The Accidental Voyeur: That Rubbin’ Tuggin’ Kinda Lovin’

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Most people remember the Johnny Otis song “Willie and the Hand Jive” via the 1974 version by Eric Clapton, but did you know the very title itself elicited controversy for glorifying masturbation? That bit of music trivia crossed my mind when I heard from some readers who had read my last column “Melancholy Baby” (sparked by the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella Memories of My Melancholy Whores), and I noticed how it had apparently struck a raw nerve, even in some otherwise jaded industry colleagues.

Many wanted me to further address that hot button topic, the one we now euphemistically call escorting. “It’s the open secret of our industry, which no one really talks about but we all know it goes on,” said one adult publication editor, who agreed with me that the difference is really just semantic. “What performers do is technically prostitution. They are having sex in exchange for money. The difference is that the person they are having sex with isn’t the one paying them and that they are doing it to entertain others.”

Therein lies the legal difference, since performers are always paid by a third party, usually a production company or a studio head, so no money changes hands unlike between an escort and her client in a hotel room. There is also, to be fair, a sociological difference – unlike the escorting business, the adult film industry provides a safe haven, a protective sanctuary, for young women equipped with the aesthetic and emotional resources necessary for sexual exhibitionism (which escorts often lack and don’t need, since they work in secret sans community). Public awareness has been made possible, nevertheless, thanks in part to the pop culture persona of porn stars like Sasha Grey (photo above), from her mainstream roles in Steven Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience and Season 7 of the HBO series Entourage.

I recently discussed Sasha Grey’s value to the industry with my longtime friend Melissa Monet, to whom I had also confessed something not mentioned in that previous blog — the fact that, while I did experience my first sexual encounter (well, with another person, anyway) in a massage parlor (actually, the back room of a hair salon, however seedy that must sound), I’d always discounted it. In modern parlance, it was a “happy ending” handjob and so I decided it didn’t really count and, accordingly, denied it for many years.

“Of course it counts!” admonished Melissa. “You liked it because your first experience was a happy one, it’s really that simple. We keep looking for some deep meaning but unless you have a sexual hangup about it, it’s healthy and normal. Seriously, what’s wrong with a little rub ’n’ tug? If you would like for me to go through the litany of sexual deviancy to make you feel better, I will.”

She knows whereof she speaks. Now nicely transitioned to a director/writer mode (she now directs for Sweetheart Video) after serving time as a performer, Melissa was previously a Jill-of-all-trades in her native New York, where she had worked as a dominatrix, escort, madam and even sex surrogate, all done and dusted before she moved to Los Angeles and became a full-fledged porn star in 1994 at the relatively unusual age of 30.

So what’s it like being the girl at the massage table, I’d always wondered — does she differentiate between manually pleasuring a guy in her personal as opposed to her professional life?

“On a personal level, I love watching a person cum so it allows me an advantage I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise,“ she replied. “This can be a beautiful and intimate thing to do. It can also be a quick out if you’re just not that into them and you want to ease yourself out of a sexual situation.” And when she was escorting? “With a client, it’s an easy out. Quick, little effort, and no intimacy. You can make someone feel really good without making yourself feel really bad. It’s a good disconnect, and mindless — especially if you have nothing invested in the person.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t take pride in being good at it,” she added. “Girls who do that for a living generally do.” I liked that and told her how it had finally dawned on me that my own experience was my actual first step towards my present outlook on sex work. I have long been lauded for “humanizing” these girls in my writing, but it all began on that massage table so many years ago without my knowing it at the time. It explains why I enjoy seeing performers who can demonstrate their manual dexterity — Jenna Haze comes to mind—and I also confided to Melissa that the cougar who had first administered to my throbbing teenage self wasn’t particularly attractive to me but “she had a very nice personality and nice hands,” which made her crack up.

“In my line of work, you find compliments like that amusing,” she told me. “Most working girls get backhanded compliments so getting something unsolicited and obscure just makes it seem more sincere.” And, speaking of sincerity in that context, a friend in San Francisco wrote that he liked how I had drawn a parallel to my own writing career with that of the young Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who once lived in a whorehouse and was paid in kind by the girls after he ghostwrote their letters home. “Not a bad place to work for in-kind benefits,” he remarked. ”I doubt that In-N-Out Burger could measure up so I’ll be sure to suggest to my son that he put in an application at the local rub ’n’ tug when he comes of working age.”

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Drew McKenzie was previously the "Cinema Blue" columnist for Penthouse Variations and also wrote for AVN Online, Fox (from Montcalm Publishing, New York) and Guld Rapport (from Stockholm, Sweden). He is also the author of seven books -- three on porn stars, all done under his real name.