The Deen Crush and Kink Obfuscation

Graphic sexual content ahoy.  If you're not cool with that, read no further!
In my early 20s I watched porn. As a young adult I was still testing boundaries and learning how the world worked.  As weird as it sounds, porn had value.  I learned that the human body is a funny thing. Budgets are so much smaller for porn, and it's shot much more quickly, and as a result the "flaws" on a body are all present and accounted for.  Even the "perfect" porn bodies had zits and marks and wrinkles and blemishes.  Porn was the most honest expression of the human body in media.  And it was funny, at least to me.  I'd watch it with friends or lovers, making a Mystery Science Theater out of it, deducting points for bad form or lube wastage. I even wrote a paper for a Women's Studies class about how Pornogothic was a better and less offensive movie than John Carpenter's Vampires.  But I never watched it alone, and it never turned me on. Until this year; until James Deen.

I've always enjoyed written smut, but the visuals never did anything for me.  I accepted this, because porn is not marketed to women.  Erotica is, but I don't really go in for soft-focus and love-in-a-field.   Then, this year, a friend told me about James Deen. "He's amazing," she said. "He really likes to make women come."  That sounded a bit soft-focus to me, so I sort of brushed it off.  Then I saw him in a video suggested to me by another friend, and I suddenly Got It.  She didn't mean he was "making love," she meant he was really, really good at his job.  I've seen him make a professional porn star (I'm assuming she has a level of detachment that can enable her to perform as directed) lose herself in the act so completely, she screamed "I love you!"  He laughed, and It. Was. Gorgeous. 

Months later, I read the Good article "What Women Want: Porn and the Frontier of Female Sexuality." It focuses on Deen, and his seemingly incongruous teenaged female fan-base.

Deen is not supposed to be the star of his scenes—his sex partners are. But on Tumblr, a network of teenage bloggers*has emerged to turn the focus on him. The young women trade Deen videos, post candid photographs, and pluck out all the minute details that turn them on: the way he looks at a woman, touches her, stares into her eyes, whispers in her ear. “There was just something about the way he moved,” Emily says of her first exposure to Deen. He seemed to be “speaking to the girl, but not with his mouth, with his hand over the girl’s throat, and with his eyes.”
Deen’s young fans gush over the sight of him thrusting into a woman while holding her hand. They sigh over a private photo of a clothed Deen commuting by plane. They create animated GIFs of Deen’s greatest moves so they can watch him execute them again and again and again without rewinding. They pepper their Deen fantasies with Harry Potter jokes and circulate them to other girls. Several propose marriage.
Via 100 Interviews
Cue the moral panic: teenage girls are not supposed to be sexual, they're not supposed to enter the clubhouse where the boys are.  ABC's Nightline did a feature on Deen, with all the hand-wringing expected when young women decide they're into sex.  But, as usual, the people who are most concerned are the ones who aren't hearing anything the young women are saying.  When interviewed, the young women report that they like how "normal" Deen is, how his scenes border on romantic. Tumblr swoons when he kisses a girl.  All the innocence that the Concerned Adults are worried about stays firmly in place, even after viewing all that porn.  Make no mistake, there are a lot of naked-bit .gifs, but they're often accompanied by expressions of longing for the person, not the act, and when he does something that makes the girls uncomfortable they're vocal about it.  One wrote that the money shot, the one thing you can count on in porn, isn't something she'd want to do in real life.  Given how internet savvy most young people are, it's likely they'd have found an interview which he says he respects his partners' limits.  "[For example] there’s no reason to choke somebody if they don’t like getting choked," he says. "Then you’re basically being an asshole." Much is made about Deen's boy-next-door looks, but he's not superstar handsome. The important part is that he's a part of a sexual context for teenaged girls in a way that the Biebers of the world aren't. The Deen Crush validates their human nature, that being a teenager is a hormone filled hornball experience, while letting them squee about those big blue eyes.  Sex, as it turns out, doesn't ruin a damn thing.**

I'm as obsessed as the teens, for ostensibly different reasons.  The connection is that as women we can't stop watching because it's all hard to believe. Something for us? Really!? It wasn't meant that way, it wasn't pitched that way, it's not even produced that way, but that's how it ended up. I think it speaks to an idea that men and women are not very different after all. It turns out that women also like to watch.  However, unlike how porn is traditionally experienced by men, the women who are into James Deen are talking — a lot. There's ownership of interest. It's not shameful and private, it's shared and memed.

My introduction to Deen was through an S&M scene, and it's the only context I've seen him in.  So while the teenagers are watching the vanilla stuff, there's a whole other side that is almost never acknowledged in the media.  Maybe they're afraid the teenaged girls will find the kink? (Though as above, the girls who aren't into it feel they have enough agency to say so.)  The Nightline video — which you should only watch if you want to kill your ladyboner, and fast — pulls clips mostly from  TV show parody porn, probably because they want you to think the porn industry is targeting children by making cartoon spoofs.  (Who knows, but Deen in yellow paint as a porn-Moe Syzlak is not hot.) The first mention I've seen of his work in S&M was in the New York Observer's piece "The Boyfriend Experience."
“I’ve been into rough sex pretty much my whole sexual life and so I’m not, like, bad at it,” Mr. Deen told me by phone last month, on his 26th birthday. “I don’t know how to say it without being a hideous prick, but I’m pretty good at having rough sex. It got to the point where a lot of girls who aren’t into that type of sex were afraid to work with me because they thought I was going to slap them in the face or something.  But I only do that if the girl is into it."
"James Deen is gonna get me kicked out of feminism."

According to the Observer, one third of his output (hurr hurr) is in the realm of kink.  But unless you're watching it, you probably wouldn't know it exists. (I've watched it. A++.  Would porn again.)  Maybe it should be that way; kink is only kink because it's not so common.  But why the erasure?  Especially in the age of this awful Fifty Shades of Grey thing.  Is S&M only okay if it's in print? If it's so badly written as to be completely implausible and thus, safe?  I've read part of Fifty Shades, and as my friends know, I spent a good deal of time rolling my eyes and yelling "That's not a thing!"  Anastasia Steele is a reluctant virgin, which is probably an oft used porn setup in itself.  Christian Grey is into bondage because he's got a very damaged psyche.  From what I can figure, Fifty Shades of Grey is getting a cultural pass because their foray into BDSM is a phase, and what they really want is to hold hands and make love in a field or something.  (And we're back to the teenaged girls.) It's a new cultural conception, this the boy-next-door porn-star, and the world isn't quite ready for him to be into suspension,spreader bars, and fisting.  What's amazing is that we have this boy at all.  Small victories.

*They might be teenagers, but that link is absolutely NSFW.  
** Through all this, I totally acknowledge that there are teenaged girls who aren't into that at all. How could I not?  

Further reading:
 James Deen: The Tom Cruise [whaaaa? Brits are weird] of Porn 
Porn That Women Like: Why Does It Make Men So Uncomfortable?  


Emily Louise Church said...

I completely 100% agree with you. I'm 23 and one of my girlfriends told me I should watch a James Deen movie, safe to say, I'm hooked. Your blog really summed up how I feel about James Deen and the media attention he's attracted as of late. The ABC Nightline segment was the most one-sided piece of bullshit "journalism" I have ever seen. Young boys have been watching porn since it was invented, is it really so disgusting and vile to have young girls watching it too?

Thanks for this post! It's so refreshing to know that I'm not alone in my Deen crush :)

Panic said...

Hi Emily,
Thanks for commenting, I'm glad you liked it. I've been thinking about this whole phenomenon for a while. It's a really interesting moment for young women I think. There's some level of empowerment here that's surprising, and really great. :)