by William Dean
I have to tell you a secret. At first, I wanted to call this The Agony and the Ecstasy, but then I remembered that a lot of people have probably never heard of nor read the great novel of that title about Michelangelo, by Irving Stone. Even the film version isn't talked about much anymore. But it sure seemed a natural, because this is all about Beautiful Agony. Never heard of it? The orgasm is known by numerous terms, ranging from the eloquent French "Le Petite Mort" to the simplistic "Getting Off." To a growing number of Web watchers, it's becoming known as Beautiful Agony.
Beautiful Agony is a Web site dedicated to video presentations of people having orgasms; in good lighting, with all the sounds and facial expressions. No, this isn't faked-up porn moneyshots or over-the-top emoting actors groaning and shrieking. This is the real deal. But only from the neck up.
Richard Lawrence and Lauren Olney co-founded beautifulagony.com as a kind of experiment and it was...Oh, I'll just let Richard tell you:
Richard: At first the whole thing was a bit of an experiment, and we didn't put any money or much time into making it work. We just got a friend to make a logo and we put up half a dozen videos from our friends. Then we e-mailed a few erotic-related news sites and told them about it, and a couple picked up on it and sent us some traffic. From there it grew quite quickly, so we added some more text to the site to sort of make it stand on its own. The first anonymous submissions took quite a while, a couple of months, I guess, though we had plenty of inquiries which never followed through. One of the problems is equipment. Most people seem to think Web cams will do the job but they just don't.
Clean Sheets: What is it, do you think, that makes up the elements for a truly classic "Beautiful Agony" video?
Richard: I think the reality is in the details. A face going through the sequence of build-up, climax, plateau, and relief is not particularly interesting in itself, but when it's embellished with all the secret little idiosyncrasies which make it personal, it becomes truly special and unique. And if you look at "orgasms" in porn, you won't see any of that kind of stuff. It's all sterilized and depersonalized. I can understand why a porn actor might not want to share their real orgasm with the camera, but they could at least do their job and research the part.
The involuntary movements, the flush of the face, the sounds coming from places we can't see -- and little rituals like licking of fingers -- are all signs of a painfully real Agony experience.
Clean Sheets: Do you think people might fake it at all on their video?
Richard: We've received over 400 tapes since we began, and we'd be naive to think nobody has faked it. They may have reasons for wanting to do so, but I think we've filtered out the vast majority. If there's any doubt in our minds, we won't put it up. Some are more subtle than others, and the fakers are usually the loudest. We have a couple of dozen tapes we'll never show, unless maybe we add a "judge for yourself" segment later.
Clean Sheets: What do you think are the reasons behind people wanting to watch just the faces of other people having an orgasm?
Richard: Well, voyeurism is probably the obvious one which comes to mind, and you have to remember that most of the people in these videos are doing something intensely private, which usually, nobody shares. But also there's an innocent vicarious pleasure to be derived from watching somebody else have such an intense experience. Like watching kids unwrap presents at Christmas.
Clean Sheets: Would you classify most or all of the video submitters as exhibitionists, or are they just regular people sharing their orgasm faces, and possibly pushing back the barriers for sexual freedom of expression?
Richard: I can't really answer that. We don't get to meet a lot of the people, or if we do, it's not a question we ask. But in our "confessions" section, which will be added soon, quite a few talk about their motivation. I don't think exhibitionism is the theme, usually. Often they talk about a thrill, and I think it's a sort of a dare to themselves to be outrageous and yet not really risk anything in the process. Like getting a tattoo without leaving any scars.
Clean Sheets: Aesthetics aside, (it is an artistic site), do you think subscribers might be using the videos to enhance their own sex lives?
Richard: Sure, read the forums where people talk openly about masturbating while they watch the videos. Males and females. I don't see why art -- or something presented in an artistic context -- can't be very sexy too.
Clean Sheets: Generally speaking, are people more attractive or beautiful when they're having an orgasm? Would it be going too far to say, this is their "truest" face?
Richard: I think they're beautiful because there's an uncontrolled honesty in their Agony face, but to others it might be ugly. It's definitely a case of the eye of the beholder.
Clean Sheets: What has running, managing, and developing the Beautiful Agony site taught you about the power of sexuality in general or specifically?
Richard: We had doubts initially that we'd find an audience other than a few curious passers-by, but what we receive in emails and the posts on the Agony Forum shows us that the Internet audience is a lot more sophisticated than you might imagine. There are a lot of people out there who are starved for good erotica. I'm not sure if that was the intention of your question, but I can't comment on what effect the clips have on the audience, other than to confirm that enough are inspired to pay money to see them, to keep the project running.
Clean Sheets: It seems most of the video submitters are women. Do you think women respond more positively to the concept of Beautiful Agony, or is it also a market-side thing, that more people want to see women orgasm than men?
Richard: Women definitely find Agony more arousing than they do contemporary porn, and we know that by how many memberships we receive from women. But they're interested in watching other women too, whereas, according to the feedback we get, few men watch other men's Agony. If they do, it's out of curiosity rather than eroticism. I think the same is true of porn -- that women in general are aroused by both genders but most straight males are interested only in watching females. We receive more submission enquiries from men, but we prefer to maintain the site ratio of about 3 to 1 in favor of females.
Clean Sheets: Apart from the business-side, what personally do you get out of Beautiful Agony? Is it an expression of your philosophy, for example, or your creative expression?
Richard: It certainly is for the co-founder, Lauren, who's an accomplished artist. She edits most of the clips and immerses herself quite deeply in the detail. It's a matter of pride to her to capture the nuances and evoke the real emotion behind each Agony. For me, it's a case of turning a personal fascination into a career. I'm sometimes distracted by the necessities of keeping the site balanced and looking for ways to make it better, but I'll never tire of watching Agonies. Sometimes I'll sit down and watch a pile of master tapes and watch the epic versions -- some of them really need to be seen in their entirety, which is why we'll be releasing some longform DVDs soon.
Clean Sheets: If someone wanted to submit a video to Beautiful Agony, what tips might you have for them, both technically and aesthetically?
Richard: We have a sheet we send out to inquirers. It basically gives them advice on the best ways to set up the camera so we get the framing we need. We tell them a bit about light. Aesthetically, there's nothing for us to say, because the site is reality-focused, and we want them to capture themselves, naked from the neck up, but on the inside as well.
Clean Sheets: Tell us a little about your accompanying e-zine for the Web site. What kinds of things will people find there?
Richard: "Overkill" is a blog format where we post little curiosities both from within the site and some ephemera we collect from the Web. We started this section because so often we'd receive a tape which didn't necessarily fit the Agony format, but just had to be shown. Often they're "retakes," because many people send us multiple Agonies. Some are interrupted; my favorite is the girl who gets up to answer the phone, chats to her dad for a minute, and settles back down under the camera to continue -- with a cigarette in her hand. We have also interviewed a few, and you can hear them talk about their Agony experience, and there are "dual" Agonies where people get their partner involved, either directly, or to just help with the filming. Some are hilariously funny; others are endearingly cute.
But we're most excited about Confessions, in which some of the Agonees talk about not just the experience of participating in Beautiful Agony, but also share their very personal experiences on all matters related to orgasm. Some of the stories we've been getting are totally toe-curling, and they'll start appearing soon.
Visit Beautiful Agony here -- It's a paysite, but there are some free samples available.