Real people, having real sex… by themselves. On camera. On the Internet. From the neck up. Each video is an intimate portrait of individual orgasm, and it’s the stuff that Beautiful Agony is made of. When it comes to “the money shot,” can reality be more erotically charged than fantasy? According to BA founder Richard Lawrence, yes, it can indeed.
What is the appeal of Beautiful Agony over offerings from more traditional studios?
We get a lot of subscribers who’ve run the whole porn circuit—from softcore to X to hardcore—and wind up at Agony telling us it’s the first time they’ve actually been turned on for years. Most people reach the point where it all gets filed away with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I think empathy is the key. When you watch a porn video you know it’s acted, whereas to be aroused requires that you believe there is some actual sexual and emotional interchange happening.
Obviously the mainstream porn industry is incredibly successful, but that’s largely because they’re selling something that, until streaming video became watchable, had limited supply and almost limitless demand. Consequently the producers didn’t have to try very hard at all, and were able to get rich producing mundane and repetitive content. I can’t think of any other industry in the world that has such low standards, puts almost nothing into R&D, is more regressive, and yet still successful. Of all the people I talk to, nobody likes the sort of porn that fills the shelves of adult shops, but there’s hardly an alternative, and certainly the large producers and distributors are content to just make more of the same.
Let’s talk a little about your business model and content. I’m assuming the overhead is extremely low?
The contributors are all paid, and the site gives the details where you’re invited to submit your own Agony. I don’t know that Agony even makes a profit. It’s hard to say because it’s one of several sites we run commercially and they share overhead, but there are significant expenses and not all that many members compared to what I imagine mainstream sites might have. We have a full-time editor and people doing admin, and we still loan out cameras to local contributors where we can, so there’s probably a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might imagine.
How do you select which videos to post?
[My partner, Lauren] goes through the process of sorting the videos, and some people, despite their best intentions, seem unable or unwilling to let go of the idea that this is documentary rather than performance. So, the choice is subjective to some extent, but if you were to look at the videos at the back of the drawer you’d probably agree that they don’t capture the rapture of the human face in orgasm.
You say that these videos are documentary, rather than performance…
I think one of the biggest problems with the porn industry is that it doesn’t do a good job with its responsibility as a sex educator; which it is, regrettably—and not just for adolescents. Plenty of grownups have more sexual experience, in fact way more, through porn than with partners. As hardcore porn becomes more mainstream, people are developing these ridiculous notions of what women like, or what men like, and what people look like, or what is acceptable sexual behaviour.
I recently met a woman in her late 20s who told me she didn’t like anal sex, but had been doing it for years because she thought it was expected of all women, just as she’d seen in all the porn DVDs. And isn’t it incredible that not all women like to have five guys come in their face at once? In gonzo porn, it’s shown that all sex acts have their price, and so does every woman, as the host picks up a “random girl” from the street and peels off $100 bills in the back of a van. In fact, through running Agony, I have come to despise [traditional] porn rather than just be bored with it; porn could do so much to enhance sexual relationships, yet overwhelmingly, [porn] works against them through the depiction of sexual practices without context or informed consent.
There is a whole other side to Beautiful Agony that many people overlook, the section called “Confessions.” In these interviews or self-filmed revelations, the “Agonees” tell us—usually very frankly—all about their sex lives, and their stories are often remarkable.
One of my favorites is the well-spoken 20-something who decided to try out her new sex toy on the commuter train home, only to find that the lock on the bathroom door didn't quite work, much to the astonishment of an older lady passenger… After listening to a few of those stories you start to take a bit more notice of, well, things.
I’ve noticed in the sequences I’ve watched, that although the people seem very “real,” each video seems to have such a soft, ethereal look to it—a consistent one. Is that your doing?
Not at all. If you go through the process yourself, you’ll find it’s a bit like getting gassed at the dentist: you’re flooded with a sort of warm feeling of liberation. It’s hard to describe. Try it. Then send us your tape!