Coming on Camera: Beautiful Agony's Orgasmic Porn By Rula Al-Nasrawi
That project is Beautiful Agony—also called “Facettes de La Petite Mort.” It’s an Australia-based erotic website that posts daily videos of people masturbating until they orgasm. The twist is that the videos are only filmed from the shoulders up, so all you see is a succession of O-faces. The videos are basically webcam versions of Andy Warhol’s experimental “Blow Job” short film. Anyone from a DDD-cup porn star to your 95-year-old granddad can submit a video of themselves getting their rocks off. The videos range from one-man shows to group circle jerks, but you never see what’s going on down below. The name “Beautiful Agony” speaks to the almost painful tension you feel right before you come, followed by a zen-like state. The beauty lies in watching people of all walks of life momentarily lose control in the best way.
Founded by Richard Lawrence and Lauren Olney in 2004, Beautiful Agony hasn’t changed a lot since its inception. The site still has an old Windows 90-something look to it. The only difference between now and its debut is the long list of monthly subscriptions Lawrence and Olney have collected over the years. Pay $15 and you have access to hundreds of videos of people finishing themselves off, and confessing their innermost sexual secrets, for a month. Pay $100 and you’ve got access for the entire year.
Lawrence told me over Skype that the site was essentially born out of the duo’s frustration with mainstream porn.
“If we were to sort of parallel the porn industry with the car industry and imagine what a car looked like if it had the same values and the same sort of commitment to excellence that porn has, I think that you’d be looking at a piece of junk that costs $3 million that would run out of petrol after three miles.”
So Lawrence and Olney took matters into their own hands.
“We said, ‘Why don’t we try this and see what happens?’” Lawrence said. “I think we were a little too embarrassed to film our own [videos] and show each other, so instead we just lent a video camera around to some friends of ours that we knew were open-minded.”
Along with erotic projects like Hysterical Literature (photographer Clayton Cubitt's video series of women reading literature at a desk, while being pleasured underneath the table) and MakeLoveNotPorn.TV (a site where regular people submit their own sex videos for online rental), Beautiful Agony is pioneering a shift in the porn industry away from the male gaze.
“[Beautiful Agony] is something that fits right in with what has been kind of evolving over the last 10 years with the feminist porn movement internationally,” said Mireille Miller-Young, a professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara. “It’s implicit critique is that the graphic display of pornography doesn’t necessarily equal pleasure for the viewer or the performer, and that you could possibly have something that’s less graphic or a more confined view."