By Chris Offut
Illustration By Thomas Allen

My father died three years ago. I inherited his desk, his 1930 Remington.22, and 800 kilograms of smut.

As a kid I thought Dad was a science fiction writer who occasionally wrote other stuff to supplement his income. After his death, I learned the truth.

It turned out Dad not only liked porn but also wrote it, publishing some 400 books under 17 pseudonyms. In addition to his own writings, he amassed a personal collection of porn that included 1,000 magazines and more than 600 paperbacks, plus photos, VHS tapes, postcards, and sexy comic books.

I went through it all, gleefully at first, with an archivist’s eye as I sifted through decades of material. I became a lay scholar of sleaze.

But I also became a student of my father’s version of fatherhood. Because even though 800 kilograms of porn was stockpiled in the house I grew up in, I knew nothing about it.

Of course all fathers, including me, have secrets. Men want to protect their children and preserve the illusion of paternal infallibility.

I have two sons. Though we are very close, I haven’t told them everything about my life. Presumably men with daughters keep more secrets than those with sons. It’s understandable and natural.

Still, my father’s deep secrets encompassed most of his life and all of mine. Dad supported a family of six by writing one pornographic novel at a time, 400 times, never revealing the extent of his output.

My siblings wanted me to burn it all.

But I’m the oldest, the firstborn son, and Dad left it to me, along with his rifle and his desk. It didn’t feel right to burn my inheritance; and besides, like many men, I am not immune to the allure of pornography.

So I dutifully packed it all in boxes and arranged for transport to my house 12 hours away. The movers charged by the pound and gave me the precise weight. I was in the hole financially. But oh, what a treasure trove!

As a business, pornography has always been draped in secrecy. In the past, writers used pen names, publishers operated from ever-changing locations, and booksellers kept such wares behind the counter or in a back room.

Over time, obscenity laws relaxed and porn became more readily available.

The invention of the VCR killed the market for written porn. Why would anyone read it when you could watch it? Nowadays, of course, you can watch porn on your cellphone.

Creating it, selling it, and finding it may require less stealth than before, but watching it is still something we do in secret—erasing our Internet history or keeping bookmarks in a hidden file marked with something banal. (Mine are under “recipes.”)

My father’s need for secrecy was based on his being a pornographer, not a consumer of the stuff.

It stemmed from where he lived. He grew up in a log cabin, and then he moved to the Appalachian foothills and occupied the same house in Rowan County, Kentucky, for over 50 years. I grew up in the woods, walking dirt roads and footpaths through the hills.

It is a conservative area known for its evangelical religious beliefs. My home county is a place that has recently received a great deal of publicity, thanks to Kim Davis, the county court clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Like most people back home, I know Kim Davis. I know her mother and son and at least one of her ex-husbands. In the way of small towns, they knew my father, and my mother too.

But they didn’t know that Dad wrote porn—and they’d never have guessed that Mom typed every manuscript for final submission.

Dad wanted to protect the family from public condemnation. The other side of secrecy is shame, and I suppose Dad never fully resolved his obsession with sex.

Long after his children were grown and out of the house, he still operated covertly, alone in his back room, with porn stuffed in closets, hidden behind rows of books on shelves, and tucked into file folders with innocuous headings.

I believe that working in secret was part of his process. Secrecy allowed his imagination to flourish.

Pornography is the most inclusive field of all human endeavor. It has to be.

Unlike erotica, which is often boring, the purpose of porn is sexual stimulation, branching into hundreds of personal fetishes. Dad wrote every kind of porn imaginable, from alien-bondage tales to zombie porn.

His themes included S&M, swapping and swinging, three-ways, orgies, hermaphrodites, cross-dressing, and transgender. Several of his books begin with naive young women accidentally or deliberately finding themselves in peril.

In Pussy Island, an airplane full of beauty contestants is hijacked to an uncharted island where all manner of sexual activity occurs. The island’s location is as secret as my father’s lifelong work.

It took me two years to go through Dad’s stuff. He had stockpiled a collection that stretched from the 1950s all the way to 2012.

At first I joked about living every man’s dream—a beautiful wife and a house full of porn!

But after six months the project overwhelmed me, and my interest waned. Every time a sexual portrayal got my attention, something new quickly replaced it.

Over time, it all ran together into one long blur of fleshy words.

One of Dad’s early books was The Seductress, published under the pseudonym Jay Andrews. The novel is a prolonged menage a trois tale about a couple and a young woman. Leonard A. Lowag, Ph.D., wrote an introduction.

Initially I wondered if Dad had written the introduction, but the prose style is decidedly different from his. I realized that the introduction and the academic credentials were intended to convince a hesitant buyer that the contents were in some way scholarly.

I couldn’t find any evidence that Lowag had an actual Ph.D., but he wrote introductions to many cheesy porn novels other than my father’s.

As I picked through everything Dad had written and collected, I found over 40 books with introductions written by alleged doctors and psychiatrists.

Some books sought legitimacy by having been cowritten, following the model of collaborative scholarship.

Essentially, the books offered pornographic tales of “true experiences,” recounted in the first person, thus allowing for full-throttle depictions of wild sex. The cover art was usually innocuous, never lurid or sexy, mimicking actual academic studies.

Sellers could display them openly, and buyers didn’t have to hide them at home. The books lent the owners a touch of intellectual curiosity and hipness.

Crude people read porn, they suggested, but these sexual treatises were authored by scholars and psychiatrists.

After two years of immersion in every facet of porn, I’d finally found my favorite category. I wasn’t drawn to the content so much as the concept: soft-core porn disguised as academic nonfiction.

It was brilliant marketing of a subgenre I termed “Clandestine Pornography.”

Dad’s collection included multiple variations on the title Confessions of a… A few dozen books fell into this category, with such protagonists as Victorian Lady, Married Man, Sex Slave, Courtesan, Rake, and English Maid.

The idea that these people were eager to tell their stories is silly, but the books sold, which was all that mattered.

One remarkable title was the simple, direct Confessions of an Author. It gives the impression of intimacy because it was written by a genuine “author.”

But my favourite is the anonymously written Diary of Mata Hari, a book I admire for its bold provenance—how can the diary of a named individual possibly be anonymous?

The cartoonish cover art of Wife Swapping Report from 1964 depicts a window with a shade not fully drawn, behind which is a silhouetted couple in deep embrace.

Looking at the cover forces you into the role of voyeur. The back cover reads:

Wife swapping has become standard procedure for millions of married Americans. The practice is part of the sexual revolution of our time. Has it become “normal”? Is it insane?

You must decide for yourself after reviewing the case histories of this report—case histories that are personal and explicit. They will make you wonder about your own desires.

I admire this text for its advertising acumen and foreknowledge of potential buyers.

It opens with conjecture presented as truth—wife swapping is standard. (It’s not now, and it certainly wasn’t then.) That it’s a “report” based on “case histories” gives the contents legitimacy.

Next comes the forced dichotomy of “normal” and “insane.” Technically, neither is true or ever will be. But the implication is clear—the book confirms that the fantasies of a casual browser are normal, and you’d have to be insane to think otherwise.

The introduction concludes with an explanation for why the book reads as a novel—the result of careful and difficult work, with details changed and fragments edited for clarity.

The reader is assured of its authenticity, with a reminder that it won’t be tedious and dry. It’s not a novel, but it reads like one!

Several books explored the phenomenon of bare-bottom spanking, paddling, and whipping, such as Spanking: Sex or Sadism? “Never Before Published!” bellows the caption on the red cover.

Published in 1965 in Hollywood, its 14 chapters cover the “disturbing growth” of spanking in society, attributed to the fashion of tight pants that emphasize the backside.

Each chapter depicts a different form of spanking—over-the-knee, standing, bare-bottom—and with various implements.

It also includes a tip on how to find a spank partner. “While every woman possesses a fanny of some proportion, not all possess an equally attractive bust measurement.” In other words, a woman with small breasts is more likely to desire spanking.

Even though I knew all of this was utter invention, I wondered if that last preposterous idea could be true!

If only I could have called Leonard A. Lowag, Ph.D., and asked.

I tried to look it up in the Illustrated Sex Dictionary by William J. Robinson, M.D., published in 1967. It wasn’t there, but I did manage to find a large catalog of classic dirty pictures, smutty paperback covers, and examples of advertising with sexual overtones.

Film is represented by a movie still of the brothel scene from Sanctuary, based on William Faulkner’s classic novel. Lesbian love is a prominent theme. A Picasso drawing portrays a mythological satyr molesting a woman from behind.

Most surprising was “Voronoff’s Operation,” an actual procedure invented by Russian-French surgeon Serge Voronoff.

In the 1920s, Dr. Voronoff attempted to refurbish the sex drive of thousands of old men by implanting monkey testes into them, a process called “xenotransplantation.”

Demand was so high that he set up his own monkey farm. His successes were reported in the New York Times and referred to by the poet E.E. Cummings and in an Irving Berlin song.

Unfortunately for the good doctor, subsequent research concluded that putting a few slices of monkey testicle inside the scrotum of a rich old man didn’t actually work, had never worked, and couldn’t possibly work.

But, like the publishers of Clandestine Pornography, Dr. Voronoff convinced people of his legitimacy and made a fortune.

Dad attended college on a full scholarship. He read widely among many subjects, including psychology, military history, and the Greek and Roman classics.

Despite his brilliance, he was hoodwinked by the false promise of Clandestine Porn. He made comments in the margins.

The introduction to 1970’s The Cruel and the Pained, by Lester Knight, Ph.D., outraged him. The fake “Doctor Knight” included an uncharitable characterization of spanking aficionados as being “abnormal, warped and twisted.” Dad scribbled a response:

This writer is in considerable need of help. Only god knows how many readers this ghastly fact book hurt by its value judgments from an unwell mind.

Abnormal indeed!

Warped and twisted indeed!

It’s clear that Dad was reading these books to learn about sex and seek ideas for his own work.

For 50 years he made a living writing porn. By the end of his career, he was writing specialized porn for private customers who paid large sums to have their fantasies discreetly depicted in prose.

No activity between adults was too warped, twisted, or abnormal. His diligence and fierce work ethic moved pornography forward, pushing boundaries of social acceptance, breaking the path for today’s open attitudes about sex—or so I believe.

He also put his wife and kids through college. Not a bad life’s work.

Chris Offutt is the award-winning author of six books and 10 screenplays. His new book is My Father, the Pornographer.