When I created this image, I didn’t realize just how sexual the photo was until it was brought to my attention by a female professor. She dissected the photo and quickly shot me a troubled look, which made me think: had I unknowingly crossed a line with this photo? As a gay man, I often don’t think about the over-sexualization of women in my work. I always make sure that the model feels comfortable, but I very rarely think about the implications of the sexual images I have grown accustom to creating. Sex is a big part of gay culture, and the idea of exposing the sexuality of women through nightlife, photography, and verbal and physical communication is something that the majority of gay men don’t think twice about. This brings us to the question: can sex be simple? For lots of gay men, myself included, the answer is yes, sex can be very simple. Whether you’re scrolling through Grindr or cruising in Hell’s Kitchen, sex can be as simple as breathing. Furthermore, with the widespread introduction of HIV-preventative drugs, the hookup tendency of the gay scene seems to be getting stronger every day. Because casual sex plays such a significant role in gay culture, have I not fully realized the implications of my sexual photography? Am I alone in this category, or are there thousands of gay artists out there who also create overly-sexual work without realizing it?
Although sex can be simple, we all know it isn’t. Because sex is such a loaded three-letter word, it’s no wonder that we don’t know how to handle art that explores the concept of sex. When you put women and sex in the same sentence, you open up another can of worms entirely. The flipside of this whole argument lies in the way we like to view women. Our society has been putting women into boxes for centuries and now that we are starting to realize that women can and should have a sexual side, we don’t know which box to put them into. As a result, when we look at a photo that explores a woman’s sexual side, are we simply uncomfortable? Do we assume that she was treated poorly and taken advantage of? Is it wrong to look at women in an objectifying way, or are we exposing the counterargument that some women thoroughly enjoy being viewed as sexual objects? To further explore these ideas, I sat down with model, Megan Thelen, to get her take on all of this. (see interview)
Did my rendition of 1990’s club kid drinking culture cross a line, or did I complete a homework assignment and unknowingly start a conversation all at the same time? Simply put: I wonder if I’m overthinking it, or if I’m just thinking about it clearly now.