By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
I've just watched 55 minutes of slow, languorous, sensual, unwatchable, unsexy sex. I do not want to get on it, get up in it, get down with it, or get jiggy with my bad self. I have just watched 55 minutes of couples so stilted, unnatural and wooden they look as if they'd be uncomfortable riding an elevator together, let alone exploring each other's secret fantasies.
I have just spent 55 LONG minutes sequestered in my bedroom, sitting inches from my television set with the volume turned low so that my landlord, who is caulking tiles in my roommate's bathroom, will not think I'm a big shifty pervert because I'm sitting at home in the middle of the day watching a little curio titled Playboy's Best Kept Secrets and claiming it's for work. This video is less tantalizing than caulking bathroom tiles.
Of course, perhaps it's not meant to offer a cheap thrill. Perhaps it's meant to educate. The box, which shows pictures of couples embracing passionately in a variety of poses, such as on horseback and with a Popsicle, claims this to be a "sensual and elegantly produced instructional video" that "reveals techniques for sparking passion, maximizing foreplay, and giving and receiving heightened pleasure." Whatever. Common sense says this is porn.
Porn by any other name. Porn in the form of instruction. Self-righteous feel-good instructional-seeming porn that is neither instructional nor pornographic.
The video begins by showing gauzy, slow-mo, soft-lit couples embracing while a syrupy-sounding voice says that while it's easy and comfortable to do what's familiar, "you may be missing out on what can be new and stimulating in your lovemaking." Is this where the horse and Popsicle come in? Is it?
No. This is where the, um, kissing comes in. Now, see, I've heard of this thing called kissing before, but I always forget exactly what it is. I think it might be something gross, but I'm not sure. Luckily, the sappy voice-over is ready to inform: "It is said that a kiss can be a comma, an exclamation point or a question mark." Yes! Now I remember! But what about the ellipsis, surely the steamiest mark of punctuation there is? Just look at it in all its scintillating glory. . . . Now I'm getting hot! I mean, now I'm getting hot. . . .
Next up is a vignette discussing the finer points of "extended foreplay." You can even do crazy things like wear sexy lingerie or use scented massage oils or even get a "feather for tickling," which is said in a nauseating "we're so naughty" tone. In fact, this undercurrent of innocent, giggly fun keeps rearing its contrived head. In a later cheese-o-riffic vignette extolling the virtues of role-playing, a woman tells her man to "kiss my boot" and then playfully pushes his head toward her shoe. As he does this, you see her crack up and then regain her "tee-hee, this is serious business" composure before he looks up at her. The aw-shucksiness of it all makes the video even harder to watch, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Seduction is a game played by two, and the seducer can become the seduced in the blink of an eye," the voice says. Very, very deep. Take a few moments to digest.
The most unwatchable vignette—and there are many—is the "don't keep what pleases you to yourself" one.
A couple lies on an unkempt—we can assume post-coital—bed. The delivery of the lines is weird, forced and uneven—monotonic in parts and overly exuberant in others. Think really bad infomercial acting. Really, really bad infomercial acting.
"I like it when you're hard first thing in the morning," she tells no one in particular, though the line is supposed to be directed at her lover. I think he's supposed to look excited by this revelation, but instead his reaction is akin to that of someone who just got hit in the face with a drop of rain.
"I like the way your hair smells in the morning," he says. Then he, as is apt, picks up a piece of her hair and smells it.
"When you talk dirty to me—no one's ever done that to me before. Not the way you do it," she says in that breathy monotone. Again he looks like he just took a drop of rain in the eye.
He nods and then says he enjoys "the sound you make when you're about to come, that soft sort of whimper," and then, with a gusto normally reserved for people in potato-chip commercials, he says "Really! It's great!"
Later, as the same unfortunate couple is simulating unwatchable sex, she tells him that she likes to fantasize about being videotaped. "Then I fantasize about the tape getting lost and someone watching it. Maybe a lot of people."
Is this some sort of pretentious self-referential postmodern attempt to break through the fourth wall? How very twee.
"What if someone were watching us right now?" she asks.
I know, I know! They'd begin fantasizing about caulking bathroom tiles!
And then I realize with a sickening thud that I actually can identify with this horrible awkward couple because I can remember those horribly awkward initial sexual experiences where you're so uncomfortable with the other person that you look any which way but directly at him or her and where you really can't get lost in the moment because you're just too entirely aware of how you seem and how you look and how you're acting and what you're saying. The sex in this vignette is the sex of people who really don't want to be having sex. Quellesexy!
The music in this video, like the voice-overs themselves, is so treacly and schmaltzy as to kill any sort of mood. It's elevator music with triumphant "discovering the new world" crescendos and mournful laments.
And let's talk about sets, baby. Not sex, but sets. The first run of vignettes features couples gently doing the deed in very frilly, soft, romantic homes. Weird homes. Homes from another planet. And the clothes are weird, too. A lot of hot pink. Come to think of it, the hair is weird, too. Are some of these G-rated X-rated vignettes from the '80s? It's possible because this slapped-together hack job of a video (pardon the vitriol, but damn, I could be caulking tiles right now! RIGHT NOW!) is an assemblage of vignettes from the For Couples Only series, which means who knows when they were made. Perhaps the kissing vignette was made around the time kissing was discovered!
The "wetter is better" (yeah, unless you're talking about water, but anyhoo . . .) segment features a couple leaning against lichen-covered boulders between two waterfalls in some sort of lagoon. Perhaps a lagoon not unlike the one you have in your own back yard! The syrupy voice-over talks at length (at length) about how water is soothing and great and blah, blah, blah. Go, water! Give it up for water! Then you see the couple drinking bottled water.
Frisky tykes that they are, they begin dousing each other with the purified water and then letting it dribble out of their mouths and such. Save some water for the fucking whales, you environmentally unconscious love duo! What, you think the world's lagoons are your bedrooms? Come on, people!
There are numerous questions I'm left with after watching this video. One of them is, "What the hell was that?" Another is, "Do we need to attach some sort of meaning to the act of sex?" Was this video so unsexy because it didn't even offer the flimsiest of porn plots? But the question that burns most brightly in my mind, one that keeps me up at night, causes me to blank out while I'm driving, makes me unable to recall my PIN number, and sometimes makes me forget where I put my pants is this one: Where was the horse?