I realize I have spent most of my lifetime not having a single clue about what sex is. 17 years of somewhat childish innocence before I could feel for the first time the excitement of shared intimacies in the half-light of a summer bedroom, the fever of two troubled adolescent skins clumsily rubbing their desire against each other. But we tend to forget that we usually don’t wait for that so-called ‘first time’ to start crafting our own reality of what we call ‘sex’ way beforehand. From as far as I can consciously remember, my first contact with sex goes back from when I was around 10 years old, watching movies with my parents in the living room of our old apartment. Even though they have always been loving and caring with their children, my parents were very shy about directly expressing those feelings in words. I believe this shyness was also responsible for the fact we never had proper talks about intimate subjects as sexuality. My parents were the kind to avoid those discussions and it’s no surprise if, when I was still a kid, they had developed bizarre methods to keep ‘it’ outside the house. Their policy was something like: don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak.
I specifically remember one evening: it was getting late but my parents had become more open-minded about letting me stay awake a bit longer. We were watching the beginning of the movie Mr and Ms Smith, that my father had found on a pirated DVD from one of the many street vendors you could find across the town. After a moment came that scene were Brad Pit and Angelina Jolie, in the middle of a savage fight, start making love. After an awkward silence of a couple of seconds, my father decided to pause the movie and go a bit forward, without any commentary and only letting me catch glimpses of the Hollywoodian set up: clothes being teared up or removed in a hurry, flesh shimmering in a blue haze, ecstatic expressions… And then, Brad Pit caressing the skin of his fictional wife in a moment of suspension. The whole scene lasted maybe a minute or two, not much more. But the imagery left a strong impression on my young mind, mostly reinforced by the total quietness in our living room and that strange, mixed feeling of curiosity and shame that instantly invaded me.
Like most children and adolescents of my generation, my main source to satisfy my growing curiosity for sex was porn websites. We were the first to learn how to navigate the ocean of possibilities the Internet brought to us, practically at the same time we learnt how to read and calculate. The fact that our parents might had more difficulties to adapt to the new media made the Internet our unique playground to feed our insatiable attraction towards sex. We would then gather our fantastic discoveries on the real playground, eager to secretly discuss about the only subject that could make adults so uncomfortable. Popular jokes in school implied a lot of raw sex vocabulary that we had no proper tools to decipher. It was a wild experimentation field where we would hear and repeat names of porn categories, share links and tricks to take advantage over the control of the grown-ups, or lack of so… While that little revolution had the peculiar taste of ingenuous freedom that only kids can experience, I guess it also shaped the way a whole generation would approach sexuality: at a younger age, faster, straighter… no safeguard, no safe word, one key phrase: Sex is porn.
My sexual ‘awakening’ was even more complex as a young boy attracted by males. Not only had I zero references in my close entourage, I were also living in a country where homosexuality is still considered as a sin and an illegal ‘act’ today. The social and juridical violence towards homosexuals made me dive deeper in the only places I could feel safe enough to explore that part of my identity. Porn brought the questions and the answers to my sexuality at the same time, further isolating me in a normative industry I assumed to be the closest window from where I could observe some kind of truth. As a white, immature, non-sporty, hairless and rather discreet adolescent, the closest depictions I could find of me were those actors that gay porn industry labels as ‘twinks’. A single word for a base of traits serving as a mass criterion. A mainstream stereotype forged to respond to the particular fantasies of a specific audience. And of course, served with the full pack of ethos, attitudes, sexual practices, matching partners and scenarios you could expect from a twink. I wish someone could have explain me back then that I didn’t have to assimilate myself to an etiquette. But I believed instead that there was a list of things I was expected to fit in on my uncertain journey towards sexual maturity.
Looking back at my first years of sexual experiences when I arrived in Belgium, I realized I was mainly playing a role to respond to the imperatives that mainstream porn had stuck into my mind. I was mostly faking to be the young, vulnerable, submissive boy being ‘taken care of’ by my partners, who in return were often pressuring themselves to act like macho, rough, high-performing men. The real issue about simply exploring pleasure together rarely came in the discussions. The era of instant dating apps didn’t play in that favour neither. People would ask monosyllabic questions that needed monosyllabic answers in a ridiculous and dehumanizing pattern which made me think of some kind of porn search history. “Hot? For? Fun? Pic? Top? Bottom?” I quickly became unsatisfied of my way of dealing with sexuality. I could feel something was wrong about all that and that I was missing something out, something ironically much simpler. I started to look back at the ways I had thought about sex before, questioning my own representations of what ‘sex’ meant for me and where that could come from. Then one day, I just had a revelation.
While being something almost everyone thinks about on a regular basis, sex might be the most underrated and misunderstood thing ever. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not placing myself in the position of some sort of disembodied guru. I started having sex like someone start a fight, at a stage in my life when intercourse somehow felt to me like a ‘small’ violation of my body. Still, for many years I tried to convince myself that sex wasn’t always supposed to be pleasant because, after all, everyone was feeling the same, right? Only recently have I started to consider that sex might be suffering a loss of inventiveness. A crisis of representations. It particularly shows in the ways we still talk about it today: pictures or videos depicting sexual acts and scenes will automatically been qualified as ‘pornographic’. Even when it is suggestive, even when only nudity is shown. We rarely question this authoritarian semantic link, forgetting however that the term ‘pornographic’ originally implies an aware desire to turn on. As if sex and its representations couldn’t serve any other narratives anymore. Nothing but an acute need to arouse. No place for variety, no range of subtle emotions, no creative innovations benefiting fresh ideas… Just good old porn. And I stay with a bitter taste in my mouth: the unsettling sensation that we’re commonly associating a modern industry of pleasure, its economic mechanisms, its abuses with one of the most fundamental need in human nature.
So, when Chris proposed me to do a sex shoot with Tom, something inside me told me to seize that opportunity. I’d never put that intimate part of myself outside for an audience of strangers to witness. That idea made me feel uncomfortable for a while. It still does sometimes. The porous frontiers between representation of self, exhibitionism and voyeurism always made me wonder: what exactly is the meaning we put behind what we show or see? In the end, I believe the interpretation is free for anyone to choose. However, there has been an intention behind the action itself. Or rather a context. I can assure it had nothing to do with the context of a regular porn movie. We didn’t fake a role in front of the camera. We didn’t perform in order to excite the desire of the ones who would see the results. Actually, we didn’t even think about any result or camera. It was plain consciousness. I met someone with whom I shared something simple yet complex, during a short moment in our lives. Chris discreetly documented that in the truer form possible. Something like an alternative representation of what we’re usually confronted to when it comes to picture sexual acts. Because I believe the reality behind it is rich and diverse. And nobody can seize the whole glory of its ever-changing nature.