I like to be watched. There is something intoxicating about the idea of someone bearing witness to the primal, uncensored act of sex . I was in India traveling with an on-again off-again partner when I first realized just how serious my exhibitionist tendencies are.
Attached to our Goa hotel room was a balcony that looked out over a quiet, rarely traveled road. After our first round of sex indoors, I tried to entice her out onto the balcony for round two. I wanted to feel the hyperawareness of fucking in public, especially in an unfamiliar place.
Will they see us? Will they see how much pleasure I give her?
The consequences of being spotted having queer sex in India could have been severe, and part of me did want the adrenaline rush of that kind of confrontation.
Alas, my partner was more cautious than I and could not be convinced.
We settled for staying in bed but left the balcony door open, allowing the cool night breeze to drift in and our guttural noises to drift out to whomever might have been listening.
My current partner and I have only been together for three months. Because we’re not quite ready to invite someone else into the bedroom with us, we have been experimenting with imagining exhibitionist scenarios.
Just imagining being watched manages to elevate my pleasure without requiring the actual presence or participation of anyone else besides my partner and myself. I am not in danger. I am not obliged to act a certain way. I am the primary actor in my own fantasy, both foreplay and climax. To me, voyeurism is an act of personal and political validation: I’m queer, and I am in a committed relationship with another woman. Since my pre-sexual years I have known that watching two women together is a major fantasy for scads of straight men and as a young woman who was attracted to other women, this knowledge affected my ability to claim queerness for myself, both as a queer identity and in the performance of queer sex.
In discussing the actual practice of voyeurism, two parties are required – the exhibitionist and the voyeur.
Scenario One: The people having sex know they are being observed, and the voyeurism is consenting and mutual for both parties.
Scenario Two: The observers watch people unaware, and the voyeurism is non-consenting and delivers pleasure only to the watchers.
Pornography is the murky middle ground, where the same act can be replayed over and over again and the performers never know who will be watching them or when.
Let’s back up and get candid about something — race and the expression of sexual identity matter. While the result may be the same (orgasm, love), a straight, white couple’s desire to be watched while having sex has an inherently different meaning than my desire to be watched, or an interracial couple, or any other visibly “alternative” couple.
There are places where making out with my partner in an alley could get me killed by a bored cop or angry bigot, whereas a straight couple kissing might simply be laughed off or yelled at. As a queer person having queer sex, my desire to be seen is dangerous. It’s revolutionary.
When someone watches me, a non-straight person, in the act of having non-straight sex, I am turned on because they are bearing witness to my ‘subversive’ identity.
This is nakedness in its most genuine form.
Not to get all Marvin Gaye on you all, but being watched is a balm for my sexual soul, whose desires have been shut down by mainstream society for most of my life, being. It allows me to say, I am like you. This is allowed.
If I been caught having queer sex in India years ago, part of my satisfaction would have been political; queer people exist, and we will not hide from you. While voyeurism for the watchers is always an act of foreplay, for the informed performers, being watched is part of the primary act.
Let’s talk visibility. Many folks in the queer community have pointed out the pros and cons of gay marriage in that it provides a sort of validation for gay couples: we are like you, and now we can marry like you…and divorce like you. And have all the unhappiness and legal obligations that the patriarchy requires married couples to undergo. Having an orgasm? That’s pretty universal.
But visibly “alternative” couples are not like straight couples in important ways.
We fuck differently. We fall in love differently. We walk through the world differently. We think about showing affection in public differently because we have been told that our desires are abnormal, and because sometimes the mere expression of desire puts us in danger. Voyeurism is an important kink for marginalized communities because it normalizes us as sexual creatures.
I can see you there, rolling your eyes. “So, you’re telling me that if I just watch more lesbian porn, the world will be a better place?” Not quite. Consuming pornography as an act of voyeurism has little to no effect on changing the culture. The observer can pleasure him or herself whilst having total control over the participants on the screen.
Real life voyeurism by visibly “alternative” couples, whether it’s kissing on the street or having sex in the hallway outside your apartment, undermines the patriarchal, heteronormative, ableist assumptions that only penis-in-vagina sex is real. Or that only affection between opposite sex couples is acceptable. Or that only sex between people with average IQs and fully functioning bodies is worth having.
Real life voyeurism challenges notions of who is allowed to be seen, and it forces narrow-minded observers to confront the teensy tiny amount of control they actually have over everyone else.
Regular sexual content has become the new norm in film and television, although it’s mostly attractive white people having the sex. Pop culture also fundamentally impacts our standards for who is allowed to be seen.
Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2013 in spite of some critics who decried its graphic 10-minute lesbian sex scene as “soft porn” and not art house drama. Popular HBO show True Blood regularly serves up “strong sexual content,” including a scene where two vampire “siblings” have sex while someone waits outside for them to finish.
The privilege of seeing oneself represented in mainstream media doesn’t just apply to sex. Why did a 30 second commercial of an interracial family eating Cheerios result in such incredible anger? Because it had never been seen in mainstream media before, and therefore had never been normalized as socially acceptable.
But back to sex, open-minded voyeurs and exhibitionists can work together to revolutionize societal standards of who is allowed to be seen having sex. There are still plenty of politicians, producers and priests who think they can vote on whether or not I am allowed to be affectionate with my partner in public.
This needs to change.
My body is not up for discussion, and neither are the bodies of queer (or straight!), black (or white!), and disabled (or able-bodied!) people.
So dear queer couples, interracial couples, trans couples, triads, and everyone else who doesn’t look like an Eddie Bauer ad: Let’s change the culture by loving each other more. In public. In short: PLEASE FUCK MORE, AND PLEASE DO IT WHERE PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU.
We need you.