Tristan is traveling this week; in place of her regular column we offer one of her "greatest hits" of 2004.
In the world of porn mags, men have tons of titles to choose from, and nearly every fetish or desire is represented, from Barely Legal to Juggs. Straight women are left with very few choices. They can paw through gay porn, where, sure, the guys are hot, but the fact that they aren't interested in chicks leaves that same unrequited taste in your mouth as watching the entire first season of Will & Grace on DVD.
When it comes to penis pinups made just for women, there has been only one game in town: Playgirl. The trouble with Playgirl has always been its approach. The name says it all: It's a near exact replica of a mainstream men's adult magazinesame tired poses, "picturesque" settings, and extremely styled and airbrushed modelswith naked guys simply substituted for the ladies. The majority of the men are the one-dimensional equivalent of Chippendales strippers (is that redundant?): shiny, dated, and too groomed for their own good. Playgirl doesn't challenge the genre itself, only replicates it, thus missing the opportunity to explore the idea that women look at, appreciate, and use porn in very different ways than men. It seems completely out of touch with an entire segment of the new generation of women who are young, smart, urban, and frisky.
There hasn't been an alternative smut rag for straight women that isn't either pansexual (and thus must share space with everyone else's desires) or pseudo-highbrow erotica (translation: artsy photos and too much poetry) or both. Now that Pfizer has announced the end of its research on the use of Viagra to treat female sexual dysfunction, based on "inconclusive results," two enterprising New York girls have created something to get women's motors running. Sweet Action is DIY gonzo porn at its best: bold, quirky, rough and ready. I met the twosome behind this mouthful of a mag, 32-year-old jewelry designer Robin Adams and 29-year-old stylist Micole Taggart, at a recording studio for Susie Bright's Internet radio show on audible.com. I had just finished being interviewed, and they were on their way in. "We publish a porn magazine for straight girls!" they announced excitedly, and handed me a copy. As I thumbed through it on the subway home to Brooklyn, I got excited to see the brainchild of this chick pornographer duo: something fresh, unique, and full of cock.
Sweet Action is like a combination of Nerve without the literary and artistic ambitions, Libido magazine sans attitude, and Bust's little sister who ditched knitting for nooky. Its zany, zine-y ways (behold dark photos, typos, and interviews with obscure band members!) make it coolly retro, as does the fact that it's actually in print rather than a collection of downloadable JPEGs and text (there is a website, sweetactionmag.com, but you've got to get a bound copy for the good stuff). But that's where the old-school flavor ends. It's way ahead of the curve in the ways it presents its object of affection: guys. The male models (all friends of Adams and Taggart) look like they just got off the L train from the chic Williamsburg ghetto. They're grungy, gangly, and goateed. Forget about shaved chests and man bushes; you'll be lucky if these guys shave their scruffy faces. None has been to the gym lately, and the only six-pack they've got is the Brooklyn Lager in the fridge. But their eyes are deep and dreamy, and they're the kind of guys who look like they are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
The way suicidegirls.com tapped into the retro/punk/goth aesthetic to create its version of alterna-porn, Sweet Action embraces messy, artistic guys who have no metrosexual tendencies whatsoever and the girls who dig them. And the girls (photographers, writers, artists) clearly feel comfortable objectifying their models but retain a sense of "Oh my God! He got naked for us!" giddiness. In an interview with salon.com, Micole said, "We respect the guys that we're lusting after." That kind of wet-panties-plus-warm-heart reverence actually comes across in the pictures and the words: These women embrace a combination of lust and respect for their subjects that's missing in the magazines by and for their male counterparts.
And then there are the dicks. Lots and lots of dicks. The women of Sweet Action are unabashedly cock crazy, and I don't know that I have ever seen such complete focus on, fascination with, and pure fandom for the male member in a print mag put out by ladies. The last page features a series of disembodied boners (so not feminist!) that is worth the cover price alone. Captioned with cutesy nicknames like "The Nibbler" and "Dreamer," this penile gallery challenges the notion that women don't respond to visual porn without context, story line, and fully fleshed-out characters. These particular characters are fleshed-out, all right, into hard-ons worthy of any gay personal ads. (Perhaps the one thing Sweet Action has in common with Playgirl is that it will also develop a gay following, although these fag fans will be less Chelsea beefcake boy, more John Cameron Mitchell.) I recently read about a new limited-edition photography book that "explores the diversity of shape and size of the penis," called Erection, and thought, Why cough up 40 bucks when you can get the goods in Sweet Action for eight?
The I-read-it-for-the-articles editorial content's not so bad either, with a spoof of the requisite readers' fantasies page called Confessions that includes a Polaroid-taking session gone awry and a romantic fable written by one of the anti-hunks. The how-to pieces, as anti-Cosmo as they come, are the standouts. There's "A First-Timer's Guide on How to Eat Out Your Man's Ass" that's more necessary and inspirational than anything in a mainstream women's magazine. Kendra Gaeta's girl-in-the-field piece on rediscovering the lost art of the hand job is one of the boldest, funniest things I've read in a long timeshe works the tools of three guys as she pumps them for technique advice, and it's all accompanied by pictures. Think of this new publication as required reading for queer heterosexuals, gender studies majors, and vibrator-toting women and their bend-over boyfriends. Hopefully, we may even get to see some people fucking on the pages soon. Sweet Action's virgin issue has what all good first dates do: the promise of more to come.
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