When you look at facials in that light, it almost makes you feel sorry for the poor guys …
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"Facials are degrading — and that's why they're so hot."
But while I have massive respect for Dan Savage and probably even have a small but well-designed shrine to him in my room, degradation is only a small part of the fascinating story of facials and I don't think they can be defined by that one word.
You see, facials are much, much more than a way to dominate or humiliate a sex partner. If you look closer, you'll find they're also a dude's way of silently screaming "PLEASE LOVE ME!", a milky, tepid plea for acceptance in a world where the male sexuality is both feared and reviled.
To understand this, it's important to take a look at the history of the facial to see why it's become such a ubiquitous move in adult movies and beyond.
In the 1980s during the AIDS crisis, there was a growing concern about safe sex. "Cum on me, not in me" was a popular sex educator slogan, and people began experimenting with places to ejaculate outside of the realm of our body's many holes.
In porn at the time however, coming on a woman's stomach usually meant that the camera couldn't let the audience see the actress' expression; that good old money shot that let viewers know she enjoyed it (whether or not that was the case). But, as porn directors discovered, if the male actor came on her face, the viewer could then see two very important things at once. The first: evidence of male pleasure (you see the semen, you know he had fun), and the second: that a woman's reaction to his pleasure mattered.
In a landscape marred by AIDS and the rising rates of other STIs — many which could be spread through semen — facials felt relatively "safe." But more importantly, they also offered compelling visual evidence that a woman wasn't threatened by a man's sperm-y discharge. In that way, facials evolved to be more about women's acceptance of men's bodies than about the degradation of an entire gender.
Taking that theory a step further, Megan Andelloux (founder and director of Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health) suggested that rather than seeing the facial as rooted in the impulse to denigrate, it might be better interpreted as longing for approval.
After all, faces are where emotions are read. Even if someone is acting, you can tell if they're bored, mad, happy, sad, blissful, turned on, in pain or having the time of their lives just through facial micro-expressions that convey someone's mood. To ejaculate on a face is to know exactly where you stand with the person you're coming on. You can literally see how they're taking the pinnacle of your climax.
For the most part, men just want to know they did a good job. They want validation, approval and evidence of their own sexuality.
They just want to be accepted and loved.
Andelloux pointed out to Jezebel that "In her experience, many women (often with good reason) have a difficult time believing that degradation isn't at the root of straight men's fascination with facials," but … if you're a woman and you're with a good man you can trust, you should try.
Of course, not every one sees it that way.
Anti-pornography activists like Gail Dines and Robert Jensen have both cited the growing popularity of the "facial" as proof of the misogyny of mainstream pornography, and even famously sex-positive journalists like Clarisse Thorn and our nation's sex overlord Dan Savage have used the word "degrading" to describe them.
There are holes in the degradation argument, though.
As sex educator and former adult film reviewer Charlie Glickman pointed out to Jezebel, "Most straight porn features women happily accepting facials than reacting with disgust and evident humiliation. That acceptance may be feigned, but it suggests that the primary turn-on about facials for men isn't the desire to degrade women." He also made the great argument that facials are also so common in gay male pornography where gender politics are entirely different, which disproves the theory that spewing in someone's mug is legitimate misogyny.
Personally, I don't think you could ever even dream of generalizing what facials mean. I think it's the individual context of the facial determines whether or not it's liberating or degrading. Because at the end of the day, all that matter is who's giving and getting them.
Of course there are people out there who will try to weaponize the humble facial and turn it into an act of non-consensual humiliation and that sucks. Fuck those people.
There are also people who are extremely aroused by consensual degradation. Good on you, guys.
There are also people who don't consider facials degrading at all and just really enjoy the silky-smooth anti-aging properties of semen on their crow's feet.
There's just no consensus. I do, however, like to think about facials as a male cry for acceptance. Does that mean I'm just going to close my eyes and open my mouth every time my boyfriend tells me he fucked up at work or had a bad day? I mean, if I'm in the mood.
I think the much bigger problem here is not "whether" it's degrading or a cry for love, but how to not get semen in your eyes. Someone riddle me that.
Photo cred: Good WP