“Love can’t pay the rent, but lust…” / “Bo leans into Delilah, their nose touching her cheek as they lock lips. Long and tender.” / “Arriving at the house, he let himself in with his key – and headed up the stairs to the playroom.”
Listening to lines from the audio teaser for Aural Sex, a new podcast dedicated to queer sexuality and erotica, is a reminder of what we already know about podcasts: They’re intimate. A medium of recorded confessions, usually played discreetly in headphones or the confines of a car.
Be extra sure those earbuds aren’t going to fall out if you’re low-key taking part in some Aural Sex at work. (Especially if you’re listening to a story that ranks 3/3 winking emojis on Aural Sex’s Intensity Scale.) But beyond the sexiness of each recorded short story is another mission — and a driving force for the creation of the new podcast.
Series creators Tali Ginsburg and Mitchell Johnson recorded the episodes this summer at AS220 and Brown’s Rockefeller Library. The two Brown students combined their respective backgrounds in sexual health/advocacy and radio/podcasting to launch a series that, as Ginsburg recalls, “started with a pretty casual comment. Something along the lines of, ‘How great would it be if we could get funding to make ethical queer porn?’ It’s involved a lot of conversations along the way. What is ethical? What is queer? What is porn?”
“The industry doesn’t have a great reputation for labor practices,” Johnson adds. “It was important we figure out how we could pay creators, queer writers and queer voice actors while keeping the product free.”
The two secured funding through the Swearer Center at Brown University and the Brown Arts Initiative, with additional episode sponsorship by Mister Sister in PVD. From there, they put out a call on Craigslist for writers.
“We got a lot of submissions and a huge range of content,” Ginsburg says. The pair whittled submissions down to nine episodes, with stories ranging from sci-fi westerns to the tell-all confessions of a sex worker in Berlin. Each story is layered with FX to bring the audio to life: the background sounds of a crowded airport, the inarticulate boarding announcements of flight attendants. It’s fantasy with details.
“It was important to us to articulate why we were accepting or rejecting stories and what we were trying to represent,” Ginsburg says. “In the end, we decided we were looking for three things: writing quality, how well we thought the story would translate into an audio format and whether the story aligned with our values around anti-racism, consent and queer representation.”
The season released on August 10. Season two will release with a live event on September 27 at AS220, “Porn in Public.” The night will feature listening stations for pieces from both seasons, with an emphasis on season two narratives (which also include non-fiction stories). While there won’t be live readings, local writers and performers will be present, and the night is set to feature different exhibits ranging from a recording booth to collective art-making.
“There’s a long queer tradition of engaging in porn in public places — movie houses and such,” Johnson says. “We’re trying to represent that history as well.”
And yet, by breaking away from the tradition of visual porn, Johnson believes Aural Sex can tackle another issue. “Representation and what types of sex get represented (in media). For marginalized groups, they’re often either unrepresented or represented harmfully. There’s more of an ethical representation with audio versus visual. There’s a little more space for the listener to picture themselves and not be cut off by a visual representation.”
It’s a mission that might seem ambitious for a podcast with an episode description, “In 1953, a sultry vampire haunts an LA dyke bar. Don’t worry, she doesn’t want to hurt you… much.” But Johnson and Ginsburg would also be the first to tell you that the intersection of sex and politics is hot – and doesn’t have to be one or the other. Perhaps their website says it best: “On Aural Sex, we hope you find a place to politicize your fantasies without policing them, and of course, get off while you’re at it.”
And according to Ginsburg, there was at least one more reason the two spent an entire summer reading Craigslist-sourced erotic short fiction.
“A huge motivator for the project was knowing that we didn’t have access to this kind of content when we were growing up,” Ginsburg says. “We just want more queers to use lube!”