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Dec 112013
 

Porn for blind people. Does it exist?

With the rich variety of erotic materials available to everyone who wants to access them (and knows where to find them), is specially-developed content necessary?

Erotic material comes in a variety of formats–film, audio, and written word to name a few–and is marketed in myriad ways. I suppose then that it’s no surprise to find erotic material marketed as being “for the blind,” though it’s a bit of a misnomer as plenty of people with visual impairments do consume and appreciate some visual materials.

What I have seen of “porn for the blind” has shown me that visual forms of erotic material do not translate well. In other words, it makes much more sense to focus on the development of written and oral erotic content if one wants to make sure that blind people have access than to try to make visual material accessible.

What I’ve seen of these attempts has either resulted in a substandard product or in a product that is interesting, but not overly erotic.

Perhaps the most well-publicized “porn for the blind” is the book of tactile erotic pictures, Tactile Mind.

I got to see this book a couple of years ago, when I visited Come As You Are in toronto. This book of photographs turned into tactile graphics, complete with Braille descriptions, got a fair bit of news coverage when it first came out. Unsurprisingly, the appelation “porn for the blind” came from this media coverage.

I confess when I first learned of this book I was dubious. I have been blind since early childhood, and have never gotten much more from raised drawings than a sense of shape and placement. Raised graphics were what I used to learn about Venn diagrams and geometric shapes, not about sexuality. No, we didn’t have raised anatomy charts in sex ed class though we probably should have—particularly if they had been rendered with the attention to detail found in this book.

These were by far the most detailed raised images I’ve ever seen.

I was also suspicious of the porn label. Pornafter all, is meant to arouse the senses. I had my doubts that raised images could have the same erotic impact as pictures do on many people who can see them. Turning two-dimensional images, with shape, line, angle, colour, lighting, et cetera, into raised line drawings means losing most of those characteristics, the colour, shading, et cetera, that make the picture more than just a picture in the first place.

I doubted these tactile pictures would have any erotic impact at all.

Since I had unexpected access to the book at Come As You are, though, and time to peruse it, I was able to take a good look. It is, incidentally, a really freeing experience to be able to sit in a store’s reading corner and read a book. That’s not an experience I get very often at all.

I scrutinized this one from cover to cover.

Tactile Mind is a spiral bound book of 17 tactile images with Braille descriptions of each one. Also included is a print copy of each image. Artist Lisa Murphy selected seventeen of her photographs—one of which is a self-portrait–and reproduced them in raised form.

The most important difference between the way a blind person processes an image and the way a sighted person processes is the amount of information that can be taken in at one time. I can only touch one part at a time—two if I use both hands. The amount of detail in these photos made creating a mental picture really difficult. My fingers flitted back and forth between the description and the image, trying to make sense of each individual part, trying to understand what I was feeling.

Did I find these images erotic? Some of them. The simpler the photograph, the more I could appreciate the spare symmetry of lines and curves, or the grace or erotic potential in body position. The masks and props are part of an artistic world I cannot share in; when translated into tactile form, they detract from the picture rather than enhancing it.

Though the photos were taken specifically for this book, they were not appropriate photos for this project. Murphy’s desires, to make her models feel comfortable with being photographed nude by decking them out in silly costumes, and creating a book of tactile pictures that can be appreciated by blind people, don’t match. The more detail put into a tactile drawing, the less most people reading that drawing with their fingers are going to get from it.

Having said that, the level of tactile detail in these images is impressive. Textural differences bring more life to images, though not necessarily more eroticism. Beards and pubic hair were textured much as hair would be. Some skin was smooth while other pictures showed the dimples of cellulite.

Overall, though, with a few exceptions, these images were interesting to me, not erotic.
For me, any eroticism in this book came from the suggestion rendered by reading descriptions. There was just so much going on in the images, that the words were more comprehensible, more evocative of mental pictures than the photos themselves.

So, do we need to render visual forms of erotic material to be accessible to blind people?

I don’t think so. I just don’t think they translate. The kinds of tactile detail put in this book still don’t mirror the kinds of tactile detail one would associate with interacting sexually with someone else, or with oneself. There’s a closer connection between pictures and everyday erotic interactions for people who can see the pictures; there’s not as much translation that needs to happen.

Does this mean that what all blind people find erotic is the same or that there is no benefit to making erotic images tactile? Certainly not!

To Be Continued…

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