I came across Stiff Competition (Dir. Paul Vatelli) thanks to Mr. Feelbert's review over at Pornonomy - many thanks to ya! - but also read up on it in Robert H. Rimmer's The X-Rated Videotape Guide (1993) in which, amongst other things, he has this to say: "Most women will absolutely detest this degradation of the female." I was quite puzzled by this comment, and suddenly apprehensive about the film; after finishing the film, Rimmer's comment really irritated me.
Stiff Competition basically puts sucking cock up there with boxing, wrestling, and other tournament-style sports, with women at the center of the attention rather than men. Tammy the Tongue (Gina Carrera) is a talented new-comer to the sport, much to the disconcertion of the veterans - in particular, retired champion Cynthia Silkthroat (Cindee Summers), Patti Cakes (Patti Wright), and Linda Lonestar (Bridgette Monet). The film plays out a little like Bloodsport or Kickboxer, with the characters being established in the first half, leading up to a climactic series of battles, via a few double-crosses and twists & turns along the way. These films are, of course, similar in another way: utilization (and exploitation?) of gendered bodies for sport.
I sensed immediately that the film was not going to disgust me, simply through the great script, production values, and attention to character - particularly the female characters. While each competitor has a male trainer, it's clear from the scene between Cynthia Silkthroat and her manager, Jake the Snake (John Leslie), that Cynthia calls the shots. They're getting down and dirty when the phone rings - Cynthia breaks off their love making to answer an important call from fellow competitor The Mouth (Susan Hart) (above). Apparently there's a new kid on the block, Tammy, and she's pretty darn good. The network between these women is therefore privileged over male sexual pleasure, and the conversation that ensues between Jake and Cynthia confirms that Cynthia will decide whether to compete or not, regardless of Jake's desires. The sex scene that follows is egalitarian and communicative, not to mention passionate and sweet.
Tammy's sexual pleasure is also privileged by the film, with a scene between Tammy and Kitten (Kitten Natividad of Russ Meyer fame). Kitten is a reporter who comes to interview the, by now, very famous Tammy, and literally cannot contain herself. A prolonged bout of oral loving ensues, with Tammy's pleasure positioned front and center. Considering this doesn't happen very often in porn, it's pretty remarkable that it happens in a movie about a Superbowl Suck-Off, and further demonstrates the way this film navigates sexuality.
While female pleasure gets some acknowledgment, the Rimmer comment might lead you to believe that the rest of the film is occupied with male sexual pleasure via the theme of competitive blow-jobs, but in reality it doesn't feel this way. The dicks being sucked are those of nameless, practically faceless stunt-dicks, with the women doing the work taking up the majority of screen space. Any anticipated male sexual pleasure is subordinated in the competitive scenes to the athleticism and glory of the women, with the competitors often paying more attention to each other than the person they're pleasuring. This kind of woman-to-woman communication, as seen above, strikes me as a form of homosociality - a social trend typically associated with men who bond and communicate with other men via the bodies of women (e.g. fucking someone's girlfriend as a way of getting back at them, or more simply frat boys hanging out watching porn). It's interesting, then, that Rimmer fails to mention the stunt-dicks as being objectified or degraded, even though they are reduced to sexual body parts (to paraphrase anti-porn rhetoric) and are peripheral to the main event.
Ultimately, Rimmer's conviction that women will be disgusted with such "degradation," to my mind, would necessarily mean Rimmer also believes men will be disgusted by the degradation of male bodies in all manner of sports films in which lingering, slo-mo shots of brutal violence and flowing blood are de rigeur. I think the perceived "degradation of the female" is rooted in deep-held cultural attitudes toward women and sexuality and men and physicality/violence, one of which is a source of shame, and the other of which is a source of glory and pride. Likewise, men participating in sexual acts are not often seen as "degraded." To me, Stiff Competition elevates a female equivalent of such gendered physicality/sexuality to the same height as masculine pursuits, with captivating, funny and thought-provoking results. I was genuinely excited by the final showdown, rooting for Tammy and getting totally caught up in the event as though it were a "real" sporting match. This doesn't mean that we should conclude that creating a Superbowl Suck-Off is some kind of feminist act, but rather that we should ask questions about the different ways we treat men and women with regard to physicality, sexuality, and violence.