She swore me to secrecy before she told me. This happens a lot since I’ve begun writing sex fiction—heaps of unsolicited hush-hushed tidbits tumble my way. When it first started, I wanted to say, I’m not an expert. I just make shit up. I write FICTION. But I’ve realized sometimes people just need to be heard. Witnessed.
In this particular case, halfway through a seaside brunch, my friend whispered over her second mimosa, “I have too much skin down there.”
I bit into a strawberry and put on my poker face / my shrink facade / my Melina hat.
She continued: “I don’t look like the porn stars. I look more like roast beef. Down there.”
“Nobody looks like porn stars. Anywhere.”
“That’s what he said! He was still inside me and he said—I told he you has a British accent, right?—he said in that fucking sexy Mumford & Sons voice of his, Aw baby, don’t believe that Madison Avenue bullshit.”
I didn’t know much about her latest playmate, but I took to liking to him when I heard that.
What I wouldn’t give to emancipate us all from the bonds of that Madison Avenue bullshit. Mental slavery. How does the song go? “None but ourselves can free our minds.” That may very well be true, but forces against us are mighty. With hundreds of billions of dollars being made in the pharmaceutical industry, and dozens of billions reaped annually in the beauty industry, the message blaring across all of our screens is that we are not okay. We are not healthy. We are not pretty. Even would-be global dictators spew twisted judgements regarding women, implying our value and credibility lies primarily in our “rapability”.
This isn’t news. I suspect that most people who read this blog are at least halfway woke half the time.
Still, even on the days when I’ve meditated and summoned my intellect and am feeling confident, when it comes right down to it, my insecurity is hardwired with Madison Avenue bullshit. When I bend for my lover and glimpse gravity’s pull on my pale, middle-aged torso, when I throw my hands up to dance only to spy the sag of my arms’ joggle, when I turtle my neck to mask my double chin every time a camera is pointed at me—hell, the fact that I write under a pseudonym is evidence enough—I’m slogging around in shackles.
None but ourselves can free our minds. How’s your liberation going? Mine, clearly, is toiling, but it took a great leap forward this week when I received Kayla Lords’ newsletter and read her piece on Ricardo Scipio’s The Sex Goddess Project. Thank you, Kayla. And thank you Ricardo.
“Sex is too important to leave in the hands of pornographers.”- Ricardo Scipio
The Sex Goddess Project isn’t merely impressive, it’s essential. I spent the better part of Tuesday immersed in Ricardo Scipio’s photos, his articles and models’ testimonies. Those of you familiar with his work have likely heard his fabulous analogy: “If photographs are like food, then when it comes to sexual photography, people have been generally exposed to pure junk food. Here in this project is a healthy, organic, homemade meal that I hope people will savour.”
Think about it. Think about your earliest exposure to sex in pop culture. Titillating? Probably. Nourishing? I bet not. I was one of the thousands of 6 year-olds who snuck into her parents’ Penthouse collection. The creatures on those glossy pages were unlike any I’d ever seen. The new HBO series Westworld comes to mind, “Are you real?” Of course this isn’t HBO, this is life: we’re all real. And some of us look like roast beef “down there”. But I digress. The Sex Goddess Project far transcends the nacho cheese served hot from a pump at the corner market.
In the samples I’ve been lucky enough to view so far, positive energy beams from each image. These are portraits of connection. There is joy, fondness, intimacy, awe, joy, motion, laughter, love, and did I mention joy? Much of the focus is on faces—beautiful, expressive faces of ordinary people.
In a podcast with Modern Sex Talks (I encourage you to listen to the whole discussion), Ricardo describes his intention behind the project. “Women have for too long and in too many cultures had their sexuality suppressed only to be pseudo-released within the stiflingly unkind world of porn. I’m extremely humbled and proud to provide a vehicle for women to unapologetically express themselves with love and authenticity; something porn cannot offer.”
To paraphrase him: “Imagine if the coolest people in the world—the coolest musicians, the coolest philosophers, the coolest writers, photographers, teachers—all together said, ‘Let’s make bodies of work that provide an alternate view of sexuality: an unflinchingly honest look at presenting sex.'”
In our sex blogging cocoon, it’s easy to identify savvy professionals who are already doing this important work. I sometimes fool myself into thinking most folks are as wise as our wisest peers. But I need only open a newspaper to see that’s a delusion.
One of Ricardo’s models wrote that she saw her photo shoot as “a chance to be an activist in the sensual world”. I love that! When you think about it—whether we participate directly in The Sex Goddess Project, or bring this mindset into our own work (whatever that is)—we all have the chance to portray sex in a nourishing way.
With my first published story coming out next month, I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals and intentions as an artist. I write under two names: my birth name and this secret one, Melina Greenport. All of my extended family knows me as a not-yet-published writer. I don’t plan to tell any of them about Melina or her print debut coming soon to bookstores all over the U.S. I say this only to demonstrate the complex cloud I’ve let hover over my work. How much of it is privacy-based? And how much of it is about shame?
Even as I parcel out privacy from shame, I try to limit my thinking about Melina’s anonymity because time is scarce and I’ve got two bodies of work to create: my own and hers. But I am her, too. Me, with the literary aspirations and the sagging, joggling arms, the double chin and the (yes) unwaxed nether regions. Despite my hesitance to openly write about sex using my given name, I believe I can still be a voice on the healthy side of this evolution. Encountering Ricardo’s example of a life spent deep in the throes of making art invigorates me. He gives me hope that with each new story, my work will evolve and grow in meaning. He gives me hope that someday the celebration of real beauty and authentic sexual connection will not be a subversive act.
Let’s take a moment to virtually applaud Ricardo’s models. I hide behind a pen name. They look right into the camera. In twenty-four testimonials about being photographed nude with their lovers (available here) these words appear again and again:
Photos supplied courtesy of Ricardo Scipio.
Ricardo Scipio’s Invitation-Only Online Preview of The Sex Goddess Project will be on November 20, 2016. Those wishing to apply to be on the virtual guest list can inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.