Like so many guys my age, I made my first connection with male sexual identity in the back of mass-market magazines like "True Detective" and "Man's Adventure." Naturally, I was drawn to the so-called "adult" content in these tiny sidebar ads, but what strikes me now is how juvenile they are, and how devoid of any actual females. They almost seem to suggest that pictures, films or stories about women are much better than the real thing.
When I got older, I began to experience the "skin trade" up close. I remember visiting my first downtown adult theater when I was eighteen or nineteen. This place was different from the "peep show" places that offered curtained smut loops for a quarter. This was an real "theater" that showed full-length films. It shared a strip of commercial property with a pawn shop, a liquor store and an anonymous storage facility. It had no lobby or backstage -- just a screen and a low platform at one end of a small room and a 16mm film projector at the other end.
I have no memory of the films I saw that day. What I do remember was how after the first movie, a woman came out on the stage. To a soundtrack of the current disco hits, she removed her clothing, lay down on her back and and spread her legs. She lay there for a few minutes, then got up and left.
This was a surprise. The theater had not advertised live entertainment. A few minutes into the next film, I noticed someone coming towards me down the aisle. Before I could make out the figure clearly, I heard a woman's voice. "Can you give me some money for my dance?"
I quickly fished out whatever was in my pocket and gave her what she wanted. She rubbed the bills against her chest, moaned a little, and slid the money into a pocket. Then she moved on to the next patron. I watched the movie for a little while longer, but I knew I'd have to leave soon. I didn't have enough cash left for any more tips.
Up until that day, I had always assumed the "adult entertainment" business to be entirely one-sided and exploitative. It now occurred to me that the woman had actually derived some pleasure from the transaction, albeit second-hand, and not of a perverse nor prurient nature. It was the pleasure she got from keeping a roof over her head and providing food for her family. As I drove home, my guilt feelings in no way assuaged by the insight, I wondered which one of us had gotten the better end of the deal.