about ten minutes,” Smith said.

Nearly as soon as Porn Studies was announced, a feminist anti-porn organization in the UK called Stop Porn Culture circulated an online petition demanding the creation of an anti-porn journal for the sake of balance. Signatories claimed the journal was akin to “murder studies” from the viewpoints of “murderers.”

Smith and Attwood believe they somewhat missed the point. “We were trying to move away from the idea that there were only two ways of thinking,” said Attwood. “Like for or against television, or for or against the novel. It’s a bizarre way of thinking, from an academic point of view.”

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At the time, the UK had recently banned a long list of hardcore sex acts from porn produced in the country, including “spanking, caning, whipping, penetration by an object ‘associated with violence,’ physical or verbal abuse (consensual or not), urination in sexual contexts, female ejaculation, strangulation, facesitting and fisting (if all knuckles are inserted).” The country’s mood wasn’t exactly sex-positive.

“We have this idea that we can just keep undesirable things out of the country,” Smith said.

That fearful attitude, naturally, extends to university campuses. “I don’t think there was ever a golden age for studying porn,” Attwood told me. “It’s always been tricky!” She says the resistance the pair encountered—and continue to encounter—is part of a “much broader” problem related to academic freedom; at the University of Houston, for example, teachers were recently told they might want to modify what they teach in case students are carrying concealed weapons.

“The social and political context we are working in at the moment as academics makes our work more precarious and dangerous in all kinds of ways that are not just about what we study,” Attwood said.

Yet the history of porn research in the United States isn’t as dramatic as you’d imagine. Linda Williams was able to teach porn with full support of her administration way back in the (H.W.) Bush years.

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“There is still such a thing as academic freedom,” Williams said nonchalantly when I asked how administrators reacted to her porny syllabi when she taught the subject at UC Irvine, in the heart of conservative Orange County, in 1992.

Back then, Williams, who’d already published a book on the subject by that point, would screen whatever porn was floating around in the cultural ether. She had her students watch gonzo porn; feminist porn (“cleaned up with lots of potted plants and no money shots”); and sadomasochist porn (“the theatrical kind…and the other kind”).

The biggest issue students had was with the gay porn, which Williams says freaked out the hetero guys—a lot. Usually, though, what students did in her classes was laugh their heads off. “That’s kind of a protective measure, because otherwise they might, you know, get horny,” she said.

When I asked Smith if she screened porn in her classes, though, I was surprised to hear that she didn’t.

“Both Feona [Attwood] and I have tenure, but that still doesn’t mean that you can do what you like. Also, I’m at a small, provincial university that is one of the post-1992 schools [formerly polytechnics or colleges of higher education in the UK], and we don’t have a very bullish attitude that we’re the elite, so I have to be aware of the university’s sensibilities, which are: Can we defend this to parents? I don’t want to cause that kind of trouble.”

For now, Smith is advising graduate students, conducting research, attending conferences, and, of course, editing Porn Studies. She says she’s most concerned about making sure the next generation doesn’t feel the same sense of shame over their sexual desires as the older people she’s interviewed in her research. “In the research that Feona and I did, one of the key things that comes through when you talk to older people about their engagements with porn [is that] people say, ‘I just wish someone had had a proper conversation with me about sex. I just wish I hadn’t felt so much shame about looking and finding bodies attractive and going looking for it. It’s taken me a long time to understand what I like sexually.’ Why do we want another generation coming up afraid of their bodies and ashamed of their desires?”

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