I like vintage erotica

A reader asks if fantasizing about now-dead people is "creepy." We ask Dan Savage and other experts to weigh in

Topics: Am I Normal?, Sex, Pornography,

Dan Savage says that it’s creepy to fantasize about people who have died. Because it is not possible to ever actually … you know. I may agree with him about the recently deceased, but I like vintage erotica, and sometimes I do fantasize that I’m making love to the women in those naughty French postcards — the lingerie, the beds, the divans, the pillows on the floor … it’s all so soft and warm and pre-Raphaelite. When the Internet happened and all the porn became available, like most lesbians, I didn’t like any of it — until I found the porn of pre-WWI Europe. Finally! I have a genre. What a relief.

I’ve noticed that modern photographs that re-create vintage erotica do nothing for me. Women in the costumes with the period props are just silly. There’s something about knowing that she lived her life long ago and left only these beautiful glimpses of her sexual expression that captures my erotic imagination.

But. She’s dead now. And there’s no possibility of meeting her. But I think Dan is wrong. What do your experts say?

To think that people like you — fetishists of dead people porn — are roaming free among us, my god.

But I kid! Your letter has to be one of the loveliest that I’ve received in my short time writing this column. I adore the specificity and scrupulousness of your pornographic taste. I imagine you inspecting “vintage” erotica for any hints of the modern world — or even anything post-World War I — that, if found, instantly kill the fantasy. That chaise is Art Deco, not Art Nouveau! Attention to detail and authenticity is just not something typically associated with porn-viewing, so I commend you.

More seriously, I took your letter straight to Dan Savage himself, since your concern seems to arise from a column he wrote in 2007 in response to a reader who masturbated to photos of Anna Nicole Smith, who had died weeks before. He said, “masturbating to the dead inspires only feelings of hopelessness and despair” and feels “a little creepy, a little hopeless.” In an email, Savage told me, “I have a pro-realizable-fantasy bias. Perhaps I should’ve used ‘I’ statements in that response: I find it depressing to masturbate about situations, scenarios, or people that aren’t … possible.” That said, he was just “joshing” — and, for the record, he had the flu when he wrote that column. He doesn’t think you’re a freak. “People masturbate for all sorts of different reasons, to meet all sorts of different needs, with all sorts of porn — some of it represents the possible, some the impossible,” he says. “If the porn she likes works for her, it works for me.” Your erotic preference has the official Savage stamp of approval.

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Now, as to how common your interest is. I’ve probably exceeded my reasonable lifetime cap on quoting Ogi Ogas, co-author of “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” which analyzes naughty Web searches the world over — but, eh, screw it. He says men tend to gravitate — so to speak? — toward erotic images that show the female body in “graphic clarity” (which is why contemporary porn so closely resembles a nature documentary on exotic rain forest plants). Women, on the other hand, are generally “more apt to be captivated by the unique, sensuous, and textured details of romantic and exotic locales.” For this reason, “many women are drawn to pin-ups from the 40s and 50s or the colorful, baroque costumes of masquerade balls of the Renaissance,” he says. “Though I’m not specifically familiar with pre-WWI erotica, there’s nothing unusual at all in getting aroused by the sensuous faded photographs of fleshy ladies and dapper gents in the extravagant attire of such an exotic and romantic era.” What I want to know is who isn’t electrified by the debauchery of the Moulin Rouge and the exploits of the infamous Mata Hari.

Besides, who wants cookie-cutter fantasies, anyway? Ian Kerner, a clinical sexologist, tells me, “Fantasies are supposed to be unusual. If they weren’t taboo, or strange, or perplexing, odd and uncanny, well then they wouldn’t be fantasies to begin with. Fantasy frees the brain to explore secret, extraordinary realms without the obligations of everyday life.” It’s inevitable that your erotic imagination will have certain quirks and idiosyncrasies because it’s uniquely yours. Kerner suggests, “Enjoy the content of your fantasies, and don’t worry about the why.” Unless, of course, the “why” fascinates you, in which case he recommends Jack Morin’s “The Erotic Mind,” which may help you better understand your “core erotic themes.”

So, go forth and fantasize about those curvy silhouettes barely hidden behind diaphanous slips — just keep in mind that your pornographic trove will be easily exhausted. Luckily, post-WWI European erotica isn’t too shabby either.

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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