“In the dead of night, alone at home, the loneliness sometimes becomes unbearable,” writes one man. “There aren’t many places to go in the middle of the night, and most of those choices don’t necessarily ensure any kind of reasonable human interaction.” Another man explains, “Nobody talks to me, nobody cares what I say. I’m a 24-year-old drone who wastes his days sitting at a computer reviewing spreadsheets that don’t really matter,” he says. “I just want to talk to someone who cares, and $1 every 3 minutes is a lot less than $250 an hour for a therapist.”
It isn’t just sad sacks looking for companionship — although there are plenty of those — it’s also men who harbor intense resentment toward women: “I’m old in years – 61 – even though I’m an 18-year-old at heart, and I like to think this is my revenge for all the beautiful women in the world whom I can’t approach, whom I can’t get, this idea that I can have some young beauty dance and smile at me any time I want.” There are also the guys who are happily married and simply enjoy the occasional entertainment of beautiful, naked women.
Reading these letters, you become acutely aware of the vulnerability in their wanting, the dependency of their desire. This isn’t an accident: Breslin, who for years lived in the San Fernando Valley covering the adult industry, says she was never interested in the real stars of porn — the women. As she wrote for the Good Men Project, “Stripped of their clothes by the medium, stripped of their dignity by the nature of their work, and stripped of their pride by the all-seeing, unblinking eye of the camera that followed their every desperate thrust, Porn Valley’s working stiffs offer a peek behind the curtain of masculinity at manhood laid bare” — and so too do the men of the latest “Letters” project.
Breslin spoke to me by phone from her apartment in Chicago about Letters From Men Who Go to Strip Clubs, what she’s learned about male desire and why feminist debates about the sex industry drive her nuts.
You seem particularly interested in men’s role in the sex industry. Why do you think that is?
To me, the sex industries are this great petri dish for discovering what drives people, because you get to see them behave in extreme ways. A lot of the focus is on the women, though, because that’s more titillating. Often times, people studying or writing about sex work are men, and they’re more drawn to questions like, “What kind of woman does this? What is her life like? What kind of female mind does it take to be able to sell her body for sex?” I’ve always been very interested in men and trying to figure out how the male mind works, and sex work seemed like a way to really find that out. The sex industry is like the private X-rated Disneyland for men. In the sex work world, men get to do things that are socially unacceptable, whether that’s getting fucked in the ass or being ruthless sexually, so the analogy I like is the Wizard of Oz — I always want to see what’s behind the curtain.