The Facial

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in eXe Magazine on 12 April 2009

“I always cum on her stomach or her face,” a 24-year-old web designer who works in the Flatiron district explained to me. “I never do it inside. That’s a waste. I like to see it happening.”

Forgoing the sensuous pleasure of a mutually climactic embrace, porn vid aficionados like Zach choose instead to emulate the sexual practices on which they have been weaned. With 70% of all porn videos ending up in the hands of minors, according to the “Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery,” it’s no small wonder that a generation of now sexually active young men have been imprinted by viewing the practice in an emotionally receptive state.

The pull-out cum shot was originally developed as a way for porn stars to prove they had truly climaxed. The “money shot.” But masturbating to such imagery apparently has its side effects. While young Playboy users of the 60’s and 70’s may have learned to over-objectify a woman’s breasts and buttocks, video users of the 90’s appear to have objectified the entire sex act.

Dan, a senior at upper east side’s Dalton School, has used porn videos since he was 11 years old, and credits them with teaching him the varied joys of watching oneself ejaculate. “You can do it on her stomach, her tits, or her face” he explains. Then, as if describing the point valuations of a video game, “the face is worth the most.”

So what’s going on here? Life imitating art, sex imitating media, or fetish imitating film? All I know is that if porn videos had been available when I was an adolescent, I would have probably done almost anything to get ahold of them–and then canceled most of my afternoon activities to use them before my parents got home. Would they have had the same effect on me?

“People learn to become aroused by things,” explains New York psychiatrist Dr. Julie Holland. “You learn to be aroused by pairing the sensory with the visual. It’s a classical conditioning. You just start to associate the sensoral pleasures with whatever visual imagery is being presented to you at the time.” According to Holland, this could work for almost any image. “In theory, you could create any fetish in somebody this way.”

So far, so good–from a non-judgmental standpoint, anyway. There’s no harm in extra-coital orgasms, and perhaps even a bit of extra safety in this viral age. But what would it mean to have an entire generation of young men who prefer the demonstrative squirt to the intimate throb? It adds a whole new set of parameters to the already long list of sexual performance metrics: range, accuracy, trajectory…

There may be even more psychologically powerful undercurrents at work, here, as well. Dr. Holland believes the symbolic degradation inherent to the facial may well be behind its growing popularity. “The whole idea is very ego-syntonic \[in agreement\] with the idea that sex is dirty. That you shouldn’t be watching a video and masturbating.”

I can’t help but think the trend is also fueled, at least in part, by our increasingly confused relationship with technology and media. We live in a world where the measure of a man’s tongue is its ability to imitate the frequency of a battery-operated vibrator. Likewise, as we grow increasingly dependent on video and computer simulations for the imagery in our fantasy lives, we may begin to aspire towards that which the machine can recreate, rather than that we can create ourselves.

Zach scoffs at such suggestions, believing his fetish has less to do with his video porn practices than the effects of AIDS. “Who wants to shoot into a rubber?” he says, unwittingly blaming yet another piece of technology for his extra-vaginal release. “At least this way you actually do something to her.