[26 February 2009]
PopMatters Features Editor
Consider the orgasm. Consider the hunger beforehand, that blind, sweaty desire building toward one euphoria explosion that electrifies the body like a seizure, leaving you breathless, past and future but a dream, nothing but tingles for skin. How about the peace that follows, no longer bogged down by your restless longing, muscles melted, the beast inside lulled to sleep, disarmed, totally naked?
Now imagine you were filmed. Just think about what the camera would capture in those minutes leading to your climax and afterwards. Perhaps your eyes involuntarily widen or nose crinkles? Maybe tears, maybe laughter, maybe silence, but who knows for certain? Truth be told, everyone reacts differently to sexual experiences. Some don’t make a peep, while others let loose an operatic aria that wakes the neighbors. Some spasm uncontrollably, others clench as tight as a fist. Only one thing’s for certain: orgasms disarm us.
Fact is, never are we more exposed and vulnerable than when we’re orgasming. Never do we relinquish that stern control over our professional and social lives than when we’re drowning in our preferred brand of fantasy, dreaming of that perfect someone who grazed our arm earlier today, stripped of all our inhibitions, disguises removed, animal, honest, genuine, authentic, intimate, reduced to a sexual being.
That said, how ironic that hardcore porn stars can undress and still seem somehow clothed. Whoever watches modern pornography, which amounts to anyone with an Internet connection nowadays, can sense the illusion embedded within mainstream porn flicks. The scripted sour dialogue and choreographed positions that revved so many engines of the previous generation simply don’t float our proverbial boats anymore. Hence, the current porn craze that has fueled the launching of whole web communities devoted to amateur pictures and videos.
Case in point: Beautiful Agony, where posted erotic stimulus amounts to amateur videos featuring only the facial expressions and the sounds of those orgasming. American, English, French, Chinese, Australian, German, Japanese, Irish, white, black, men, women, straight, lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives—doesn’t matter one bit, anyone can submit a homemade video that reveals his/her real human vulnerability and intensity, granted the orgasm isn’t faked that is.
So applaud each of these individuals who are brave enough to share their unique sexual experiences and help revolutionize the erotica industry. Foreign languages and geographic boundaries be damned, watch as these persons from across the world drop their defenses, shed their suspicions, and get their rocks off, either alone or sometimes with others. Listen to the confessions as they each reveal their opinions and sexual secrets, connecting us with heartfelt honesty. Admire these human beings, vulnerable, quirky, respected, conflicted, thoughtful, trembling, truly naked.
What exactly is Beautiful Agony?
Dedicated to the profound experience of the human orgasm, Beautiful Agony is the newest craze in Internet erotica. Unlike your regular hardcore porn, co-founders Richard Lawrence and Lauren Olney focus instead on the unique idiosyncrasies of real men and women orgasming. Perhaps you barely make a whimper when you climax, maybe you scream, maybe you grunt, maybe you cough, maybe you giggle. Perhaps you pant or moan. Maybe you toss, turn, kick, lick fingers, bite pillows, roll eyes or tremble uncontrollably. Who knows but those you’ve trusted enough to allow into the bedroom, naked, lamps still lit?
Ironically, the only nudity their website contains is from the neck up. Forget about watching pants unbutton, pecks clench, or nipples harden, like some cliché scene copied from an airport romance novel. Instead, their incredibly voyeuristic snippets communicate sexual pleasure through facial expressions and sounds only, which is what makes their sexual content so innovative, interesting, and damn arousing.
Nominated at the Australian Adult Industry Awards as the Best Adult Website, Beautiful Agony isn’t just another porn site that tempts viewers with a shirtless model and milks absurd subscription fees from your wallet. Truth is, in addition to a monthly rate that prices the same as a newly released DVD, their barebones site construction, uncluttered by tasteless banners of pornographic partners, suggests just the opposite. No, this is truly an experiment in human vulnerability and sexual identity.
Just imagine watching a complete stranger with their own internal thoughts, feelings, and fantasies, building to orgasm, cumming unseen, and then lighting a cigarette, all from the safety of your home computer. Watch as the camera captures their smiles, their gasps, their jitters, their laughter, their overall joy as they share this beautiful expression with the world. No names, no addresses, no desperate attempts to lure browsers with local hookups, Beautiful Agony’s anonymity not only affords viewers the freedom to fantasize without shrewd judgment, but also to marvel in the real, stunning experience of the human orgasm.
What is Overkill?
Created to give the faces some personality, Overkill is the magazine section of Beautiful Agony, where their team posts links to related articles on the net, but more often, post “other” takes from some of the more interesting contributions. So too, groups of people who submit videos shot together, as a kind of bonding project, were shown on Overkill earlier this year, as Pentagony and Hilltop Agony.
Not to be confused with the confessions that accompany most of the videos, in which angonees talk about their sexual mishaps, history, locales, preferences, and opinions, Overkill explores even more sexual experiences that encourage growth and exploration within their sexually supportive cyber environment.
Representing god knows how many different cultural backgrounds and sexual ideologies, the unique confessions and conversations with contributors charm viewers with personal details and philosophies, sometimes communicated in others languages, filmed in homes, workplaces and even set against their native countryside. Truthful, hypnotic, and candid, Overkill as well as the confessions not only reveal the larger personal story behind the o-face, but address interesting and enlightening points about sex and modern intimacy.
Who are agonees?
Agonee is the term coined for anyone who captures their own vulnerability on camera and shares their experience with Beautiful Agony. Truly amateur, truly unsolicited, not even Lawrence and Olney know who these individuals are for certain, minus obvious appearances. In fact, I could be an agonee, and you wouldn’t even know it. Their sexuality, their language, their beliefs, all these and more are hidden away, which creates a profound bodily connection. Only when watching the confessions can you get a sense of the person inhabiting the face.
With almost 1,300 videos now available for streaming or download, Beautiful Agony continues to post submissions and confessions by agonees six times per week, though each orgasm video is now accompanied by a confession as well. The only requirements are reality and perhaps taste. Being how the porn industry at large is flooded with so much obnoxious and objectionable substance, Beautiful Agony is a beacon of erotica light in the haze, thanks to these sexual pioneers called agonees, totally anonymous, totally vulnerable, totally naked, bearing all.
My History: A Sexual Past
Lost my virginity at what some would consider a young age, which perhaps in part explains my heighten sex drive at 28 years old now. Ever since I can remember, that sexual connection with another person has been at the forefront of my mind, regretfully clouding my judgment sometimes, especially after a few too many, but also pushing me into great conversations and even greater sex other nights.
Too many flings to count without sounding sleazy, but never too guarded with my vulnerability and o-face to simply cast off another individual, deleting their phone number the next day, I believe I’m the norm today. Truth is, most of us modern city-dwellers are sexually active, and have been for some time now.
Take me, for instance. Just a guy, immersed in pop culture with a somewhat quirky obsession with sex and science fiction, checking Nerve.com as I rummage through PopMatters book reviews, listening to This American Life. Come Friday night, you might bump into me at the bar, discussing post-punk and pleading my case about Television Personalities. That’s me, that’s the guy you might have seen on the subway, that’s the guy you might have hooked up with last night, who knows?
The point is, just like you, just like the agonees, I have interests and hobbies that you may find adorable or maybe annoying beyond belief, I have a sexual history and even some emotional baggage, I have a unique personality that makes me (and you) a fine example of individualism.
Of course my face will never reveal all this, just as my clothing style or tattoos will never uncover my true opinions and beliefs to the casual observer, but isn’t that part of the excitement of connecting, the thrill of life? Isn’t that what Beautiful Agony is really all about? Learning about each other, witnessing another person genuinely attempting to share that most basic, elemental experience with us, the orgasm.
Why submit videos?
Where to start? Some believe recording their orgasm is a means of personal growth and sexual development, not only learning about their selves, but sharing their individual evolution with thousands of supportive subscribers in the process. Some merely desire to get in better touch with their bodies and overcome physical obstacles that occasionally haunt them. Others find the Beautiful Agony videos the first step to major innovation within the pornography, erotica, and art industries. Still, many just find the experience and illusion of voyeurism damn hot, and who can blame them?
Simply put, everyone has different reasons for submitting their orgasm video, and that’s all part of the attraction to Beautiful Agony, this preview of individuality expressed in such a raw, visceral way, one to which we can all relate. Come on, who hasn’t masturbated or at least attempted a go alone? Who hasn’t wondered what’s revealed to their partners in that moment of absolute ecstasy? Aren’t you even slightly curious what your face reveals to others when you climax? Don’t you wonder what your partner sees when you cum, who they see in that moment?
Still, supporting a bold website that dares to push sexual boundaries is one thing, but videotaping yourself orgasming so countless people can watch and perhaps become aroused by your submission is quite another. After all, your o-face is a valuable thing, and however unconnected your name is to your video, your image is still circulating across the Internet for all to see. So what’s the motivation then?
Let’s start by eliminating what the impulse to submit isn’t. First of all, these people aren’t desperate for attention, they’re not out to rope in studs or hotties. These are attractive, intelligent individuals who definitely don’t need to distribute their sexual image to get laid. In fact, some agonees make reference to their partners or even appear in the Overkill confessions with their significant others. Plus, Lawrence and Olney advise against announcing your official post, all to protect your social and personal identity. So that’s immediately out of the question.
Second, you can be damn sure agonees know what they’re doing. In addition to their intelligence, these persons are also mature adults who have had their fair share of sexual experiences. Listening to the confessions, you’ll peek into their professional lives as nurses, teachers, designers, artists, legitimate people with managed responsibilities that live among us, all of whom have undoubtedly weighed the consequences and benefits of their submissions. Obviously, this isn’t a casual thing, however sexual in nature.
Lastly, Beautiful Agony’s Olney edits its videos with such an elegant and sophisticated hand that you can automatically eliminate anyone trying to mimic the artificial scenes in commercial porn. Submitting isn’t simply a fetish thing, even if an agonee loves being watched. What’s being shared is more about intimacy than a purely physical connection. Obviously, nobody disclosing their video would ever imagine that hordes of adoring fans will flock to their sexual altar the next day. What nonsense?
Essentially, Beautiful Agony is more about you personally, the liberation of your sexual self within a mature, innovative environment that encourages sexual development, exploration and acceptance. Unashamed, unflinching, natural, and cathartic, of course these videos are sexually stimulating, but the nature of that stimulation is one seeded not in simple frivolous sex, but in the fantasy and adventure of connecting with actual human beings.
Why view these videos?
Because they’re absolutely hypnotic for starters. Watching as a person’s face moves from guarded and awkward, to contorted with sexual energy, to tranquil as the lightning of their orgasm grounds and leaves them contented, there’s simply no experience that even remotely resembles it. Layer upon layer of invisible mental barriers such as shopping lists, phone bills, business meetings, petty worries over bank accounts—all these are flung away, like veils in a dance, and somehow these men and woman are seducing us with authenticity, revealing a flesh-and-blood person you might bump into on the subway, a real individual.
Secondly, you won’t witness a single fake orgasm at Beautiful Agony—what would be the point of submitting a fake orgasm that’s just going to get rejected after all? Neither will you find porn stars claiming to be amateurs, shrugging innocently, feigning first times, nor even a trace of that sour dialogue involving pizza delivery men and lonely housewives. Remember, Beautiful Agony pushes reality, and this particular drug is quite addictive, mostly because it’s so pure, so potent.
True, there’s an odd illusion of keyhole voyeurism embedded into the videos which porn addicts might find mildly arousing, yet there’s no doubt that each agonee knows what’s happening, they know they’re being watched, perhaps perversely. However, what keeps subscribers is the glimpse into the intensely private, deeply personal expression of self that only an orgasm can bring to bare. In fact, many are put off by the videos, averting their eyes, clicking stop on the player, unable to watch further, describing their content as too intimate.
And it is too intimate! You don’t know what’s going on off-camera. You don’t know what’s going on inside their heads. You don’t have the faintest clue who they are after all, and you haven’t the foggiest whether or not you’d even like them. But that mystery is part of the intoxicating affect that is Beautiful Agony. Nobody knows them. You could find them more annoying than a migraine, but you’re just as likely to fall in love with them on the other hand. There’s just no way of knowing for sure, which is a reality of life as well.
Let’s be honest here, the best part about watching the Beautiful Agony videos is the lack of bullshit. Real nudity comes when a person drops the act, wipes the makeup from their face, doesn’t force a smile, and sure as hell doesn’t dress in disguises, be them emotional or fashionable, unlike many porn stars. Who can blame them, sex is their job, but that doesn’t mean we should settle for their brand of sex all the time.
Moreover, our modern search for personal identity and genuine human connection is perhaps magnified by our contemporary obsession with image. Thing is, we can sense authenticity now when it happens, we can recognize it flashing in another person’s eyes during their moment of orgasm. Through all the charades and roles we play in our daily lives, those secret little idiosyncrasies which make us special and unique can now seep through for others to witness and cherish. This is the real appeal of Beautiful Agony, the bared soul, the private made public, the real nudity.
All images courtesy www.beautifulagony.com
Beautiful Agony Stages
Picture a man or woman wrestling with their thoughts, desires, and fantasies, shedding all their bullshit, stripping away all their inhibitions, closing their eyes, remembering a sexual experience that’s unique only to them, panting, whimpering, mumbling under their breath, on the verge of critical mass.
Explosion, and then the orgasm happens, like an atomic bomb, hot and reverberating through your extremities. Your eyes become vacant and glassy, your identity dissolves, and suddenly, you’ve disappeared into a vast, dark sea of pleasure, like sleep, free of psychological burdens and social boundaries, floating.
Some smoke, some laugh, some talk, some think, some rest. Not a moment ago we had vanished, and now we’re back, breathing oxygen, hushed, giddy. Somehow we’ve managed to cheat this little death, as the French euphemism goes. What better time to celebrate life? What better moment to rejuvenate the spirit?
Is Beautiful Agony porn or erotica?
Webster’s defines pornography as “material that depicts erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement or arouse a quick intense emotional reaction”, which definitely encompasses Beautiful Agony, yet this subscriber is hesitant to assign such a mainstream and corrupt stigma as porn to their website.
Much pornography (not all) has been so graphic, so demeaning, so exploitative, and so utterly tasteless that it now resembles a bad joke involving a naïve woman short on cash. As Lawrence himself says, “The porn industry is hopelessly out of touch with its audience”, which is another way of saying, they simply don’t know what gets our rocks off anymore, namely reality.
What’s different about Beautiful Agony is that the sexual content is instinctive and real, which would suggest that it’s more erotica than pornography, and yet watching the videos definitely elicits an intense emotional reaction that is sexual in nature.
But why are we so afraid of the word “pornography”? How come we hesitate to call something beautiful and so real that it borders on the metaphysical pornographic? Of course we want reality, of course we want an erotic experience that reminds us that human beings long for touch, perhaps even our touch. Already described as hardcore without nudity, what’s so wrong with calling Beautiful Agony pornographic?
The only reason not to label Lawrence’s website as pornography is how the content arouses us. Instead of hopelessly trying to imagine ourselves in the absurd sexual scenes indicative of traditional pornography, Beautiful Agony removes us from the scene altogether, revealing otherness, another person, pleasing themselves without us, which as it turns out can be sexually stimulating and fascinating, too.
“The Nemo science museum in Amsterdam has Agony videos on permanent display for teen sex education, which we think is fantastic,” says Lawrence. “It worries me that so many adolescents get their sex education from bad porn and I hope we’re reaching a young audience who can discover the beauty of orgasm, and appreciate the ultimate pleasure that is giving rather than receiving—there is where Agony is the opposite of contemporary porn.”
That said, many have discussed how Beautiful Agony’s attempt to sidestep the objectification of individuals (both men and woman) is only reinforced by its intention to liberate them. Can’t a face be considered a sexual tool, just as much so as a cock or vagina? What about a noise, a simple whimper of delight? As long as your sexual experience is being filmed (dare I say documented) for others, isn’t that just porn? Which is to ask, how can you escape objectification when you’re obviously reducing people to objects of desire, even objects of fascination?
Truth is, you can’t. You can’t avoid being objectified when it comes to sex. Anything with a body is going to become objectified one way or another. So why not explore that objectification and determine if there exists a healthy way of providing sexual release? Why not launch original sites like Beautiful Agony that describe with accuracy how erotic reality can be?
Maybe Beautiful Agony does objectify people with its new approach, and perhaps that makes their website in part pornographic, but so what? Of course we understand that the faces of agonees don’t identify them in totality. In fact, that’s part of the reason viewers suddenly notice the person, because we sense that there must exist something behind this body to react so naturally, so freely, so dramatically to the orgasm. They aren’t faking, they can’t fake such real reactions. Porn, erotica, or art, bottom line is that Beautiful Agony is a monumental step in finally reestablishing the human substance behind the orgasm.
What does Beautiful Agony mean for the porn industry?
Turns out intimacy is the new porn. As mentioned earlier, Beautiful Agony is definitely opening the doorway into new sexual territory and undoubtedly raising the bar on erotic content. Obviously, we want reality. Just take the upsurge in amateur sites and communities like xtube.com as evidence. In fact, we crave reality.
As this craving is strengthened and reinforced by our evolving, human desire for genuine connection, the porn industry will need to change, at least in part. No longer will the scripted dialogue and the fake orgasms that ultimately paint a two-dimensional picture of the sexual experience plague our future. Imagine, porn with rich, compelling characters! Hot, kinky and compelling intellectually, think of the possibilities!
Imagine a new world of the future, where pornographic scenes, erotic imagery and sound, strange fetishes even, are all unified under one supreme principle of respect and individuality. Wouldn’t it be so hot if the orgasm once again became an expression of self and human connection, perhaps even genuine love? Just the thought of a visual medium meant to explore and develop (and perhaps reevaluate) our chemical attraction to one another, how arousing, how utterly beautiful?
Just like art, neither hardcore porn, nor the exploitive principles on which it’s based will ever completely disappear from our society, but really, there’s no competition here. In fact, many of the agonees discuss their porn preference within the confessions. Porn can be hot sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that erotica like Beautiful Agony isn’t. Humans, as sexual beings, have moods, all of which call for different stimulus, different strokes.
However, the unique and redeeming quality that sets Beautiful Agony apart from other pornographic sites and amateur communities is their focal point, their muse, specifically the orgasm. Through exhibiting this common, yet private sexual act, their videos reveal human beings instead of actors and actresses, their videos encourage learning and experimentation and respect, their videos remind us that sex can also be an expression of emotions and heartfelt desire. The real question is: How will pornography grow and evolve now as a result of Beautiful Agony?
What does Beautiful Agony mean for people?
Kink doesn’t mean perverse, just like hipster doesn’t mean sub-humanoid. What Beautiful Agony offers us modern individuals is ultimately the support to express our unique sexuality in an adult, respectful way. Watching real people enact and discuss their sexual nature, be it straight, homosexual or bisexual, really helps others explore and enrich their sexual lives without hesitation.
Simply put, seeing actual vulnerability and real nudity makes us less afraid to connect with others in a sexual way that’s both healthy and mature. What better way to connect humans than with the one experience to which everyone can relate: the orgasm? It’s only natural after all, just like breathing and eating are natural, and the ideal reinforced by Beautiful Agony is that sharing your most personal identity, whether sexually in bed or socially in conversation, can one day become natural, too.
O-faces can be intense, o-faces can be comical, o-faces can even scare us, but in a world populated with people who rely so heavily on the veneer of things, Beautiful Agony uproots the whole concept of sexual connection. It goes deeper than clothes, deeper still than physique. No longer is the orgasm a simple involuntary hiccup or sneeze, but rather a conscious decision to share a piece of ourselves with others.
Beautiful Agony shows the depth and resilience of our generation. While previous thinkers and conservatives have sought to logically reduce sexual expression and the orgasm to its baser elements, we seek to learn from the different sexualities and, in doing so, deepen our respect for one another. Without a doubt, the walls around sexual freedom are crashing, the blockade encircling our distinctive fetishes are collapsing, in no small part due to Beautiful Agony and its principles of individuality.
Twenty years from now, who knows how the collective attitude toward sex will change? Unfortunately, there’s no crystal ball to gauge any websites influence. But really, there’s only one thing you need to consider to glimpse the impact of Beautiful Agony humanity. Simply image a camera filming your most private moments, maybe masturbating with the thought of a previous lover, maybe wrapping a gift all alone, maybe even trembling with nervous energy as you dial the phone number of that certain someone for the first time, whatever the case, your video will capture your vulnerability, your nudity, the real you. Ask yourself, do you know that person? Are you in touch with that individual’s desires and emotions? And can you share that person’s hopes and dreams and sexuality with the rest of us without flinching?
My Confession: What I’ve Learned from Beautiful Agony
That there is a face value to people. That the face can be just as sexual as a naked body, perhaps even more so, because the face is a mystery to everyone. It’s the first thing we see, the first thing we recognize, it’s casually plastered all over Facebook and MySpace after all, and yet the face holds the potential to expression our deepest personal feelings, be them sadness, happiness, shame, pride, excitement, anxiety, or even curiosity. What a wonder?
Before my subscription to Beautiful Agony, I might have been guilty of approaching a woman based solely on her physique. Of course there’s nothing particularly wrong with that raw chemical attraction, the urge to touch, sweat, bite, and climax with someone who boils your blood. But then I started to wonder: what if you can connect with someone physically and emotionally, what then? How powerful can an orgasm become when completely linked to another individual, mind and body? Just the thought weakens my knees and fills my stomach with long forgotten butterflies.
Post-Beautiful Agony, and I can feel the changes inside me. Nowadays, almost instinctively, instead of checking out someone’s ass as they walk toward the doorway or trying to flirt by caressing a shoulder, I’m hypnotized by eyes, I’m seduced by the fantasy of a deep conversation about music and sex coming from soft, luscious lips. Of course I knew that all along, and of course those playful shoulder caresses continue even today, but Beautiful Agony reminded me that a unique person inhabits the body of my desire, their face being a reflection of their individuality. Intelligence or creativity can be hot, just as lips or breasts can be hot. Why separate these attributes instead of embracing them all? Why not shed all your inhibitions as well as your clothing the next time you’re headed to the bedroom? Filmed or not, you can appreciated a whole person sexually, just as others can value you, out there, uncensored, risking emotional pain and bad sex, totally naked.