A guy who writes two semen cookbooks—you figure he haunts the thirstier rings of obsession, beyond the arid, salty porn fields of mere compulsion and fetish. But at the moment, on the other end of an echo-y Skype call from London, it sounds as if the only thing Paul “Fotie” Photenhauer might be thirsty for is another glass of whiskey, without the milky shot of jizz he’s semi-famous for.
In 2008, Photenhauer released Natural Harvest: A Collection of Semen-Based Recipes. That book landed with a barely audible thud. But two years ago, Photenhauer’s Semenology: The Semen Bartender’s Handbook scored a pretty impressive bull’s eye. Photenhauer was the OMG story of the day on the shock webz (“Getting Wasted on Cum Cocktails,” a story on Vice Canada, shows bros taking mason jars into the bathroom to shoot mixers at a staged house party). He went from being a hero of the fringe bukkake fan zone to being the ballsiest star in the bizarre-foods scene.
I pictured Photenhauer as the stiffest of advocates, oblivious to the weirdness of his shtick, kind of like Bill Hader’s tongue-flicking Stefon from SNL, only parched and humorless. Actually, Photenhauer’s a thirty-five-year-old guy from San Francisco with a job so respectable he’s asked me not to divulge it, who never does face-to-face interviews. In London, on vacation, Photenhauer’s trying to hear me above the laughter of his friends.
Photenhauer isn’t a freak. He’s a rationalist. The idea for a book of semen recipes came out of a dinner party, where Photenhauer and his boyfriend were sitting around with some other guys, talking about how to get your partner to swallow during sex. He thought of a book he’d seen, Calvin W. Schwabe’s Unmentionable Cuisine (1979—the founding document of extreme-food fetishizing and America’s offal revival, as well as Photenhauer’s own obsession with the culture of culinary taboo).
“Other bizarre shit is food,” he says, “but not semen. Why is semen okay to be eaten in the bedroom, but not anywhere else?” He did tentative cooking experiments with his own jizz, also his partner’s. It was partly an enhancement to their sex life—like taking an erotic-massage class—but also an act of philosophical probing. “I get that it’s a funny fringe thing,” he says, “But it’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s not that weird.”
Maybe, maybe not, but here’s Photenhauer’s point: Yes, semen is icky when you take it out of sex (and even in sex, it dances an invisible line between ick and intimacy), but that just shows the power of deliciousness. The mammary secretions and glands of bovines, the organs of fowl, fungal growths: for the most part, they’ve lost all power to make us tremble. But a book like Semenology, which sheaths the bizarre in the banal trappings of the cocktail recipe—it reveals the randomness of restriction and what we consider acceptable.
“I don’t mind if people think it’s weird,” Photenhauer says with a giggle. “I know it’s taboo. I just love the idea of opening up and bringing it up on the agenda.”
Conventional food culture already tends to play in groaningly clunky ways with orgasm as metaphor for extreme deliciousness (oh hey, a recipe for Chocolate Orgasm that calls for Heath bars and Cool Whip!)—but Photenhauer’s Macho Mojito, with its terminal jizz-dribble down the side of the glass, blasts metaphor. It exposes the fake sexualizing of food for what it is: puritanical discomfort with pleasure of any kind. In a culture where food “porn” is nothing more than pixel pins of stacked, drippy burgers and glistening pizzas, where eating for pleasure finds nervous expression as some naughty, “decadent,” or transgressive lapse, Photenhauer wants us to put our money shots where our mouths are. His cum recipes refuse to apologize, or even squirm.
And yet, will I ever tell my husband to wait a sec while I go fix him a nightcap topped off with the deepest part of my affection? I don’t believe I ever will, but still, I appreciate what Photenhauer’s unloaded on our tortured relationship with pleasure.
Meanwhile, Photenhauer says he’s started research on a third book, one about semen desserts. He says he’s gotten lots of suggestions from readers, including a cum meringue that’s showing promise. It’s slow going, though, researching at the extreme edge of culinary semen. “For one thing,” Photenhauer says, “there’s not that much of it.”